I’m interviewed in Boston Globe about Texas gardening and blogging

“When Spotlight won Best Picture,” I asked the Boston Globe reporter the day after the Oscars, “did you celebrate?” Heather Ciras was interviewing me for a non-investigative story (thank goodness) about gardening and blogging. The night before, I’d been happy to see my favorite movie of 2015 — a true story about the Globe‘s 2001 investigation of a cover-up in the Catholic Church, and an excellent film — get the top award.

“I worked the Oscars, manning our social media, so it was very cool when Spotlight won,” she replied, “especially since we didn’t think it would. There were some cheers, then we got right back to work because we were on deadline.” I admit it: I couldn’t help picturing actors Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams hard at work, following leads and sniffing out cover-ups.

With Spotlight fresh in my mind, I felt a bit awed to be contacted by a Globe reporter. She’d seen my blog in the Better Homes and Gardens Blogger Awards and wanted to interview me for her column in the weekend Address section about homes and real estate. Her column, she explained, usually covers home decorating and includes interviews with home bloggers, but for a change she wanted to talk with a garden blogger. Naturally, I was at her service!

We did the interview in late February, and I sent her a few pictures of my garden. I didn’t know if anything would come of it, but last week she emailed to tell me that the interview was online and would be in print on April 24! Yippee! Here are a couple of screenshots of the online version. I called all over town on Saturday to try to find a local bookstore that carries the Globe, so I could pick up a copy, but no dice. Happily, Heather has promised to mail me a copy.

If you’d like to know what a Boston reporter (still waiting for winter to end) asks an Austin gardener (hands grubby from manic spring gardening), click here to read the interview. Our conversation is condensed, so there are some abrupt segues, and I have no idea what the Texas-gopher reference in the title means. But I’m thrilled to be spotlighted, so to speak, in the Boston Globe!

Here’s how Heather summed up the interview: “Penick shared with us her thoughts on using less water, how interior design and gardening overlap, and why plantings are best enjoyed with a margarita.”


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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

I’ll be speaking on April 30, noon-12:30 pm, in Cedar Park, Texas, at Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery’s Lily Blossom Festival. My free talk is called “How to Garden Water-Wise, Not Water-Wasteful.” An old proverb reminds us that The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives. Don’t be a water-guzzling frog! I’ll be sharing my tips for making a garden that is water-wise, not water-wasteful. Stick around after my talk for a book signing, with autographed copies of Lawn Gone! and The Water-Saving Garden available for purchase.

Come see me at Festival of Flowers in San Antonio, May 28, time TBA. Learn more about water-saving gardening during my presentation at San Antonio’s 19th annual Festival of Flowers. I’ll be at the book-signing table after the talk, with copies of both The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone! available for purchase. Tickets to the all-day festival, which includes a plant sale and exchange, speakers, and a flower show, are available at the door: $6 adults; children under 10 free. Free parking.

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

I’m on Instagram as pamdigging. See you there!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Read This: The New Southern Living Garden Book

The New Southern Living Garden Book

South by Southwest (SXSW) is not only the name of Austin’s famous music/film/interactive festival, but it also happens to be descriptive of our gardening culture. Here, the South meets the Southwest, with the Balcones Fault roughly delineating the division. Deep clay soil tends to be found east of the fault line, thin soil atop chalky caliche to the west. Both types run alkaline, making it challenging to grow acidic-soil Southern staples like azalea, dogwood, and camellia.

Although I’ve gardened on both sides of the fault line, and despite my South Carolina upbringing, I prefer Austin’s rugged, dry-adapted Hill Country style to Deep South verdant greenery. My own garden is definitely SxSW, but in gardening books I gravitate toward those with a Southwestern sensibility, not Southern. So it was with a little hesitation that I cracked open The New Southern Living Garden Book (Oxmoor House, 2015), edited by Southern Living magazine’s garden editor Steve Bender, aka the Grumpy Gardener.

I needn’t have hesitated. While the introduction plays up the history and gardening culture of the Deep South, the meat of the book is its plant reference section, which covers the South from Maryland to Florida and from North Carolina to central Texas. The South is, of course, geographically large and climatically diverse, ranging from mountains to low country, subtropical to temperate. With that in mind, not every featured plant is suitable for all parts of the South. But you’ll find plenty of plants listed for each growing zone and soil type, including the limestone soils of central Texas. With coverage of 8,000 plants (including many edibles) and 2,000 color photos, this textbook-sized paperback is jam-packed with information. Just thinking about all the research, writing, and editing it required makes me want to collapse on a porch rocker, under a haint-blue ceiling, with a glass of sweet tea in my hand.

I see this book as being most useful for researching plants you’ve encountered in a nursery or online and wondered how they might perform in your garden, rather than as a book to read straight through. Your intrepid garden blogger did, however, read through it page by page, quickly scanning some plants and reading others in detail. I found the descriptions of familiar plants to be not only accurate but detailed, well written, and occasionally witty. This is dense but not dry reading!

