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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Does Your Garden Advice Lose Its Flavor On the Blog Post Overnight?  

Are there garden experts out there that resent the abundance of horticultural advice that is posted online? Sometimes, I get the impression that they would prefer to be the only authoritative voices. I first became aware of this situation last year when I discovered disparaging remarks written by an established garden expert. She was insultingly critical of some garden writers’ opinions and, to avoid censure, stealthfully buried her thoughts in the “comment” section of a fellow gardener’s blog. Another garden expert was not so discrete and publicly expressed her dismissiveness of garden bloggers, as an off-the-cuff response to a question on a radio progtam. She stated that they tend to post incorrect advice. [I learned about this latest affront from Sheila at The Stopwatch Gardener].

The goal of every gardener is to create beauty and pleasure. As we strive in that direction, we adopt rules that seem to help us accomplish our objectives and we discard rules that are obstacles. If, along the way, we have made mistakes in judgment; nature will tell us so by not permitting a plant to thrive. Whether our actions in the garden appear to be successful or disappointing, we are eager to report the results to our supportive blogging peers. The absolute right to post our thoughts is now a forgone conclusion.

When we publish advice that is mistaken or that is not universally applicable, members of our online community tell us so and the doubtful information is usually corrected. Furthermore, some of our blogs are read by many garden hobbyists outside our circle and, for their sake, we need always to be as accurate as possible. However, because we are human, sometimes we stumble. Fortunately, the blogging community is far more forgiving of inaccuracies or omissions than are members of other media.

With or without professional credentials in horticulture or writing, and for better or for worse, technology has permitted many to become garden writers or botanical photographers. Judging the high quality of some of the work that is posted online daily, either as a blog, a photo journal, or a comment, it is clear that we have exceptionally talented people within our garden blogging community.They deserve to be celebrated and not derided.

I wonder if we garden bloggers are accelerating the dialogue of new ideas at a speed uncomfortable for a few established experts. Some are not prepared to welcome modernity in gardening techniques or design, and others are unable to appreciate garden blogging altogether. Regardless of their attitude, we must be prepared to be confronted by them, at any moment. It might be their destiny to forever be dismissive of those who err, who contradict them, or steal their thunder. Perhaps they are unaware to what extent they demean themselves when they broadcast disparaging remarks or derisive comments.

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Reader Comments (20)

Alan, Your post brings up several good points. With today's technology, anyone can become an 'expert'. And there are so many 'experts' around that it is not difficult to find conflicting expert opinions. I think it's so important to know your 'expert's' background and take their advice with a grain of salt, if needed. But, having said that, there are many talented amateur garden photographers whose work speaks to me more than the work of a professional. And the same goes for garden advice. Someone who's been gardening for decades may have more hands-on, practical advice that's relevant to my garden than a 'real' expert.

I was "hooked" by your clever title and upon reading further, found this to be a thought provoking post. May I offer my opinion: I prefer to let the garden speak to the gardeners abilities. A well planted and cared for garden speaks volumes as to her/his expertise. Professionals may get their nose a bit bent out of shape over this thought, but only because their lot is to make a living from their expertise, while I, the perhaps threatening amateur, give away the "secrets" of my beautiful gardens as well as share my plant starts freely. I agree with your statement: "I wonder if we garden bloggers are accelerating the dialogue of new ideas at a speed uncomfortable for a few established experts." I believe there is place for both of us in the gardening world, but no place for ill speaking of the other. This Grandmothers Garden

October 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMeredehuit

Alan, your post resounded with me as well. Since joining Blotanical I have read so much practical sound advice. I have been able to see the proof of the gardeners skill through their camera.
One factor that a lot of "experts" seem to overlook is the great variation between gardens - not just in climate, soil and topography, but individual taste and enjoyment of gardening as a pass-time.
In the blogging world, one gardener's weed is another's butterfly magnet. One gardener's pest is another's photographic model. Sometimes I wonder if the experts have missed the very point of why we garden.

October 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMissy

This post brings up a subject that I have thought about for some time. My online presence is considerably shorter that my lifetime of trying new garden techniques, I have used professional methods as well as do it yourself...."what do we have on hand to make this work" type of projects.
I'm sure there are many who enjoy gardening by the long established "book", reaping the rewards of time proven methods. There are also a lot of folks out there spending their weekends "mixing it up", so to speak. Trying new things and relishing the time they have doing those things. .
I think it's great that technology gives everyone the ability to share mainstream ideas along with new and innovative ideas. There is something for everyone in gardening. Yes, a grain of salt is needed and errors should be brought to light.
But most importantly, we gardeners must keep that spirit of goodness that we find in our yards alive when we are sharing our experiences with each other.

