Five lessons from the Garden Communicators’ annual meeting

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?



  1. Wonderful bits of information, I am always trying to learn more about the communication process.

  2. Thanks for sharing your lessons from the conference, Dee. I hope to attend next year in Buffalo. I’m not surprised about the video/live streaming, but the 20% figure is surprising. I thought gardening was the most popular hobby in this country, but maybe it’s slipping. Also, maybe the next generation isn’t into it as much. Maybe that will change as they buy more houses and properties and start more families. Still, something to think about. Thanks for another great post!

  3. Matt Mattus says:

    HI Dee, Trying to keep this short, but it’s tough! I have such strong opinions. On one level, I ‘get’ this idea of lumping all garden communication together. For mass market communication – yes. But as an overall statement, if feels a bit irresponsible. I wish I had heard Angela’s talk, as I may have missed some context so I am going to make some assumptions based on what you reported. I can only guess that her advice “to write toward a 6th and 8th grade level when targeting new consumers of gardening” was directed towards those who write for Newspapers and mass-market media, right? And I would make a distinction between magazines and blogs, as they seem to define themselves by audience, more than newspapers do.

    Regarding ‘not using jargon like horticulture’ concerns me. It may not be exactly ‘dumbing down’ but over-simplifying, while essential for beginners, is a difficult position for me to defend when it comes to the science of horticulture and gardening. Believe me, I understand mass market – given my day job, but as a broad statement to our trade of garden communicators? Not sure I agree. It’s funny, because the board of a botanic garden where I sit, there is often is this discussion about these two terms ‘horticulture and botany’, with half of the room feeling that horticulture is artsy creative, and not serious enough, dismissing display and ornamental as merely artsy expression while botany is viewed with the same, yet opposite polarity, as being too intellectual and science-y. I think both sides are a little right, and a little wrong, I guess we should be careful not to just simply make gardening easily consumable, rather than pithy, but rather find that balance, to inspire a deeper interest without alienating the beginner.

    Look, we all watched recently as cooking communication made this amazing shift – from silly, short sound bites of talk shows, to entire networks dedicated to the craft, with episodes focused on a deeper, more engaged audience who doesn’t mind learning about truffles. We all know someone who have built a serious kitchen even if they never cook, Food enthusiasts are either leaning into developing technique, or they are at least watching it. They may not admit that they are opening a can of tomato soup for a casserole like their mother did on weeknights, but hey – we all like Kraft Macaroni and cheese too, and dream of dining at Blue Hill and Stone Barns. People have to develop a reason to care, and that may take more than just 3 steps. I could be our responsibility to guide them down that path of learning, to not to over-simplify technique. Generally, gardening involves knowledge as well as context – history, science, chemistry, meteorology, art, design – the list goes on.

    Everyday gardeners today know about things like water gardens, flower farms and paperwhites. In so many ways, gardening, like cooking, having a broader audience than before. One may begin with a Venus Fly Trap one year, but today are setting out Fritillaria bulbs. We just shouldn’t dumb it down and over-simplify or we risk the consumer getting bad results. Our audience is this amazing, complex matrix, tiered by their abilities, not be their capacity to learn. It should be our responsibility to do everything within our power to encourage real knowledge and results, than to risk more dropouts because we never shared the right way to grow something. Let’s not default to simplicity and soundbites to capture their numbers on social media, but educate and engage them, which will result in growth and retention.

  4. I find social media really frustrating most of the time. I can’t keep up with all the changes. I very much appreciate you sharing your takeaways from the conference. Surprised Twitter is on the outs. I just joined not that long ago but wasn’t loving it. I am sorry I didn’t attend the conference, especially since it was in my stomping ground but I’m glad that you enjoyed your time in Georgia!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Karin, it is really frustrating. I do think Social Media Examiner is a good place to get a handle on things. I check in periodically. Twitter has problems because it’s never turned a profit for its shareholders, and it isn’t as visual as Instagram or even FB. Millennials and Gen Z have virtually left it, but I still like it especially on #gardenchat night.

      1. I will check that out. I like visual too, which is why I think I never got in to Twitter. I need to get on Instagram…see, how behind I am on the whole social media thing!

  5. I try not to get too caught in which type of social media is the latest trend, but then again, I’m not trying to sell anything. I still blog, even though it’s fading quickly, but that’s because I just use it as my garden journal. I can’t possibly find time for any more social media platforms, as I’m often trying to make sure I spend more time in the “real” world. I guess I’ll just continue to plod along in my set ways!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Robin, staying in the real world is a problem for sure. It’s tough to make yourself walk away from the keyboard. This year, I’ve made a pledge to myself that I’m trying to read on paper everyday and do my prayers in the morning without the keyboard. I don’t always succeed, but I try. As for staying current, that’s just hard. I’ll also still keep blogging although the influence isn’t there as much anymore. However, I never did it for influence anyway. I did it for myself. Xoxo.

  6. Thanks for the recap Dee, I wish I could have been there. Loved your video, you’re a natural!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      You’re so welcome Loree. Come to the one in Buffalo next year. It will be grand. Were you in Buffalo for Garden Bloggers Fling in 2009? I can’t remember who was and who wasn’t. Anyway, Buffalo is exciting as all get out.

  7. Loved your recap and I’m inspired by your live video forays. I am going to read that “What consumers under 50” think study. So good to see you again, Dee!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Katie, I really enjoyed your talk. I bought the book you suggested too. Lovely to catch up.

  8. Carol says:

    I do admire the way you are diving right into videos and look forward to seeing what you come up with and perhaps following in your foot steps! And I missed Angela’s talk about who is/isn’t gardening, instead I sat in on a terrific session with Maria Zampini and Kelly Norris talking about new plants. Just made my “want” list grow again. All in all a great conference, though, and I look forward to the next one in Buffalo.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I’ve been to that new plants session before. It’s dangerous territory.

  9. I am not so hot about live streaming. I record the few tv shows that I watch to watch on my time not the programmed time. I am not saying that I don’t like what is presented I just like to watch on my own schedule. I guess if one can watch it later that is ok.

    I like YouTube for the videos. I think there are too many different medias and news feeds. A person just has to chose what and where they watch, read and hang out. You just can’t spend all that time online or chasing around trying to see it all.

    Getting new gardeners is a difficult challenge. People have their own likes and dislikes in regard to their interests. Often you try something new due to a friend or relative talking about their interest. Hmmm What to do?? I think it all boils down to people sharing and caring.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Lisa, those are good thoughts. I know you can save the Facebook live videos because I did yesterday. I like YouTube too. I watch a lot of things on there, and recently, I did an unboxing and tryon video. I don’t know about new potential gardeners. I do my best, but ultimately, they need to decide to join us I guess. Thanks for your thoughts. I’ll ponder some more.

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