Oct 8, 2008

Q&A: Colleen Vanderlinded

One of the things I want to attempt to do with this blog is to create conversations about garden bloggers as a whole and specific individuals along with the mechanics of garden blogging. As of now I don't have a criteria for choosing a garden blogger to interview but I hope to develop one soon. Colleen Vanderlinden was gracious enough to accept my request and be my test subject, I hope you enjoy this short Q&A with Colleen.
Make sure to look at the Announcements page for topics you can give your thoughts on. If your feedback on a particular subject in the Announcements page is printed here you'll receive a link to your blog along with your quote.

In the Garden Online, Colleen Vanderlinded, Garden Blogger

Q:You maintain three gardening related blogs/sites. Do you spend more time garden blogging or actually gardening?

A:I spend more time writing and blogging about gardening than actually gardening lately. But, I make time to get out there every day, even if it's only to take a stroll through the garden and pull a few weeds. It helps keep me calm and focused. I did manage to completely renovate my front garden over the summer, so I'm very happy with that.

Q:I see you're the Guide to Organic Gardening on About.com. How did you land that gig?

A:I've wanted to write for About for a long time. There's this long, intensive prep, tryout thing you have to go through before they decide whether to give you the job or not. You spend three weeks working on your site, competing with up to five other writers for the job. It was my second time going through the process (I went through prep to be the Guide to Detroit a few years back and didn't get it) so I think I was more comfortable this time around. They wanted someone who knew their stuff, was comfortable with the technology, and maintained high standards without an editor looking over their shoulder. Apparently, they decided that person was me (much to my surprise---I was sure that I wouldn't get the job!).

Q:What is Mouse & Trowel? Where did the inspiration for it come from?

A:The Mouse & Trowel is the annual awards program I started to get some recognition for garden bloggers. When I started blogging seriously in 2005, I saw immediately that it takes a lot of work to publish a high-quality garden blog. Everything from the text to the photos to the design is important, and either enhances or detracts from the experience of our readers. That year's Bloggies gave awards to sites like "My Boyfriend is a Wanker" or something like that, and it struck me that for all the work garden bloggers do (the blogging plus the actual gardening), we're such a small niche that we're unlikely to get any love from any of the bigger, more mainstream awards programs. I didn't do anything at first, because I kind of thought "who the hell am I to start something like this?" but then I finally thought, "why not?"

"who the hell am I to start something like this?"

Q:I once judged a photo competition on a photography website. A couple of the non-winners PMed me to tell me I had no taste. Do gardeners that don't get nominated or win ever get "snippy" with you?

A:Oh, yes. I've had my share of snippy emails. I've been accused of rigging the results so that only female bloggers win the awards (ridiculous) and I've had a couple of emails telling me that the whole idea is stupid. One person claimed that I was ruining garden blogging by making it a competition. And of course, there are plenty of critiques of the way I run things. It's impossible to make everyone happy, so I try not to let the negativity bother me too much.

Q:Is your blog self-hosted? What advice would you give to a garden blogger thinking about hosting their own blog(s)?

A:Yes, my blog has been self-hosted from the beginning, but it would not have been so if I didn't have a technology guru for a husband. He deals with the hosting, the design, coding---all the stuff I have no expertise (or interest) in dealing with. I just write. It comes down to figuring out your own comfort level. If you like dealing with all of the technical issues, then go for self-hosting. If you just want to write and post photos of your garden, and you just want it to work, go for a blogspot or free wordpress account. I've had people ask me if it's important to have a self-hosted blog if you want to use your blog as a sample when applying for writing jobs. Publishers don't care where or how your blog is hosted. They read what you've written, and they determine the level of your professionalism based on that.

Q:What are you most proud of in relation to your garden blog/site?

A:I'm most proud of the fact that I have a core group of readers who visit every time I post, who email me with questions or comments, and who have used my advice in their own gardens. I'm still humbled every time someone says, "I've got this problem in my garden---help me!" Besides that, my blog led directly to me being considered for the About job, which led directly to me co-authoring my first book, "Edible Gardens for the Midwest," which will be published in Spring 2009 by Lone Pine.

