We love learning, and through practice we've become very good at it.
(Right: When a tree fails we want to know "why" so we dig in after the answer. When we find it -- here, girdling roots and a stone both impeded root growth -- we take the time to share it with others. The effort comes back to us a thousand fold.)
We're self taught in gardening, which means having hundreds of teachers -- authors, workshop leaders, Extension agents, professors, and gardeners all over the world. Each has their own style and, if you listen, tips for how to learn.
One of those tips, common to many of our favorite teachers, was that we should put everything to the test. That made sense to us, who learned early on that there is no one right way to garden -- just different motivations and consequences. We must look at the differences to know "what if" you choose to or must do things a different way.
As an example, Janet always cut our Wisteria vine in March and July, as her Dad had done. Then she took a class at a botanical garden where the instructor said you should never cut a Wisteria in the spring. Asked "why", the instructor said because you lose the flower. Yet our Wisteria bloomed.
We went digging for the "why" behind the no prune rule, and the "what if" we pruned differently. The answer is long (check our article on Wisteria pruning) but boils down to the simple fact that both ways can be right. Janet's Dad learned the European way from older neighbors -- a method based on a need to keep things small. He passed that on to Janet, rather than the American way of alowing everything all the room it wants. (In the New World we have so much space we forget others don't.)
In 20 years of answering questions from readers, audiences, students and website users, we've seen so many right ways and exceptional situations that we automatically look for the "why" behind a rule. As a result, our library and our files are full of well-used botany books and vintage gardening references that help us explore varying approaches.
Just tracking the questions is revelatory.
Right from the beginning, we've logged questions we received. It started with newspaper readers' letters -- we answered them all, even those that didn't make the newspaper. We added in radio show questions and those that came to us after giving a talk. We've tracked topics, times and places through 12,000 questions, and counting. The patterns we've found are a treasure in themselves, and we've even found that one person's question can answer another.
We started with just the questions from a few dozen students a year, and now we're connected across space and through time to many thousands. We feel rich for having so much information, even as it makes us absolutely certain we won't ever master this field, not in a hundred lifetimes. So we share what we hear. Which means we receive even more. Thank goodness for the Internet to make it possible.