Garden blogging is bigger in Texas

I can’t resist a little Texas-style bragging. When Carol commented on my post about our meeting with Kathy Purdy, “That’s quite a concentration of garden bloggers. Perhaps a new record of six together at one time? Can anyone beat that?”—well, I just had to remind her (and now all of you) about the Austin bloggers’ spring get-together.

We dubbed it a Ground Robin (playing off Round Robin) because we did a progressive garden tour of several of our gardens. Eight of us made the rounds, swapped plants, and yakked over wine and some great appetizers. The bloggers didn’t take photos that day—we’d decided to have a non-blogging event—but a Statesman photographer accompanied us to take pics for my soon-to-be-published article on the popularity of garden blogging in Austin. Click here for the photo of the eight Austin bloggers. From left to right: Dawn, Julie, Vive, R. Sorrell, yours truly, MSS, Annie-Kathy, and Susan.

I wish I could repost the photo, but I don’t have permission. Who knows how long the link will last. In fact, the link to my Statesman article (5/5/2007) no longer works, so I am republishing it here:

Locals Reap What They Sow, Then Blog
By Pam Penick

Austin is known worldwide for its live-music scene. But did you know that Austin might be the garden-blogger capital of the world?

More people in Austin blog (keep online journals, or web logs) about gardening and plants than anywhere else, according to an informal survey of several blog directories. Whatever it is that drives people to keep a blog—ego, a sense of community, creative urges, the freedom to self-publish—Austin has become fertile ground. At least 10 garden bloggers call Austin home—more than any other city—and have boosted the city’s profile among gardening readers.

What is it about Austin, compared with other cities, that has encouraged the flowering of so many garden blogs? Kathy Kloba, who blogs at The Transplantable Rose, says she thinks Austin’s subtropical climate has something to do with it. “We can grow edgy plants and have something to write about all year,” she says, “but we still have seasons, which is much more interesting than a genuinely tropical climate.”

Melissa Stevens, one of the first garden bloggers in the country—she started her blog Zanthan Gardens in 2001—says she believes Austin’s tech-savvy nature plays a part as well. “I think more Austinites rely on computers to connect with other people with the same interests than in many other locales,” she says. “I like sharing and comparing notes on when things bloom, favorite plants and local nurseries, and how we’re weathering the weather. I like the public interaction [of blogs]. It’s great when a post inspires another writer to pick up the theme.”

Julie Ardery, of Human Flower Project, says it’s because “the summer is so long and infernal. There’s something cozy about the thought of living in Vermont and reading seed catalogs through the snowy winter. But what do you do in Austin in August? Crank up the A/C and blog.”

Teeming with personal insights and photographs, these homegrown websites offer noncommercial, first-person information, something you don’t get from mass-appeal, nationally focused garden books. Reading a good blog feels like being invited into a garden for a personal tour. Readers who go beyond “lurking” (just reading) by commenting on a blog often reap the reward of a dialogue with the blogger and with the larger garden-blogging community.

Once I discovered garden blogs, I was hooked. I started out reading local pioneers such as Stevens and KLRU host Tom Spencer, whose blog is titled Soul of the Garden. Soon I was itching to share my garden and add my voice to the community. A year ago, I started my own blog, Digging. Soon I was conversing with garden bloggers here and elsewhere—the Internet’s version of the garden club, but one not limited by geography, climate, or exclusivity.

Garden bloggers approach their subject from all sorts of backgrounds: weekend gardeners, landscape designers, nursery owners, writers, photographers, even sociologists. Their growing numbers and vast web of connections indicate that gardening readers are hungry for personal viewpoints, fresh insights and regional information on growing plants. Some strike a chord with readers worldwide.

Human Flower Project, for example, records between 40,000 and 50,000 hits per day and was mentioned favorably in the March issue of Garden Design magazine. Likewise, Soul of the Garden has a loyal readership numbering in the thousands. Blogs such as these have a wide reach and the power to influence their readers.

But even blogs with a small readership are influential. As California nurseryman Trey Pitsenberger wrote on The Blogging Nurseryman, “People are creating communities of like-minded individuals on the Internet. Because they are communities, what is said often has more meaning to the readers than other forms of communication.”