Q:What should more garden bloggers be doing (in terms of Social Networking) to grow an audience for their garden blogs?

A:You know, I've tried it all: StumbleUpon, Digg, Reddit, Propeller, Twitter, Plurk---and none of them take the place of good writing, attractive design, and clear photos. I've seen modest temporary traffic increases from every method, with StumbleUpon being the big winner in terms of giving me any kind of sustained traffic increases. I've gotten bored with just about all of them. They were fun at first, but quickly turned into a chore and took time away from actually writing and posting. But it all depends on the person. Some people get motivated to post more when they use one of these tools or services, and if it works for you, do it! My traffic comes mostly from Google searches, followed closely by referrals from other blogs and websites. SU, Twitter, etc. are fairly low on the list of referrers.

Q:If you could change one thing about your garden blog/site what would it be?

A:I wish I posted more. There just aren't enough hours in the day. I've got lists full of post ideas, but paying work (I'm a full-time freelance writer and editor) and being involved with my family are my priorities right now. We're redesigning the site this winter, so I'm very much looking forward to that. Maybe it will even motivate me to post more often!

Q: Finally, What blog do you really admire and for what reason?

A: Without a doubt, Kathy Purdy's "Cold Climate Gardening" is my favorite blog. Kathy amazes me---she's been at this longer than just about everyone, and she never seems to write a bad post. To me, her blog is everything a garden blog should be: informative, well-written, attractive, and well-organized. Her personality really comes through, as does her enthusiasm for plants and gardening. She's the best.

Colleen is a freelance writer/gardener from Suburban Detroit. She's the Guide to Organic Gardening at About.com and the founder of Mouse & Trowel. Mouse & Trowel was the first award dedicated to recognizing the talent of garden bloggers. Her personal garden blog is In the Garden Online.


  1. Wonderful interview!

  2. Anonymous10/08/2008

    I've been to a lot of blogs but I've never visited her blog before. Thank you for introducing me to her. Colleen's website is really good. I don't know about those grouchy gardeners but I think an award for what you all do is a good thing.

  3. Well said, or should I say "well written?" I agree with everything Colleen wrote. I'm thrilled we have the Mousies, and her reasons for creating them were sound. I also love Kathy's blog, and she was one of my inspirations for blogging.~~Dee

  4. Excellent choice for an interview subject. Colleen is one of the best bloggers and community activist out there for garden bloggers.

  5. What a fantastic blog! Thanks for dropping by my blog today which got me curious enough to follow you here. Who said curiosity doesnt pay?!

  6. A great interview. Colleen is indeed an amazing woman!

  7. Colleen is like wonderwoman, she has all those blogs, paying writing gigs, & she's a mom too! I don't know how she does it, but I really admire her. It's too bad she got complaints about the Mousies. I can truly say that each of the winners richly deserved it. Both Colleen's & Kathy's blogs were a big inspiration for me when I started blogging.

  8. Great interview! I was wondering why Colleen stopped goofing off on Plurk and Twitter with the rest of us. Now I know it's because she was actually doing work. And exciting work at that, co-authoring a book! Go Colleen!

    She was the perfect pick for your first interview here and I look forward to the rest of them.

  9. Very interesting interview and nice to see the points of views. Can't believe some folks have blogged for years. Really amazing.

  10. Both Colleen and Kathy are fixed stars in the Blogger sky - you can count on them and it's always fun when the sense of humor is let out and they twinkle.

    Nice idea Mr Brown Thumb, and even for those of us who have followed Colleen from early in her blogging career, the interview adds dimension.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  11. I enjoyed your Q/A session.

  12. Very enjoyable interview! Colleen's ambition makes me feel like a slacker blogger, but then also reminds me that this whole thing is only what you want to make of it. I have fun with what I do, such as it is...but I enjoy Colleen and Kathy's blogs every time I visit. Fun to get the "inside scoop"...thanks!


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