Self-portrait by Rob

I first noticed garden photographer and writer Rob Cardillo through his messages to the Garden Writers Listserv on the subject of websites.  Readers know I’ve been ranting and raving overtime lately about websites, so here comes another (rave, that is).  His nifty professional photography site does everything it needs to do, and well, with plenty of eye candy for the frustrated gardener in winter.  (Professionally designed by the QDesign Shop for $1,200.)  Just recently he’s created a do-it-yourself site to help promote his new book (with Adam Levine), Great Gardens of the Philadelphia Region – this one only costs $5 a month and was quick+easy to create using Homestead.

Then I read Rob’s bio and found out that his photos have been published like everywhere – Organic Gardening, more books – and he’s a muckety-muck in the Garden Writers Association (past Director for the Mid-Atlantic region, past chair of its Awards Committee) and the venerable Pennsylvania Hort Society.  So I decided to ask Rob for an interview and because he’s super-friendly and a diehard gardening enthusiast, he agreed.

Philadelphia takes Gardening Seriously
Founded in 1827, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society doesn’t let history stand in the way of keeping up with the times.  Today it embraces its traditional members, the Main Line Philadelphians (the movers and shakers behind the amazing Philadelphia Flower Show) and community gardeners and activists of all sorts.  Very cool.  I was especially impressed with their Philadelphia Green program, which has taken over enough empty lots to make a difference in the city and is now a model for gardening as a tool for urban revitalization.  Maybe there’s a DC Green in our future.

Speaking of Philadelphia, if you’re going to the Flower Show (March 4-11), we’re looking for a stringer to report on it for us.  The pay’s lousy but think of the resume-enhancing “Guest blogger for GardenRant.”

Bringing the Garden Writers Association into the 21st Century
Recently the GWA’s ears were burning as listserv members ranted (mostly) about what it’s doing and not doing for its members for their $85 annual dues.  Sure, members attending GWA’s regional and national conferences have a grand old time networking with each other, and I saw no complaints about the conferences beyond some predictable quibbling over details like hotel choice.  But about GWA’s yearly commissioning of a survey of trends in gardening?  Some complaints about its usefulness and suggestions that the money could be better spent.  Ditto their dead-tree and snail-mailed newsletter.  So let’s ponder how that dues income might be better spent.

Well, what’s a professional association for?  Partly so members can meet and enjoy some camaraderie (and who needs it more than writers, after all?)  But lots of members are now suggesting GWA focus its efforts on helping them get work through things like job banks, and helping them get more money by negotiating better contract terms between publications and freelancers.  Our own Amy offered a long and sensible list of services that the GWA might offer and in response, she was told to volunteer and make it happen.  Ya know, in her spare time.

So as a GWA insider, what’s Rob’s take on all this?  He loves GWA (“It’s one of the best networking organizations of gardening communication”) and suggests that members who want to see it revitalized “get involved.”  Well, as frustrating as that answer may be, I know from my own experiences with organizations that the people who do the work generally get to determine what happens and how, so he’s probably right.  But damn, can’t we just take a member survey and see the organization respond to the results?

On Promoting Books 
If schlepping across the U.S. in mid-winter to promote a book isn’t your idea of the good life, go local, or in the case of Great Gardens of the Philadelphia Region, regional.  It makes promotion a snap.  Of course, it helps if your region, like the Philly area, is at the top of gardening’s food chain. Garden-goers here in D.C. are naturally jealous (oh, to be able to pop in on Chanticleer or Longwood whenever we feel the urge) but feel lucky just to have Philly within day-trip range.  So I begged Rob for a review copy of the book, he took pity on me, and readers can expect some regional garden porn here soon.

Why don’t Gardenblog Photos look like These?
Okay, we’re not professionals and Rob needn’t worry about competition from us, but even amateurs are teachable, at least in theory.  So Rob, any tips for us? 

  • Be patient.  Sometimes you just have to wait for the wind to stop and the sun to soften.
  • Use a tripod. They’re not just a way to sharpen your images, they’re also invaluable for finessing your compositions.
  • Great subjects deserve great backgrounds.  Look for contrasts in color, echoed shapes and supporting lines.