Garden Blog Pioneers Look Back–and Forward

– Posted in: About this site, Blogging Art and Practice, Garden Blog Pioneers, Mailbag, Recommended Links, Series

Dogs have dog-years, and the internet has internet-years. Four years on the internet is a long time, and as of today, that’s how long I’ve been blogging. I thought I would ask those gardeners who’ve been blogging longer than I have how they got started, and where they think this whole garden blogging business is going.

First, let me introduce my respondents. In no particular order:
Tamara Galbraith [TG], formerly of Talking Dirty, now publishing Can You Dig It?

M. Sinclair Stevens [MSS], longtime publisher of Zanthan Gardens.

Paul Owoc [PO], observant chronicler of a greenZoo.

Pam Shorey [PS], originally blogging at Outside in the Garden, and now at Rivermantic.

Erica Bess Duncan [EBD], writing at GardenSpot.

Ilona [IL] of Ilona’s Garden Journal.

Doug Welch [DW], keeping A Gardener’s Notebook.

Jennifer Zynischer [JZ], aka the Garden Djinn.

Kathy Purdy [KP], that’s me. I’ll be piping in with my responses. As a matter of fact, I’m the only one who got to see what the others said before writing my own answers, so I have an unfair advantage.

The questions are all ones I’ve wondered about, and I sent the same list to each of the bloggers listed above. I’ll present this as a panel discussion, where the anonymous moderator poses a question, and then we all take turns answering it. I hope you find the answers as fascinating as I did. I originally was going to publish the whole series of questions as one blog entry, but I realized it was becoming far too unwieldy. So I decided to break it up into several parts. The panelists had quite a bit to say about the first question. Click (more…) to start reading.

1. According to their respective websites, Blogger was founded in 1999 and Movable Type in 2001. But as I remember, even when I started my garden blog in 2002, most people didn’t know what a blog was, or see the point of it, really. So what in your background or relationships made you aware of and comfortable with the technology? What led you to become an “early adopter”?

  • [TG:] “I was teaching myself HTML back in 1995 and saw web pages as a new and cool creative outlet. Using my rather basic skills, I created an online fan page about a hockey player I liked and the response was amazing. The knowledge has served me well, as I now work full-time as an online editor and Webmistress.”
  • [MSS:]”In the 1980s and 90s I wrote computer training courseware and then became a software developer. When I got laid off in July 2001 during Austin’s dotcom bust, I set about learning html and css to update my list of job skills. To create a portfolio, I created Zanthan Gardens (originally “A Central Austin Garden”). This was my pre-blog garden site.

    In November 2001, my husband read about Movable Type. I thought I could use it to document my two years teaching in Japan. After trying it out, I realized I could also use MT to integrate my garden diary with the static pages on my garden site. My husband is a software developer and manages the server side of our Zanthan site.”

  • [PO:] “Several things came together for me in late 2001-early 2002 that led to the birth of my blog. I took some courses in Photoshop and HTML about that time, I read about blogs and blogging in a national newspaper, and I had already been keeping a written journal of my walks in a botanical garden for about ten years. So it seemed a natural next step to use what I was learning in classes to put my journal ramblings on the web. Plus, there’s that coolness factor of being an early adopter that I enjoyed. Back then, when I told friends that I was doing a blog, I got blank stares and those looks that folks give when they think, but don’t say, you’re a little weird. Now when I tell a person that I’m doing a blog, I’m likely to be given the url address of their own blog in return.”
  • [PS:] “I was interested in computers since the 1960s – a family member worked for IBM and told me things about computers that I found fascinating, such as they use the base 2 in programming because an electrical switch can be either ON or OFF — hence all the ones and zeroes in the old punch cards etc. I didn’t get to use a computer myself until the late-1970s, at the local newspaper where I worked. I was a fast but sloppy typist, and the computer just made it all so easy- no more literal cutting and pasting! Kate [her daughter] also developed an interest in computers at an early age, through the same family member, who brought a desktop up to Maine on a summer vacation and let the cousins all play one of those text-based exploration games – fascinating stuff! When Kate went to Bates College in the early 1980s, they had an internet connection to Dartmouth and inthe computer lab, they could do text messaging back and forth– what fun!!

    For my birthday in 1995, Kate gave me a modem for my home computer (which I had bought in 1989, when I entered grad school) and set me up with AOL. She had had an internet connection for a little while before that, I forget how long, and had been telling me about it. It just sounded so charming! I loved chat rooms and quickly ran up huge phone bills — the dialup number was a long distance call! I quit AOL and not too much later heard of a local dialup, so back I went. After I moved up to a Windows environment (Win 95 was my first — I skipped over Win 3 & 4) I learned about the web from some guys I had gotten to know in chat rooms, and who in fact were interested in making web pages. Back then, a web page was pretty simple – you just had to learn a small amount of html. Around 1997-98 I joined the HTML Writers Guild and learned quite a lot from their lists. (There was a stretch of several years where they were very friendly to amateurs and hobbyists, but later became an organization geared much more toward professional web developers and web programmers, so I drifted away.)

