Ministry of Controversy

Hot Topics on Other Blogs

I love finding blog posts somewhere ELSE that take on controversial topics, and lately I've seen some doozies. Here are three, and keep sending me links, everyone!Dead%20frog

That professorial yet bold stirrer-of-the-pot, Jeff Gillman, shows readers that it isn't just glyphosate that kills frogs, but vinegar, too.  And he has photographic evidence.  Poor little guy!

Ginny Stibolt writes about gardening in Florida and  contributes regularly to team blogs, one of which is Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens.  It's there that she stirred up a ruckus by wondering publicly if garden writers can be bought, referring specifically to Scotts' sponsorship of GWA and P. Allen Smith's gardenblogger shindig in Little Rock – attended by some of Ginny's blogging teammates, no less!  Yes indeedy, there are comments.

Graham Rice also takes on garden writers – for being too soft. In his review of The Bad-Tempered Gardener he writes:

In particular, she quite rightly complains that all commentary on gardens is positive, sometimes exuberantly and untruthfully so. She’s right, and this is pretty much unique to gardens. Reviews of movies, plumbers, restaurants, political campaigns, exhibitions, cars, even mothers… all just say it as the author sees it. And, often, dislike of the subject inspires fine and entertaining writing. But not gardens and, oddly, not reviews of garden books. When I helped run Plants & Gardens magazine (RIP) long ago, we were praised for our honest book reviews. But no else has been prepared to say that a garden book gives bad advice or recommends poor plants. It’s just not reviewed. Mustn't upset potential advertisers.

So, readers, SHOULD garden writers be more like others writers?  Should we criticize gardens and gardening books as the need arises?  Come back later today when I test Graham's approach by criticizing a garden I saw in the Seattle area. In the meantime I'll be steeling myself for the reaction.

Photo credit – Jeff Gillman, and he asked me to credit the vinegar, too. 

Posted by on August 9, 2011 at 5:22 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy.
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15 Responses to “Hot Topics on Other Blogs”

  1. I think there is an absolute duty to challenge the science. Ideas should be challenged too. The art of gardening, um, not so much. Art is subjective, styles and preferences are connected to culture and trends (and a hundred other things), and why rain on another gardener’s parade by saying or writing something negative about their creation? Unless there is some kind of abuse involved with animals, plants or resources, we should just be happy they are gardening.

  2. greg draiss says:

    Yes garden writers should be critical when reviewing gardens and garden writing. If writing is so poor as make the book worthless it can cast a bad light on gardening as a whole. There are a lot of Jamie Drurys and PAS s running around today and should be subject to review. As they move farther and farther away from the field (i.e. MTV) they should come under increasing scrutiny.

    We seem to have no trouble pounding on the 800 pound gorilla, Scotts Miracle Gro, but little ability to critque our own which in the long run renders us as whiners.

    I would like to see this blog return to gardening and stop with the inward reflections on the psychology and existential tangents this blog has traveled down.

    After all it’s about plants not the minds of planters.

    The TROLL

  3. anne says:

    Being a person who strives to be kind and positive (with varying results), I would like to agree with Sandra, but I can’t. After reading this and other gardening blogs for a while now, it seems like everything from politics to economics intrudes on the gardening world. Take the controversy surrounding Homeowners Associations or some planning departments, for example; these groups should hear some criticism about the limitations they place on homeowners and their yards (remember Julie and her front yard veggie garden?), if they want to keep up with the times.

    Also, while I think that tastes are subjective, the art world is full of reviews that are both positive and negative. A review shouldn’t just be based on what the reviewer personally likes or dislikes (although full disclosure is good and interesting), but rather on the fact-based merits or faults of the garden. One can say an English-style garden in the desert is lovely, but critique the fact that it misuses sparse water resources, for example. Or call out a public garden that isn’t accessible to those in wheelchairs, strollers and walkers, and so on.

    I’ve always felt like garden reviews are more like travel or cooking articles than anything else; meant to encourage you to visit, or inspire you to try something, or merely to describe a lovely place. Garden blogs, on the other hand, seem to be hotbeds of contention at times!

  4. In my world, gardening is a friendly, collaborative activity. However, reviewers are a breed apart. They risk credibility if they refuse to state the obvious and they risk being interesting if they do not let their educated points of view inform their opinions. Some garden blogs and garden writers are along the lines of reviewers and contentious topics; some are in the game for companionship. The trick is being prepared for what one is about to read. It’s finding a review when one was expecting a companionable chat that is disconcerting.

