27 January 2012

Encouraging a spirit of fairness in the gardening world

The 6th anniversary of Bloomingwriter passed quietly a couple of weeks ago. I was busy with work projects and with developing the growing community of bloominganswers, and I needed some time to think about a retrospective post. Now into its seventh year, Bloomingwriter has long been one of my ways to give back to the gardening community. I've learned so much from other gardeners, other writers, over the years, made some terrific friends, some of whom I've yet to meet face to face but whom I consider close friends regardless. Some of you are cat fans like me, and some continue in the quest for the blue poppy.
Several of those friends are outspoken, frank, and honest, passionate about gardening in all its forms. Colleen Vanderlinden is one of those gutsy writers who stands up for what she believes in, and who works hard to educate people about the pros of organic gardening and the need for responsible stewardship. It's been fabulous to watch her develop from writing a blog to writing for some well-respected publications including Treehugger.com, and she has two books on gardening for midwestern US to her credit, one forthcoming.

 Recently Colleen was the subject of online bullying by a group of her so-called peers: fellow garden writers, but that's where the resemblance ends. Normally, I stay away from such politics and bad behaviour, but I don't like it when people gang up on someone and do it in a sneaky, talking behind back sort of way. Neither does Ramon Gonzalo, another of my heroes, host of the website Mr. Brown Thumb as well as several others. Ramon, or MBT as we fondly call him, decided to call the culprits out. You can read about that here. I threw in my 2 cents worth, but I was annoyed at how few other writers stood up for Colleen.
Then a couple of days ago, something happened that has shaken the gardening world, the wildlife supporting world, and all who care about this island earth.  I first heard about it through wildlife gardening writer Carole Sevilla Brown, but our own Gayla Trail, writer of several gardening books and host of the long-running gardening website YouGrowGirl,  summed it up nicely for Canadian readersIt's well worth a read.  The gist is, the American National Wildlife Foundation has gotten into bed with Scotts, the sprawling company that produces Miracle Grow, Roundup, and far more toxic products. Other friends also picked up the story and wrote about it, including Benjamin Vogt of The Deep Middle, Garden Rant, and of course Colleen at Treehugger.com. Not surprisingly, (except to the Federation), there's been a huge backlash in the past few days, with a huge amount of negative publicity. How it will all play out, no one knows just yet. 
In an horrifyingly ironic but satisfying corollary, Scotts Miracle Grow was fined 4.5 million US for having sold 73 million units of bird seed that had been tainted with pesticides. Who knows how many songbirds were poisoned and died or otherwise suffered--this took place between 2005-2008, just when we were hearing a great deal about decline in songbird populations. Kind of makes you wonder, doesn't it?
Now, I call myself a small-O organic gardener. I read Rachel Carson's Silent Spring as a 16 year old, and despite not understanding all the chemistry, I was marked for life. I use compost, seaweed, bone meal, manure, and that's about it in our gardens. My pest warfare consists of diatomaceous earth when the slugs are too much even for me--like they were last year during the never-ending wet non-spring--and horticultural vinegar to control certain plants in certain places. Those are my choices and I don't insist that everyone do the same thing. My job as a gardening communicator is to explain why things are, and leave people to make their own choices (yes, even about goutweed, no matter how much I joke about it. ) I recognize that nurseries, like farmers, have their own challenges with pest controls, and are working to find integrated solutions to their problems with fertility and pest control. I don't diss them, either. 

Where am I going with all this? Last week, a friend of mine told me she had become much braver at speaking out about things because she was encouraged by me. She had been basically insulted at a garden club where a member looked down their nose at her because she liked astilbes, hostas, and I think it was day lilies. As though they were common plants like dandelions or goutweed. 
Well, even if they were common plants, my friend has a right to love any plant she wants, and an equal right not to be made to feel small. They're gorgeous plants, and no one ought to be discouraging people from joining garden clubs, getting involved in events, or looking down their noses at other people's gardens. It's like the discussion of the 'ugly garden' all over again. One thing I've always been clear about: Our job as gardening writers, speakers, communicators is to encourage gardeners of all skill levels, and to gently educate about good stewardship--not to bludgeon them over the head with insults or bully them about any differing opinion. It's been my stance here, and it'll be my stance at the new website, too.

