Absentee Gardeners

The Plant Toolbox can be found at plants.ces.ncsu.edu.

I am happily shopping for plants. To my husband’s chagrin our kitchen table is littered with lists, dog-eared catalogs and old annotated seed packets. But I may just sweep the mess aside in favor of my new discovery.

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service has a new online tool — now their trove of horticultural information can help focus my shopping frenzy.

The Plant Toolbox, can be found at plants.ces.ncsu.edu and contains nearly 4,500 detailed descriptions of plants which happily grow in North Carolina. They’ll save me the heartbreak of falling in love with a plant only to discover it thrives in south Florida.

You can search the Plant Toolbox by a plant’s common or scientific name. Better yet, you can search for plants that meet the criteria you designate such as: cultural conditions, the role you want it to play in your landscape, plant traits, flowers or leaves. While this is an invaluable feature, it is a little twitchy when I’m accessing it via my mobile device, so I’m confined to using the site from my computer. This is a limitation I hope the Cooperative Extension Service will soon correct.

The individual plant profiles are about what you would expect. However, some additional features make the Plant Toolbox really shine. The links, included at the bottom of each profile, to additional plants with similar requirements facilitate my comparison shopping. Are you stumbling over your selection’s botanical name? Never fear, just click the audio icon next to the plant’s name to hear it correctly pronounced.

But my favorite part is that you can make your own shopping list. When you have the perfect plant selected, click the “add” button at the bottom of its profile. A list icon will appear at the top of the page indicating how many plants you have added to your list. You can modify your list, indicating quantities or deleting entries — a task my budget demands.

Once printed, my shopping list helpfully includes a photo, the botanical name and common name of my selections, the quantity I want and finally, a bit of technology that makes my inner geek happy – A QR code is printed on each entry. Point a smartphone at the code, scan it and suddenly you’re transported back to the plant’s profile.

Last week I used the Plant Toolbox to help a neighbor identify plants for a bed she plans to renovate. After much discussion I printed two copies of her final shopping list, dropped one at her front door, rang the bell, and stepped back ten feet, following COVID-19 restrictions.

With my copy of her list in hand, we chatted about her choices. When we became bogged down on a tongue-twisting name I quietly scanned the QR code, clicked the audio link and voilà! I’m a gardening rockstar.

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service is supported, in part, by my tax dollars. They earn their keep and my trust, by providing unbiased information generated by research conducted at our two land grant universities — NC A&T and NC State University.

I trust the Cooperative Extension Service’s information, and their online Plant Toolbox makes it easy for me to find the plants I want. Now with a shopping list in hand I can head to my local garden center and bring home the perfect plant.

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email: info@absentee-gardener.com

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