The best gardening apps and websites –

Compiling and maintaining this database was and is no mean feat. It is the
only list of its type in the world. It was started in 1987 by Dr Tony Lord
and the late Chris Phillips and originally published by the Hardy Plant
Society. Chris collected many nursery catalogues to compile the original
edition. By November 1986 they had together assembled a list of 130,000
plant names; they spent the next five months checking, verifying and
standardising them. Bearing in mind some plants had 17 versions of their
name, the task was hardly plain sailing. Between them they clocked up 200
hours per week over the next five months.

Afterwards they did get letters disputing names, which is not surprising as
plant nomenclature is not always straightforward. If this huge task had
originally been undertaken by a committee, names would probably never have
been resolved or the work published.

The Plant Finder also highlights certain trends, such as a list each year of
the most stocked new plants. Among the top 10 for 2013 were four new roses –
Rosa Heathcliff, R. Boscobel, R. The Lark Ascending, R. Tranquility –
Hydrangea aspera ‘Hot Chocolate’ and Cirsium rivulare ‘Trevor’s Blue
Wonder’. Often new introductions at Chelsea and winners of the RHS New Plant
of the Year feature in this “hot” list. In recent years, the list has
highlighted the popularity of new perennials such as heucheras, echinaceas
and hemerocallis, including Heuchera ‘Garnet’, Heucherella ‘Blue Ridge’ and
Hemerocallis ‘Raspberry Fields Forever’.

When a specialist nursery goes out of business, sadly it can mean a whole raft
of plants can disappear from the finder, but there is a “Last Listed”
section which tells you when a plant was last there. Sometimes you can track
down the nurseryman and find he has the odd plant tucked away. If foreign
nurseries apply to be listed they can be included too as long as they will
supply to the public (strictly wholesale nurseries are excluded).

There are other developments which help you select plants coming on at the
RHS. The borders at Wisley which are planted with AGM (Award of Garden
Merit) plants are coded with QR codes (Quick Response codes) a matrix
barcode that you can scan with a smart phone and the information on the
plant will pop up. This is a long-term project and so far around 7,000
plants have been coded. Another development is that the Plant Selector will
be amplified and have more than one photograph of each plant.

Many of us still use the The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs (£14.99)
including Janet Cubey and her husband, Dr Wolfgang Bopp (director of the
Harold Hillier Gardens), who will always take a copy with them when looking
at gardens with extensive woody collections. A new edition is about to be
published in April as part of Hilliers 150th anniversary. Another invaluable
book is New Trees by John Grimshaw and Ross Bayton (from
This includes all the new trees that have been introduced since W J Bean’s
classic work, the eighth edition of which appeared in the Seventies. The
book has line drawings and photographs as well as detailed information on

Finding extensive lists of vegetables and annuals is not so easy as they do
not occur in the Plant Finder, but a quick way to find vegetables that have
an AGM is the list on the RHS website (

Apps are another source of useful information, although some gardeners seem
rather averse. Gardeners’ Question Time producer Howie Shannon recommended
to me the British Geological Survey called mySoil. This free app is useful
if you are thinking of moving house and want to take plants to your new
garden, but are not sure of the soil type. The RHS Grow Your Own is
definitely useful as an aide memoire, it has lots of cultural information,
is a great troubleshooter for problems and much else. Plus, it’s free.

My daughter recommended the RSPB loveBirds app (£4.99, which includes a £1.45
donation for conservation) which helps you identify birds, listen to bird
song and more.

If you are worried that you might be overdoing it in the garden, the Vital
Signs Camera app from Philips (
will measure your heart rate by breathing through the camera on an iPhone or
iPad. It is extraordinarily accurate – it was recommended to me by a top

I do find YouTube useful too for showing you how something is done. I have
viewed how to use an Austrian scythe, cutting and laying a hedge or grafting
and the like. It is usually quick to find what you need and easy to follow
and I like the fact that the presenters tend to make down to earth clarity
their main objective rather than looking good and making it slick.

All this access to such a range of often first-rate information does make
gardening easier and undoubtedly helps improve your skills.

I do sympathise with my many gardening friends who are adamant that you can’t
beat a book. But I don’t think they realise quite what they are missing.

Get appy

WEED ID APP. The BASF Weed ID app identifies 140 species of
broad-leaved weeds and grass weeds in the UK with 1,000 images. Also try the
Bayer Weed Spotter app

MYSOIL. mySoil is a free app from the British Geological Survey and the
Centre for Ecology & Hydro-logy. Find out your soil properties – type,
organic matter, texture and pH – based on your area of the country. See
for more information

LOVEBIRDS. Priced at £4.99 (£1.50 is donated to the RSPB), this app
allows you to identify species, listen to birdsong and access information
about our British garden birds

FRUIT GARDEN APP. The Learning about Fruit Trees app is written by an
American gardener, and consists of chapters on the do’s and don’ts of
growing fruit trees. (£1.49)

BUG ID APP. The Natural History Museum’s bug count app helps you
identify most common bugs. Also try the Bug and Weed Identifier app

VEGETABLE GARDEN GUIDES (£1.49) A good reference guide for experienced


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