'Coffee For Roses' And Other Garden Myths Debunked

Did you know you can't kill a gopher with chewing gum and hummingbirds are not attracted to red flowers? C.L. Fornari's book Coffee For Roses busts common gardening myths.

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It's summer time, when all that hard work putting in the garden really pays off. But some of the hard work might've been for nothing. The garden is a place filled with old wives tales and unscientific advice. For instance, have you ever been told that rusty nails planted with hydrangeas will turn the flowers blue? That myth is busted in a new book by horticulturalist C. L. Fornari. It's called "Coffee For Roses And 70 Other Misleading Myths About Backyard Gardening." C. L. Fornari, welcome to our program.

C. L. FORNARI: It's my pleasure to be here.

WERTHEIMER: Let's just jump right in with the title. Coffee grounds under the roses - that's one you hear a lot.

FORNARI: Well, there is nothing wrong with putting coffee grounds or banana peels around your rose plants. There's nothing magical about it that makes roses grow well. It's just that roses like organic matter. And you could be using some other form of organic matter just as well as coffee grounds. And tea drinkers don't have to feel left out.

WERTHEIMER: (Laughing) OK. You mentioned some myths that are a little stranger than that, though. Moss and yogurt smoothies for your garden to help propagate moss, killing gophers with chewing gum.

FORNARI: Yes. You know, I think that these are myths that appeal to people because they're kind of quirky, and they also involve something that people already know about. We know about blenders. We know about chewing gum. And it's kind of amusing to think that these things could be used in another way. Yet, it's not always that accurate. Propagating moss in a blender - it actually pulverizes the plant, and then it's less likely to grow.

WERTHEIMER: So gophers and chewing gum?

FORNARI: Gophers don't care anything about chewing gum. And it doesn't matter what kind of gum or whether it's wrapped or unwrapped. There are all kinds of theories.

WERTHEIMER: Or even used.

FORNARI: Or even used. That's right. They will push it aside and go on with their day in your garden.

WERTHEIMER: How did you find that out? What sort of research did you do?

FORNARI: First of all, I tried to track down where these myths started by looking in old gardening books and in garden columns in small-town newspapers from the early 1900s. I talked with the horticultural experts who I know and kind of ferreted out what was behind some of these myths, as well as the science behind the truth.

WERTHEIMER: Well, now, some of these old wives tales are really old. I mean, what do you think is the most enduring gardening myth you found?

FORNARI: One that I see mentioned a lot going back into the 1800s is about ants helping peony buds to open.

WERTHEIMER: I totally believe that.

FORNARI: Well, it - the funny thing is when I looked back in old small-town newspapers and gardening books from the late 1800s, gardeners were all saying it wasn't true. But this myth has been continually propagated in sermons and daily inspirational guides. People have loved it for its use as a metaphor, even as people who grow peonies know that those ants are just there for their sugar fix.

WERTHEIMER: (Laughing) C. L. Fornari, the garden lady - her book is called "Coffee For Roses." Thank you very much.

FORNARI: Thank you, Linda, and happy gardening.

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