 In a perfect world, we'd all get along. We're not perfect yet, but I'll do my part to cultivate civility while also encouraging good stewardship of the land we live on. Here's to more years of blooming chatter about gardening, and of many many more people being encouraged to bloom where they are planted.

Update! Sunday, Jan 29: As reported by Mr. Brown Thumb on his garden blogging site,  The Scotts/NWF partnership is dead in the water, thanks to the passion of nature lovers, organic gardeners, and writers of all levels who weren't going to stand for this. Bravo to all who spread the information--did anyone see it on any national news outlets? I didn't--and to all those who told the National Wildlife Federation how they felt about the situation. Never forget that we the people, no matter what country we live in, do still have power. 


  1. The ironic thing is that this kind of behavior reflects poorly on all of us, not just those doing it.

  2. Jodi,I have a friend here in North Kingston that grows Hostas & not much else. Her property is almost all shaded with tall trees & she loves it , as well as her Hostas. I love her shady garden & as many as 50-75 Hostas!

  3. HI Jodi: Blue Poppy we have some seeds that we will be trying this spring. Love the Woodpecker photo.

    Enjoy your evening,

  4. Well said Lona! Goings on like this makes me glad that I'm just a stay-at-home gardener and I'm not out there in the big wide world of professional garden writing and blogging. All gardeners deserve respect for their efforts surely!

  5. Oh I love daylilies :) Nothing wrong with that!

  6. Hi Jodi, i've been your fan since i started garden blogging, and learn a lot from here and your contacts. It is exciting to see plants, flowers and gardens not growing in one's own country, to pacify our love for the unavailable. For example i've been smitten with pansies, wisteria and snowdrop the moment i saw them, but i might not see again in this lifetime but in blogs from other parts of the world. I actually realized garden bloggers are the most kind and peaceful people, not only civilly as you said, but maybe they are really like that in reality. Congratulations for your 6yrs in blogging. I hope for more!

  7. Jodi...very well said. I think in any group there needs to be tolerance and acceptance. I love natives, but I could never give up my favorite plants. I am green, but I cannot live up to the very high standards of guerrilla green living. I think this kind of extremism alienates those that may learn something, if only one tidbit of information. If judgements and standards were suspended, we would have more participants....and all have fun in the process. Thanks for posting...

  8. Well to me a gardener is one who is compelled to grow and nourish plants of ones liking. To see it through thick and thin ,even the struggling ones...and remember a weed is only a plant in the wrong place..Plants of all descriptions that make the grower happy has to be in that garden- or house *grins*. It does not matter who is on the other side of the 'fence' it is YOUR little piece of heaven on earth. You surround yourself with plants that please YOU and only you. I too have had the down the nose looks and whispers (some not so quiet either) "she's not good enough to know what she's talking about "or she doesn't belong be here looks". You know, it doesn't phase me one bit... I know something they don't ... I am happy with what plants I have, or will get and willing to share. Being a gardener is being creative (ok I collect too -what I like-with the funds you have available and with in reason.) Keeping up with the latest or exotic plants may show you want to impress..I call myself a gardener because I can do my own work. When the time comes I can not do the work. I will be a foreman to the work in my gardens till I can't do it no more. In other words I am the master of my garden.

    Now a new question are those people that don't like the plants we have in our gardens... the ones who sneak into the gardens or in broad daylight to lift what they don't like out of said gardens for their own gardens? ...that has happened at least 3 times in 2 years.
    thanks for the consideration

  9. Congrats on your six years, and thanks for your insightful comments. I'm relatively new to garden blogging, although I've been gardening my entire adult life and then some. It will be interesting to see how this latest situation shakes out.

