Garden Writers: Who are we Writing for and Why is it Important?

Ginny and Tammy

Guest Post by Ginny Stibolt

When we write online, who’s actually reading and what are we trying to accomplish? Articles for magazines (and maybe even newspapers) are easier to target, because we know the demographics of the readers. When we write in cyberspace, we have no idea who’s reading, except for those who respond.

We’ve talked about the disappearing garden writing for newspapers and garden programming on TV. Maybe our online writing is filling the gaps left elsewhere. I know that after I moved to north Florida in 2004 and found that gardening was really different here, I starting writing “Adventures of a Transplanted Gardener.”  I received some pretty good feedback, which encouraged me to continue writing. I’d found a niche, which continued to expand in various ways, including  writing for the Florida Native Plant Society, Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens, the Lawn Reform Coalition, a couple of guest rants here on Garden Rant, plus podcasts at The Times Union, and articles for The Vero Beach Magazine.  Now, I also have written two books for University Press of Florida. That’s a lot of writing…

What I Thought I Was Doing

In a former life I was a teacher–7th & 8th grade math and later, community college level science and business courses. I don’t know about you, but once a teacher, always a teacher. So I thought I was helping Florida gardeners learn to cope by sharing my experiences and what I’d learned with others.

Maybe if more gardeners learn the best way to plant a tree, or find out that putting a layer of gravel in the bottom of a container impedes drainage, they would be less frustrated. And maybe if more of Florida’s gardeners would plant natives for their butterflies, stop using poisons, and install rain gardens, the state would slowly become a better place. Hey, I can dream can’t I?

Then One Day I Received an Email that Changed my View

“Ginny, Thank you so much for your blog, articles, and podcasts! I’m a Navy Nurse, currently deployed in Afghanistan, where all I see is tan desert…missing green! Your content is keeping me sane, and I can’t wait to get back to my Orange Park home and into the garden. Tammy W…”

When I received Tammy’s email back in 2010, it brought a tear to my eye. Orange Park is the town just north of me. Last Tuesday Tammy and I had lunch together. She’s back from Afghanistan and is now stationed at Jacksonville Naval Air Station Hospital.

She described the hospital she was assigned to in Afghanistan and her duties there as the lead U.S. nurse (it was under British management). The hospital consisted of several trailer-like metal buildings connected together. The quarters for all the personnel were located in big tents with cloth floors. Tammy said she’d created a small private nook around her cot using cloth that people had sent her from home.

It was in that small space that she listened to my podcasts, looked at my garden photos, and read my articles.

So in the End…

Maybe I’ve been able to educate some people and maybe they’ve become more sustainable gardeners. But if my simple garden writing has lifted the spirits of someone, then I’m even more compelled to continue.


  1. Ultimately, at least speaking for myself, the writing started for me, because I can’t NOT write. It still fills a vast canyon with purpose and pleasure and action and thought, allowing me to talk to myself and search for meaning. If it gives pleasure to others, through knowledge shared or humor or the simple love of a phrase well-written, then that’s just jam on the biscuit. The wider audience of a garden blogger is self-selected; those who find something about a blog that keeps them coming back, perhaps not for every random piece, but for the value it brings to their life. Ginny, you provided a link to home for Tammy. And that’s all any blogger can ask.

    • Dear Professor,
      You’ve hit upon the crux of the matter that the audience is self-selected. Then it is up to us to keep our writing fresh and to keep our audience engaged.

  2. Wow…this makes me really grateful for the gardening I’m able to every single day in addition to reading the garden blogs. Garden bloggers inspire, entertain and inform me. If I couldn’t garden I’d go nuts. So thank you garden bloggers for your contribution to my gardening life. But even more so, thank you Tammy, for your service to our country and the sacrifice you’ve made in your life to go over there away from home and “green” to be of service to the rest of us!

    • Yes, as the 4th of July approaches, Americans need to thank all the people in our military for their service. I did thank Tammy. She’s been a Navy nurse for 20 years–that’s huge.

  3. I agree with Tammy – I love the tips and ideas I pick up from reading gardening blogs, but I really read blogs because I get so much enjoyment from reading your stories and seeing your garden photos. Some people like to look at aquariums to lower stress & help them relax, I like to look at gardens and relate to other gardeners’ experiences.

