Oct 11, 2010

Your Garden Blog is 'Bunkum.'

The advice you give on your garden blog is "bunkum," so says a lady you may never have heard of. While listening to the BBC Radio 4 Gardeners' Question Time, VP (of Veg Plotting) was offended by a response given by panelist, Pippa Greenwood. 

Sheila, of Stopwatch Gardener, clues us in about the comment by Ms. Greenwood that annoyed VP. While responding to a question about garden bloggers identifying pests and diseases, Pippa reportedly said, "“I’m always very wary of information on blogging websites, because half of it’s bunkum, and it’s quite obvious that people don’t know what they’re identifying.”

Shots fired?  

The comments on Veg Plotting, Stopwatch Gardener and Allen Becker Garden Guru are all really interesting, as is the perspective offered by each of these garden bloggers. In particular, I'd like to point your attention to Sheila's post. She honestly admits to once being weary of garden bloggers because they were so different than what she knew as a trained journalist.

Is Pippa Greenwood correct? There's some truth to it. Many of us are not trained in either botany or journalism, but as VP points out- even the experts make mistakes. I've noticed a lot of mistakes or just bad information, and I've been guilty of dishing some of it out myself. 

However, the bad information that Ms. Greenwood is annoyed by is probably as a result of some garden bloggers who are busy chasing Google rankings and hits. They write blog posts for search engines instead of blogging about what they actually know. Giving advice about plants, techniques and conditions they haven't personally experienced and populating their blogs with pretty pictures from Flickr.   

It just aint right, people. 

How to do you position your garden blog? Are you blogging as a person with authority? Someone just documenting their garden? Do you think the majority of advice on garden blogs is wrong? Does your garden blog suck? Is she talking about me?

Also, blogging websites? Is Skynet upon us? Why are so many gardening experts so unfamiliar with the parlance of the the internets? 


  1. So that's where the drama started. "Bunkum"... WTF? You're absolutely right about those crappy 'blogging websites' (heehee) that use the words 'perennial' and 'fertilizer' over and over to drive up the keywords. Pippa is probably a little behind the times and possibly a bit threatened by these times, and I will also admit to once having thought of bloggers as egocentric posers writing about their lunch. Now there's twitter for that! I'm joking... Thanks for pulling all the drama together! If you'll excuse me I have some reading to do.

  2. It appears that's where it all started. I wasn't familiar with bunkum or Pippa so I had some Googling to do.

    Yeah, the people stuffing their posts with keywords is bad enough, but the gardeners who use search trends and write about stuff they don't know about is probably worse. I don't blog about things I haven't grown or experienced in the garden. There's no point for me to do so unless I was just interested in making money from the blog.

  3. I rarely give advice on my blog and when I answer questions, the first thing I do is encourage the gardener to ask local resources instead: a locally-owned nursery, a county extension agent, master gardeners, or neighbors. I try to make it clear that I'm writing about my experiences in my garden; other people's results will vary.

    For my own questions, I turn to gardeners in my area who blog (although typically we communicate our questions to each other via Twitter). With a few exceptions, I still find the most reliable advice and the most enjoyable writing in books.

    We have so many options. If a reader doesn't like a blog, she should go somewhere else for advice. Why waste time complaining?

  4. I already entered this discussion with Stop Watch Gardener via twitter. I stated that I blog in the same manner that I volunteer as a Master Gardener. That is, I only dispense solid science-based information and when my tales are anecdotal I let the reader know that.
    That said, there is a lot of misinformation out there. But the cream always rises to the top.

  5. I looked up the stuff I write about and its not very popular. To be honest, I don't really care that no one's searching for cold hardy bromeliads, because no one really knows to look! I'd rather be a trendsetter and do something new than attract a lot of readers who could care less about my content and won't end up coming back.

  6. @MSS, I really like the hyper local resource of Twitter. Whether it is asking or answering questions. It seems to be turning into my preferred place to ask a question.

    @Rhonda, Thanks for chiming in with your experience a Master Gardener and garden blogger. Have I ever told you I think your template is charming? I always smile when I land on your blog.

    @RainForest Gardener, I love niche garden blogs. I wish more people who knew about something very specific would take up a blog on that subject. Sometimes I discover I'm interested in something, like cold hardy broms, but don't care to read a whole book on the subject. Keep up the good work and set that trend.

