Garden-Writing for the Wrong Region

Imagine my surprise when I opened my local newspaper (the Washington Post, to which I’ve subscribed since 1971) to find this cover image of “Local Living” – a stunning garden fit for a desert climate, not the Mid-Atlantic where, um, most of the Post’s readers live. And by saying it’s the “Prince Georges Edition” it claims to be even more local – just for my county. (The article is here, but behind a pay wall. You may find it on your library’s website for free, though.)

Above is the glorious “after” shot, with this quote from someone with Western Resources Advocates. “When you replace your lawn with drought-proof landscaping, you save about 40 percent in outdoor water use.” Which may be true for dry climates but not here in the Washington Post’s region, where we do much less watering of lawns (if at all). And is there such a thing as drought-PROOF landscaping, anyway? Besides rocks?

The article was written by a Denver-based writer and geared to climates like Colorado’s.  Now on some subjects the difference in growing situation in her climate versus ours in the East may not matter so much but on the topic of water usage, it’s the whole ball of wax!

The author’s bio – “Denver-based writer Laura Daily specializes in consumer advocacy and travel strategies” – doesn’t inspire confidence in her garden-writing in any climate, unfortunately.

In my long years avidly reading the Post’s gardening coverage, I’d never seen something so inappropriate. (Okay I have, but only if you go back to the bad old days of chemical product advice yielded by the justly controversial Jack Eden, who was finally terminated after years of complaints. His replacement was the DC-area writer Adrian Higgins, who just retired last September.  I didn’t loved many but not all of his pieces (naturally), but they were always appropriate to this region, and he knew the subject.

Sadly, the Post hasn’t shown any interest in replacing Higgins and is resorting to freelancers like the one above.  I have zero interest in writing for the Post but I encourage other garden writers in appropriate regions to DC to offer them your articles! (I did urge our Marianne to pitch, and she’d be great.)

Hey, maybe I’ll write a letter to the editor to explain that gardening isn’t like cooking! With gardening it’s about region, region, region.

Maybe I’ll suggest that a more helpful title for this Post article would have “In a dry climate? How to ditch your water-hogging, etc.” Then the vast majority of Post readers could look elsewhere for help – like Margaret Roach’s article on the same topic.

Following Advice about the Wrong Region

Fortunately my other daily read – the New York Times – hired a terrific garden writer in Margaret Roach, who gardens in New York’s Hudson Valley and writes the very popular A Way to  Garden blog, plus books. After the paper stopped publishing gardening pieces by the equally good Anne Raver and Michael Tortorello (I have info about why), there was a lull until it landed on its feet, gardening-content-wise, when Margaret started writing the “In the Garden” column in 2020.

Just weeks ago Margaret covered a closely related topic  – how to reduce or replace lawn with something more eco-friendly – and it’s such a interesting piece I’ll be covering it soon right here. (Because I follow the subject obsessively.)

Her article yielded almost 1,200 comments (a feature the Washington Post discontinued on its site years ago – too much trouble to moderate) and found several complaining that the piece was only for Northeastern gardeners, not gardeners everywhere. Oh, and that this Northeastern newspaper should publish another article on the subject just for their region. To those complainers I would suggest the obvious – that they ask their own regional papers to cover it! Hey, we know someone in Denver! Oh wait, she writes about travel.

Margaret is so game, she seems to have read all those comments, or at least enough to get the gist, and responded with a second article “Your Lawn Questions Answered,” but is too nice to tell those Western readers to seek answers from local experts.

Hey, that reminds me of the time my feature about a garden in Virginia prompted this comment from a Western reader:

Oh my God! Will there ever be any writers or articles on all of the wonderful gardens in California?!?! I am so tired of hearing about Washington DC, Virginia, and everything on the East Coast.

Believe me, I’m NOT not your best guide to the gardens, plants or gardening practices of California.