  4. Yes, keep writing and teaching and talking … eventually some of us finally come to that light-bulb moment … Although I do not have 100% native plants … I have made significant changes on my property in the past 15 or so years to make it more Florida friendly … and continue to do so. Being a former Marylander myself … I came from a county that was heavily into agriculture, horticulture, farming etc. and felt like gardening was in my blood … but I was constantly frustrated with gardening here in NE FL … so many challenges … heat, humidity … bugs … and that dreaded St. Augustine lawn! … But little by little … after listening and reading to several people in our area … one being a local landscaper who talked on TV about using grass as an accent instead of a whole carpet of it … my husband was leery of doing something so drastic but it was such a struggle to keep grass growing in my backyard that I eventually gave up and tried this landscaper’s idea and now only about 1/4 or less of my backyard has any grass … it is literally a small strip of green to contrast the mulch and pea gravel I have there now … and I will say quite honestly … my backyard has more interest and is more functional this way … more butterflies and birds seem to be enjoying it too. So much less work … except for the mulching … I am currently building up my landscape with more FL native plants … far from finished but on its way … As for the street side … I have made changes but not as drastic … I live on a small subdivision lot and have eliminated grass from both side yards … this area is such a waste of space until I turned it into gardens … I added a passion vine this year in one side yard garden and have been rewarded with over a dozen Gulf Frittilary caterpillars! The grass on one side of my driveway has also been completely eliminated … turned into a garden and have added several “island gardens” in the front yard … as a problem arises in the lawn instead of planting grass I add a new flower bed. Although we still have changes to make … our gardening lifestyle has majorily changed … thanks to finding your blogs and tips on Facebook … as well as tips from our county extension agent, and most especially the TV programming from the Florida Native Plant Society (excellent motivater!) … we are watering less, using less pesticides and fertilizers and are more satisfied with our yard than ever … keep up the good work!

    • Thanks Kathy! I’ve found that a landscape is never really “done,” but it sounds like you are making good progress. Our yard is not 100% native either, but it’s getting there, little by little. Watch for my post tomorrow (July 4th) over on the Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens blog on the native passion vine (Passiflora incarnata). Keep reading & gardening!

  5. What an FANTASTIC post. I’ve been blogging for less than a year but I still occasionally ask myself why I am keeping it up, especially when I feel pressure to get a post up.

    While there are many types and styles of garden blogs, I think that most of them feed our souls more than our minds. Yes, some blogs are very informative, but to me the most gratifying thing about reading garden blogs is just communing with others whom I know share a love of gardens and nature and design.

    Your story of this homesick gardener who kept her spirits up by reading your blog from the other side of the world is really amazing. Thanks so much for sharing this story!

  6. “You never know who your writing will touch.”
    And the same is true of teaching. You may find a touching story or two from your students decades later. Just this past year we connected with the family of a student from our Peace Corps days. We certainly never expected a thank-you, but how touched we are to be thanked by the four children for having educated their father and starting the chain. A blog may do the same.

  7. Ginny, I agree completely. I write two columns, one for the quarterly newsletter of the Federated Garden Clubs (selected audience, obviously), but also one in the small local newspaper here. The response to that continually amazes and delights me – I’ve had phone calls from strangers who read something and thought it was great; I’ve had garden clubbers tell me that found it very interesting; I’ve had friends tell me that they learned something they’d never known in reading one of my columns. Words matter on so many levels – as someone said above, it is very similar to teaching. You don’t know whose life you may touch and/or influence by what you say. Wonderful post!

    • Thanks Susan. I love talking to and writing for gardeners. Sometimes I feel I’m preaching to the choir, but maybe one of my ideas will fall outside the group and will find fertile ground to bring another into the gardening fold.

  8. Dear Ginny:
    For a dozen years, I knew who and why I was writing a weekly garden column: to teach people about managing their little peace of Planet Earth in a way that made things better for everyone, including wildlife, the old think globally, act locally idea.
    That all went away when my paper downsized and started to print only the bare essentials of “news.” How disappointing to know that the people I wrote for couldn’t find me anymore or be inspired to go on with hope that they could influence their environment.

    Some three years later, I could no longer stand it. Despite being a NJ Master Gardener, that just didn’t seem to be enough to follow my goal of educating people. You have to “talk” to people, one reader at a time. So I joined to do what I do best: write instructional and educational material to keep on spurring the gardening movement. I especially want parents to get their kids involved in gardens and environment, inspired by Robert Michael Pyle’s books and idea that, if the young aren’t taught about gardens and butterflies and frogs, they won’t care about saving them. What could be more important than accomplishing that?

    I hope some day I will get feedback from a young reader who might say “Thanks for telling me about the bees and butterflies. I never realized how important the very small things in a garden are to my life.’
    I’m so glad I found your blog.

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