Welcome to the Fifth Anniversary Celebration of Cold Climate Gardening. Last week our readers were invited to submit questions, which I have answered here. I hope you are entertained and enlightened. Comments, as always, are encouraged.
- Stuart: How do you see the next 5 years panning out, after the hiatus that is? What has been the biggest change that you’ve noticed over the past 5 years?–Well, Stuart, the biggest change in the past 5 years has been there are a lot more gardening blogs, as I’m sure you’re aware. Once upon a time, the garden blog community was compared to a lunch room. Now it’s more like a small town. You are intimate with your own circle, and you may know the leading figures of the community, but you just can’t know everyone. In the next five years for myself, I would like to help the people who still find the technology an obstacle and a barrier get more comfortable with blogging.
- Kim: After 5 years of garden blogging, and countless more years of gardening, do you still discover new blogs and fresh approaches to gardening that delight you? You know, Kim, I don’t get to visit many other gardens, but it’s a rare garden magazine that doesn’t have at least one plant combination or bed that delights me. I find myself strongly attracted to whimsical gardens, but I wonder if I actually had a garden like that, if it wouldn’t start to get old. The really abstract, post-modern gardens leave me cold–most of the time. Every so often I come across one with an austere kind of beauty, but I’d never want to live there. I’m not used to thinking of blogs in terms of delight. For one thing, it is really difficult for most people to design a layout that stands out, that truly looks beautiful. I certainly can’t do it myself. The best I can hope for myself is to find a design that doesn’t get too much in the way. What pulls me in is the writing, a mixture of intelligence, warmth and humor, with an empathy for plants. And those kind of writers do on occasion write posts that delight me, or make me grin in self-recognition, or sigh in sympathy.
- Pam: How have you avoided the burnout that happens to so many bloggers after a while, and not just garden bloggers? What do you do to keep blogging fresh and interesting for you? Pam, I think it helps a lot that I don’t blog every day. I always have more things I could blog about than time to blog. I try to keep those ideas in my Drafts folder, along with the link to the site that inspired me, or the date of the email, or the photo from my garden, or the magazine article. (There’s been times when I look at the phrase I saved as a draft and can’t remember what got me thinking along those lines.) I also have a folder in a file cabinet with newspaper clippings, scribbled notes to myself, and not-quite-junk mail of the horticultural kind. Blogging is fresh and interesting for me because gardening is. There are problems to solve, triumphs to celebrate, new ideas to explore, and old ideas to revisit–and other gardeners to share the results of all that. And the Drafts folder just winds up being a back up, because most of the time there’s something right at hand I want to blog about.
- Carol: What is your personal favorite post of the past five years on CCG? Or if you can’t come up with just one, what are the top 5?Carol, thank you for asking a question that prompted me to view my work as a whole. It did take a bit of time, though! I find most of my favorite posts were ones that engaged my readers on an emotional level, and strengthened the bond between us, such as:
- My Grandmother’s Garden
- I Can’t Believe I Did This (the birdbath post)
- Doing Penance
- Daffodils Are My Favorite Flowers and
- My Summer in a Garden
Others I am proud of for more “professional” reasons, shall we say:
- Planting Prima Donna Peonies This post was linked to by Pamela, another garden blog pioneer, as an example of good writing–some of the first feedback I ever got.
- Review of A Year at North Hill I was very pleased to have reviewed this book for Fine Gardening, but it was frustrating to have to cut out so much of it, and very gratifying to be able to publish it the way I had wanted to write it in the first place.
- Triage WeedingThis was hard-won experience that I got to rewrite as short article for Horticulture.
- Water: Feast and Famine I feel strongly that we are entirely too cavalier about our water supply. Live through a drought and you will never feel the same about rain again.
- The Garden Blog Pioneer series I was pleased to preserve this little bit of internet history.
- What Does a Zone Map Really Tell You? When the National Arbor Day Foundation revised their zone map, some people got pretty excited. I thought a bit more perspective was called for.
And yes, I can count–that’s way more than five.
- Robin: What was your highest point–the most exciting and thrilling part of your blogging adventure? And, part 2, what really got you down? What frustrated you and made you think of quitting? Robin, I’d have to say the highest point of my blogging adventure occurred this year, when my post about tips for garden writers garnered 73 comments. (Some of those, of course, were my own responses.) It was thrilling to see the discussion expand and take on a life of its own. Being nominated for a “Mousie” comes a close second.
What gets me the most down is my continuing battle with various health problems related to repetitive stress. So far I’ve been diagnosed with lateral epicondylitis (pre-blog but not pre-computer) and tendinitis, both aggravated by typing and gardening. Neither has made me want to quit blogging, but I’ve certainly been afraid that I’d have to.
