No garden variety apologies needed

Plant rack at Northwest Flower and Garden Show.

While shopping at box stores and garden nurseries, I often see old friends and meet new ones, usually over plants. In fact, it’s one of my favorite ways to meet people.

At parties, when new friends learn I’m a garden writer, they seem to feel the need to apologize for their garden or lack of plant-growing expertise.

Deck with plants, chairs and rug. It's a cozy outdoor space where we relax in the evenings.
Deck with plants, chairs and rug. It’s a cozy outdoor space where we relax in the evenings.

No garden variety apologies are needed. I don’t expect everyone to garden like I do. Really, I don’t.

What I do is labor-intensive, obsessive and hard. Also, the garden--and my plant knowledge--grew… Click To Tweet

What I do is labor-intensive, obsessive and hard. Also, the garden–and my plant knowledge–grew over the years. I know I’m nuts.

I do hope you’ll garden though. You don’t have to plow up the back forty or plant an acre of tomatoes, peppers, and squash either. Even tending one pot on your deck or porch is gardening.

Hemerocallis 'Ever Redeemewd' (Carpenter 2003) daylily
Hemerocallis ‘Ever Redeemed’ (Carpenter 2003) daylily. Check out that saturated color.

Really. I started with houseplants in the 1970s and macrame. My first real “garden” was a small plot outdoors with three roses, some begonias and another tropical/annual I no longer remember.

Potager and boxwood hedges. I didn't start gardening like this. It evolved over time.
Potager and boxwood hedges. I didn’t start gardening like this. It evolved over time.

Men seem to feel the need to apologize for their lawns or lack of one. If only they knew how little I care about grass maintenance. Women tell me their true confessions about all the flowers/vegetables they’ve killed.

Do you think I don't kill plants? Oh yes, I surely do. I just don't take pictures of their dead… Click To Tweet

Do you think I don’t kill plants? Oh yes, I surely do. I just don’t take pictures of their dead bodies. Ha!

H. 'Mystical Intuition' daylily (Petit 2011)
H. ‘Mystical Intuition’ daylily (Petit 2011)


If you don’t kill something once in a while, you’re not growing as a gardener.

You’re not branching out and trying new things. Plus, the climate in Oklahoma lends itself to plant death and destruction. It’s ok. With every plant we kill, we learn new things about our climate, soil and water conditions. We discover those plants that can deal with clay and those that turn up their leaves and die.

Do you think people find me intimidating? Gosh, I hope not. I don’t want to intimidate anyone. Instead, I want to help. It’s why I wrote The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff.

My last post on lilies made me realize, again, that people find gardening hard. It’s not hard. It’s simply a skill that must be learned, one tomato plant, one lettuce, one zinnia at a time. I’m still learning.

Gardens take planning, but in our hurry-up world, gardening is the balm of Gilead.
H. 'Dragonfly Dawn' daylily (Trimmer-J., 2010)
H. ‘Dragonfly Dawn’ daylily (Trimmer-J., 2010)

Gardening is unhurried and calm. If you don’t use power tools, it is also supremely quiet other than the sounds of insects buzzing about doing their thing. By the way, gardens should be full of insects, toads, and frogs, rabbits, and birds. If you’re able to create a small ecosystem for them, they will come, and your garden will be better for it.

Ecosystem sounds so grand, doesn’t it? It’s not really.

Just don’t use pesticides, organic or chemical–as much as possible. Cut down on herbicides too. Plant flowers full of nectar and those that feed baby butterflies and moths, and have some type of water in the garden. Really and truly, that’s all there is to it.

H. 'Free Wheelin'' daylily (Stamile, 2004). This big and bold daylily is truly one of my favorites. It blooms pretty early, but the flowers are huge and open in multiples.
H. ‘Free Wheelin” daylily (Stamile, 2004). This big and bold daylily is truly one of my favorites. It blooms pretty early, but the flowers are huge and open in multiples.

But, back to intimidation, no worries. When I visit your home, or see you at the box store or nursery, I’m not judging your space. The only garden I ever judge is my own, and I’m constantly learning, one mistake at a time.

Do you think seeing my garden online stresses people out?

I hope not. I don’t expect anyone to garden this much space this intensively. Cottage gardens are a lot of maintenance. I’d like to think that if I started over at a new property tomorrow, I would go for an easier landscape style, but I doubt it. I need flowers like some people need their morning latte.

I need crowded, jumbled and tumbled spaces. I need scented plants. I need butterflies, moths, bees and flower flies. I crave the garden the same way some people crave chocolate cake. If you told me I couldn’t garden, I think I would simply wither up and die.

My garden represents a lifetime of learning, and please note, I’m still learning. My garden is my life’s work, and since I began gardening when I was nineteen, that translates to thirty-six years.

Gosh, that makes me sound old. I think I’ll just go off and totter into the sunset.

Just kidding. I do mean this though. If you have a question, please ask me. I may not know the answer, but if not I’ll find it. Gardening is like breathing. It’s what I do, and I want to help you garden in whatever capacity you can. We need to get off our computers and see and touch the real world. It brings down stress, and it makes us slow down and appreciate our lives.

So, ask me gardening questions, but no garden variety apologies please.

Five lessons from the Garden Communicators’ annual meeting

This is how I felt after I listened to some of the talks. I felt like I needed to go meditate. (Statue in the Meditation Garden at the State Botanical Garden in Athens, GA.)

I was going to write “Five lessons from GWA” because it’s short, to the point and SEO friendly, but the organization’s new name, GWA, the Association for Garden Communicators, tries to encompass all the ways we communicate about gardening. I think we should change the organization’s name to GCA, get a redirect link for the website and move on, but I’m not part of that decision-making process. There’s probably a good reason we haven’t.

