What Makes A Garden Writer?

eddie_ga_7a(8)August 22, 2002

What, indeed, makes a garden writer? Give me your opinion - is it education? experience? writing ability? gardening ability? Personality? What?

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johnp(z4 mn/wi)

OK - I'll bite on this one!

1. First you gotta write.
2. Then you gotta write about garden subjects.*
3. Then you gotta write about garden subjects for someone else to read.
4. Then you have to do it again.

You might get published or even paid for writing about garden subjects, but in my book, that's not a requirement. But you do have to intend that your writing get read by others to distinguish the writing from garden journaling, record keeping, etc. which are produced for the benefit of the individual and not specifically to be shared. (Do posters to GardenWeb become garden writers merely by posting a message?)

A garden writer need not garden. Gardening might be a highly informative activity for some writers, but gardening also competes with the work of writing, and vice versa.

*Probably another thread. But the point is that the garden is the subject front and center, not a theme, or a metaphor, or a setting for another topic.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2002 at 10:39AM
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Megsroses(Upstate NY Zone)

Maybe this needs to be rephrased to:
What Makes A Garden Writer Write?
1. Intimate knowledge of the subject
2. Ability to express oneself in the written word
3. Desire to impart a particular topic to another interested party
4. Include a full measure of: apitude, skill, capability, capacity, facility, talent, gift and knack and you have the makings of a good writer no matter what the topic.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2002 at 11:34AM
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Good answers, keep them coming. In Atlanta we had an excellent writer who wrote about gardening. He didn't know much at all about plants but he did have a certain passion for gardening and as I said he could write very well so everyone loved him.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2002 at 1:23PM
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I've never posted to this forum before, except for life in this forum where I just posted a duplicate of this.

In my estimation, garden writers are not your typical writers (whatever that is). Some
are hardly writers; others are hardly gardeners. Some are both.

I used to belong to Garden Writers Association of America. I'm no longer a member. I
didn't feel the group did much for me. I saw a superficiality (is that a word?) in some
members, the good ole boy attitudes, and the fact that people easily get impressed with
themselves. I never wanted to write the "fluff" pieces that pay well, but offer little
information in some of the consumer mags.

Although I understand that people can be writers without ever having published, I only
consider MYSELF a writer because I sell what I write. I don't waste my time on stuff I
can't/haven't sold prior to writing.

I belong to a local writing group. They are almost exclusively fiction people. I
sometimes learn things from them that I can apply to my work. In fact, I even started
writing a romance novel after being with the group for several months, but I don't think
of it as writing as much as being a game or a hobby.

Some fiction writers seem to look down on non-fiction writers, especially journalists.
But, in many cases, the fiction people couldn't meet deadlines on a daily or weekly
basis, AND MAKE A LIVING AT IT, because the two types of writing are

Those in my group who are "serious" fiction writers (spend a lot of time doing it with
serious intent, but not necessarily with successful submissions), all have a spouse or a
full time job or retirement funds that support their habit! I suspect that is true of the
majority of writers, fiction or non-fiction, including journalists.

So, what is a garden writer? Is there a definition possible? I doubt it.

The market is swamped with garden writers, but also with freebie garden information
from Cooperative Extension, from companies selling roses, gadgets, turf products, etc.
It's almost impossible to be a garden writer exclusively and make a living at it, unless
you are a salaried person, for instance a p. r. person with a company, doing its press
releases on gardening whatchamacallits.

Maybe some of my points can bring some "life to this forum" in the form of a debate.
Have fun!

    Bookmark   August 22, 2002 at 9:11PM
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johnp(z4 mn/wi)

A comment on something Ann said:

Doubtless there are many non-fiction writers who have a secondary source of income, but the journalists I know are full-time professionals who are making a living (however modest) at their work.


    Bookmark   August 22, 2002 at 11:23PM
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You are right. There are many journalists who make a living at it, but not many freelance ones, at least in the circle that I keep. Many freelance garden writers are also in the same boat, and may only write one article a week, bi-weekly, etc. which often pays only $10 - $25 dollars apiece in all but the larger urban markets.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2002 at 6:52AM
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gardenbug(Canada zone 5)

Eddie said it for me. It's the passion for gardening that comes across in the piece. Real meat in an article, not rehash of material that is supposed to be "hot" this month. (season, year!)Personality, knowledge and facilty with language certainly are a bonus.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2002 at 7:08AM
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Garden writing as technical (how to do it) writing has been done to death, which does not mean that now the whole world knows how to do it, only that for most people (even visitors to this forum) it is a boring subject.
Reading is slower than TV. Another thing most people find boring is art. Writing is an art. A successful garden writer may be someone who can turn a boring subject into entertainment via a boring medium.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2002 at 6:12PM
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Re: acj's comments: Yes, many garden articles are boring, but there are constantly new gardeners, who have the most basic of questions. If you are a serious and experienced gardener, these articles may not be for you, but rather more in depth, technical stuff is what you are looking for. But those deeper articles are completely beyond the beginner. Just look at some of the topics on some of the other forums here and you'll see the diverse experience (or lack of) of some of the posters. Therefore, garden writing must be done on various levels to focus on the readership's needs.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2002 at 6:49AM
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pkock(z6 OH)

*If you want to earn money, don't be a snob.
*Organize your clips. Write a resume'.
*Submit gardening articles to general-interest publications.
*Make sure you get contributors' copies so you can photocopy them.
*Come up with new twists on old topics.
*Repeat last four steps. OR...

