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

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The Gardener as Elegant, Soaring Albatross: the Story of a Cyberspace Community of Garden Bloggers

Image by wildlife and conservation photographer Roy Toft. Click on the image to visit his site.Gardeners who feel misunderstood can take heart that this sensitivity was identified by poets, as far back as the 19th century. In the poem, L’Albatros, Charles Beaudelaire, described the muses among us who soar gracefully with pride when they are being creative but experience humiliation when they return to earth. We gardeners are like that poetic bird. We soar euphorically when we are in the garden but muddle around when we lay down our trowels. That is because there are so few around us who appreciate what we do or understand why we do it.

In spite of the fact that millions of people all over the world garden for pleasure, sustenance or both, gardening is a relatively solitary activity. It does not lend itself to social banter. It is nothing like a quilting bee, a corn husking party or a barn raising. All these activities were undertaken as social gatherings with much verbal interaction among the participants. By comparison, gardening takes place in the minds of gardeners and in their back yards. Up until a few years ago, horticultural accomplishments remained private and unappreciated.

The Internet changed that. With the help of computers, gardeners began interacting with their peers throughout the world, at all hours of the day and night and without ever meeting. In a revolutionary manner, the Internet zapped all of the traditional societal obstacles that prevented some from interacting with others: socio economic levels disappeared, age was no barrier, gender became unimportant, politics and religion stayed in the background, distance and location were irrelevant, ethnicity turned invisible, and both skin color and sexual orientation were wiped away. The support and camaraderie among on line friends became a remarkable phenomenon and turning point in our culture. Some, who never met in the flesh, and who may never get the opportunity to do so, have become good friends.

How did this happen? A cyberspace community was created with the help of the garden blog clearing house, Blotanical. Through that site, passionate gardeners began to share experiences and garden images with their contemporaries around the globe - experiences that their own friends and relatives could rarely understand or appreciate. In time, the banter between the bloggers took on a life of its own. Gardeners left uplifting messages in the comment section of each others blogs, earned deeply felt validation for their efforts in the garden or with a camera, and received precious encouragement when their projects failed.

Sometimes, a writer’s focus would be deflected by more pressing issues and the blog site would become a comfortable venue for sharing a personal burden. One writer posted a eulogy upon the death of a parent; another informed about the tragic death of a child. A grower wrote how the devastations in the nursery industry were impacting personal life. An eloquent plantsman, suffering from cabin fever, posted a rant expressing unbearable emotional turmoil brought on by the hardships of winter. Another erudite blogger, who suspended posting in order to assist caring for a newborn child, was mentioned several times by blogging colleagues who missed him.

The need to reach out to like-minded people and to stay connected with them has been clearly identified with the help of technology. This social networking has become the new reality. Possibly, for some very private or isolated gardeners, this remarkable association may be the only venue where one is able to express one’s feelings and where one is comfortable unburdening oneself. We gardeners have created a veritable on line community, ostensibly because we share a love for our hobby. However, in reality, it satisfies a yearning to be part of a supportive social group that swarms around its members when they need to be comforted, validated or encouraged.

No longer are gardeners like the ungainly albatross; no one need be alone or feel misunderstood, anymore. With the help of technology, an environment has been created where gardeners can soar elegantly and with pride.

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Reader Comments (19)

Kudos Allan, we are the social network of Gardening. Not everyone knows about us yet, but they will eventually.


January 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEileen

You got all of that right.

What a beautiful piece of writing, Allan! You've nailed it precisely, too. I find people are incredibly generous with sharing their thoughts and knowledge just as they share their seeds and plants. It's better than a garden club any day of the week!

January 3, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjodi (bloomingwriter)

very good writing high blotanical!

January 3, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermike 'hazeltree' thompson

Blotanical really opened a door for me 3 years ago as has my blog. We hosted a bloggers get together last May here in the Uk and had bloggers from the US, Netherlands and Poland. I am even thinking of attending the Settle meet up in July. You are right that gardening is a solitary hobby but I think many of us welcome the opportunity to engage with others and find like minded folk

January 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHelen

This was a great piece of writing about social networking and the positive effects to gardeners from all over the globe. And I agree with so much of what you have written and how you wrote it.

