Garden Bloggers Fling, 2011 (Seattle): A Confessional Introduction to an Event Long Past

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So, as winter creeps into our lives, my posts from the fling are on their way. In anticipation of the great Northwest Flower & Garden Show—the fantastic winter event in Seattle that my husband and I attend annually for Valentine’s Day—I am posting these to not only get myself excited for next spring, but as a wintertime gift to anyone who happens upon them. 
 
(Additionally, the next Garden Bloggers Fling, 2012 will occur in Asheville NC from May 18th-May 20th and I encourage you to go if you are able to do so.)

This past summer I participated in the Garden Bloggers Fling in Seattle, WA. I’ll be the first to admit it. It was a first for me, and and although I truly enjoyed the gardens, the plants, the people and the great conversations immensely, I wasn’t completely sure what I was doing there. I’m still trying to figure that out now, and the length of time that this whole process has taken, is just, well, kinda ridiculous.

Hummingbird in an Unidentified 2011 Garden Bloggers Fling Location. Any guesses anyone?
Here are a few of my most basic thoughts on the matter:
I am not a published garden writer. 
I do not write a well-known garden blog. 
I am not a garden journalist.
My garden/(s) are neither glossy nor centerfold worthy, and last but not least—
I do not work in the garden industry and do not blog for a company—let along a cause. 
An Unidentified 2011 Garden Bloggers Fling Location. Any guesses anyone?
Add to this the fact that many of my favorite garden, landscape and/or plant books come from the philosophy, art history, and/or critical theory sections of the bookstore and you really might begin to wonder about me. When I think of gardens, my mind quickly tends to move to land art—you know, stuff like Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson—and if not there, I mentally begin analyses of social context, race, class, gender, and all that stuff. Once those areas have been buzzed over I move immediately to botany and botanical books in order to catalog as many plants as I can in my mind to know where a garden, and garden designer, are coming from both geographically and stylistically.
If you’re reading this, and you really know me, none of this will be revelatory.
Some folks may have already stopped reading this, and that’s kinda the point I want to get to with all of this right now.
An Unidentified 2011 Garden Bloggers Fling Location. Any guesses anyone?
I’ve been very slow though to provide any posts here about the Garden Bloggers Fling I attended, mainly because I simply did not understand the rush to do so at the time, and since I tend to think these things over far too long sometimes, I just didn’t say anything.
An Unidentified 2011 Garden Bloggers Fling Location. Any guesses anyone?

For me, rushing into grocery lists of plants and trying to say the words “lush”, “green”, and “beautiful” in as many different ways as I could conceive of just seemed really taxing. I’ve never been able to write filler and I deeply appreciate those who are able to do so without its unceasing monotony getting to them. I am such a contextualizer that it seems to take me longer and longer to weave together the treads of my garden experiences.

An Unidentified 2011 Garden Bloggers Fling Location. Any guesses anyone?
Sitting on this whole Garden Bloggers experience was a good thing, and now that it’s 2012, and I will be up in Seattle soon for the Northwest Flower & Garden Show, I’m ready to say what I do here, and how I define my garden blogging.
An Unidentified 2011 Garden Bloggers Fling Location. Any guesses anyone?
I will say it here, and I’ll say it loud and proud…
An Unidentified 2011 Garden Bloggers Fling Location. Any guesses anyone?
I don’t write much about pretty, or perfect. I don’t really like pretty or perfect. What I see are the complex social, societal, and emotional relationships between plants, the people who plant them, and the people who select, grow, promote and sell them. I look for the connecting points between information, personal experience, and business transactions and watch these created environments (gardens) as they evolve and as society, and its many stratum, both continue to inform and disrupt the tastes and desires of everyone involved in this complicated little dance—including myself. 
An Unidentified 2011 Garden Bloggers Fling Location. Any guesses anyone?
So I hope my little Garden Blog Manifesto was as good for you as it was for me. Yup. I’m one of those. Who let the nerd out into the sunlight? The garden doesn’t need any of this pollywuppos, right?
Au contraire mon ami!  (I’m a nerd, remember?)
An Unidentified 2011 Garden Bloggers Fling Location. Any guesses anyone?
One of the greatest works of literature in the Western cannon was a little French novella entitled Candide. Published in 1759, during the Age of Enlightenment, it was written by a man we now call by his pen name, Voltaire. This wildly satirical novel is full of a kind of wit that is rarely, if ever, seen today and at its end, the author of the text leave us with: Il faut cultiver notre jardin. (“We must cultivate our garden.”)
Yes, that famous line, one which even today is still wildly debated as to its semantic meaning, has only served to remind me recently that as awkward as I feel sometimes in the world of garden bloggers, I belong here. Maybe I don’t cultivate and perfect my own garden as often as many other garden bloggers, and I don’t rave about designs, nor do I regularly tout the products of one company over another, but I think I am in line with Voltaire when I say about society—years after he wrote it—we still must cultivate our garden. (My husband just reminded me that I should go into Hegel at this point but I promise not to at this time—maybe at a later date when I’m really feeling it. Right now I need to pack for a week in California.)
An Unidentified 2011 Garden Bloggers Fling Location. Any guesses anyone?