- Robin: Have you ever met–in person–people who you correspond with on your blog? Not yet! But in addition to the garden bloggers, such as Mary Ann Newcomer, that I expect to meet at the Garden Writers Symposium, I am making a side trip to Austin before the symposium, where I plan on visiting a dear friend I haven’t seen for fifteen years–and some of the Austin bloggers as well.
- Kate: I’m wondering how you first decided to blog at a time when blogging was in its infancy? As I mentioned in the Garden Blog Pioneer series, Kate, many of my relatives are computer professionals. My youngest brother, in particular, has always encouraged our family to try the latest “thing”–and has made it possible to do so. My original thought was to build a website to provide information on cold climate gardening. One day I realized that because of Blogger (about the only name in blogging software back then), it was a lot easier to start a blog than a website. So I did.
- OldRoses: My question is about your writing style. Did you start out with a particular “voice” when you began this blog or did it evolve over the years? OldRoses, I am not aware of having a voice or of it evolving over the years. But I always felt I was writing for an audience. At first, the audience I imagined was an amalgamation of family and garden friends. Now I sometimes have particular readers in mind, or the anonymous person who found my blog because of a search engine phrase. Almost all my writing begins with an internal conversation between myself and a “someone else” who may or may not be a real person, but is, in any case, a sympathetic listener.
- Bill: In what ways has blogging been different from what you expected it to be, and in what ways has it met your expectations?Bill, I’ll answer the second part of your question first. It has met my expectations in that I have found the real-life counterparts to the imaginary listener in my head. I found an audience; I’ve made friends.
Here are three things I wasn’t expecting. One, that blogging would make me aware of what gardeners are facing in other parts of the country, and other parts of the world. It now matters to me that Indiana is facing a drought. It fascinates me that roses and narcissus bloom simultaneously in Texas. And at least when I’m whining about temperature or bragging about the size of a plant, I want to do so in Celsius and centimeters as well as Fahrenheit and inches.
The second thing that I wasn’t expecting is that I am no longer just a casual writer looking for friends. I am also an editor and publisher, and I am concerned about what my readers want to know (and not just what I feel like telling them) and how to best present it to them. Related to this, when I began blogging I didn’t expect photographs to be an important part of my blog. Digital cameras were still quite expensive and scanning film photographs and uploading them was slow, and the results less than stunning. The first time I read a blogger complaining about blogs without pictures I was brought up short. I was a writer, not a photographer! But after thinking it over, I realized that photos often helped illustrate the point a garden writer was making, and I began to make a conscious effort to use them in my posts. Now I often start my day cruising the garden with camera in hand, and sometimes I see a new idea for a post, instead of thinking of it first.
- carolyngail: Would you do it all over again ? Given the time, effort and devotion it takes, was it all worth it ?Carolyn Gail, that sounds like such an odd question to me: I can’t imagine not blogging! Has it been worth the time? I’d say there isn’t ever enough time. I don’t find it requires devotion; rather, I need discipline to tear myself away.
- Robin: As you have prepared for your upcoming talk with the garden writers conference, what have you learned most in your research and dialogue with readers? I’ve learned that garden bloggers know what they want from professional garden writers more than garden writers know what they want from a blog. It sounds a little glib, but it’s the truth.
- ilona: I would like to know if you had an overall plan or if one developed in the making of your blog? Which came first–the blogging or the garden writing? And how did you get started in garden writing?I think, ilona, my very first post for this blog gives you an idea of my original overall plan. I envisioned sections of the website for my various garden related interests: cold climate gardening, cottage gardening, upstate NY gardening, garden blogs, and garden essays. As I explained in this post, I did do some garden writing before I started to blog, but it wasn’t until I started blogging that I found enough scope for all the writing I wanted to do. My natural inclination is to write personal essays related to gardening. It is harder for me to write more journalistic articles–profiles of gardens or plants–and I really shy away from contacting total strangers by phone. Until blogging came along, I really couldn’t find a market for the kind of writing I like to do. Being “discovered” by Horticulture eventually led to some writing assignments for them. I now keep a list of my paid writing assignments on my website, and refer to it when contacting editors.
- ilona: Along with Stu I’d love to know where you are taking your garden blog into the future. What have you dropped from the agenda and what do you plan to start in this endeavor? At one point I wanted to have a whole section of my website dedicated to the writing of Wayne Winterrowd and Joe Eck. At some point I realized I didn’t want to publish a fan site, though A Year at North Hill : Four Seasons in a Vermont Garden is still one of my favorite gardening books. One of my initial goals, which I’d still like to accomplish, is reprinting all of Innes Kasanof’s articles that she did for the defunct North American Cottage Gardening Society. She is a wonderful writer who should have a wider audience. I also want to reprint Judy Miller’s writing. (We also “met” through the NACGS.) The garden blog directory has gotten unwieldy, partly because I never dreamed when I started it that there’d be so many garden blogs, and so I didn’t really plan for expansion. I have started dividing it up by region, but haven’t gotten very far with that yet. I’d also like to begin a section on children and gardening. And as crass and materialistic as it sounds, I’d like to earn more money from my online and offline writing, taking it from a hobby income to more of a part-time job income. I haven’t figured out how to do that yet, though.