  10. Tracey, very good comment!
    We don't all dance to the same tune, so we don't all garden the same way. My gardening tastes are like the other poster- hostas, Astilbes- things that are easy and which I won't kill. They gie me pleasure- so what odds if they aren't too someone's liking. But gardener "snobbery" is another thing, and it needs to stop- so many people are turned off by snooty garden clubs- please welcome all comers, and we can make the world more beautiful, one plant at a time.
    About the theft of plants...you don't live in Halifax and have a veterinarian in your neighbourhood, by chance? I used to work for one who GLEEFULLY stole plants from others. He was a creep all the way round!

  11. Congrats Jodi...you are so right...we never learn by beating people over the head and being judgmental...I try to remember that when I post....educate with information to help folks look at things from a different perspective...I will never be an extreme green but I practice stewardship and kindness to other gardeners...

  12. I'm a VERY amateur gardener who just loves digging in the dirt. Hosta, astilbes and day lillys are my favourites.

    BTW - just left a comment note on the
    American National Wildlife Fdn. contact us page, asking them about getting into bed with Scotts ...

  13. Nicely put Jodi. I walked away from the garden industry, and gardeners a few years ago. The inherent snottiness I was encountering was just something I didn't understand.

    Everyone is gardening on a different level, and those who start are just as equal to those who have a huge budget, and every sought after plant.

    Gardening is not so much about the strength of your knowledge, and your budget, as it is about the strength of your love for plants.

    Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

  14. "Our job as gardening writers, speakers, communicators is to encourage gardeners of all skill levels, and to gently educate about good stewardship--not to bludgeon them over the head with insults or bully them about any differing opinion." <--- YES! I love this, and couldn't agree more.

    Thanks so much for all of your support, both publicly and privately. And congrats on 6 great years of blogging!

  15. What a great milestone of six years, congrats. There is a lot of bullying going around blogs lately. What a shame.

  16. Congratulations on 6 years! I just wanted to say your new website is really wonderful, lots of thoughtful discussion going on. I'm pleased to see people jumping in and participating. well done.

  17. Congratulations on six years blogging Jodie!

    Sadly we have people looking down their noses too on our side of the pond - both in terms of gardens and garden writing. I've come to realise over the past year that folks tend to forget they were a beginner once and that something liked by the majority isn't necessarily a bad thing.

    Good luck in your new web adventures - I'll pop over for a peep if I may?

  18. Congrats on the 6 years. It has been nice reading along with you all these years.

    I too was really disappointed more garden bloggers didn't stand up for Colleen considering how much of her time and information she's shared with the community over the years.

    In particular the problem I had with the "column" in which she was attacked was her being likened to a rabid dog for speaking her mind. The next day I was thinking how much the voice of a feminist in garden blogging is really needed in order to deconstruct the sexist dog whistles of that "column."

  19. Congratulations on 6 well-written years, Jodi, I've always enjoyed your blog.

    I'm glad the NWF wised up but I really can't fault them all that much. I think they were just blinded by the money and very short-sighted. Non-profits can do silly things sometimes.

    The attack behavior... it can be ugly over on Facebook. I've unsubscribed from a number of crazy people. Makes me sad when they behave like that as there's no good reason to be so mean.

    Anyhoo... happy blogoversary and I look forward to following your posts for another year.

  20. I thought the NWF/Scotts partnership was bizarre, to say the least. I'm so glad it's over! As a teacher of 11 yr olds I'm always angered by adults who bully as much as kids do. There is no 'right' or 'wrong' garden. It smacks of such elitism. I did a post in November called Blame It on Elvis about the same topic. I'm out of the loop about the other issue but hate seeing blogs used for malevolent purposes. Thanks for speaking up!

  21. Some of you are cat fans like me and some continue the quest for the blue poppy - when I read these words of yours they really spoke to me......cat person all of my life and yearning still to see the true blue poppy. In years past when I was a Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society (don't be impressed - all I had to do was send a proper check each year) - well during these days (in San Diego County) I collected true blue blosoms - it was a glorious fun time. Then retirement here in MOntana and then my husband's dementia. Hope to be a blogger one day. Many thanks Pat Bleecker

  22. Love that Himalayan Poppy. Beautiful blue.

  23. 6 years already?! Your blog was one of the first that I started reading on regular basis. Thank you for your wisdom, humor and all the information I learned from you! All the best!


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