Plants and gardening include everything from a few pots of herbs on an apartment fire escape to a field of wildflowers. However, plants and gardens can be categorized into several basic types. Learning about plants and gardening can help you appreciate nature or plan your own garden to enjoy.
Types of Plants
Plants can be categorized in several ways. Most commonly, you might think of plants as flowers, herbs, vegetables, shrubs or trees. You can also think about plants in terms of their life cycle. Annual plants die during the winter. Annuals may "self-seed," or plant themselves for the following year when wind or wildlife distributes their seeds. Poppies are a common self-seeding annual. Other annuals, such as impatiens, do not usually self-seed; instead, gardeners purchase them as small plants grown in greenhouses. Plants can also be perennial, meaning that the plants themselves stay alive, dormant through cold weather, generating new growth in the spring. Hosta, heuchera and astilbe are common plants in perennial gardens. Biennials, such as hollyhock, bloom every other year. Bulbs--think daffodils, tulips, and daylilies--often return annually, sometimes multiplying over the years. Trees and shrubs can grow wild or gardeners may cultivate them. Herbs and vegetables can be annuals, perennials or biennials, and may be wild or cultivated in gardens.
Types of Gardens
Gardens are collections of plants tended by people. Varieties include vegetable, herb, organic, kitchen, flower, rose, educational, medicinal, children's, historical--the list is endless, limited only by gardeners' imaginations. When planning a garden, consider its purpose. If you are mostly interested in making your own tomato sauce, research vegetable gardening, including heirloom and hybrid vegetables, organic and non-organic methods, composting, raised vs. in-ground beds, and elements of landscape design. If you have a passion for dahlias, spend time reading about various types of bulbs, overwintering and storage, color and design elements, as well as planning borders. As you research your ideas, let your interests lead you into more specific territory.
To get a good idea of a wide variety of plants and gardens, visit educational, botanical and historical gardens in your area. Most universities and many colleges dedicate time and energy to maintaining educational gardens, organizing plants in groups and labeling them clearly. Often such gardens contain areas especially for children to enjoy. Historical gardens may re-create or maintain collections at homes of significance. For those planning vegetable gardens, local community and cooperative farms are especially worth investigating. Many offer tours for visitors, and some even offer classes.
The environmental effects of plants and gardening are significant. Plants purify the air and host wildlife. Gardens can provide pleasure and exercise for gardeners, food for a family, and a pleasing, cheerful addition to a community. Learning to compost can make a garden more beautiful while decreasing the detrimental effects of public landfills. Helping a child to start a collection of flowers, a vegetable garden, or to plant a tree may lead her to explore an environmentally related career.
When learning about plants and gardening, research poisonous plants and berries. Before a trip to the forest, become familiar with poison ivy and poison oak, so that you can identify and avoid it and the painful rash it can cause. Never eat berries or fungus without expert consultation--many poisonous varieties look almost identical to their edible counterparts. Avoid chemical pesticides, as they can pollute public water supplies. And always be careful not to pick or disturb plants in a natural setting. They may be home to creatures, or may be a significant part of an environmental balance.