- firefly: I’m not so interested in the blogging as I am in the garden connection. Would you speak about where the garden was when you started the blog, and where it is now on the blog’s 5-year anniversary? Also, how has keeping records for and writing the blog affected the way you garden? Hmmm. Firefly, I don’t think I’ve expanded the garden since I started blogging. Instead, I’ve come to realize that I started more garden than I can take care of.It’s been a continuing challenge to find a balance between my ambitions and what I can realistically accomplish. I think I’ve also loosened up more in terms of garden design. I’m more likely to move plants around according to a vision in my head than a carefully conceived plan.
I used to be blissfully fanatical about record-keeping, and that has gone steadily downhill over the years, blog or no blog. Thank goodness digital photos have dates embedded in them, or I’d have no records to speak of at all. I think the blog has affected my increased photography more than my decreased record keeping, though. I was running out of time to keep the detailed records I enjoy (yes, enjoy!) before I ever started blogging, though I still nurture a warm, fuzzy fantasy of one day developing the ultimate garden records database program.
- layanee: Which came first, gardening or writing? Writing, definitely. I’ve enjoyed writing since third grade. It was at least fourth grade before Mrs. Rosano gave me some marigolds to plant. But frankly, Layanee, I attempted gardening several times before it got permanent hold of me as an adult. Why blog? Of course, everyone has their own reasons for blogging, but for me, I’ve always had a very strong desire to communicate by writing, and blogging provided the perfect medium for me. I can set my own schedule, write what and how I want to write, at a price I can afford–and I get a lot more feedback from my readers than most “dead-tree” writers do.
Thank you for all your warm congratulations and the great, thought provoking questions. I’ve made a lot of friends through blogging and I hope to make many more!
Last But Not Least
These questions arrived the morning of the blogiversary. I didn’t have time to answer them before this interview was first published, but they are answered now.
- Kris at Blithewold: When you started blogging did you have any idea how popular the medium would become and did you already have faithful readers to write to? (as opposed to sending your voice out into the ether not knowing if it would be heard) No, Kris, I really had no idea that blogging would become so popular with gardeners. My closest local garden buddy actually canceled her Juno email service and to this day has no internet access at all.
The only garden blog I knew of when I started mine was the now dormant Garden Spot, and it wasn’t until I saw Erica Bess Duncan’s blog that I wanted to start my own. You see, blog designs back then were really ugly, but hers was attractive. Ignorant of copyright law and web etiquette both, I copied her design and, after making a few tweaks, called it my own. Erica never called me to task for that. In fact, she put a link to my blog on her blogroll before I had even gone public with it! Having a link from a frequently visited site (such as hers was at the time) immediately got me into Google’s search engine listing, which certainly helped people find me. When I thanked her for the link, I also asked her how she found my blog before I had published it, and got my first lesson in referer stats.
I was pretty much sending my voice out into the ether. Google didn’t work as well back then, or didn’t have as much to work with. Every so often I’d go googling for garden blogs, thrilled when I actually found another. And each garden blogger’s blogroll was mined for other garden blogs I might not have heard of. That’s why I started my garden blog directory–to make it easier for garden bloggers to find each other. And if you look through my Recommended Links category, you’ll see that “back in the day” I thought the discovery of a new garden blog was worthy of a post.
- Kris at Blithewold:Also, do you ever feel caught between gardening and blogging? Which do you do when both are calling to you? Sometimes I feel extremely caught between the two! If it’s really hot/dry/rainy out, blogging wins out. If it’s gorgeous, or if I have starts from a fellow gardener that must be planted or die, gardening wins out. And no matter which of the two I choose, you can bet there is something related to parenting, household management, or homeschooling that I’m neglecting. Ambivalence and guilt seem to be my normal states of being.
- Cynthia: Which do you find more satisfying – garden writing or garden blogging? If you HAD to give up one, which would it be and why? I find them both satisfying in different ways. Being published in a garden magazine is a real thrill for me (and for my mother), but blogging sustains me emotionally as well as providing an outlet for my writing, so I’d choose to keep blogging and regretfully give up the other kinds of garden writing. (Don’t forget garden blogging is garden writing–we don’t need to turn a tree into paper to legitimize blogging as “real” writing.)