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?


Four ways Pinterest changed the gardener in me.

A week or so ago, I gave a speech on how social media platforms like Pinterest changed the gardener in me. Social media is also always in flux, so I did some research especially for photo sharing services like Picasa/Google+, Photobucket and Flickr. I don’t use the last two very often because I am already overstretched social media-wise, but other gardeners certainly can. I think Flickr’s platform is beautiful.

My Flickr photostream
My Flickr photostream

I’m still on Facebook, along with Twitter and Sulia, but Pinterest is one of my favorite ways to unwind after a long day of critical thinking. When pondering Pinterest and how much it has changed since its beginnings, I thought you might like to hear how it influenced my thinking and my garden. I am a writer, speaker and garden coach. One way I’ve used Pinterest is to send garden coaching clients over to my boards for ideas from my work and that of others. My favorite garden designers, like Deborah Silver and Helen Weis, use Pinterest to help their clients discover the right “feel” for their gardens and to showcase their own work. Pinterest has to boost their sense of pride in their designs when people ooh and ah over their boards.

My Pinterest Boards
My Pinterest Boards

I was an early Pinterest user, and I began playing with it to relax my writing muscles. Writing on a particular topic is work. Good work, but work nonetheless. Looking at beautiful photos is a way to take a breather, especially in winter when I can’t work as hard in the garden. I love pinning, and I’m careful to give people credit for the beauty they’ve created if I can find the source. One thing I’ve noticed recently is how junky Pinterest now feels. Pins are full of “come on” ads, which makes me sad. Spamming pins sometimes take you places on the web you don’t want to go. There are still lots of people who pin good work. I wish others would follow their lead. I’ve seen a lot of bad garden advice on Pinterest lately too. If I put a picture up for people to pin, I won’t add a bunch of advertising to the photo. It defeats the beauty of the boards.

The Board for RDR
The Board for RDR

Maybe there is a designer in me somewhere.

Swiss chard and red fountain early last spring
Swiss chard and red fountain early last spring

After I had a few pins, I began grouping boards and choosing colors I especially liked, not just in gardening, but also, in fashion. Gardening is a lot about fashion anyway. Through this, I learned four essential things about myself and my gardens.

1. Although my favorite colors are blue and green, I love red as a garden accent. This still surprises me. Red is a powerful and hot color. Although I like bright hues in garden plants, I was surprised at my choice for red in permanent accents like blown glass in my back garden, or the fountain in the potager. Gardener know thyself, I guess.

The red and green glass leaves in the back garden.
The red and green glass leaves in the back garden.

2. I live in a dry and dusty climate for most of the summer. In 2011 and 2012, we were in the third year of a desperate drought. Because water is difficult to keep flowing in garden fountains, I need that look elsewhere to feel cool. How did Pinterest help me discover this? I collect blue and white china, especially flow blue, and I pinned a lot of it to boards. I placed these same boards next to ones of swimming pools, fountains and other water sources. Because I could move boards around, I realized what I really love is the look of shiny surfaces. Blown glass has this look as do glazed pots. Once I knew this, I placed all three in accents throughout the garden. This shininess helps me survive the long days of summer.

Hemerocallis 'Cosmic Kaleidoscope' daylily
Just look at the pattern on Hemerocallis ‘Cosmic Kaleidoscope.’

3. Complicated patterns and interesting shapes tickle my fancy. Once again, Pinterest came to the rescue. I knew to mix up texture and leaf shapes in the garden, but I didn’t think about how much these two things were part of my style. I now look for complicated duck-foot coleus and other plants to get the colors and interesting shapes I desire. The Under the Sea collection of coleus put out by Hort Couture are good examples. I bought most of the collection for my garden this year. I found it at Precure Nursery in Oklahoma City.

Kingswood Torch coleus
‘Kingswood Torch’ coleus is not a duck foot, but it is a beautiful shape and color.

4. Colorful foliage is a must-have. Pinterest allowed me to collect all the different coleus and alternanthera I desire in one place for easy reference. A. ficoidea Red Threads’ is only one of many varieties I grow for color. I share my coleus board with a friend. She and I add to our board fairly often, but especially when planning our gardens during the deep, dark recesses of winter.

So, those are four ways Pinterest changed the gardener in me. Have you used Pinterest? Are you a responsible Pinner? Do you give credit to those people and places from which you pin? If you like Pinterest, I’d be excited to hear how you use it. I’m planning a talk about it for another group later in the year. I’m open to ideas. Also, if you’d like to follow me on Pinterest, here’s how.