  7. Interesting! I wasn't aware of a controversy. Honestly the term bunkum could be applied to any number of garden websites, books, authors, companies, etc. Even Lowe's told people how to plant their trees wrong in their free little magazine last month. (Amending the hole with compost isn't recommended, native soil is better) It's awful myopic to single out blogs as untrustworthy just because they are blogs. The advice I offer on my blog is through my experiences as I'm sure most garden bloggers will attest to (My last post on the protecting trees from deer is a testament to that). I think that experience gives bloggers more credibility. There are no guarantees with any advice, even what's in the books. Many of my posts deal with plant propagation but I always make sure that before I write the post I've successfully rooted the plant, or I talk about how I'm trying to root X plant and we'll see how it goes! Advice from people with experience is priceless in my mind. Now if Pippa wants to get critical she should attack the eHow sites with the rip off articles from all kinds of blogs stolen by people who really don't know anything to begin with!

  8. @Dave, I wasn't aware of the drama until Rainforest Gardener blogged about it. I think this is the first time that garden blogger from across the pond have had drama like this.

    In total agreement about those Demand Media sites. They're the worst, what annoys me most about them is how they (the generous writers) will list you as a source for the post (some will link most won't) as someone who can "help" with questions. Screw that! If they can rip-off the blog posts they should be up for answering the silly questions that sometimes come with them and providing support when people have questions.

  9. There is bunkum afoot online. I remember when first putting my own experience online in 1998, how some popular garden websites were written by people who were not experienced in the garden at all, but were good at making websites and community. With the rise of SEO stuff it is only worse.

    I think the criticism comes from the lack of trust that develops for info online in general. A great service garden bloggers can give is to present good info and point to those who know their gardening.

    I do think the nature of blogging is different from creating a book of the old sort. It tends to be more shallow and local in information. Gardening is such a huge topic- if you have gardened for a while you can judge the info and research things which I think provides a service.

    Dave- I planted trees both ways, and I think the advice from Lowes is right on: my trees did much better long term when I added amendment to get them a good start.

    Gardening is an art as much as science, and I think we should pass on the artfulness of growing things. I had huge success as a novice just because I was so careful and attentive, in recent years I have had to eat some crow (instead of tomatoes) due to lack of diligence or climate bad luck? you choose. But there has been success enough to pass on what has worked. I think bloggers should keep sharing- there isn't an expert or garden compendium big enough to hold all the possible variables.

  10. I'm amazed the debate has crossed the pond but now I see why from the responses to both yours and Allan's thoughtful posts.

    I'm interested in whether garden bloggers in the US and elsewehere outside the UK have the same kind of uneasy relationship with the established media as we seem to be getting in the UK. My impression is that blogging is considered is more established and accepted in the US. My only evidence for this is that membership of the GWA is open to bloggers irrespective of whether an income is being earned from garden writing. Our equivalent organisation in the UK requires a significant portion of income to be earned from garden writing, or an intention to do so.

    And no, this isn't the first time we've encountered anti-blogging by a long chalk!

    You may be interested to see the latest broadside at all bloggers which happened only yesterday in one of our national newspapers. Andrew Marr is one of our most respected political journalists:


  11. PS mss @ Zanthan Gardens has some sound advice for all of us who are asked questions in the course of our blogging.

  12. OK, we were thinking of different people when you mentioned this to me. Something kind of similar happened back in April as well. A columnist for Horticulture Week, Matthew Appleby, wrote about the Malvern garden blogger meet-up and said more than a few dumb things about blogging. Mark Diacono from Otter Farm posted a great response, and several other garden bloggers chimed in.

    We're in a weird place with garden blogging right now, both here and across the pond -- garden bloggers are starting to gain some credibility, and certain members of the mainstream hort media are threatened by that. I would suggest, to those that feel threatened, that they start looking at all of the things garden bloggers are doing right: connecting with their readers, being available and approachable, and (probably most of all) not preaching, but sharing their experiences with others.

    The SEO garbage blogs are easy to spot for the most part. I agree with MBT that the bloggers who find a popular trend and write about it without having any experience are problematic but, overall, garden bloggers do what we do because we love it, and that love for the subject comes across loud and clear.

  13. Ilona - I think it all depends. If your soil isn't too bad to begin with it probably doesn't matter. But adding rich soil to the hole encourages the tree roots to wrap themselves around the hole which can one day cause girdling. For the long term life of the tree amending the top layer of soil past the drip line is much more recommended. Here where our soil has high clay and rock content trees will definitely become pot bound in their hole.

  14. Also -- the fact that there are niche garden blogs about topics such as cold hardy bromeliads is one of the best things about garden blogging -- that's where you find some of the most passionate gardeners -- and to be honest, I'd probably take their advice before I'd take the advice of a local garden columnist or radio personality who may have only shallow experience with the topic. We can specialize if we choose to, and that makes for good, informative reading.

