“Where’s the Dirt?”

“Where’s the Dirt?”

© Eddie Rhoades

Or … How I went from computer illiterate to website owner in a matter of days.

When I first heard the expression “gardening on the internet”, I thought “how can that be?” What a ridiculous idea. After all, there is no actual physical dirt on the internet, and you can’t reach into your computer and pull out a tomato and eat it.

Still the topic repeatedly came up and still I thought ‘humbug’. A person cannot physically garden in cyberspace. Besides, what’s the point in having a virtual garden on the computer when you can have a real garden outside? Quite by accident a series of events occurred that got me involved with the internet.

Gardening has always been my passion from early childhood to my present status as Lifetime Master Gardener. My company, Lockheed Martin, hired a computer guru named Rob Mahan to help drag us Tool Designers kicking and screaming into the 21st century. With the purchase of new computers, we had e-mail accounts and access to the internet at work. At home I had long wanted to learn how to operate a personal computer, but I didn’t own one. I wanted to buy one, but why should I buy one when I didn’t know how to operate it. It made sense at the time.

By sheer fate my brother upgraded the computers at his printing company in Covington. When that happened, he loaned me an old Macintosh Performa 460.

My brother is a strong advocate for Apple Macintosh computers. When he gets started talking about these computers, he sounds like a Baptist preacher. “Yea though the Apple bringeth knowledge and operates like a Cadillac, the masses pincheth their pennies and purchased Fords.” By the way, no Apple computers has ever had a Y2K problem, as this company took into consideration that the century was ending.

With the borrowed Macintosh in my possession, I asked the computer guru at work about websites. What are they and how do you go about setting one up? He replied, “First and foremost, to have a website you must have something worth putting on it-” Inherently, I knew that it should have a theme and not just be pictures of your wife, your house, your dog, your car, et al.

Quite naturally I knew that my website would mostly be garden related. No one should be surprised at that. First of all, the website needed a name. I called it Bittersweet Gardens. It had a tricky little URL (Universal Resource Locator, i.e., my website address):

http [forward slash forward slash colon] www [dot] mindspring [dot] com [slash tilde] erhoades

To make this website address easier to remember, I simply registered it under the domain name of http://www.bittersweetgardens.com. This was an added expense; however, it was well worth it just for the name recognition. The domain registration works like call forwarding. When you type in bittersweetgardens.com, it simply forwards you to my Mindspring URL address. A partial description of some of the things that you will find on my garden-related website are: articles, edibles, a children’s book, a backyard nursery, products, links, photos, and lots of humor as my first tenet of gardening is that it should be fun. I like the name bittersweet as it evokes both the pain and the pleasure of gardening and life. On occasion I have had a problem with people browsing the Internet and wanting to buy the Oriental bittersweet from me. I do not sell this plant because of its invasive reputation.

I discovered that everything that was underlined was a link. This means using the mouse to place the cursor arrow over the underlined characters and clicking on it will take you to a new location or page. Generally, text is a single click and icons, which are little graphics, are double clicked.

When you key in my domain name, it brings up a home page. I use the analogy of a deck of cards to explain how it works. When you are on the home page, you are looking at the king. The rest of the cards are there; however, you just can’t see them. If you click on native plants, it brings up that particular page. This is similar to dealing the king to the back of the deck and bringing up the queen, and so on.

As I write this, I am concerned about preaching to the choir. Many of you already know what I’m saying and more. Read it anyway. You will either reinforce your memory, or you will be delighted to find my mistakes.

Major magazines are posting websites to supplement their hard copy publications. Some nurseries no longer print and mail catalogs and so are available only online. This amounts to a great cost-saver for them as all information seems to be gravitating toward the Internet.

At this point the internet breaks down for me into three things. The three are: my website; other sites which include personal, commercial, organizational, and educational information; and, e-mail.

E-mail is one of the thrills of the internet You are bound to find out that some people use e-mail to circulate jokes, chain letters, prayer lists, virus scares, and such. Nevertheless, that’s not too much to put up with to enjoy the benefits of e-mail, plus the rapid response, the connection to other countries, and other gardeners. About the jokes, I actually like some of them the first time I hear them. Finally, e-mail is a hybrid of a phone call and regular mail and a great way to expand your circle of friends.

Links are very important and most websites have them. They shuttle you to places of interest where you can refine your search for information, read articles, post a question, or answer one. Links, like e-mail, bring us together where thoughts can be shared. This is much like sharing a cutting from a favorite perennial.

If you are just getting started the following sites are great reservoirs of information and resources that will point you in the direction you want to go: Digital Librarian and Gardening by Mail. These sites are evidently posted as a labor of love and possibly humanitarian reasons as it is a myth that everyone with a website is making obscene amounts of money. Chat rooms are a great way to make friends in cyberspace. One such is GardenWeb and there are many more.

One of my favorite links is Suite 101. At this link you will find articles galore on homes and gardens. You will eventually find yourself conversing with gardeners from other countries. I have conversed with gardeners from Australia, China, Switzerland Canada and Russia. Language barriers can be easily overcome using translator services available on the net such as Alta Vista’s Babelfish.

The internet puts technology and information at your fingertips. Picture a spiders web with all its’ interconnectivity and you have an idea of why it is called the World Wide Web. I see this new technology as enhancing our connection to the real outdoor garden and nature. Patience is a big asset while learning to browse the Internet and with persistence and practice of using search engines you can find almost anything. I still have my real garden outside and it is enriched by an expanding circle of friends and knowledge that I have gained from the internet. No one knows for sure what the web will ultimately be. So far it is a hybrid of telephone, TV, library, mail, and newspaper. I hope you will be encouraged to start exploring the Internet just as I had to do by first conquering my fear of technology and the mystique of computers. Look at it like eating an elephant – you don’t have to swallow the thing whole, just take it one little bite at a time.

Basic Terminology

  • URL – Universal Resource Locator / an address
  • e-mail – a system for sending and receiving typed messages, usually over phone lines
  • www – World Wide Web
  • internet – same as www
  • ISP – Internet Service Provider. These include Mindspring, Bell South, and America On Line. These companies provide the service of connecting you to the internet. Once connected, you will need a password and an e-mail address.
  • dot – a period or delineator that separates the different parts of an address
  • com – commercial
  • net – network
  • org – organization
  • @ – at, part of an e-mail address
  • ~ – tilde
  • html – Hypertext Markup Language, computer code for building websites
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