May 16, 2011

'Blogging Nurseryman' Wonders if Garden Bloggers are Selling Out

garden bloggers selling out
Trey Pitsenberger, better known as the Blogging Nurseryman, is one of the earliest blogs I discovered when I started garden blogging. It is also the only "business" blog in the gardening world I've read with any regularity these past few years. Mostly, I like his blog because it gives me a different perspective on many of the issues that pop up in the gardening field and since he's not a "garden blogger" his take on what we're doing is dramatically different.

Last Friday, I came across two posts on his garden blog that address a couple of trends in the garden blogging community as they related to forming relationships with gardening companies. The first post, "I love my new (insert brand here)," touches on the free products garden bloggers get from gardening companies and whether we're swayed by the largess in what we say about these products and how we interact with these companies online. 

The second post, "The big boys have gotten the social media bug bad," covers two recent marketing campaigns aimed at garden bloggers by two large gardening brands. One being the recent Garden2Blog events by P. Allen Smith where 20 garden bloggers were invited to his home (estate? farm? compound?) on an all-expenses-paid trip. The other being the Saturday6 campaign by Troy-Bilt where they'll be working closely with six garden bloggers who will be doing videos, writing articles and hosting events at Lowe's stores across the country for the brand. This post is longer and started a conversation that racked up 56 comments over the weekend. If you're the kind of garden blogger that doesn't have advertising or you decline items for review maybe this post will not be of interest to you. On the other hand, it may be interesting because it could solidify your beliefs that those of us who do are sell outs or tainted by our associations with companies. If you're in marketing, public relations or use social media to connect with other garden bloggers you should take a few moments and read the post and all the comments.

Fern Richardson, Life on the Balcony
Update:  Last night (May 16th) the comments on Trey's post took an interesting turn.Several garden bloggers who were part of the Garden2Blog event by P. Allen Smith commented on Trey's post. Trey pointed out to them that they weren't in compliance with FTC guidelines in disclosing that P. Allen Smith's company had footed the bill for the trip for these garden bloggers that they were all writing about. Fern Richardson of Life on the Balcony replied and took issue with Trey. Fern Richardson accused him of character assassination. She stated that she had mentioned that the trip had been paid for and linked to her blog as proof. That was when Trey pulled up the Google cache of her post and pointed out that she had gone in and edited her post to include the information. Confronted with the proof Fern had no option but to admit that she had gone into her post and added the information about the trip being paid for by P. Allen Smith's company. The conversation on Trey's post got me curious, so yesterday evening before Fern Richardson was confronted with her "fib" I started reading the posts about the Garden2Blog event. Of the garden bloggers who had blogged about it I noticed only Shawna, Dee, Helen and Jackie made mention in posts that their expenses had been paid for. I imagine more of the garden bloggers associated with the event will be updating their posts to include this information.


  1. I dont recognise the names in this post so I am assuming they are in the US. I dont think we have quite got to this stage here in the Uk but I suspect it is only a matter of time. To date I have generally only done book reviews and that is based on the understanding that I will be honest about my opinion. I dont see any problem with garden bloggers reviewing or being courted by companies provided they are honest and I can trust their reviews.

  2. What I try to do when I review anything is to look for the negatives and post about them. Not that any review will be negative necessarily but by seeking out those negatives and stating them I can assure anyone reading that I'm honestly reviewing that product rather than selling out to them. Honesty in reviewing is the most important thing. I think in the long run it's better for the blogger since those companies that do have better products will seek out those bloggers who review 100% honestly. The blogger ends up with better products to review and the company benefits with the honest blogger's reputation. A win win for all three parties when you include the reader.

  3. That was an interesting post, thanks for pointing it out.

  4. MBT - it seems like there are several different arguments here all being thrown in the same bucket which is kind of confusing.

    Some people seem to think there should be no product reviews or endorsements by garden bloggers at all and that it takes away the blogger's gardening credibility.

    Some people seem to have a problem if they feel the product (or person) is over-promoting but don't have a fundamental problem with the product reviews or endorsements themselves.

    Some people feel that it's a bad move on the part of the company who is making these offers to bloggers. They're losing control.

    Some people feel like it's slimy on the part of the company, taking advantage of the bloggers because maybe we're cheaper than "proper advertising".