  15. I NEVER give advice on my blog - wouldn't even think of it. I blog about what's happening in my garden and how I feel about it. All my pictures are my own - most of them from my own garden or a family member's. The whole garden blogging experience for me has been to connect with others who have as much passion for it as I do. I take all advice with a grain of salt. Even my limited experience tells me that what the "experts" recommend might not work for me. I take the basic fundamentals and then use trial and error to find what works. The idea of loading my blog with key search words never occurred to me - I don't think the bloggers I follow do it either.

  16. Not to argue with some of you guys, but why DON'T you offer advice? Your experiences are likely to help me as a gardener more than the same old recycled information that I see in books! One of my favorite features of garden blogs is that I can receive a wealth of advice from all sorts of gardeners, and a lot of professional writers learn from blogs too! Everyone has something to learn, and yet everyone has something to teach.

  17. I've gotten a lot more garden related help from garden bloggers than I have from plant places or books. And you can kind of tell when somebody doesn't know wtf they're talking about. Occassionally I get actual gardening questions via email and I usually answer them by saying "in MY garden blah blah blah...but you should consult your local extension office..."

    I do think that proper writers tend to look down their noses at bloggers as well as try to insinuate that they are not legitimate, for whatever reason. But I would maintain that garden bloggers might just be more hardcore gardeners than proper garden writers and some of them write a hell of a lot better, anyway. Then there's the ones that do both, like Gayla Trail (You Grow Girl).

    MBT - I have an account on that site "blogburst" from a million years ago and I received an email the other day saying they're moving their stuff to demand studios. I will definitely be deleting my blogburst account. Lord knows I don't want my stuff showing up on DS.

  18. @Ilona, I think some gardeners' foray into SEO is mudding the waters. It gets even worse when the information on SEO for garden blogging/writing is so shallow as to not do either the blogger/writer any good or the reader.

    @VP, Personally, I'm loving that the debate has reached our shores. I'm sorry I missed it last week when you were all actively discussing it.

    I think there's some tension between garden writers and bloggers, from what I've seen online and what people have told me, but I think most may not have issues with the other group. I've seen some instances where people who were memebrs of the GWA seemed to look down on garden blogging and expressed the same sentiment as Pippa. I've witnessed companies turn their nose up at garden bloggers, but I think most of those are now actively recruiting them.

    @Colleen, I remember that Hort Week post, but at the time I didn't get the issue. That post seems kinda cray-cray, and I figured if it seemed cray-cray it must have been a joke. Looking over the links now I see that people took it as a serious blow at the garden bloggers in the UK.

    @Ginny, I have to ditto Rainforest Gardener here. You should feel perfectly at ease dispensing gardening information based on your experience. Your blog isn't a peer reviewed journal or a book. It is a blog where you can document your experience in the garden and share it with the world. Would you refrain from writing notes to yourself about what worked or didn't work in your garden? If you wrote "advice" to yourself in your paper garden journal would you not let a friend read it or reference it? Probably not. Your garden blog is just your garden journal, but online where the world can see it. Give all the advice you want, it is your property.

    @Gina, I think I pic up more info from garden forums/sites that are about a niche than I do from books. Garden blogs would come in number two with print a distant third.

    I didn't know blogburst was joing DM. Ugh! Oh well, I left them a long time ago.

  19. I don't understand why you wouldn't give advice on your blogs. I was trained as a master gardener and went to university for my degree as I didn't learn enough in MG program. I started blogging merely as a garden journal.Blogging is very new to me. After doing ten years of writing for gardening on television, I wanted to share my passion for gardening. Isn't that what its all about?

  20. Very interesting, Gardenbloggers/ Mr Brown Thumb - loved all the links and comments!

    First, a comment on advice: If someone asks me a question I'll try to give a good answer based on my experience, but give general advice? No. Not only is gardening in Illinois different form gardening in Texas, but little of what I learned at my other Austin house works in this garden, 2 miles NW.

    As to Bunkum, that common attitude doesn't surprise me but the term "Blogging Websites" interests me and it might be useful.

    I have a real Garden Blog and know many friends who also have real Garden Blogs. Many of them started out rather small, but have grown and developed over time. They're full of personal & extremely local experiences and photos we've taken of plants that we grow in our gardens and places we've been.

    There are also pseudo-blogs that seem to spring forth fully grown and laden with ads and tables and "do this" instructions, sometimes made by people who are not gardeners but want a vehicle for ads and sometimes started by people who once they've sprouted a couple of seeds and figured out which end of the trowel is up feel qualified to instruct others.