I am on the Outreach Task Force. I giggle every time I say or write that. I feel like part of the Garden Army Special Forces or something. My weapon of choice would be a berry-colored Dramm One-Touch sprayer.

But, as usual, I digress. Here are five lessons I took home from the Garden Communicators’ annual meeting.

1. Videos and live streaming are bigger than ever.

Chris Sabbarese from Corona Tools gave a great talk about live streaming videos. Here is one I did live today on Facebook on my garden bed facing the street. It seems videos are more important than ever on the social media front. If you don’t do videos, the algorithms won’t notice you. Isn’t that nice? Do you ever feel like there are Gremlins in the social media networks who are just messing with us? I do.

I tried live streaming on Facebook after Chris’ talk and promptly figured out I needed a mic for my iPhone. I ordered an iRig Mic Lav compact lavalier microphone for smartphones and tablets, so expect more live streaming from me. I hope I don’t bore you to tears.

He suggested using Crowdcast or Huzza. Several people still use Periscope–although in another social media session, the experts said it was no longer a thing–while others use Facebook’s live feature. Just remember that YouTube is now owned by Google, and Facebook isn’t. They don’t always play well together or support one another. Oh, and Twitter is considered basically dead, although I still go over there and play sometimes. I have different friends in different places. Instagram is still a big deal because it is photo and video driven, and it started a new thing called “Stories.” This was to compete with Snapchat. Both only last 24 hours.

Confused yet?

I often think the social media CEOs are just dividing us up like so many toys and smashing those they no longer want, but that’s another subject for another day.

Title Slide from Angela Treadwell-Palmer's talk on consumers.
Title Slide from Angela Treadwell-Palmer’s talk on consumers.
2. Only 20% of Americans are into gardening and understand it well.

That means 80% of American consumers still know very little about gardening. I learned this in a talk by Angela Treadwell-Palmer from Plants Nouveau. If you’d like to read up more on this, see “What Consumers Under 50 Have To Say About Plants, Gardening and Garden Stores,” By Bridget K. Behe and Carol Miller in Greenhouse Grower magazine. This is just one of many studies out there analyzing consumera.

It confirmed something I’ve thought for awhile. Maybe we’re all just talking to each other and not bringing in new gardeners. This is a sobering thought after I’ve spent the last thirteen or so years talking, writing and photographing gardening for various outlets including RDR. Because I’m worried about the next generation, I even wrote a book for millennials.

Maybe in our efforts to remain professional, we’ve scared away potential gardeners.

I don’t know. I hope not.

This is how I felt after I listened to some of the talks. I felt like I needed to go meditate. (Statue in the Meditation Garden at the State Botanical Garden in Athens, GA.)
How I felt after I listened to some of the talks. I felt like I needed to go meditate. (Statue in the Meditation Garden at the State Botanical Garden in Athens, GA.)

I felt both inspired and even more worried after Angela’s talk.

She said we need to change how we communicate about gardening or horticulture. It’s clear that even using the word horticulture is intimidating. She suggested we not use industry jargon like plant material, midrib, ornamental, evergreen, floriferous, continuous bloom, etc. Try writing on a 6th to 8th-grade level, but not talk down to consumers. That isn’t easy, but I’ll fall back on my newspaper training. Lead with the most important information. Write in short sentences. Use the inverted paragraph, whatever it takes, to get the message out.

And, if we’re all feeling quite superior right now because we know botanical Latin, perhaps we shouldn’t. If we’re not careful, our hobby, nay passion, may go the same way as philately–no offense to stamp collectors intended.

Title slide from talk on self-publishing.
Title slide from self-publishing talk by Katie Elzer-Peters and Claire Splan.
3. Self-publishing isn’t dead, or even on life support.

Claire Splan and Katie Elzer-Peters gave a rousing talk on self-publishing with Claire talking about ebooks, and Katie discussing print. They gave me much to think about. I don’t know if, for my second book, I’d go that way, or approach a traditional publisher, but it’s something to consider. If you’re thinking about self-publishing, you need to build up your subscription list. Writing for Facebook isn’t the same thing as having your own hub either. Your website is still your hub on the internet even if there are other ways to share.

4. Atlanta and Athens gardens in September look like Oklahoma gardens in October.

I felt right at home in Atlanta and Athens, GA, except for the humidity. Many of the plants (not plant material) were the same as what we grow here. There are passionate gardeners there too. Plenty of humor too. Meeting Coach Vince Dooley and his wife, Barbara Meshad Dooley, was a highlight of the conference and tours. Smart and funny, they went with us as we toured Athens’ gardens.

The coach was also one of three keynote speakers. He discussed his passion for his garden and was completely authentic. He is a self-taught gardener, as am I. Of course, he’s friends with Michael Dirr and Allan Armitage so he had good teachers.

5. The people are the best part of the conference.

My colleagues are the kindest and best people out there. They will step up to help you solve problems. They loan people photo cards and batteries. They trade out electrical cords and the stupid Mac VGA adapter–which no speaker who uses a MacBook Air or Pro, or iPad can be without. Yes, people forget them. The support and good cheer are contagious. I felt like this year at  GWA was the best in a long time. The mood was upbeat, and the new management company, Kellen, did a great job herding us about with grace and good humor, and without making us feel like we were in grade school. Sometimes, change, while hard, is not just good, but vital. GWA is making quick progress, and my heart is glad.

So, those are my five lessons from the annual meeting. Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts on gardening, social media, and organizations in general. Have you learned anything new about your craft this year?