To help celebrate GardenRant’s 15th anniversary this year, I’ve pulled together the story of how it started, how it continued through changes in life circumstances and technical crises, and how it’s changed my own life.
Early Gardenblogging and Scheming
Gardenblogging noticeably debuted in about 2005, with a dozen or so of us across the country posting and reading/commenting on each others’ blogs. It was fun. Google Reader (RIP) made it easy to follow other blogs, so we did.
One of those readers was Michele Owens, a professional speechwriter and rabid vegetable gardener in Saratoga Springs, NY, who started her blog “The Sign of the Shovel” as a way of getting some garden-writing gigs. She got the idea of teaming up with other bloggers so there could be lots of posts without her having to write them all – she worked full time, was raising three kids, and was doing lots of gardening, after all.
Michele had been following “Dig,” the blog by Amy Stewart in Eureka, California, and had loved Amy’s gardening book From the Ground Up. So she reached out and Amy signed on.
Their goal was to “uproot the gardening world” by writing honestly, even critically, about gardens, gardening products, gardening shows on TV, government actions affecting the health of our gardens – anything but the boring how-to articles they saw everywhere.
Next, they noticed my blog, which I too-modestly and too-locally named “Takoma Gardener” after my town in Maryland. What caught their attention was my first big rant – about “America’s Master Gardener” Jerry Baker, whom I called a rich quack. (We republished it here.)
So I joined the scheming twosome, feeling a bit out of my league with professional writers, as I’d never written before starting my little gardenblog – unless you count a garden club newsletter, which I don’t.
We came up with a name and tagline – so cheeky! – and paid a design firm in Costa Rica $500 for a logo we loved at first glance.
GardenRant Launched in July of 2006
We launched our little adventure on the now-dormant Typepad blog service, which was cheap and easy. Within a couple of months we’d found our fourth – Elizabeth Licata in Buffalo, whose blog “Gardening While Intoxicated” got our attention, as did her activism for Garden Walk Buffalo. Elizabeth is editor of the regional magazine Buffalo Spree, so now we were three professionals and me.
(I was so insecure at first, I proposed that we not display our archives on the site – in hopes that my posts would soon be forgotten, I guess. Thankfully I was voted down.)
It was an exciting period for us, as GardenRant became known in the admittedly small world of garden communicators. We won early garden-blog awards, like Overall Best and Best Writing. And we helped boost traffic by publishing over 60 posts a month. (Don’t anyone expect us to be that productive again.)
Meeting in Person
We met in person for the first time in the summer of 2007, where we gathered to experience and help promote Buffalo’s Garden Walk. There we had some group photos made by KC Kratt, including this one that ran in the Washington Post. From left are me, Michele Owens, Elizabeth Licata and Amy Stewart.
And we saw each other again in 2010 in Chicago where we’d been invited to speak to gardening businesses at the Independent Garden Center Show. In this photo we’re holding mimosas that Mike Nowak presented to us during our talk. Yes, during. Mike’s a lot of fun.
For the first six years of GardenRant it was just what Adrian Higgins called the “Feisty Foursome” and our guests, until the inevitable happened. Amy left to write books and Michele left when demands on her time got even crazier. Happy to report Michele did get some nice garden-writing gigs – especially her book and big assignment for Oprah Magazine.
But we gained this great group of new voices. who all wrote regularly on the Rant for several years. From left:
- Carol Reese is an Extension Horticulture Specialist at U. Tennessee in Jackson. She’s a nationally known speaker and gardening and nature writer for print. She attained her Everything-but-Dissertation from Mississippi State. (Her articles are here.)
- Tom Christopher trained at the New York Botanical Garden’s School of Professional Horticulture, and spent 10 years as horticulturist at an estate on the Hudson River Palisades. He’s worked in horticultural journalist for 35 years, in magazines and authoring books. He gardens in Connecticut. (His articles are here.)
- Evelyn Hadden is an award-winning author of four garden books, and a popular speaker about lawn alternatives and ecological gardening. She gardens in Boise, Idaho. (Her articles are here.)
- Bob Hill is a former Louisville Courier-Journal columnist and co-owner of Hidden Hill Nursery & Sculpture Garden in Utica, Indiana, a home-made, eight-acre arboretum and art mecca. (His articles are here.)
- Ivette Solar is a garden designer in Los Angeles, CA, who blogged as The Germinatrix, was a columnist for Domino Magazine, and authored a book about edible front yards. (Her articles are here.)
Looks like we’d gone from the original gardeners with opinions to plant people with degrees – and opinions.
- In 2012 we were joined by Allen Bush (left) who joined us after another team blog he wrote for – Human Flower Project – was discontinued. Allen has been a nursery and farmer owner, and had worked as a specialist for a perennial seed company He now gardens in Louisville, Kentucky and a country garden some miles away.