    I intend to reserve the term Garden Blog for the real bloggers, people who share their own lives and gardens. Any reference to the other kind will from now on refer to them as Blogging Websites.

    So now it's obvious that when Pippa Greenwood called Bunkum, she wasn't talking about our Garden Blogs at all! She was obviously referring to those other people with the Blogging Websites.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  21. @Annie, I already mentioned on Twitter how full of win your comment is, but I want to say again, that it gave me a hearty laugh.

    Also, Looks like Demand Media is going public. I expect a lot of grifting from blogs and websites to look profitable to investors. http://is.gd/fZmGZ

  22. I hoped you'd be amused ;-]

  23. I love garden blogs, as you (and most of the commenters here) know well. It's fun for me because I span both worlds, both as a professional writer who gets paid and as a blogger who won't even accept ads on my page because I write the blog as a way to give back to other gardeners. I think part of the proliferation of blogging (in any discipline, not only gardening) is a response in part to the dumbing down of print media. It used to be that articles were routinely over 2000 words long in magazines, at least half that for features in newspapers. Now, they're shorter because the paper has cut its size and the number of pages because they aren't getting the ad revenue or the return to their investors or whatever. So I look to many gardening blogs as sources of reliable, well written and interesting information.

    As for the GWA--I'll tell you a secret. (Hah) Some nursery operators, landscapers, etc may be very good at what they do--but that doesn't mean they are good writers as well as horticulturists. In the past, I've seen material written by members of GWA that would make my head hurt--poorly written, full of typos and questionable information. GWA isn't a juried association--anyone who wants to plunk down the membership fee is a member, regardless of their experience in the writing world or the number of clips they have with reputable publications or websites. I say this as a former member (twice) of GWA. And I don't mean the vast majority of members are like this, lest anyone think I'm picking on the association.

    You--meaning people in general, not MBT in particular--don't have to go to university and get seventeen degrees to be a great writer--you need to be passionate, articulate, and connect with your readers. That's what you (Now I mean you in particularly, MBT) do, and Annie, and Carol, and Jean and Benjamin and Mr. Subjunctive and the Idiot Gardener and Yolanda and Stuart and Ewa and dozens, hundreds, thousands of others. That's why I read you. You're passionate, interested, interestING, and you teach me. That's good writing. No bunkum here.

  24. As an obsessive lover of garden blogs, but not the owner of one myself, these tiffs are always fun to read about. Thank you for yet another little treasure trove of good info. I especially like your label on this one.

  25. I'll chime in from the perspective of addicted consumer of gardening blogs. Which is, that I don't need "experts" telling me caveat emptor. I know that. To use online resources effectively, you have to use ALL the resources. Frankly, I don't trust the blogs either, but that's a good thing-- it's like reading about yourself. All well and good to go to some gardening website with a staff and 20 acres to mess around in. Can't relate. The bloggers are gardeners figuring stuff out, just like me; if you read something interesting or suspicious, you go to the journalists or the scientists, or to as many other blogs as you can find to try to confirm it.

    Ms. Greenwood had a good point-- don't trust everything you read. This goes for everything on line, and in print, and out of the mouths of university professors and Master Gardeners as far as I'm concerned. Better for her to have stated the obvious: double check all information before you accidentally kill your mother's tomatoes.

  26. I love garden blogs and will read them to see what my peers are doing, for inspiration and for information. However, when I am looking for information it is important to remember that every situation is uniquely different. To quote a favorite line from my college professor when asked a garden question, "It depends."

    So take information lightly until you can prove it true for yourself. After all, gardening is some experimentation.

    For laypeople looking for answers, be sure to consult a landscape designer or garden professional in your area that understands your needs.

  27. I think one of the reasons this became a controversy is that Gardeners' QT has a huge audience. Last time I heard the stats -- a couple of decades ago -- it had a staggering 22 million listeners. I used to listen regularly back in the day when it was a male bastion with Bill Sowerbutts (now there's a name!), Fred Loads and Prof. Alan Gemmell.

    Anyway, as a "trained journalist," I blog about gardening, the environment, and such, because it's fun. (And thank God for Wikipedia, too.) The blogs I follow are written by people with deep knowledge of their area and the plants in their gardens. I learn a lot for them; they are not bunkum.

  28. I blog about what I *know* will work, where I am, under my soil conditions and climate etc.

    I am NOT interested in upping my "hit" rate. I AM interested in pasing on useful information to other people.

    If someone starts composting or growing veg or fruit or flowers or trees or whatever, as a result of visiting my blog , I am delighted.

    That is it, That is why I do it.


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