So that’s how I roll, and that’s how I blog. It might not be for everyone, but I felt like I had to define this publicly because ever since the Garden Bloggers Fling I have felt unsure about a lot of what I was thinking, seeing, hearing, and reading—especially from disheartened bloggers I’ve enjoyed reading who want to throw in their garden writing t(r)owels.

There has been an attrition in the world of personal garden blogs and this has been occurring as we’ve simultaneously watched the rise of business/marketing/corporate blogs. Many of those left still writing personal garden blogs are doing so with the hope that somehow, someday, it will lead to monetization or acknowledgement in the form of a mention in a nation gardening magazine, or better yet, a book contract.

We’ve even watched as “personal” gardening blogs have become paid content for companies to use as a way to broaden their online presence. This has been an eyeopening experience—to say the least. It may also have been the last straw for this camel as she looked out across the desert landscape, unable to distinguish one branded garden blogger from another—especially since many of them are professional writers seeking to broaden their audiences even more.

I understand the democratization of this technological process—this is the information age after all—but I sometimes feel as though I am standing around waiting for the next train wreck. As bloggers continue to be held liable in court, and as the publishing and news industries are watching their own cannibalization online, it’s kind of a mess around here.

Gardening should be about finding your voice, and so too should garden blogging. An inauthentic voice heard anywhere, even on a computer screen, should be pruned and composted. I think I went into all of this, and even the event in the Seattle, as a kind of litmus test, seeking my own authenticity and voice. Thanks to Seattle, I’ve found the voice I’m happy with, and I hope you too may find your own…

No matter what, I can assure you that there are so many garden bloggers out there you’ll be able to find those writers eventually who will suit your taste, even if they aren’t the preferred read of your neighbors.

Call me the Andy Rooney of garden blogging if you want, but personally, I’d much rather be the Anne Sexton of this genre—minus the suicide.
Il faut cultiver notre jardin. 
(We must cultivate our garden.)

7 thoughts on “Garden Bloggers Fling, 2011 (Seattle): A Confessional Introduction to an Event Long Past

  1. This was a very thoughtful post. I was surprised at the Fling to find so many people giving out business cards, I kept apologizing for being just a garden blogger who blogs mostly about her own garden. I was also surprised to find that such a large number of attendees were actually PR people from various garden-related companies. My main reason for going was to meet other gardeners and garden bloggers (having left all my friends behind in Massachusetts). Despite the fact that I'm shy and socially awkward, I still crave human interaction. I really enjoyed meeting you at the Fling, and I hope if I come down to the Portland area sometime this year that I get to see you again. And I hope we can get together at the NWFGS.

    I like imperfect too. And all the things that you said about yourself are also true for me. I'm not interested in becoming a professional writer, I did that in a previous career, and while I would probably enjoy writing about gardening a lot more than I enjoyed writing about data networks, having to write about gardening products and companies would squeeze all the joy out of it.

    I'm still trying to decide whether I want to go to Asheville. My main concern with going is kind of silly — who will I eat dinner with? I guess it boils down to — who will I socialize with while I'm there, while we're not being all astounded by the gardening stuff? Who will I want to carry on a conversation with that maybe has nothing to do with gardening?