    Some people feel like bloggers have no limits on what free stuff they'll take and promote and they feel that overall, it's just icky and gives bloggers a bad name.

    I guess depending on who you ask, there's probably somebody that can defend any one of these arguments. I have an issue about at least one of them myself and I've been pretty vocal about it.

    The thing that bothers me the most and the one that hasn't really been touched on yet is the personal impact to the bloggers place in the "garden blogging community". I am only speaking for myself because I know a lot of people place a different level of importance on this but a big reason I've continued to blog all these years is because of my unofficial membership in the garden blogging community. I've met a lot of cool people that I consider friends and to know that I could be doing something to jeopardize those relationships is not something I take lightly. It may sound corny but I value your good opinions of me. You know who you are. And being in a situation where I feel like a business decision could negatively effect relationships that have become important to me was really hard.

    I guess what I'm saying is that I am extremely confident in my decision to work with Troy-Bilt, in my ability to temper my opinions, not gush over them, tell them (TB) if I think something doesn't work well and do that in a way that doesn't compromise my blog. And I'm extremely confident that TB is a quality company who I would be proud to be affiliated with. What I'm not confident in is how this will ultimately effect my place in this community. I have to admit, I'm feeling pretty vulnerable right now. I wish I was one of those hardcore bloggers that are in it for the money and who could give a shit about the trivial stuff like the friendships lol. It'd be a lot easier!

    Sorry for the long response.

  5. @ Patient Gardener, Right now it does seem like mostly a U.S. thing because companies outside of the U.S. haven't embraced garden blogging in a similar way outside of N. America.

    @ Dave, Thanks for your thoughts. I have to make a point of stating the negative more often too.

    @ Elaine, I don't know if you've read the thread since when you posted, but take a look now. It has taken a whole new turn.

    @Gina, Good stuff, I don't think you have much to worry about because you're not the kind of person that jumps out a window over the attention or product reviews.

  6. This is such an interesting issue.

    But I don't quite understand why garden bloggers are being singled out. Most garden writers get stuff for free to review: most write gushing reviews in magazines. Some write the gushing reviews without even seeing the products, just because the company is advertising in the magazine.

    I take products for review: I do however make a point of being very honest about my opinions. If I find something I don't like, I say so: I've taken a couple of books from publishers (Dan Pearson's latest was the most recent) for my regular review slot and make a point of a) reading them from cover to cover (which I don't think a lot of reviewers do) and b) saying what I really think, whether it's complimentary or not.

    I also write a (paid) blog for a company ( - their kitchen garden blog): they do ask me to review products and seeds. But I took the job on condition that if something didn't grow for me, I'd say so; if the crop was tasteless, I'd say so; and if a product could be bettered by something else they didn't sell, I'd say so. To their credit, they said they would expect as much and would be disappointed if I didn't give an honest review. They use me as a sort of informal consultant: I test the stuff out for them and they revise their range accordingly.

    I don't have any problem at all with reviewing free products. I do have a problem with dishonest reviewing - and that's whether in magazines or in blogs.

  7. @ TCG, I don't have a problem with bloggers doing reviews or being offered products to test. Although, I don't thing the comparison (which I hear a lot, especially from people who used to work in mags)that mags get free stuff all the time is apropos. The biggest difference is that the reviewer/writer for a mag is being paid to write the review and may also keep the product. In that instance the author is getting something out of the deal. In the case of garden bloggers, aside from the product itself, the blogger isn't compensated for their time.

    I'm not saying garden bloggers should charge for reviews, I'm just pointing out that in one medium the writer makes off better than the other, while the company gets the same benefit.

  8. Sue Langley5/17/2011

    This has been an interesting topic. I can just imagine a company meeting where someone suggests "Hey, let's get the garden bloggers to get behind this(insert product here)event" That's when it could go several ways for bloggers. (And I don't think garden bloggers are being singled out. Trey's post happens to be about the garden industry)

    Either the garden blogger 'goes to work' for the company OR they take the perks but sign no contract and attempt to remain unbiased OR refuse to participate purposely, expressing their preferences and opinions as normal.

    Any company knows that a product review is a 100 times more effective than straight advertising and will go out of their way to get that review, but there's a big difference between being taken out to lunch in order for a company to explain the product and being compensated by a company who expects a good review.