Despite their relevance, garden blogs are, for the most part, noncommercial, eschewing ads and offering up the gardener’s experience to whomever wants to read about it. They excel at personal connections, real-life photos of gardens rather than staged magazine shoots, and an uncensored give-and-take between writer and reader.

No matter how many engaging garden blogs I find elsewhere, I enjoy reading Austin bloggers the most. Their experience is local; it’s relevant to gardening here. Our hot and dry summers, cool and wet winters, and changeable spring and fall make for a gardening schedule notably different from the rest of the U.S. When I read an Austin blog in September, I’m not going to hear about falling leaves and chilly nights. Instead, like me, the gardener will still be dealing with high temperatures and lack of rain. And in March, I can compare what’s blooming in their gardens with mine.

Fancy estate gardens in magazines might impress, but photos of local gardens, along with comments from do-it-yourself gardeners, provide practical inspiration. For one reader, perusing local garden blogs gave her the courage to start her own garden.

“When I first went from containers-at-the-apartment to beds-at-the-house I took gardening workshops,” says Vive Griffith, “and all that talk of planning and soil testing and proper spacing set me back from ever getting started. Seeing people’s blogs has helped me make the transition from an idea that everything has to be planned and perfect to a ‘try it and see’ attitude, which has yielded much more blooms around my house. And I’m having much more fun.” A year later Griffith’s new garden is blossoming, and it has given the Austin writer a reason to create her own blog, Something About Blooming and Butterflies.

Recently the Austin garden bloggers stepped out of the anonymity of cyberspace to meet and visit each other’s gardens in person. Although our ages span five decades, our interest in plants—which Stevens characterizes as fanatical “in the same sense that (garden-columnist) Henry Mitchell used it: anyone to whom gardening is something more than mere yard work”—overcomes any differences. Whether talking plant sales, swapping divisions or just hanging out, the group shares a friendship that’s rooted in our common interest in writing about gardening.

Garden blogging will never take the place of a stroll through a living garden. Yet it can expose a reader to a world of gardens he or she might never see otherwise. It gives you a peek over the proverbial hedge into your neighbor’s yard. What you see there might interest you.

Since I wrote this, two more garden bloggers have joined us: Diana and Bonnie . One day, I hope we can all get together.

OK, I’m throwing down the gauntlet. Can another group of garden bloggers beat our record for meeting in person? It stands at eight. Actually, I’d be thrilled to see it happen—with photos for proof, of course.

3 Responses

  1. Carol says:

    Yeah, yeah, yeah, everything is bigger in Texas, even gatherings of garden bloggers! After I left that comment, I wondered how many were at your spring gathering… now I know… eight. Even if I got all the Hoosier garden bloggers together, it wouldn’t be near that many. Where are all the Indiana garden bloggers hiding?!

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens (where every day there is a meeting of ONE garden blogger who someday might just have to go to Austin to be part of a new record!)

    Yes, you really must come to Austin sometime, Carol. It would be fun to set a new record with you. —Pam

  2. Well Carol your idea of a Garden Bloggers convention was excellent. Let us know when and where and you can be the next hostess with the mostest garden bloggers in one spot.

    And very cool Pam that Austin can play host to traveling garden bloggers. I quite enjoyed my chance to meet xris from Brooklyn when he was here. I guess we are both still a little camera shy.

    I understand camera shyness. So much of oneself gets put out there for public consumption when blogging. Preserving a little anonymity by not showing your face is one way to retain a sense of privacy. But as I’ve said elsewhere, I do like seeing people in a garden, and I enjoy posting about our bloggers’ get-togethers. So I’m glad the Austinites have given up the camera-shy phase.

    And it won’t surprise me at all if Carol organizes a garden-blogger’s convention at her house next spring. —Pam

  3. bill says:

    Well, Austin may have the edge in sheer numbers, but in “density” of garden bloggers in the population, my little town (with a population of 451 in the latest census) has you beat. And I invite any garden bloggers to visit and increase the density.

    Now that’s competitive thinking, Bill! Anyway, you’re in Texas too, so as I said, garden blogging really is bigger in Texas. —Pam