October 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDave

Thanks for this interesting post, Alan. Most garden bloggers I know, whether professional or not, are passionate about gardening. But maybe some are in it for their egos, and then they would not appreciate the jumble of ideas and experiences expressed so democratically in the blogosphere. cheers, catmint

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercatmint

Firstly, many garden bloggers when they start like to give instructional advice as though no one has ever heard it before and it gets old fast: "How to make compost!"
Secondly, many bloggers fail to give proper credit for their knowledge. If you read something about gardening in a book or you are disseminating knowledge that isn't your own, you need to give proper credit; otherwise, it's plagiarism and morally wrong. This also counts for many bloggers posting photos they did not take without permission. Just because you credit the source, that doesn't count. You need to ask the content creator for permission just the same.
Thirdly, bloggers do often post information that is inaccurate. Granted, professionals don't need to get their knickers in a twist over it. The experts can often get it wrong too. Horticulture is a big field and different areas of the world demand varied approaches. There is no one fit-all solution or approach to growing plants. But to be honest, I rarely go to blogs for advice. I usually use them for inspiration.
Phew. It's nice to get this off my chest.

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSusan in the Pink Hat

Alan, what an interesting and thought provoking post. I'm also intrigued over the various comments. I agree with the different views and feel that Missy wrote her thoughts quite well. Obviously, at some point, everyone has been a beginner, so compassion should be given to all beginners. I also agree that there are so many facets to gardening that any particular advise may not apply for every situation. Therefore, again, understanding vs. criticism should prevail.

Susan in the Pink Hat brings up a very excellent point regarding credits and permission. I am guilty of using photos without actual permission, assuming permission when I post credit and link back to the source. I have actually driven much traffic to various sites/services/businesses this way and have received much appreciation. However, I suppose I should consider that my opinion is not universal and such usage, even when linked to the source, may not be welcome. I'm grateful Susan has pointed this out.

When I began my blog a year ago, I was at first intimidated by the thought of all those professional landscapers and horticulturalists out there. What in the world could I say that they didn't have deeper knowledge of and couldn't say better? I decided that my blog would be about my own garden and my own experiences. I use only my own photos and talk about plants and gardening techniques that I know about from experience. I don't know how many professionals read my blog, but so far I haven't been criticized. I think a lot of people who follow my blog are like me, just gardeners who want to share their gardens and enjoy looking at other gardens too. And the additional bonus is getting to virtually know some of those gardeners. I think we all realize that what works in Alabama may not succeed in Canada, but the diversity of what is out there is one of the fun parts of blogging. It's interesting to compare!

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdebsgarden

I like your post.............Its really interesting and informative................waiting for your next post!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

October 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHydroponics

A very thought provoking post. I find that most professionals like yourself identify themselves as such in their blogs. The rest I assume are amateurs, like myself who offer their opinions and share their experiences. Its all there for the internet surfer to take or leave.
I find I am always learning. I don't think I would ever want to be an "expert".

October 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

What a thought provoking post and comments! When I first started my blog it was merely to be able to look back and see what time something had flowered and to be able to store my photos and garden transformation in an easily accesible way for my own records. I actually never thought I would have any "followers"! I think of reading other peoples blogs as leaning over a very much expanded back fence. When my real back fence neighbour tells me I have to use chemicals to get rid of the catterpillars I listen and smile and then carefully go back to photographing and monitoring the wonderful transformation to butterfly. When I hand him a bucket of luscious cherry tomatoes I do mention that no chemiclas have been used. Advice is never forced on us, it is there for the taking or leaving, and quite honestly I dont think a horticultural degree makes anyone a better gardener. I am just so blessed that there is so much wonderful information out there that I can sift through at my leisure and apply as needed. Blogosphere has expanded my back fence immensly!

October 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAfricanaussie

Allan, my current post features your post and comments...a lively discussion, I think! Bravo for stirring up such interest!!! I've linked back to your post, of course. Thank you for your inspiration!

Africanaussie, I love your comments and agree.

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkimberly

Great post and great comments. I found myself nodding in agreement and thinking "yes, that's exactly how I feel" several times. I started my blog for my own personal record-keeping and as a way to share photos with friends and family. I have never written a blog post that could be interpreted as advice - definitely never a "how-to". But if someone were to ask me what has worked for me in the garden I would be happy to share that. I don't think anyone would want to post one of my photos, but if by chance they did, I would prefer that they ask permission. I suggest that all bloggers check out the Blog with integrity website ( and consider signing the Blog with integrity pledge.

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGInny
October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterScorpioN

A thought provoking post. I think most blog readers are served best if the blogger strives to present the information as personal experience, not as global truth. That adds some flavor to a blog, and also adds perspective. In the end, I really do not have the same breadth of experience as, for example, my garden designer. She's seen the same plant perish in 2 gardens that thrives in mine.

As for copyright, Wikipedia and Wikimedia offer open source pictures, so I usually go there first for photos. Next I go to sites that I believe will appreciate getting business, and use their photos with attribution. I don't use photos from other people's site, That seems like a fair solution to me. I'm not sure whether asking permission is realistic, blogging is a fast-paced medium.

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTown Mouse

Interesting post Allan.