Experienced gardeners will enjoy reading up on less-familiar or zone-pushing plants they’re thinking of trying, while newbie gardeners will find solid information about plants commonly found in local nurseries or passed along from gardener to gardener. Also, new gardeners will especially appreciate the final section, which contains practical gardening how-tos, from preparing soil and proper pruning techniques to growing edibles and gardening for wildlife. All in all, this is an excellent reference for Southern gardeners (including us central Texans) and anyone on the fringe of Southern states.

I have two minor complaints. There’s a briefly confusing copy-editing error on page 64, with text that clearly belongs in a different section. Also, the font size in the plant reference section is so small I had trouble reading it. This section spans pages 124 to 651, so that’s a lot of squinting.

Even so, a few new crow’s feet are a small price to pay for the wealth of information and generous plant photos that make this book such a good resource for those of us gardening in hot and humid, long-summer climates. Add The New Southern Living Garden Book to your reading list this summer, as you lounge on the porch (or inside with the A/C), sip your iced tea, and await the fall gardening season.

Disclosure: I know editor Steve Bender personally. Oxmoor House sent me a copy of The New Southern Living Garden Book for review. I reviewed it at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

What kind of gardening do YOU block on social media?

I bet we all do it without even thinking about it. But it wasn’t until I read Elizabeth Licata’s post on Garden Rant this week, “2015: the year of the do-nothing garden,” that I’d heard it voiced so baldly. She was vowing to take it easier in her garden next year, to stop fussing and just let it be — all well and good. And then she included a resolution that’s echoed in my head for days:

Ignore all the super-modern, spiffy-clean minimalist garden designs people keep posting in Facebook. In fact, think about blocking anyone who posts them, or at least clicking “I don’t want to see this.”

Wow, blocking someone on social media who posts about a different garden style than one’s own? I was taken aback and instantly started second-guessing myself. Is she talking about me? I do like modern gardens, and although my own will never be minimalist I’m drawn to some that are. Modern and minimalist gardens seem especially well suited to drier parts of the country than Elizabeth’s native Buffalo, New York (or even the South-meets-Southwest climate of Austin, my hometown), and plants naturally grow farther apart and as individual specimens where rainfall is scarce — and this is a look that modern design embraces. Of course it’s quite easy to make a cottage garden in Phoenix or Boise, or a clean-lined contemporary garden in Raleigh or Buffalo, if that’s what you like. But I do think that certain styles lend themselves to the region in which one lives, and don’t merely reflect one’s taste. In that case, if you block a particular style of gardening from your news feed on Facebook or Pinterest or your blogroll, are you also blocking out whole portions of the country?

Image courtesy of morgueFile.com
Isn’t this what many nationally marketed gardening magazines and books did and still do, at least in the U.S.? Focus on one type of gardening, typically the lushly planted, temperate-climate gardens of the Northeast or Pacific Northwest, sometimes adding California Mediterranean for a bit of diversity, and largely ignoring the Southwest, Mountain West, Plains States, Lower Midwest, and Southeast — i.e., “flyover country?” And isn’t this what the democratic age of social media was supposed to ameliorate?

When garden blogs proliferated in 2006 and 2007, suddenly you could read about gardens all over the country and around the world. No longer did gardens have to fit an editor’s narrow idea of perfection. In fact they didn’t have to be anywhere close to perfect! Instead, you could see real gardens made by real people in regions you might know nothing about. Readers in the North were surprised to discover that gardening seasons are often flipped on their heads for southern gardeners. Readers in the South learned about the benefits to northern gardens of winter snow cover and the springtime joys of bulbs and ephemerals. In other words, we quickly learned more about different types of gardens than we ever learned pre-blogs, and it was eye-opening and fun.

Image courtesy of morgueFile.com
But now, with today’s oversaturation of blogs and hourly updates on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram, each of us is forced to make decisions about what to read and what to cut out of our feeds. There’s simply not time to read everything. One must curate. And so Elizabeth’s comment about blocking people from her feed who post about gardening styles she’s not into makes sense. But it makes me sad to think we may all be curating ourselves back into the limited experience of gardens we had before the rise of blogs and other social media. Personally, I cut chicken chat and edible gardening posts from my feed, only because I’m not into homesteading and am into ornamental, wildlife, dry-climate, and native-plant gardening, with a lot of modern design thrown in for fun. My taste isn’t better than anyone else’s. Your taste isn’t better than mine. It’s all just what we like and have time for. But amid the plenty don’t you feel a bit of loss for what we miss and how we narrow our world by blocking and clicking “I don’t want to see this?”

Image courtesy of morgueFile.com
So fess up. What do you curate out of your social media feeds? And do you think it’s a necessary evil, or do you find it liberating to essentially create your own weekly magazine of garden stuff you love?

And for the record, I hope when my friend Elizabeth Licata reads this she understands that I intend no personal criticism. On the contrary, I appreciate how her post got me thinking. That’s another thing garden blogs are good for!

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.