    I was an English major (too many years ago), but I'm not really sure who I would equate my blog voice with. Not Andy Rooney (although I am a tiny bit curmudgeonly) and probably not Anne Sexton. Jane Austen? Emily Dickinson? What do you think?

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  2. Just like a garden takes many forms based on the gardener creating it, and means different things to different people, it is natural that a garden blog would do and be likewise.

    I have no issue with blogging as a paid career. I think those that disclose their arrangement are fine, it's another form of advertising is all. It's those that don't that are on a slippery slope of discrediting themselves and their “profession” as well as giving blogging itself a tarnished reputation.

    I do occasionally review books on my blog, because I love to read and want to share books that I find to be good ones with my readers. Some have been free to me (and presented as such when I review them) and others I've bought. I have been offered books for review that are of no interest to me (raising chickens? no not I) as well as free products to review that I've turned down. My belief is if it isn't something I would buy, why would I want to get it for free? (tacky outdoor accents/gimmicky gadgets) And why would I want to mar my personal blog by talking about or promoting it? On the other hand if a nursery or product that I believe in wanted to pay me to run an add in my sidebar (and I had say over the look of the ad) then heck yes, why not? More money for plants! But of course it would be obvious that it was a paid ad.

    I went to the Fling for basically the same reasons as Alison. It sounded like a fun opportunity to meet people whose blogs I'd been reading and see some of the things I'd never seen in my own backyard. I feel no loss that I won't be in Asheville, although if someone offered me an all expenses paid trip I'd go (and disclose that in my posts of course!).

    And I hate to break it to you but your garden is pretty (and complicated) and so is your blog, at times…other times it's silly or thought provoking. That's why we keep coming back!

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  3. I don't have business cards for my blog either, but I now see why they could be important and fun. It shows a sense of pride and craftsmanship too I think. Maybe my cards will have seeds in their paper stock. That would make a lot of sense.

    Asheville sounds so nice, but since my husband is turning 40 this year and he really wants to go to Europe, I think that I'll wait until San Francisco in 2013. I could never afford both trips, but I know I can do San Fran.

    As for the blog voice, I was never a huge Austen reader and I've only read a bit of Dickinson. If you like both, my guess is that we'll hear them in your writing no matter what! Language is so funny that way!

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  4. I so agree with you on all your “honesty is the best policy” points and reviewing books about things you don't really know a lot about helps no one. I think that's why I'm trying to add more pieces on my blog about books I read that are about gardens, but in the complicated sort of way I like to read about things.

    Part of this post was inspired by an online plant group I've been participating in where a recent thread by someone disparaged all garden bloggers and I was surprised and saddened to see others agreeing so readily with the guy. They all basically went on about how garden bloggers are not professionals and that no one should be reading our advice or instructions because we're not horticultural professionals and it served to remind me that many bloggers get trounced upon and it's not just us.

    Mr B shares lots of tales with me about the divide between profession wine writers and wine bloggers and they have the exact same issues but in their case the two groups are kept distinctly away from one another. I am glad that we're not treated that badly, but it is still really making me think about media in general. The family business is publishing after all!

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  5. I love that we all get to see so many gardens from all over the world thanks to the Web. The fact that there are dedicated types of garden bloggers is even more interesting. Though I don't grow tons of food, I love to read about those who do, and I love the native plant people too.

    Part of me wishes I could ignore the other stuff though. I really wish I could, but I think that growing up with a father who owned a small and very successful publishing company has a lot to do with my concerns. So much of what we've seen happen in the gardening communication realm has been happening in his world too and it has been really confusing for me for a long time. There's a lot of good and bad.

    As for the Fling, the best part was meeting other bloggers and I cannot wait to go to SF in 2013 since I cannot make Asheville either. Maybe you could join us? I know I for one would enjoy meeting you after all this time.

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  6. Tracked you down again. I used to come across your posts, but haven't for a while. You are now commuting between two homes?

    Victoria has a garden blog, her day job is a newspaper editor in London. She gets rather cross with bloggers putting on airs, if they are not trained professional journalists. Mr Brown Thumb has also been writing about ructions in garden blogging.

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