*If you have more to say, write a book.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2002 at 1:20AM
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johnp(z4 mn/wi)

acj, I don't really believe that reading is slower than tv when I think of how fast I can consume information from text relative to the waiting-for-them-to-get-on-with-it-for-gosh-sakes frustration I get from broadcast media. Maybe it just SEEMS slower to read because it requires a wee more effort.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2002 at 8:43AM
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You must have the ability to wave your flag where it will be seen.

You need to discuss subjects that people want to know about, and you have to encourage them to not only like your subject, but you must get them addicted to it, AND to you.

You must keep the topic active, you must create interest in it, you must explore it, you must increase it. You must have faith in yourself before you ask others to take that leap of faith in you too.

You must feel, live, and breathe what you write about because if you can't portray your passion for the subject then nobody will give a damn.

"How to Winter Sow Seeds Outdoors" is mine. The GW now has TWO forums dedicated to it, a discussion forum, and now we have our own seed exchange too.

Today I applied for copyrights two, three, and four. Tomorrow, by 10:30am they will be under the roof and auspices of the Library of Congress.

Trudi Davidoff

Here is a link that might be useful: Trudi stuff on the GW

    Bookmark   August 28, 2002 at 5:55PM
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A garden writer needs, first and foremost, a personality and a great sense of humour. Let's face it we need to be able to make talking about manure sound exciting!!!! We also need a generally good all-round knowledge of everything to do with gardening and honesty to say we don't know when WE DON'T KNOW!!!!

Passion is perhaps the most important necessity in my opinion. I am so passionate that I'm sure some people think 'who on earth is this person'.... I can find excitement in the most mundane gardening activities!

The ability to put words together is also rather important too! Tee Hee.....(that's me laughing)...

    Bookmark   August 29, 2002 at 1:19AM
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If ONLY all garden writers had a pesonality and a sense of humor the world would be a better place .... So many of the articles and books are like printed sleeping pills ..

Just as the " best sellers " you see at those airport newstands tend to written by the SAME , TIRED, OLD 20 authors, it appears that is happening in the garden world ..

Some author ,, who usually had megabucks and " opens" his private estate to the rest of us then becomes the media darling of the day ,,, from that point on they can write any boring dribble and there will be crowds craving for his next book, or to hear him pontificate about most anything ...

Don't know who lacks imagination more ,,, the public or the writers ,and don't even get me started on those that then get their very own radio program ... yawn

    Bookmark   September 19, 2002 at 1:50PM
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John_D(USDA 8b WA)

johnp said it best;
"First you gotta write."

    Bookmark   February 2, 2005 at 10:38PM
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poppa(z5 MA)

A virus.

One that has made the inter-species leap from some rather boring weed and now infects susceptable persons with an undampable desire to stick out where they don't belong.

Probably originated in lambs-quarters.


    Bookmark   February 3, 2005 at 12:48PM
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I completely disagree that a garden writer does not have to garden. There is no way to write intelligently on any aspect of gardening--horticulture, landscape design, garden history, whatever--unless you have practiced that aspect of gardening at the very least, and preferably others as well. I can spot the "garden writing" of a non-gardener easily. I can't believe this question was even raised.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2005 at 7:19PM
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John_D(USDA 8b WA)

So, would you say that a garden writer needs to have a good understanding of both plants and words?

(And a healthy dose of humility to get his point across without talking down to his readers?)

    Bookmark   February 7, 2005 at 10:17PM
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I totally agree that having practical knowledge of gardening is beneficial to someone who is writing in the field. Having said that, practical knowledge is not necessarily a prerequisite for the task. A competent writer should be able to write on any subject as long as he/she is good at conducting research. I speak from experience on this. As a former magazine editor, I used to regularly write on topics that I knew little about. But with adequate research, I was able to pull it off. I would think most folks who write on garden topics do so because they are passionate about gardening. And that enthusiasm is what separates the true garden writers from the ones who are simply doing it for a paycheck.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2008 at 12:43AM
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"Although I understand that people can be writers without ever having published, I only
consider MYSELF a writer because I sell what I write. I don't waste my time on stuff I
can't/haven't sold prior to writing."

See, that's the difference between a gardener, and a garden writer. Gardeners love to share everything, down to when every seed peeks its little head above the ground. They don't care if they're getting paid or not.

I'm a garden blogger, hoping to someday be a garden writer. I consider blogging writing of a sort, only more personal. I like the vehicle, because I can just rattle on about what happened in the garden without having to count words or meet deadlines.

On the other hand, I have some rather serious posts too, like one on the soils in Florida, and one on diseases of tomatoes. These are written in a more professional style, because the intent is a more serious conveyance of information.

I think there is a large gap between a professional garden writer and someone who writes for the joy of it. One need not be a gardener to be a professional garden writer, but one who is passionate about gardening will write more personal and interesting articles. One who does not garden will write more technical and boring articles.

