What Good Are Garden Blogs?

Recently Allan Becker, Garden Guru posed the question "Are there garden experts out there that resent the abundance of horticultural advice that is posted online?", sparking a great conversation about the legitimacy of what amateur garden bloggers have to say.
This got me thinking.  Are we really taking our roles as informers seriously enough?  Read the long post and tell me what you think.


Anyone can write a garden blog, and all it takes is enough enthusiasm to write about gardening in the first place.  We garden bloggers are very lucky to have the opportunity to share our excitement over gardening with the world, and many of our blogs started life out of the simple desire to share what brings us so much joy.

Eventually that habit sticks and friends are made who encourage us to cultivate our gardens and our blogs too, and I'm sure that many of you have also made the comparison... that our blogs are our gardens.  We first plant some seeds of passion that soon grow rampant like passionflower vines, and we realize that a good design is in order.  We artfully arrange and curate what we find to be beautiful, editing our posts and maybe adding a little decoration here and there.  Sometimes our blogs get more attention than our gardens!

As our passion for horticulture spreads like wildfire, we inevitably learn more and more and want to share our lessons 'over the fence' to our new-found friends, as well as visitors who happened upon your page rather than the local extension agent's.  If our advice shows up first in the search engine rankings, its not for our degrees and qualifications, its because we post often and provide tons of relevant content.  As anyone into search engine optimization will admit, content really is king.

Horticulture is an enormously vast field, and sometimes expert advice is simply lacking online or in print.  Take cold hardy bromeliads for example.  So few people have tested the limits and each and every freeze is unique, so even the 'experts' are still learning whats possible in a temperate environment.  I have grown so many tropicals through 20 degrees nights, and if I just went by the books and online resources, I would have never tried.

Out of all 50 some-odd gardening and botany books in my collection, I have found little errors in many of them.  For example, I'm always seeing mixups between colocasia, alocasia and xanthosoma, as well as books that misidentify white bird of paradise as a banana.  I'm not nitpicking at all, only saying that everybody makes mistakes.

In a web 2.0 world, garden bloggers occupy a niche somewhere between garden writers, nurserymen and the everyday consumer.  We represent the consumer, as well as provide information and occasionally misinformation to that consumer.  We are curators and editors of our own little magazines and some of us take it more seriously than others.  As silly as I can be, I still take it pretty seriously.  I still spend a lot of time researching and double checking my facts before I post something, and if I'm not sure about something, I'm sure to say so. 

As seriously as I take my own blog, a blog is more than simply a manual or a reference.  Garden blogs are an ongoing conversation.  Its a dialogue between generous, thoughtful and caring individuals that simply make you happy to be in this beautiful world.  These passionate gardeners do provide a whole lot of information too, and not just on "How to make compost!" (like one commenter on Allan Becker's post) but they provide fascinating resources on diverse and obscure topics that are just too specific to be found elsewhere.

Garden blogs are yet another thing. They are a vehicle to pursue a passion.  On a personal note, I'll tell you that not everyone's able to get the education of a landscape architect, designer or writer.  I received my a, but I love writing, designing and gardening to the point of obsession, and The Rainforest Garden is not only an outlet, but rather my purpose.  Its a second full time job that consists of research, networking, more research, note taking, gardening, and designing, and only a small portion of that time is actually spent blogging.

I'm saving up to be a Master Gardener so I can share what I learn, and I've officially decided to take the plunge and take garden writing more seriously, making it a real job. Wish me luck!
.

18 comments:

  1. Good lock with your writing endeavors! I visit your site regularly. I am a professional garden designer and a plain 'ol garden enthusiast. My fiancee knows that for at least two hours of the day I don't answer my cell because it's my personal time in my garden. Dirt don't hurt.

    I agree with you, a blog is more than an informational pamphlet. It is an enthusiastic conversation about our individual likes, issues etc within our gardens and so much more.

    Keep up the great work!

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  2. Nice post.
    I've thought a lot about my garden blog and posting accurate and personal views on the plants I grow. I'm a stickler for accuracy as are most of the garden bloggers I know about.
    But more than that, they are passionate about what they do. It's something you can't find in a book...usually.
    I think the greatest surprise about garden blogs that I visit is the quality of the posts. These are the serious elite of the amateur gardening world. Whereas, I can only see a few pictures of a wonderful garden in a fine garden magazine, I can see hundreds(!) of photos from one person's garden in their blog. Plus, most of us tell of our challenges and even failures so that others might benefit. It's an unexplored world that just now is coming into its own and I love it!
    David/ Tropical Texana/ Houston

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  3. Truly its a lovely thought. And you are so right.
    Garden Bloggers do take care of two gardens. And their neighbours are international - crossing all borders & boundaries.
    Good luck in your new endevour.

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  4. BelleAQ
    Thanks for your kind words! You're right about the pamphlet bit, and you can't get much more interactive than blogs and social media nowadays. Take this dialogue taking place now for instance... apparently this debate has involved more than I realized! Here's a link to the gardenbloggers.com post.
    http://www.gardenbloggers.com/2010/10/your-garden-blog-is-bunkum.html

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  5. David, Melanie, and Family:
    You're right! I'm also surprised by how 'professionally' a lot of garden bloggers write, and I think that if you are forced to sit down and write as often as we do, AND you're passionate, its going to be some enjoyable reading material. The 'pro' sites can only tell us so much, and I would like to know more than crap like 'part shade' and 'good drainage'. I have read entire books where every single plant required 'good drainage' simply because the author didn't take the time to find out otherwise!

