Thursday, November 3, 2011

With a little help from my (blogging) friends

As part of the autumn tidy-up, I decided to revamp the pots outside the back doors. We have two sets of glass sliding doors, and in the middle, against the wall, I've always had some sort of large specimen plant. Currently - and satisfactorily - it is a Trachycarpus wagnerianus, which throws nice sharp shadows against the wall when the sun hits it.

It was in a huge galvanised steel container, which was supposed to look modern and chic. While it was busy looking modern and chic, it slowly rusted to pieces and I had to replace it. I decided to get a glazed pot, which in my experience survive frost and wet far better.
I've also edited down the number of pots in this grouping, which I think looks far smarter, especially in winter when flowering container plants (such as daffodils or irises or tulips) tend to look more upright and formal than summer versions such as pelargoniums or Lotus berthelotii, which scramble everywhere.
But what really made me look closely at rearranging this grouping was patientgardener's comment on this blog a while ago that the heights of the pots needed to be more varied.
This is how it looked in summer (below). As you can see, there are more pots, many at the same sort of height, so the effect is one of sprawling chaos.

Not that I have anything against sprawling chaos, mind - but what I was trying to achieve was the effect of the pots outside Great Dixter (below). Revisiting this photograph, I realised that while I'd achieved the effect of lots of pots (not exactly a brain-teaser), what I'd failed to achieve was the graduated height of the display. Much more tricky.
If you ever get the chance to hear Fergus Garrett, the head gardener at Great Dixter, give a lecture (and do go, if you can - he's a terrific speaker) you will be told that achieving this change of levels is one of the most crucial elements of a good design.

The point of all this is that sometimes we need an objective eye assessing what we do, or someone to bounce ideas off, or simply someone with whom to commiserate when things go pear-shaped in the garden. For me, blogging provides this in a way that family (not that interested), or friends (too polite to criticise), or books (informative, but not exactly responsive!) do not.
Many of the people whose blogs I read are professional gardeners and/or designers. Some are talented and passionate amateurs. Some have grandchildren; some have young families; some are retirees; many work full-time. But what they all share is a huge appetite for information, and an enthusiasm for their subject.
The result is access to something that is like a cross between a database and a 24-hour Q&A session. How on earth did we ever garden before the internet, I wonder?
According to the Garden Media Guild, who hold their annual awards ceremony on 30 November, there were eight candidates for the blog of the year award in 2008. This year there are 31.
Not everyone sees the proliferation of these cyber-communicators as a good thing, however. Many - not all - professional gardening writers object to being judged alongside "amateur" writers. They complain that bloggers undercut their rates, and pinch their space, on the basis that publishers, with an eye to their budgets, will persuade bloggers to write for nothing - or very little - thus depriving the professionals of their livelihood.
I used to have some sympathy for this view - writing is a perilous enough occupation, financially speaking, without having to compete with contributors for whom the kudos is more important than the cash.
On the whole, though, I'm becoming increasingly impatient with it. Most "professional" garden writers - ie, those who make their living at it - have no formal writing or journalism qualifications. As someone who has done the National Council for the Training of Journalists certificate, a two-year formal newspaper apprenticeship in the provinces, plus 30 years up the sharp end in Fleet Street, I fail to see quite how they come to be so snobbish about their journalistic abilities.
This is not to say they can't write - many write beautifully, of course. But so do lots of bloggers. And sure, they may have horticultural qualifications - but then, so do lots of bloggers.
The sharing of information - whether it's advice from a fellow blogger about how to overwinter my dahlias, or an account of a visit to a famous garden - can only be of benefit to everyone. When it comes to activities such as gardening, an increase in knowledge usually leads to an increase in enthusiasm - and that means more hits for the bloggers and more book sales for the established writers.


VP said...

Well said Victoria :)

31 this year eh? I wonder how that compares with the other writing awards, which will be from a much smaller pool of writers.

And quite a few of the blog entries must be from paid writers/publications too?

Your pots are looking good too - must finish mine off...

Lancashire rose said...

That is too funny Victoria. When I looked at the first photo my thoughts went immediately to the entrance at Dixter. See how good you are! Mind you I liked your summer arrangements too. Need to look with a critical eye at mine, which have now been moved into various ports in a storm due to frost. "Yikes, you have frost" you say. We do and it's tonight.

Arabella Sock said...

Wow! 31 blogger entries for the GMG Awards! I read VP's post on her 4th blogaversary and felt quite nostalgic for the small, cosy, world blogging was several years ago. I was thinking that far from it being unfair that bloggers were taking the work from professionals, professionals seem to have taken over blog world! Not that I mind. I'm sure I'm missing out on a lot of great blogs because I stick with my long time favourites as there just isn't time for all of them. Entering for awards isn't my cup-of-tea but I do hope that whoever 'wins' it finds it gives them a 'leg up' either in terms of professional career or inspiring further greatness in their blogging.

The pots question is interesting. I loved the way you had used your pots when I came to your open day. I think the height thing is something that I need to work on too and bigger groupings working together rather than random pots here and there.

petoskystone said...

your re-vamped planting is much more cohesive.