    By 2000 I had a digital camera and was on my second domain; I put up several web pages, one of which was a journal with a link to a garden page. I found updating it rather cumbersome and would spend far more time fooling with the layout than writing. When I saw a link to a blog on an HTML Writers Guild email, I took a look and was SO excited! At last, a way to post journal entries without having to mess every day with changing around the layout to fit the content. My first blog was on no particular content matter, just trying it out really; then 9-11-01 hit and I began writing about that, including the political scene. Blogging greatly picked up then – the number mushroomed and hundreds of NY City photos appeared on the web, most of the ones I saw, in blogs. Beautiful, poignant photos.

    My first blog was then renamed “the alternate patriot” because I felt the President was taking “anti-terror” actions where the cure was worse than the disease. Once I got the idea, I started making other blogs, including a garden blog — and was surprised to see myself listed in the Blog of the Day for Oct. 26, 2001. That was fun: posting some photos and writing little essays — a sort of writing I was used to that included a little weather report, a few observations of the natural world and possibly a minor philosophical extrapolation. I got a free Blogger sweatshirt, shortly after Yahoo bought them out.

    I happily blogged for two plus years. In 2003, the garden blog on my domain,, ran aground, and for some reason I could no longer post. I moved it to blogspot, but was unable to connect the two and the new one never looked right. Eventually it just lapsed.

    Nearly everything else I know about the internet I learned initially from talking to people online — all sorts of strangers had this one thing in common, an abiding interest in computers and the internet! And they were extremely helpful. There was a culture of helpfulness. So, the short answer is, I learned gradually, taking baby steps. There was no “plunging.” Starting grad school at age 48 — that was plunging :-)”

  • [EBD:] “Several of my “real life” friends had already started blogging, though none of them were garden bloggers, so I was familiar with these things called blogs. When it comes to computers, I’ve been playing–and later working–with them since my dad brought home a brand-spanking new Apple II+ way back when. From there we progressed through much of the Apple/Mac product line and we’re a Mac family to this day (well, except my husband). “
  • [IL:] “My son who is now working in the computer field went online, without my knowledge–long story. I intervened to channel the talent while putting the computer activity on parental surveillance, so to speak. I started looking at the internet, myself, saw personal webpages on places like Geocities and assigned him the activity of building me a website. He accomplished that and then told me I was on my own, he wasn’t going to update…. and so I started, very crudely, to figure out html in order to build new pages. I was doing a garden section of my website from the first–there were days I just wanted to record the excitement or frustration of my gardening day, but it didn’t fit in the information, proper. So, at first I had a simple hand coded html page which just was too awkward. I had read online diaries here and there, and was actively looking for a solution. I found blogs!

    After learning to build my own pages blogging seemed sort of complex at first… I didn’t know what the code meant and I had to experiment with the templates (of course!). Now it seems as though I jump to something new before I really learn the transitioning… Word Press is just the latest challenge. Right now I am working on trying to bring my old garden website together with my blogging in a program called ‘Joomla!’.

    One of the things I like about blogging is that it moves fast, even though sometimes too fast and forget beauty sleep now. My garden blogging lead to my other blogs, and they have taken the larger part of the last years’ input. I am resuming my garden blog, now, after almost a half-year hiatus.”

  • [DW:] “I have been working with computers for over 2o years, so making use of new technologies has always been a main part of my life. I set up my first personal web site around 1992, mainly to host my resume and writing clips from my on-going technology writing.”
  • [JZ:] “I started an online journal on November 24, 2001. I had often attempted to be a paper diarist, but was never able to fall into the habit of picking up the pen each day. After 9/11, I again wanted a place to put my thoughts and the Blogger site was free for their basic service. As I started working from home that same year, the online format was ideal for me.

    Prior to starting my own journal, I had been reading the online work of several folks I knew from the community of gamers. These were folks that were using programs like WordPress and MoveableType for pages hosted on their own servers. The ease of commenting and the sense of neighborhood and camaraderie had me visiting these folks daily.

    So hanging out with geeks and nerds made me quite comfortable with the idea of an online journal. TypePad offered me a place where I didn’t have to worry about coming up with server space, as hosting was included. No fussy transfers of data, no writing out laborious page setups, just sign in and go. (This was in the days before Google bought Blogger and opened up the content of the free service. By then I was a paid customer of Blogger simply in order to have storage for my voluble text pages – I had exceeded the basic service limits.) “

  • [KP:] “Like Pam and Erica, computers have been in my family for a long time. My grandmother was programmer, back in the days when COBOL ran business computers, and the computers had less memory than your thumb-drive, and needed an entire air-conditioned room to themselves. It was my dad who gave us our first computer in 1987 (if memory serves)–and it wasn’t made by IBM–it was a Sanyo.

