Feature

Blooming Web has much to offer horticulturalists

Harassed horticulturists who can't face the hordes at the local garden centre should check out what the Net has to offer, writes Lindsay Nicolle

The sun is out, the garden's blooming and it's that Chelsea time of year again. The annual flower show run by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is in full swing, packed with the green-fingered visitors itching to recreate the wonderful gardens on display.

But you don't have to trek all the way to London to get a glimpse of the exhibits. Check out the coverage at www.rhs.org.uk, or enjoy wandering around the show gardens from the comfort of your own home (www.channel4.com/rhschelsea).

There are masses of Web sites devoted to all things gardening, from online nurseries and virtual garden tours to houseplant soap operas and an old lawn mowers club. This prominent online presence demonstrates the renaissance that has occurred in gardening, thanks largely to the huge popularity of television makeover shows, such as the BBC's Ground Force.

Where once the British were content with a square patch of lawn and a border, plots are now crammed with water features, pergolas and exotic flora.

The current demand for more unusual plants and garden features has helped many online nurseries - some of which have displays at Chelsea - take root this spring. Their forte is offering thousands more plants than physical garden centres can display, sourced on demand from nurseries throughout Europe and delivered direct to your door. The best online shops also offer added-value services and magazine-style fun features to keep the lazy gardener amused.

The online nursery (www.crocus.co.uk) aims to take the disappointment out of gardening. Not only will it design your garden, guide you through identifying and choosing the right plants, and deliver them to your doorstep, it will also provide trained horticulturists to do your planting for you.

You provide a sketch of the area to be planted and describe your preferred garden style and for £30-£40 Crocus will create a personalised design, planted virtually, and post it up on a page on the site. Click on the plants to learn how to care for them. The clueless can order templates of borders and beds stocked with 30-40 pre-chosen plants to suit popular garden themes.

To guide you through the mind-boggling selection of plants, you can search either by plant name or by a set of criteria - for example, something white, with a perfume, that flowers in springtime and lives under a tree. Alternatively, if you tell the site the type of gardener you are - amateur or professional, enthusiastic or slapdash - it will steer you towards appropriate plants. It will also suggest plant combinations that work well together.

Crocus will even e-mail you during the year to remind you to prune the roses, trim the wisteria and separate those bulbs. Qualified horticulturists are on hand to talk you through the thorniest of garden problems online.

If it's fun features as well as plants you're after, visit e-garden.co.uk, the online nursery that brought us the first 3D steaming billboard to advertise its wares, and which is taking orders online live from Chelsea.

E-garden sells every kind of plant and garden accessory - from cut flowers to trees, gardening clothes to compost. It also boasts some expert gardeners and gardening correspondents offering free advice online.

If you need inspiration, the site has an interactive show-garden finder to help you locate the best places to visit in the UK, and an annual diary of some of the popular flower shows.

Befuddled by botanical Latin plant names? Try out e-garden's plant-name translator and all will be revealed.

E-garden is also home to the online world's first garden soap opera. The Diary of a Hothouse Office is a daily weekday saga chronicling life in a London office where houseplants see the rough side of life. Plants killed off in the series are featured in a "dead plant cemetery" where clickable headstones reveal how they were murdered and how they might have been saved with the right kind of care.

For active City types looking for an instant show garden, look no further than dig-it.co.uk, which is targeted at people who love their gardens but who would rather be out partying than weeding the borders. Dig-it sells ready-designed borders as well as tubs, equipment and accessories - including sculptures commissioned from up-and-coming designers. The brains behind the site include celebrity designer Nicky Roeber.

One of the newest online nurseries is www.greenfingers.com. Here, you can learn how to fix a trellis or construct a rockery from a database of 150 step-by-step gardening workshops. It also has powerful interactive databases to help you identify plants, find gardens to visit and learn about gardening history.

Even flat-dwellers can indulge their love of gardens with the array of virtual garden tours on the Net.

Take a virtual stroll around the Japanese garden (www.andersongardens.org) and the once-lost gardens of Heligan in Cornwall (www.heligan.com/home/home.html). See the panoramic views from the magnificent garden at Newby Hall in North Yorkshire (www.sisley.co.uk/shopfrnt.htm), steam in the world-famous Kew Gardens tour of the Palm House (www.rbgkew.org.uk) and the fabulous Pagoda, and swoon on the exotica perfume tour (www.bermuda-perfumery.com).

Lost in a daze? Why not enjoy Monet's garden every time you down tools, with impressionist print and flower screen savers (www.screensavershot.com/art2.htm).

Still surfing? Go to www.wackycreations.com. See you in the garden!

Other fertile online plots to cultivate

  • hi-revolution.com - locates reputable local garden and home-improvement tradespeople

  • shopsonthenet.com - 500 shops in the homes and garden category

  • totap.org.uk - an online campaign to encourage people to grow trees for the new millennium

  • oldlawnmowerclub.co.uk - where old lawn mowers get put out to grass

  • expertgardener.com - online magazine featuring Ground Force presenter Charlie Dimmock

  • bbc.co.uk/groundforce - step-by-step garden job guides with advice. Did you know that moles don't like mothballs and slugs like beer?

  • g-wizz.net/bettergardens/ - online gardening magazine with a new section on soap stars' garden makeovers

  • flowers.org.uk - The Flower and Plant Association site with tips on which houseplants are good for your health. Plus, read about "Men and Flowers"

  • oxalis.co.uk - an interactive map of the UK. Click on a public garden and find out when it opens


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    This was first published in May 2000

     

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