    Credibility is a different subject. You are believable if you are honest and have integrity in whatever you do. When someone falls into the trap that Fern may have fallen into, that affects credibilty and sadly their reputation.

    Look at doctors who get paid by drug companies to recommend certain drugs whether or not that is the drug that is best for the patient. the drug flyers placed in the waiting room may give you a clue as to what will be prescribed for you. Not good, I say.

    If you are claiming objectivity while touting a company's products for benefits, that's where you get into trouble. It may be time to figure out whether you want a job with a garden related company or whether you just like writing about gardening.

  9. Interesting and I think the UK is much nearer to the way things are going in the US if my recent experiences over the past few days are anything to go by.

    It all depends on the way things are done. If a company wants to have a genuine dialogue with bloggers about their products and services, then I think that's fine. I'm not so comfortable with the marked increase in companies who are now approaching bloggers to try to use their blogs to up their website pages page ranking and suchlike.

    I think it's up to me to understand precisely why a company has approached me and what they're trying to do with whatever they're proposing. However, it can be quite hard to do that - I'm no expert and it's taken me a while to garner what I do know.

    Also it's up to me to be open and honest in what I'm doing. That applies to both my fellow bloggers and any organisation I'm dealing with. We don't have disclosure yet like you guys do, so I follow the Blog With Integrity guidelines instead. Thus everyone knows when I've received something for free and I certainly don't pull any punches if the product or service is rubbish!

  10. Jennifer5/19/2011

    I'm not sure why you are singling Fern out here and on Facebook. To me it shows a character flaw on your part.

  11. "Jennifer,"

    Let me try to explain: Trey pointed out to Fern Richardson that she didn't disclose on her blog posts the trip she went on was an all-expenses-paid trip. Fern then commented TWICE on Trey's blog saying that she had disclosed that the trip was paid for. The TRUTH was that Fern edited her post and literally tried to rewrite history and only admitted to what she'd done because Trey presented her with the Google cache of her blog post.

    If you don't see what's newsworthy of A)Not being transparent to your reader when you get something for free B)Lying and trying to cover your tracks by editing your post to make someone else look like a liar, I don't know what else to say other than go be an apologist somewhere else.

    Have a good day.

  12. Personally I see nothing wrong per se with bloggers accepting advertising, or products/books/perks in exchange for reviews. In each case where I've been offered a free product and asked to review it, the supplier did not pressure me in any way to do a favorable review - they asked for my honest opinion, which I have given. In the case of one particular supplier, which happens to be Troy-Bilt, even though the first product I reviewed was not 100% positive, they still offered me another product/review opportunity.

    I also see nothing wrong with companies and blogger outreach, or companies using agencies.

    Trey owns a nursery. Blogging gives exposure to his business. It seems logical to me that such exposure would benefit his business's bottom line. Seems kind of similar in its own way to the issue he (and others) raise about bloggers accepting products, advertising, or other incentives.

    Also, he is only one person. I'm sure he employs other people to do some of the work at his business. I suspect he does his best to hire folks who will do a good job, be ethical, and represent his company in the best possible way. How is that different from a much larger company hiring a marketing/advertising company to represent them? Would it somehow be better if companies had only in-house marketing/advertising departments? Seems kind of arbitrary to decide who can/should speak for a company.

    I respect Trey's opinions and believe he, like everyone else, is entitled to their own. Still, in reading the posts and his comments, it seems to me his take on all this is just that - HIS take, and includes both arbitrary and self-serving views (just like about everyone else on the planet.)

    My take-home from all these discussions - there have been many in the past, and I'm sure there will be more in the future - is that everyone has the right to make up their own minds about this subject. Still, there's a part of me that just can't help wishing people would be less judgmental of others who choose to do things differently than they do while they're up on their respective soapboxes.

  13. I see nothing wrong with trialing plants or products. It gives what we do crediability. I wrote a review on a plant by Proven Winners last year and panned it. The result was I got invited to a lunch given by one of their growers and they gave me several roses to trial.

    So what's wrong with that? I am not going to change my review just because I have been given something for free!



I hope you find this blog a useful garden blogging resource. Sometimes I may reply to comments with my MrBrownThumb account or I may reply with my Garden Bloggers account. Hope this isn't confusing. If you're looking for gardening information check out "Google For Gardeners"

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.