Everybody's a Critic, Guest Rants, Real Gardens

When it comes to gardening coverage, think locally!

A spring garden in Houston (above) is very different than an April garden in DC or PA.

I can’t remember a time when the Houston Chronicle wasn’t a part of my life.  My parents were faithful subscribers, just as my husband and I have been since we married in 1983.  I was fortunate enough to be a contract employee for a while, working with garden editor Kathy Huber (now retired) and Laura Haynes Weisman, who headed up the garden website. Didn’t know there was such a thing? Ah, those were the glory days, brief though they may have been.  I wrote plant descriptions for the plant database that was included in that website, doing my best to provide information that was specific to our challenging growing conditions.

All that is to explain why I’m disappointed, and occasionally incensed, by the Chronicle‘s trend over the past few years to use articles written by and targeted at gardeners in other areas of the country, with information that at best is minimally applicable to Houston area gardeners and could lead new gardeners to spend time, energy and money that will be wasted if they follow the advice in these articles.

My rant is prompted by today’s article, written by Adrian Higgins of the Washington Post, who is an acknowledged and reputable garden authority in his area of the country. [Only with great restraint did I not put those last 5 words in caps!] I am in no way criticizing Mr. Higgins, mind you, since I am certain he has no control over where the WaPo chooses to syndicate/reprint his articles. Writing about the shade garden, he focuses on the experiences of a gardener in Pennsylvania as well as his own. I’ll grant that the descriptions of the types of shade might be useful to a gardener in the greater Houston area and so might the information on paths and elements of design. Those are aspects of gardening that aren’t too different from one area of the country to another.

But when it comes to plant choices and watering, I beg of my fellow Houston gardeners – especially those of you who are fairly new to gardening itself, or to gardening in the Houston area – to ignore what you’re reading and instead consult local sources.  Save yourself time, effort and money – not to mention angst and regret – and think about what you’re reading, the audience of gardeners to whom it’s truly addressed and just how applicable the advice really is to your garden.

When I first began to garden on my corner of Katy in 1997, I was just slightly less than clueless about what I was doing. That was also in the early days of the Internet, when American Online was the #1 provider and I was an enthusiastic participant in the AOL gardening forums. I was so delighted to find other people who were as passionate about gardening as I was that I took their advice to heart, regardless of where they gardened.  But as I gardened more on this corner and learned more about plants and growing zones and the incredibly vast differences across the country, I learned that when I needed advice about my own garden, I needed to think locally. And over the 20 years I’ve been gardening here, that is probably the single most important thing I’ve learned.

Posted by Cindy McMorris Tournier on August 1, 2017 at 9:07 am, in the category Everybody's a Critic, Guest Rants, Real Gardens.
14 Comments

14 responses to “When it comes to gardening coverage, think locally!”

  1. Amy Legg says:

    So true! It is the same problem with living in Colorado. The Denver Post in the past did an excellent job with gardening in the region and then it disappeared. They have tried in the last couple of years to bring back local gardening articles and what to do on a weekly basis during the growing season, but there are still articles from other regions that are NOT applicable. With so many new people moving to the State it is important that people know what to grow, what not to grow, how much moisture our State really receives, and most importantly that it will snow in late May and in early September.

    • Cindy, MCOK says:

      Amy, I couldn’t agree more re what to grow and what not to grow! I think that’s what really set me off about the WaPo article: it mentioned plants like heucherella, dicentra, pulmonaria, Virginia bluebells and brunnera. They wouldn’t last in our gardens any longer than cut flowers do in a vase!

  2. Pam/Digging says:

    Great rant, Cindy! Our country is too big and the growing zones too varied for one-size-fits-all gardening advice, especially when recommending plants and seasonal planting advice. I learned the hard way how different our gardening seasons are in central Texas compared to the Northeast and Northwest, where so much gardening advice originates via magazines and books. The same with the plants we can grow. This is why I love reading blogs for regional gardening information — you can see what people in your area can actually grow and how it does. Newspapers should bring back local garden writers for the same reason.

    • Cindy, MCOK says:

      Pam, that’s another rant in and of itself: I feel like the magazine publishing industry barely acknowledges that gardens exist in Texas, especially south of Dallas.

  3. Marcia says:

    I live outside of D.C. so I can use all of Higgins’ tips, but as a pollinator gardener, I do enjoy reading him, but, honestly, I really don’t need the information. The internet, written and video, gives me enough information to attract the pollinators I desire for my region. For example, the EcoRegion guides at the Pollinator Partnership are terrific. http://pollinator.org/guides#zip

    Also, the best local information I’ve received has been from the native woody plant and perennial buyers at my local nursery. I encourage gardeners to go to the nurseries and talk to the people who think about gardening full time. They want to help. At this point, they know me and appear to really enjoy working with those like myself who are into this particular type of gardening.

    • Sarah says:

      Be careful whom you ask for help at big box store nurseries. Some employees can be knowledgeable about plants, but many likely aren’t. I asked a woman at a Lowes hardware store (big box store) what plants in their nursery were native and she said they all were, although I saw Asian and European natives down the rows of plants. I’ve also seen pollinator mixes sold at the big box stores that contain portions of the seeds that are not native.

      • Marcia says:

        I agree. I don’t consider big box stores “nurseries.” If it’s a tool and lumber establishment or they have greeter in a blue smock, I won’t ask for the plant buyer.
        🙂

    • Cindy, MCOK says:

      Marcia, I agree completely about shopping at local independent garden centers and nurseries. Not only are they likely to have knowledgeable and passionate staff on hand to answer questions and provide guidance, they’re also more likely to have plants that are grown at least semi-locally and are thus better acclimated to the growing conditions in their sales area.

  4. Gardening must be thought locally if not it doesn’t make sense. We see today the impact of global agriculture. I hope we wont make this mistake with gardening 🙂

  5. Susan says:

    Couldn’t agree more. I live in western NY, and our paper occasionally runs a syndicated gardening column out of California, for God’s sake. No, no, no, no! We had a venerated local couple who wrote a wonderful column for decades. When they passed on, I talked to someone on our paper and asked if I couldn’t give it a whirl. I did, and (not to toot my own horn) it was very popular. But a year or so ago, there were some major changes at the paper and despite being assured that they still wanted my column, nearly everything I’ve sent in to them has been ignored. And instead, we get advice and observations that work great in California. I don’t get it. And lest you think I’m venting solely out of wounded pride, I’m really not. I’ve had a lot of people from all over the area ask me why they don’t see my writing any more, so my ego is fine. I just don’t understand the unwillingness to stay with the local perspective.

    • Cindy, MCOK says:

      Susan, what a frustrating experience! I think that so many of our newspapers are owned by corporations now and for them, it all comes down to money. It costs them less to reprint the same article in papers across the country than it would to pay multiple local columnists for articles with local information. Then they lament the fact that newpaper readership is down …

  6. Chris says:

    I have a lot of luck seeking out various blogs and websites from gardeners in my immediate region. A lot more real-life detail (and warnings!) than I find in most print coverage.

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