Posted: 08/08/2013 at 09:52
It's not always safe to go buy what your neighbours grow. Across from me is a farm and riding centre and their garden is on deep sand which they try and improve with cartloads of horse manure each year but still have to come to me for a rhubarb crop as I am on deep loam over a clay subsoil.
My soil is alkaline with neutral pockets and very fertile. The next nearest garden is acid to neutral and can grow ericaceous plants whereas I have very good clematis and lavender and brassicas. Most plants don't mind alkaline soil if it's as fertile as mine but some just can't get the essential minerals they need, such as iron and magnesium, as the calcium locks it from their roots.
The RHS plant selector site gives good cultivation info on plants it lists but Google will find info for those it doesn't. The RHS also publishes good gardening guides and the DR Hessayon series is also very helpful, simple and cheap.
I would beware of investing in the big encyclopedias too soon as they are expensive and go out of date as new plants are introduced but are lovely to browse and make wish lists and generally improve knowledge. The RHS has also recently introduced a new, more detailed system of hardiness ratings which won't be in the encyclopedias just yet. Worth waiting for them to catch up.