In April of 2007, I came across a word that I didn’t like—especially when used instead of the term “gardening.” I posted about it and got a long and gracious comment in response from the man who had invented it. Here’s an excerpt:
My partner in life is Nancy Szerlag, the gardening columnist for the Detroit News for 14 years. I started my column on yardening in the Detroit News about two years ago. Within months I was getting almost as many e-mails as Nancy, and she has a tremendous following. I had found an audience. So many of them compliment me for giving them information in simple terms that they can understand. I believe most yardeners have the position – Just tell me what to do and when to do it. I will do it. I give talks at Home and Garden shows and I often lead with my definition of a gardener and then my definition of a yardener. Then I ask how many yardeners do we have in this audience. I have never had less than 60 to 70% in the group putting up their hands and smiling as they did it.
I can’t say that I like the term yardening any better now than I did then, but I did grow to appreciate the commonsensical outlook of yardener Jeff Ball, the Detroit News garden columnist who died Friday after a long battle with cancer.
Ball was the epitome of the old school problem-solving approach to gardening, but he was also very concerned about the soil web, the native plant movement, and the environmental nightmare that is traditional lawncare. And unlike some old school garden writers, he knew that understanding digital technology was becoming more and more essential in reaching gardeners of all levels.
Like his partner, Nancy Szerlag, Ball wrote as an independent contractor for the Detroit News. The paper I read, the Buffalo News, doesn’t have a fulltime garden writer either, though we are lucky to have local expert Sally Cunningham share her horticultural knowledge once a week. Contracting with a local expert —even if not a fulltime employee—will eventually become a luxury many publications won’t bother with, as budget-friendly syndicated lifestyle verbiage becomes increasingly acceptable to editors who don't care anymore. The world of garden journalism is changing along with all journalism—who knows what we’ll see when we come out the other end.
In the meantime, if you have a garden writer like Jeff Ball writing for your paper, you’re lucky. Thanks, Jeff, for reading and commenting—we’ll miss you, and so will all your readers!