- Joining us in 2019 was Scott Beuerlein, the garden-writing sensation of 2019 with his TWO gold awards at the garden writers conference that year. A certified arborist and landscape technician, he’s in charge of garden outreach at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden and seems to be active in leadership in all sorts of industry groups, forestry council, and surely more.
- Also joining us in 2019, after guest-ranting in earlier years, was Marianne Willburn, a Virginia gardening columnist, magazine contributor, book author and blogger at Small Town Gardener. She’s a popular speaker and leads garden tours in Europe for Carex Tours. In the photo above Marianne and Scott are seen squaring off, appropriate to their dueling Correspondence.
Thanks to our Dozens of Guests
Something I’ve loved about writing for GardenRant is having access to all my favorite garden writers, many of whom I’ve gotten to know a bit. We invited them to be guest ranters when they had something to say, which they did in droves. Here are just some of them – the ones whose names our readers probably recognized:
Jeff Lowenfels, Jeff Gillman, Allan Armitage, Ken Druse, Tom Fischer, Frank Hyman, Lee Reich, Peter Del Tredici, Graham Rice, Tom Alexander, Shawna Coronado, Jeff Ball, Mary Vaananen, Susan Morrison, Katie Elzer-Peters, Sonia Day, Andrew Keys, Layanee DeMerchant, Jim Roush, Ilene Sternberg, Colleen Vanderlinden, Kathy Jentz, Debra Lee Baldwin, Debra Prinzing, Ruth Kassinger, Ed Bruske, Saxon Holt, Irvin Etienne, Constance Casey, Helen Yoest, Joe Lampl, Rob Cardillo, Chris Kreussling, Benjamin Vogt, Marie Viljoen, Pam Penick, Billy Goodnick, Will Raap and Ginny Stibolt.
There were many more whose names were probably unfamiliar, people we were happy to introduce our readers to. GardenRant has always been pro-garden writer, offering guests this space, and saving our criticisms for more impactful players in the gardening world – like Scotts Miracle-Gro, Big Box stores, pesticide companies, and garden programming on TV. We aim to punch up.
New for 2021
Last fall we decided to invigorate our content and also fix a problem – that we were now all located in the eastern half of the U.S. So we looked far afield and came up with our ideal new partners and found them in the Pacific Northwest and Wales. We invited them and they said yes!
- Anne Wareham is a British garden maker and garden writer, one of her books being the The Bad Tempered Gardener , which is filled with potential rants right there. Another connection is her role editing the British blog thinkinGardens, which she describes as challenging and provocative – energy we love here. Anne and her husband, garden photographer Charles Hawes, have created the Modernist garden Veddw over the past 33 years, with “much hard labour.”
- Dan Hinkley is a plant explorer, nurseryman, author, lecturer and garden-maker, with a Masters in Urban Horticulture. He founded Heronswood Nursery, which he’s now restoring after several changes of ownership. He’s also creating his new garden at nearby Windcliff, the subject of his latest book.
GardenRant’s New Income, New Look
Behind the scenes, GardenRant’s income, though always modest, had covered expenses plus a bit extra until Blogads, the ad service we used, went out of business. So we’d been supporting the blog out of pocket for some time when last year we qualified as a client for Mediavine, the firm that automatically installs the ads we all have to scroll through as we read our articles. Nobody likes them, but to me they’re not as annoying as ads on TV, videos or radio. Bills gotta be paid.
And hallelujah, Mediavine immediately brought in it enough for us to pay for the redo that this old blog so badly needed.
First we hired Jim Charlier, our friend the graphic and marketing force behind Buffalo’s successful Garden Walk and other promotions that put the city on the gardening map. We asked him to create a new logo for us and his genius idea was to keep the tools but point them inward, an homage to the movie poster for “Knives Out.” We tweaked the colors and it was done.
Then we hired web and graphics designer Laura Bowly in Oregon, Marianne Wilburn’s sister, who threw herself into improving this blog as only a true friend or family member would. In addition to the whole site design, Laura created all the other many graphics on the site, including our Manifesto.
Lessons for Team Blogs?
GardenRant has never had an overall editor – we’ve each just done our own thing, and continue to write and publish whatever and however we want – mistakes and all.
Yes, as I’ve discovered in exploring our vast archive of almost 5,000 posts, having a multi-author blog with no overall editor can cause all sorts of mistakes, some too embarrassing to mention. Luckily I’ve had time during this pandemic winter to shrink the 5,000 posts down to our best 1,300, and fix the major problems.
The cause of most of the problems was a site-move tragedy that stripped all the photos and even whole paragraphs. Another time we lost a year’s worth of articles! They weren’t even recoverable on the Wayback Machine.
So I guess the lesson there is that big sites especially, which this has become, need good technical management. At least we have it now, but we needed good traffic first in order for the ad income to pay for good help. A bit of chicken and egg. A new team blog would need some funding or the team members’ own investment, and we’ve had neither. Blogging here has always been its own reward, not money.