Sitting down at the computer means being taken anywhere in the world you want and having a virtual conversation with any gardener at anytime, day or night. Talk about the power of the technological age.

I have been friends with a woman in Finland for over ten years. I will never meet her, but we have been exchanging emails, cards and gifts for so long, it is as if I know her like a sister. And her whole family too. I have 'been to' the girls weddings, child's births and you get the point.

January 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

Great way to put into words!

January 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRichard

Well said, Allan. I'm constantly amazed by how generous and supportive the garden blogging community is and by how real those relationships are. It's not surprising that those online relationships lead to in-person meetings more frequently than one might expect. (Be warned: the next time I'm in Montreal, I'm going to look you up! :-))

January 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Allan, your incredibly well-written post validates what I have been feeling since I joined the international garden blogging community in November. I should share it with my three teenage sons who keep(very seriously) reminding me that I can't refer to people I meet on the internet as friends (I guess we got the sexual predator thing across to them). My only problem is it seems to be addictive, and I do have to work. Happy New year, Carolyn

For me, a standout sentence among the interesting thoughts you expressed in this post was

"...the Internet zapped all of the traditional societal obstacles that prevented some from interacting with others: socio economic levels disappeared, age was no barrier, gender became unimportant, politics and religion stayed in the background, distance and location were irrelevant, ethnicity turned invisible, and both skin color and sexual orientation were wiped way."

When coming across a blog for the first time it is true that you often have no idea of the age, race or gender of the blogger (that is if the bloggers first name does not give gender away). The internet certainly does level the playing field.

And before I stray too far way from the issue of gender, have you ever noticed that the vast majority of the bloggers on Blotanical seem to be women? What does that say if anything? Perhaps this is fodder for some future post.

January 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

I suddenly realized you referred to someone as having "cabin fever". Gee, that poor person! I felt your eyes boring right into my situation, here indoors (which says it all). Nice piece, Allan and, yes, Blotanical has been an extremely appropriate agency for people getting to know on another. It also helps that Stuart is such a good guy, I hasten to add. People enjoy good spirits when they encounter them and have nothing at all against promoting those they feel they can trust. And it's synergistical!

January 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Lovely post, Allan!

January 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

To all of the above readers, thank you for your kind words.

Jennifer: Yes, I have noticed that most of the Blotanical members are women. I find it puzzling, given that so many men do garden. I tried to tackle this subject once and discovered that it is volatile. Nevertheless, your comment is an inspiration to try again.

January 6, 2011 | Registered CommenterAllan

So much true in those words. Even tho I live so far away from any popper gardening area, I feel like I have so many neighbors full of advice and encouragement.

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterfer

Allen, someone I know once said 'Truer words were never spoke'...nothing more need be said on this because you've highlighted this perfectly. We are connected in a way that non-gardeners and non-blogging people in general just cannot fathom. Obviously something is working because so many of us just cannot give it up now that we've found what we didn't know we were even missing!

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJan (Thanks For Today)

I've come back to correct my mistake in spelling your name, Allan. Sorry about that.

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJan (Thanks For Today)

I've poured my heart out over there and most of my friends online originated there. Stuart made us all famous with lots of followers--- keeping up was impossible for those of us who first joined. We just can't wait so long for the post to pull up( load--and then go on to the next one)---but we are grateful to Stuart and I still give him link love when I can and visit on occasion.

I joined in February of 2008. left for a few months and then went back. It's addicting---with an insane amount of talent everywhere you look. Beautiful people.

I think men gardeners are out there in the same numbers but they are quiet like my husband.

January 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnna Flowergardengirl

Regarding men who garden but do not blog, I tend to agree with you that we are out there in the same numbers as women but most of us are "quiet". I never had a desire to be a garden blogger. It was at the urging of my daughters, and some friends who read my initial garden book review, that I began posting.

January 9, 2011 | Registered CommenterAllan

Great blog, thanks, so true

June 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlilith

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