The Soul of Garden Sites


BluebonnetcemeteryI have to thank Colleen Vanderlinden and her Mouse and Trowel Awards for turning me on to Tom Spencer’s site Soul of the Garden. It’s been nominated for the prized Gardening Website of the Year award, along with the highly opinionated Renegade Gardener, and blog compiler Garden Voices. 

Now if you’ve visited Soul of the Garden you’ve seen how gorgeous it is but did you notice the quote on his Welcome page? 
"I do not understand how anyone can live without one small place of enchantment to turn to."  He didn’t write that just choosing it for that spot tells me that Tom’s another garden-enchantment junkie, someone I recognize as a fellow traveler.  (Fellow troweler?)

Then there’s screen after screen of amazing images, a special tribute to Buddhism and Buddhist practice, poetry, Tom’s videos for sale, and his fabulous gardening articles going back to 2000.

I visited Tom’s Buddhist Quotes and these are my favorites:

By correcting our mistakes, we get wisdom.
By defending our faults, we betray an unsound mind.

And this one:

Enlightenment is simply this:  When I walk, I walk.  When I eat, I eat.  When I sleep, I sleep.

So naturally I think of:  When I garden, I garden.  And man, wouldn’t I just love to be that mindful?July_04soledadcu

Everything Tom writes about, I want to explore.  Like his own garden, like the Peckerwood Garden and Westcave Preserve.  And such cool sites as the Campaign to Defend the Constitution, Singing Insects of North America, Richard Louv, Architecture for Humanity, and scads more for the perusing.

I’m sure this Austinite is well known to Texas gardeners but I had to look up his bio.  It told me Tom’s an award-winning TV producer of public affairs programming of all sorts –  art, architecture, gardening, and more.  A leader in public affairs television nationally.  Star of radio, too.  A freelance writer and photographer.  Well, no wonder the site’s is so good.

New sites about gardening are hitting the Web almost daily, and most look nothing like Soul of the Garden.  The site creators have boned up on such formerly arcane subjects as search engine optimization – seminars on the subject ar
e wildly popular – and monetization, the often soul-less task of trying to make money off the damn things.   

And a little surfing is all it takes to see examples of sites that are pure BUY-BUY-BUY, sites with almost no content or whose Soul1_2content is clearly only a vehicle for advertising.  I won’t name names but I dare say this group is the majority.  My own pet peeves about them include ads in the middle of the screen, huge ads across the top of every page, and flashing ads – the worst! –  but the list is growing.  Yeah, websites can annoy us in SO many ways.

But hey, even gardenwriters have mortgages to pay and I’m very sympathetic.  Truth is, gardenwriters most especially could use new sources of income because those magazine articles and even the more successful books don’t exactly a Stephen King make.  So we’re seeing garden sites that use Google ads or affiliate agreements with Amazon and other merchants.  They offer books for sale, even e-books.  And as more vendors offer affiliate programs (paying small finders’ fees to sites that link to them), we may see more of us managing to make a living at it.  Doug Green, the web impresario of gardening, reportedly already does.

So it’s confession time.  My interest in topics like monetization isn’t exactly academic.  My very own website about gardening will be making its debut here later this month.  One place where I can say it all, show it all, link to it all, and and maybe sell a thing or two.

Photos by Tom Spencer, with permission.


  1. Thanks for introducing me to this beautiful website Susan. I’m feeling very inspired by it – I think my favorite quote is, “The Garden must be prepared first in the soul first or else it will not flourish”

  2. I didn’t know about Soul of the Garden until I started seeing it nominated like crazy for the Mousies…and now I’m hooked. The site is absolutely amazing.

    I’m looking forward to your site! There are way, way too many of the “I just want to make money” sites out there. I have absolutely nothing against ads (I run them sometimes on In the Garden Online, too). But when there is more ad space than content space, when I start seeing too many “sponsored posts/articles” or when it becomes plainly obvious that the site owner’s heart is just not in it, I stop visiting.

    As for SEO, since I’ve been working for Suite101, I’ve learned more than I want to about it. If you ever need any tips, let me know.

  3. Love that site!!! New to blogging, my first thought when I saw the word ‘monetization’ was ‘a garden inspired by Monet’. LOL and nothing could be farther from the truth.

  4. I’m happy to see you promoting Tom’s website because it is totally gorgeous and amazing. Soul of the Garden was definitely on my list of nominees for the M&Ts, and it was one of my inspirations for my own blog. His photography is fantastic.

    Yes, Tom is yet-another-Austin-gardener-online (Austin rocks!) and well known around here. He’s also a neighbor of mine, and generous with a garden tour when curious neighbors pop round on the pretense of walking the dog.

  5. Tom Spencer is the Soul of Austin Gardening – I still remember going to his site for solace on 9/11… and finding it there.

    At that time I started sending links to his site to family and friends, because it was too wonderful and had to be shared. I’m glad you’ve found him, too, Susan.

    We’ve heard him speak at various events, seen his garden through Conservation Open Days, listened to his radio shows, and watched his various television series, and his mellifluous voice can even make the PBS pledge drives a little better.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  6. Whenever I travel to Tom’s garden, my soul becomes centered and serene once again. His words and images touch and heal. My favorite quote from his website:

    The song of birds, the voices of insects,
    are all means of conveying truth to the mind;
    in flowers and grasses we see messages of the Way.
    The scholar, pure and clear of mind, serene and open of heart,
    should find in everything what nourishes him.
    — Buddhist verse (from Tom Spencer’s website March, 2000)

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