What GardenRant has Meant to Me
Where to start? Through this little blog I’ve become part of a professional world, my first ever – the world of plant people. In other words, my favorite people – garden communicators, growers, public-garden staff, entrepreneurs and other passionate gardeners across the English-speaking world.
I got to know these fine people where they gather around the country – at symposia, flings, trade shows and more. Those events may not look exciting, but they were for me and being part of the plant world has been the highlight of my life.
And at some of those events I’ve had the chance to hang out with my blogging partners. In the top row are: Michele in front of my Maryland home, then chatting with me in Elizabeth’s Buffalo garden. Bottom from left are: Elizabeth and I at the Toronto Garden Blogger Fling; Amy at a D.C. event for her book Flower Confidential; and hanging out at the bar with Allen and Tom at the garden writer symposium in Atlanta.
Garden Rant continues to be one of the most relevant blogs on the web. It is always informative and thought provokin. I applaud all of you and continue to enjoy your posts.
Thanks so much! Miss you. Wish I could take the train to see you this spring but, you know.
15 YEARS? I can hardly believe it! You may not know this, but Garden Rant launched my professional garden writing career… I had a little blog no one read, and then I did a guest post for Garden Rant. The acquiring editor at Timber Press saw it, followed the link back to my blog, and… asked me if I wanted to write a book! I’ve now got book #3 coming out, and countless magazine and speaking gigs… but Garden Rant got me my first ever paying garden writing job.
Thx so much for telling us! Makes my day.
Hold on. One little blog no one read, a single guest post, and an editor from Timber Press comes crawling out of the woodwork, contract in hand, looking for you? Then a book? Then another? A now a third? Have you got any idea how many times Marianne Willburn and I have repeatedly embarrassed ourselves, sloppily and unashamedly begging Timber for even a pitying smile flashed our way? Beyond this, we have done other things I can’t even mention that have terrified, disgusted, and shamed everyone close to us. This hurts. Hurts bad. Wondering. Just thinking out loud here. If you could possibly find it in your heart to put a good word in for us, we could, possibly, manage to get you another guest rant spot. Think about it. Another little ole rant just might compel some BBC producer to have his people declare to your people that he’s going to make you a star!
Here’s a confession: I’ve followed Garden Rant for years, feeling the kinship and longing to be part of a blog I felt so identified with. (It’s perhaps not strange that thinkingardens was founded in 2005)
And then you asked me! No surprise then that I answer in a moment, feeling like an over enthusiastic puppy. I do hope that the renewed version will blossom and grow, challenging the boring and anodyne garden establishment and continuing to re-invigorate the horticultural world. Go!! XxXxxx
You’re where you belong.
Garden Rant and Digging started at the same time, and like you, Susan, it’s been a great joy for me to be part of the garden writing community. Blogging has taken me places I never thought I’d go and introduced me to lots of interesting, talented, and fun people. Congrats on 15 years of blogging! Here’s to many more.
I love learning about how this blog started and thrives. Fun! Let the seeds sprout.
Great post!!!! Love learning the history!
Susan – fun to know your backstory and to see where this blog has taken you!!
Congratulations to all of you!!
Thanks so much for sharing the history of Garden Rant! Congratulations on a great blog and for helping fill the void between online how-to advice and real, get-your-hands-in-the-dirt gardening!
Congratulations! Proud to be a tiny part of it (having written a few guest posts).
Thank YOU. And come rant with us when you have something on your mind. Which surely you must!
Susan; awesome posting! I just found out about gardenrant in January and I’ve been enjoying it immensely. I also love the history of all things, it’s so cool to see the direction that gardenrant is heading.
Although I do not have a blog, my gardening cartoon strip is kind of like a ‘visual blog’ I guess you could call it a plant cartoon-rant and if it’s cheeky enough for you maybe we can ‘rant’ together!
Loved reading about the evolution of this blog. I had no idea! I have only been posting since 2011, so I seem like a ‘newbie”!
Seems like it’s time for YOU to write a book, Susan.
I appreciate the suggestion BUT blog posts of under 1K words are way more my style than books. Book are too big a commitment! Also, ya can’t make corrections after you’ve published. And yes, we do that online all the time.
Susan, mistakes are the reason for the 2nd editions, surely. 🙂
Susan, mistakes are the reason for the 2nd editions, surely. 🙂
I’m so glad I got to know all of you except Michele. We never met sadly. I’m also really glad I got to write a piece for Garden Rant once. It was a great experience. I think the fact that y’all wrote honestly about the gardening world changed a lot of things too. Remember that time we were on a panel together, and we thought we shouldn’t even be there. We’ve come a long way Baby! Congrats on 15 years. My little blog is 14 this year I believe. What a great ride it’s been.~~Dee