In my past life as a fully-qualified Chef I looked upon amateur cooks with indigination and felt that their experience, talent and product was always lacking compared to mine and other chefs.

In fact, if I found a recipe published by a "cook" I would write it off before even trying it. My rationale for this discrimmination was due to the amount of time, effort and tenacity that I had applied to my training and therefore considered that I was an "expert".

Then, I found a few "cooks" who had more passion for their food and actually started learning from them. These "cooks" were often unable to give you the correct terminology or spruik the historical ancestry of where a certain dish originated from but they could make a meal become a work of art.

I soon began to realise that "experts" were often people who just thought their education was better. However, it seems that those with more passion for their subject are the ones you really want to be learning from - those who can do it and continually find better ways of doing it.

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStuart

Blog means what, log? Personal journal? I like all the comments above, and Susan / Pink Hat always makes me lagh with her cndidness (praise be!). Botanical blogs, if that's what we're discussing, seem best when they share new / fresh articles and links, post pictures of one's own garden and refelct on it, or share a new plant--anythign that shows geneine character and personality. That's what writing is, that's what life is, that's what friends. Blogs that feign knowledge by repeating bad advice or things we all already know aren't blogs any of us will visit, so why the debate? I always feel that my modest traffic isn't a condmenation fo my content so much as my busy life, not networking, not connecting humanly as I may want. I'm rambling. What is a blog?

October 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBenjamin

I agree that you raise good points. Blogging is essentially a sharing medium, and some misunderstand that and the fact that some of the sharing is allowed through creative license, etc.

October 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIlona

Allan - good to see the debate has crossed the pond and like Sheila's and my original post, both your post and your comments are most thought provoking. I wonder if the nub of the problem is that our media 'experts' are judging bloggers by a single standard, whilst there are so many reasons why someone blogs about gardening, most of which are for personal learning and pleasure, not purely for giving advice.

One point to note - Pippa Greenwood's remarks were off the cuff in response to a question asking for advice on our longest running Gardeners Question Time programme, not a radio interview.

Interesting comments about plagiarism which we all need to care about. Sadly I see you are using images here which would be construed as breaching copyright your A Dutch Influenced Garden article.

October 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterVP

So I am late to this very good and illuminating discussion, but you had me at the title of this post. Brilliant. And the rest of the post is equally thought provoking.

One thing that cracks me up is how many people in the comment section have spelled your name incorrectly, ALLAN. In explanation for my pickiness on this, I have several friends with the same name, each spelled differently, so I really watch this one.

Okay, levity and pickiness aside: None of what I'm writing here is addressed to any one person, or meant as criticism. I'm giving my thoughts as a person who writes for a living AND teaches others how to write for a living. I welcome the wonderful world of more garden bloggers. In my professional world, I am paid to write about gardening a great deal, though not exclusively. I am a professional writer but am NOT a professional gardener, landscaper, plantswoman, etc, in that I don't make a living doing gardening for anyone else. I tell people I'm not an expert--I am experienced, and especially experienced in what works in gardens in Nova Scotia, and on native plants for our region. But put me in British Columbia, or Texas, or Glasgow Scotland, and I'd be a rank beginner, though I've gleaned a good deal from reading blogs from those and many other locales.

The word blog means Web-Log, which loosely means diary or journal for the wonderful world of the Interwebs era. For many of us, it started out as a way to keep track of some of our gardening thoughts. For some, it's a way to keep family informed about what's going on in our world. For others, it's a way to 'give back' to the gardening community we learn from. I don't make a cent from my blog, don't use google ads, don't allow paid advertising or link exchanges, don't receive payment for the nurseries and other sites I list--which I list because I like and use them. But there are certainly a whole whack of sites out there that are gunning for traffic, for hits, for clicks to make a killing on advertising. And there are some that overly-pimp products, and feel very much like sell-outs. But that's their choice.

As for citing--it's certainly expected in professional writing, and it's a sign of good integrity when someone credits a source where they learned something. But how many of us remember where (to use the compost example) we learned to make compost? Where we learned about staking trees, or pruning perennials? I can remember things like learning from Piet Oudolf about the New Perennial style of planting, or that Lloyd Mapplebeck introduced me to certain plants, or that Captain Dick Steele taught me about collecting seed in the wild. But as to where the first knowledge of how to do many things came from...who knows?

If we don't want to read about making compost or other basics of gardening, then we don't need to bother reading that particular blog or blog post. My thought is to encourage other gardeners, other bloggers, whenever possible, not put people down because they're learning a new skill like how to make compost. People usually read a blog because it's interesting, well written, thought provoking--that's why I read as many as I do. Some fall by the wayside, when people discover that it's actually work to write a blog, to maintain it and keep it interesting. I've seen many fall by the wayside over the past nearly-five years I've been prattling on at bloomingwriter. Gardening is usually uplifting, exhilarating, a feel-good topic. Which is why I'm passionate about encouraging it in others.

October 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjodi (bloomingwriter)

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