  5. Michelle D says:

    A well written and or verbal critique is a powerful educational tool when both sides of the party are professional enough to exchange both the merits and the weaknesses of the project.
    Those who have experienced the virtues of constructive criticism have the ability to grow within their own field, or at the very least use the feedback to further analyze their own work for the benefit of themselves.
    I believe why a well rounded critique is difficult for the gardening field is because there are few formally trained gardeners who were subjected to and trained in a class room setting of the merits of critique, and in so are too unprepared and underdeveloped to understand the benefits of a well presented deconstructive critique.

  6. Mark Amershek says:

    Garden writing – like most writing – is subjective to the authors current world view. If she/he thinks that a particular garden has problems – then just let the critique flow. Learning from this would be much appreciated. So often we just get the positives and the beautiful photos.

    Now getting in bed with the advertisers or editors – just to make a buck or two is bad. Selling your gardening soul to the highest bidder is just wrong.

    Of course – only my humble opinion.

  7. Derek says:

    I wrote this recently thinking it might be controversial (it is, after all, both about taking seeds from a park and planting what some consider to be a weed), but no controversy. I’ll try harder.

    http://plantgasm.com/archives/4668

  8. Deirdre says:

    While much of gardening is subjective, basic design principles are objective, and can be critiqued. When reviewing a garden, they should be critiqued. It is even more important to cultivate an analytical mind than a garden.

  9. cellbioprof says:

    Yes, especially plant choices. The number of books that encourage the use of invasive exotic plants is criminal. (Yes, I mean that literally, as in “a crime against nature”).

  10. The comments on my post last week are not only on the blog itself, but also on Facebook. Plus I’ve received some emails on the topic from those who apparently don’t wish to go public with their views.

    I try to be fair, but the blatant lobbying of garden writers by poison manufacturers really gets my goat. Here’s my answer to a GWA member who defended the policies. “I will not join GWA because Scott’s money has bought their way onto their programs. It’s not that I couldn’t ignore their lobbying as you have, but that much of their money comes from ineffective products that damage the environment in so many ways. I just cannot support this company or their marketing activities.
    “I know I’m not alone in boycotting GWA because of this and I also heard that the first choice for your keynote speaker refused the honor for the same reason. Just think how much better the organization could be, if only it had a backbone.”

    Do I need to tone it down?

  11. GWA accepts support from any garden-related product or service. I think that is alright because this is a nonprofit group and depends on such support. How would you set up criteria for which sponsor is accepted and which one is rejected? not easy to do.
    A garden writer is not forced to write a story about a particular garden, book, or anything else. You write what is of interest to you and your readers.
    Garden writers are writers first. Whatever story you can tell is what you write about. That’s what makes it fun.

  12. But do the sponsors belong on the programs?

    I would say that the criteria should be fairly easy. Only accept sponsors whose products do no harm.

  13. anne says:

    Does GWA have a mission statement or other membership criteria? If they accept any sponsor who shows interest, then you know where they stand. One is free to be a member, or not. Perhaps there is another garden writer’s group that meets different criteria and vets it’s sponsors differently; if not, then it sounds like there may be reason to create one.

  14. I see the comments have taken a turn and I want to say thank you to Ginny. I’ve been wondering whether I should join GWA the last couple of weeks. I’m still on the fence–maybe the system should be fixed? or maybe the policy, and organization, reflects a generation of garden writers who have outlived their “time”? I do know this, garden writers have a moral responsibility, as those who are most educated in these matters, to lead by example. It is not all right to take money from anyone.

  15. UrsulaV says:

    I’m iffy on public critique of private gardens.

    Public gardens, sure, go ahead, knock yourself out. If they’ve written a book? Sure, fair game. But critiquing private gardens on the internet strikes me as a trifle unkind.

    I’m an illustrator by trade, and sure, I have a lot of opinions about art, but I generally limit myself to expressing those under my breath or after the artist is dead (or in the case of a few, when they are so damn famous that there is pretty much no chance they’ll ever learn I exist.) There’s just nothing to be gained by making somebody feel bad about their art, and if they actually WANT constructive critique, they’ll ask for it. (And if they don’t ask, I don’t give it. And I personally don’t ask the internet for it. I see far too much mean-spiritedness dressed up in “I’m just giving you constructive criticism! You should be grateful!” to want to be on either end of that.)

    For a lot of people, gardening is an art. And not everybody’s past the stick figure stage yet. (Lord knows I’m not…)

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