Will said...

I had the pleasure of being at one of Fergus Garrett’s lectures at Lullingstone Castle a few weeks ago. It was a tour de force on autumn colour at Dixter. I don’t think I have ever heard so many botanical names crammed into a 1½ hour talk –marvellous…

About Last Weekend said...

Love those fan palms, am thinking of adding those to my garden too, they really elevate everything don't they?

Elephant's Eye said...

I read your comment at VP about blog colours. You have chosen black on eggshell?

Oh and I can see in that summer gathering why you look at the tomato red pelargonium flowers with a jaundiced eye. Not happy with the pinky bluey grey succulents.

Darla said...

I am certainly no writer. I blog about gardening and love to read comments especially when other gardening bloggers offer advice or ideas. Sometimes the things we know cannot be learned from a text book.

Harriet Rycroft said...

Great post. Your pots are very stylish. I find myself obsessively hoarding old bricks to use for raising pots up in order to squeeze a more effective display into a smaller space.
Yes there are too many of us writing about horticulture and yet readers still seem to have time to wade through much of it. Or are they only reading the picture captions?

patientgardener said...

I'm glad you found my comment helpful. I often leave comments and then think 'oh shut up Helen, they arent interested in your opinion.' I think this relates to the end of your post as well. I have noticed a real them and us feeling between garden writers and bloggers however I have also found myself bored with the glossy magazines that churn out the same content month after month and I have cancelled a number of subscriptions.

I prefer blogs now as they give me aa sneaky view into the backgardens of gardeners across the world, who are kind and generous with their information. I have learnt more from blogs than from magazines and newspaper articles.

I have, as you know, written some blog posts free of charge but I am no longer doing this. My time is as valuable as any professional garden writer so why shouldnt I be paid too. I think bloggers need to be a little less desperate for recognition and more professional.

The Garden Path Flower Shop said...

Love the new look of the backdoor pots! I'm inspired to do something similar.

debsgarden said...

I like the new look of your pots! I enjoyed reading this post. Blogs have become an important source of inspiration and information to me. When I first started blogging, I was intimidated by the idea my blog would be out there amongst professionals. But we all have something to contribute, and that's what makes the blogosphere so vital.

Ms B said...

Your new pot arrangement looks very professional; not only do you have different heights but the pots are all linked by the materials which is all very satisfactory.

That sounds rather pompous doesn't it? Your pots look great......that's better!!

Hanna at Orchid Care said...

Hi Victoria. For years now, I been thinking of utilizing pots for at least part of my garden because that would make it easier to more plants to different locations, etc. Now that I view the photos in this post, I am excited about getting started.

I particularly love your first photo with the symmetry of different height pots and the plants they contain.

Esther Montgomery said...

Oh pot height! My current bane.

I transplanted bamboo from the ground and into a tall pot. It looked brilliant. I knew there might be trouble if ever we have an east wind but this happens only a couple of times a year so I wasn't bothered.

Ever since I put my tall pot at the front of the house, the wind has blown consistently (and strongly) from the south. We NEVER have southerly winds here. Ha! The pot keeps falling over. I've buried it deeper. Now the bamboo swings sideways. Trusting the weather will revert to normal before I give up.

There was a post on Garden Rant a little while back in which the writer mentioned she now has more time for blogging because her flow of paid work has slowed down due to the emergence of so many blogs about gardening.

I sympathise with 'real' writers and photographers but can't stop being excited that, for the first time in history, the rest of us have been freed to use talents which are much more widely spread through the population than there are paid places for them. Just think how many creativities have been crushed, how many un-fulfilled and miserable people there must have been in the past - before the internet.


Wife, Mother, Gardener said...


I really appreciate your post, and have been simmering on my thoughts.

I love to read books by great gardeners. But the problem is that those same gardeners do not visit tiny lots in inconsequential towns in western Pennsylvania. (I live 6-8 hours from the great gardens that are in my own state!)

Blogging has given me a way to share my garden with interested viewers all over the world! So, even though I am in a place relatively void of garden culture, I am able to get positive and constructive feedback from accomplished gardeners.

The responsiveness in blogging is what makes it a community, and I believe that art grows best in community.

Denise said...

And the situation would seem to be even more dire with the burgeoning number of design blogs squeezing out magazines, photographers, stylists, etc. Where this will all lead and who are the villains and heroes is anyone's guess at this point. I agree, staging pots is an art form in itself. Glad to see the Great Dixter more-is-better approach being touted!

elizabethm said...

Fascinating post. I love blogs and have learnt so much from them. As someone else here says, blogging is so responsive and also so generous. I look for different things from blogs than from other garden writing and the most important is an engagement with the writer.
Would love to hear Fergus Garrett speak. On my wishlist!

Jenny Schouten Short said...

Good article. I enjoy gardening. I enjoy blogging though not a professional of either. I'm an artist. It is the contact with others they bring which I like the most. Blogs that are too wordy I skip. xo Jenny