    Come to think of it, many of our computers have been gifts (or castoffs) from more technologically advanced relatives. My brother, aka GadgetBoy, gave us our first modem for Christmas 1997, and encouraged us to get email. He was also the one who introduced me to blogging and discussion forums, and he’s been a major influence in my migration to various publishing platforms.”

Did you learn something? I know I did! Please share your comments, and if you know of any garden blogs being published before August 27, 2002 that I missed, let me know. Remember, this is only Part 1. Click here to see Part 2.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

In its own way, frost may be one of the most beautiful things to happen in your garden all year . . . Don’t miss it. Like all true beauty, it is fleeting. It will grace your garden for but a short while this morning. . . . For this moment, embrace frost as the beautiful gift that it is.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

Comments on this entry are closed.

artificial grass July 17, 2009, 4:08 am

I’m not that much old in blogging but garden blogging makes a great effect on my self.Learning to blog is not just for earning money but to learn new ideas for your hobbies.Gardening is my passion and it gives me earnings at the same time.

M Sinclair Stevens (Texas) August 29, 2006, 11:21 pm

Annie, you’re keeping better track of me than I am. I know Kathy was one of the first blogs I got hooked on because despite our different climates we were both struggling with the same problem–finding gardening information for our region. I thank Kathy for turning me on to a lot of other bloggers.

Some of the early bloggers I liked simply disappeared into the ether of the internet.

Annie in Austin August 28, 2006, 11:29 pm

I must have been googling only Texas stuff, because that’s how I found M S Stevens a couple of years ago, then she linked to you, Kathy. And the Bookish gardener, then to Bill. Love those links.
Congratulations on 4 years!


Kathy Purdy August 28, 2006, 6:50 pm

They had to be, Bill. As far as garden blogs go, they were the only ones in town. Unless, of course, Google really let me down.

bill August 28, 2006, 4:47 pm

Interesting series. Some of these were among the first bloggers I read.

Kathy Purdy August 28, 2006, 11:17 am

Judy, you can ask away in the comments and I will make sure they all see it. If enough of them are willing to respond, I will make another post out of it.

Blogger was what I started with, then moved to Movable Type, and at present I use WordPress. I learned enough html (as I went along) to tinker with templates, but I could never have had a blog without blogging software–the learning would have been too steep.

Judith August 28, 2006, 7:48 am

Happy 4th blogiversary and thanks for an excellent series. I have been interested in the history of blogging, no matter the category, and finding out it was computer skills that enabled the pioneers to blog made absolute sense but is taken for granted these days. Blogspot, TypePad, etc have enabled those of us with no computer skills to come on the scene. I hope in one of the posts, you let ‘us’ ask our garden pioneer bloggers some questions. I’m already thinking of some.

sandy byrne August 28, 2006, 7:37 am

how do I stay current with this site?

sandy byrne August 28, 2006, 7:33 am

Thank you I really enjoyed reading! I am very new to computers but willing to learn. UI am also new to gardenning since I am now disabled due to a stroke and an aneurysm. Unable to work outside of the home, disability pension and lost drivers licence, I have a lot of time to spend with the computer and my garden.

Kathy Purdy August 27, 2006, 8:42 pm

I agree, Don. It’s hard to believe that when I started this blog I felt almost all alone with the gardening topic. These pioneers are the only ones I knew writing garden blogs. I guess you could say this series is my way of saying thanks for being there.

Don August 27, 2006, 4:43 pm

That’s a hoot, when you’re interviewing these true pioneers of the blog world, and they started their pioneering work, like… five years ago! How fast things change anymore.

Chan S. August 27, 2006, 12:07 pm

Happy fourth anniversary! What inspiring garden blogger pioneers! Looking forward to the future installments.

cyndy August 27, 2006, 9:54 am

Thanks Kathy, for getting all of these great “garden blogger” pioneers together to contribute to this panel discussion. What a creative way to celebrate your blogiversary!

It is interesting to read about how many of you have a background in computers or code. Many thanks for breaking new ground and starting the trend for those of us who didn’t know much.

I started out on a “hand me down” computer from my BIL. About the only thing I could do was Google (known as “search” at the time). I liked having a computer because it gave me the ability to research whenever I wanted. When I found that a blog gave you the space to record and hyperlink to other pages, I wanted to start my own. I figured it would be a great way to keep track of what I was doing in the garden (and researching) from day to day. My son, who knew more about HTML than I did, started me out on a Geocities page…but I later moved to blogger because I found it easier.

susan harris August 27, 2006, 6:27 am

GREAT STUFF, Kathy, and I have plenty to say about it over at the Rant. Susan