I much prefer reading gardening blogs, because of the personal nature. I write about my gardening because I want to inform and teach. I don't claim to be an expert. The only money I make from it is a measly income from Adsense on my blogs.

However; if someone were to read my blog and ask me to write an article for money in some sort of publication, I would. I just don't look for it, or seek it out.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2008 at 6:12PM
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poppa(z5 MA)

Nice to see this still breathes.

Rare440 basically said that a competent writer can write about any subject. Yet the OP is specific to being a "Garden writer". My interpretation is that this is a person who can not, or will not, write about any other subject. It's a passion as much as gardening itself.

Now, the question whether a garden writer is a good 'un or not, that's a different sort of weeding that the public gets to do.

Poppa (rev. 2008)

    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 9:05AM
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Whoopi - there is life here after all!

As to garden writers - I don't see how you can write about something you know nothing about, so I assume that folks write about gardens because they know something. However, one of the few gardening articles on Knot gardens that I read, was slightly off target (I do know about knots - alot about knot gardens) so I zapped off an email to her. Guess where she got her sloppy information for the glossy magazine? the INTERNET! So scrap the idea that they all know what they are talking about.

As for journalists that are freelance - I did make that work for a while - I wrote education and business for them, in return they paid and ran a garden column. Alas we parted ways when part time was not what they wanted, and full time was not what I wanted.

GWA people are more than writers, they are photographers, and radio/tv people and yes many have egos to stroke. I have found though that most are willing to share their knowledge if you show just a little interest in what they do. I have learnt so much from them and made some good friends.

Garden fiction and creative garden writing is also possible. Susan W.Albert's China Bayles mystery series being one. Creative writing is also someething I am toying with, but that is not quite ready for the world at large.

So garden writers come in various forms - technical writers who talk about genetics of X, fluff writers who run an internet search on a topic and everything in between.

But good garden writers live and breathe those little green things that we are trying to nurse thru droughts/floods/artic winters or whatever. We want to spread the word on how to help others enjoy this passion.


    Bookmark   September 13, 2008 at 2:19PM
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poppa(z5 MA)

Seeing that everything to know about gardening has already been written, i'd think that a good garden writer must be a twisted person. A bit like one of those pumpkins seeds that you saved that puts out warty half green, half yellow things that are not at all unlike something you'd expect to find in a carnival sideshow. They have to have something unique about them that people are willing to shell out the bucks to take a peek at, even if down deep the rubes know it's just going to be someone like their mom except that she doesn't pluck her lips.

A good garden writer also needs to be a sadist. Who else would be willing to convince you that THIS year you CAN grow tomatoes that won't split and drool all over your hand when picked. Come on Charlie brown, you can do it!

Lastly, a good garden writer should be rich, 'cause they ain't gonna make a living off garden writing.


    Bookmark   October 9, 2008 at 8:33AM
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I completely agree that one must possess gardening knowledge AND writing skills in order to be a "garden writer." But a true garden writer successfully pairs the two passions into one creative piece of work that connects the reader with that passion.

I contributed a gardening column in my local Christian newspaper during 2006 (before they changed to an online publication). I think people expect and deserve garden-related advice/information from someone with first-hand experience, a few blisters and maybe a little dirt beneath their fingernails:)

Here is a link that might be useful: Writin' 4 Him

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 2:08PM
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Please allow me to introduce myself. My rental given name is eore Davis, My Earth given name is Christian Warlock. I'm an Artist, Photopher, Capricorn, Humanist, Computer Nerd, Meta-Morph and Plant Person. I'm here to offer a little of that addiction to the passion of those things we grow for our pleasure. It's called Non-Nutrient Hydroponics. It's made from recycled materials. Let me show you what you can grow in just a bucket of water. This is something I thought of after Katrina. It started out as Disaster Farmimg but has grown into a whole Art form. Now let me tell you why I'm doing it now. I'm looking for a wentch. Regina Davis is her name. Please understand that I'm a God fearing sinner but a Beliver. There has been two times I heard God clearly in my life and both times it was about her. She has been my woman, my lover, my wentch and my wife. Now she just appeared in front of me then dissappeared again. No, she ain't gettin away with that. Thirty years she's been out of my life. I'm going to use my passion for the Dark Garden to light a fire in you others who don't know anything about us. Take a look in Photobucket under ChristianWarlock. Regina Davis my Hawaiian Angel I'm looking for you...now people go fetch.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 10:57PM
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All of your comments are interesting and really good. I have written (published) two gardening books and I have a weekly Gardening column in our local paper. You must write is right! But you really have to have a sense of humor and make sure your personality comes through in your words. Hopefully you're not boring. It is great fun!

    Bookmark   December 1, 2011 at 10:07PM
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jannoel_gw(z5b IL)

I wrote a gardening article monthly for local papers for 15 years (still do) as a Master Gardener for volunteer hours and never considered myself a writer. Now I also write for a magazine which is published quarterly and get paid. That changed how I think of myself, rightly or wrongly, as a writer.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2012 at 8:57AM
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