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  6. James Missier:
    That's another great part about blogging! You really are instantly connected to the other side of the globe, and I love to read about summer in Australia or Brazil when there's ice in the cups of my bromeliads.

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  7. Very well written and said Steve! Garden bloggers are indeed 'inbetween' and definitely represent consumers. Over here, some nurserymen are not able to give the proper guidance on plant care simply because their plants sit on racks and under nursery netting... fully protected environment. So, it's good to see and observe how 'normal' gardeners takes care of plants in their garden via their blog ;-)

    Btw, when the climate goes haywire (rainy and cloudy, my garden gets less attention than my blog.

    It is so good to know that you are serious about gardening and check accuracy of the information that you write in your blog. Thanks! I do hope you will be able to take up Master Gardener soon :-D

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  8. Blogging has been extremely insightful into gardening. Many times I would feel alone without any proper advice....now I don't feel that way at all....books are great, but they are mostly very general. And for the comment above....that while a magazine has several pics, a blog post has a lot more information with MANY pics of their gardens etc....it's quite the diverse world here and I'll continue reading people's work....it's quite fun:)

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  9. Thanks Stephanie!
    I see your point about growers being familiar with their conditions and not those found in gardens. A prime example is the fact that a lot of nurserymen can't ever seem to tell me what handles standing water, because they don't experience it! I always try and give feedback where I shop, and they seem to appreciate it, or at least pretend to.

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  10. I love what you said..."We are curators and editors of our own little magazines" that is exactly how I see it! I make errors, lord knows I do. No matter how much I try not to I do. So what! I am not trying to be an expert, I think people understand that, I am just sharing my passion. What I (and you, and the rest of us) can offer is experience. I have learned so much reading your blog (not to mention your wonderful informational email about the plants you sent me)...blogs are at least as helpful as books by the experts and they offer something the books don't (yet?) and that is community. The value of community can't be under estimated. Great post Steve.

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  11. rohrerbot
    "books are great, but they are mostly very general" I couldn't agree more! I have tons of books, work at a bookstore, and know that there is way more to know than they can fit in those pages. Obviously I value them, considering I own so many, but they aren't the last word.

    Danger Garden:
    I'm glad that the bromeliad info was helpful! Working at a bookstore I know that traditional media, while not entirely on the decline, is stagnant and losing ground to the dynamic forces at work online. Many authors (like Amy Stewart) take advantage of this and participate in the online community through blogs and social media, while many books also get their starts as blogs! Fern Richardson of "Life on the Balcony" has a book coming out, following the examples set by such brands as "Apartment Therapy" and "You Grow Girl!"
    Garden clubs are known for being exclusive enclaves of older folks, and even my favorite bromeliad societies haven't had any new blood in years. Social media is a revolution in the garden community, since it speaks to a new generation of would be gardeners.

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  12. RFG: Good luck with your new endevour! In my opinion it is the best if one can make the living by doing what he/she has passion over. Obviously you have the passions for gardening, writing, and designing, and I think it is very smart of you to combine all of these to make a carreer for yourself! Best luck for you! Although currently I am taking a little break on blogging, but I still love visiting garden blogs, and reading all the "stories" that garden bloggers are telling. Of course, I still want to be one of them...

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  13. Love your enthusiasum! I'm glad you check your facts...obviously many garden writers do not. LOL!

    I think garden blogs will push everyone to question their assumptions about gardening. And it's a good thing. Only then will we start getting fresh thoughtful content based on observations not recopied from another book

    Always relying on texts perpetuates the mistakes.

    Don't get me wrong, it's a good place to start. But before using the "facts": Think! Question! Experiment!

    Thanks for your great garden blog...

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  14. Ami:
    Thanks for stopping by! It will probably be a while before I can make a living out of doing this sort of thing, but at least now I have an idea of what i want to do. As far as you're concerned, its not an obligation to post! Do it whenever it makes you feel happy and we'll still come back!

    Cristina:
    Mistakes happen and that's okay if someone can come along and correct them. However there are lots of incorrect statements in books, and once they're in print the author is screwed. I like going to Dave's Garden since there are plenty of gardeners to share their own experiences or dispute the info provided. Thanks for stopping by!

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  15. I agree with most of what is written here. However as a creative horticultural critic, love, affection when I write is totally optional.

    On top I add my on the light side misanthropist stance tilting towards the heavy regarding people in Puerto Rico.

    However, regarding animals of company or not Flora and Fauna is all I care for.

    In essence, I could care less about other opinions unless some rigorous habits, credentials and botanical inventory are thrown in the argument.

    I wish you good luck since you show promise!

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  16. A garden that kicks butts here, and THERE with a hundred species, setting trends, a blog does not need.

    Most writers of blogs are copy cats, with little or no imagination, depending on the nursery next door...

    Since the know how to propagate is absent.

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  17. Very truth, I am just starting in this gardening blogsphere but it does get in to you fast

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  18. As a garden enthusiast, I am always on the lookout for ways to create that special atmosphere one experiences in the gardens of Provence and Tuscany. Recently I found a wonderful resource in West Palm Beach, Florida: Authentic Provence (http://authenticprovence.com). Walk into this oasis of calm, and you will see what I think is the finest collection of European garden antiques available in the USA: statues, fountains, planters (note especially the classic Caisse de Versailles, and Anduze pottery), terra cotta shields, stone animals, copper pots, garden spouts, and on and on. They also have beautiful stone fireplaces, re-purposed tiles, and many other specialty items. The staff is very adept at finding that special item, and in arranging shipping to anywhere in the USA. Definitely worth a visit, AND there is a great coffee shop across the street!

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