Ever read a garden magazine or book and think to yourself, "Who is this joker?"
Well, that joker would be
me — your lowly regional garden writer and editor.
Trolling the test vegetable growing fields and back offices of garden
centers for story ideas to bring you the latest and greatest gardening trends.
In that noble mission, I attended my second annual meeting of the Garden Writers
Association. This year the GWA chose Oklahoma City, OK, for their international
symposium. Like me, you are probably questioning why OK? Well, it turns out this
jealous sibling of Texas has much to boast about on the gardening front. From
tree farms to farmer’s markets, we saw it all.
Oklahoma exceeded my
expectations and gave me lots of story leads to pursue. In addition, I was able
to observe almost 500 of my fellow garden writers, photographers, editors,
public relations flacks, and garden supply sales reps in up-close and personal
quarters. I’m obviously still wet behind the ears in GWA, as I made
several classic newbie errors when dealing with other garden media types.
Here are a few:
1. Never relax on a hayride with a bunch of competing
garden writers while sipping on glasses of complementary wine. If you do, you
might have the urge to blurt out an intriguing garden-related story idea you’ve
been hard at work researching for the past few months. I clearly cannot hold my
liquor, cause after just one glass I was telling my most colorful sources all about it. It wasn’t
until I saw the mad scribbling in notebooks and typing in Blackberries that I
realized the huge blunder I’d made. Here I thought I was being oh so
entertaining and sociable. Lesson learned.
When it comes to the loading
and unloading of GWA bus tours, it’s every garden writer for themselves.
2. If you
want to be first to view a garden and photograph it without 100 or so other
bodies milling about the same tiny, perfect wildflower in bloom, you need to act
quickly. Get on the first bus and grab the seat closest to the front. If you
have to body-check someone to do so, them’s the breaks. One famous garden
photographer, I’ll call him Heinrich Smell for purposes of this rant, is
apparently a notorious bus bully. No matter where he ends up sitting on the bus,
he manages to shoot up to the front and be first one off every time. I quickly
learned to get out of his way lest I lose an eye to those pointy
3. Whatever directions you’re given by the GWA organizers and
volunteers, go ahead and ignore them. They are just suggestions, after all, and
you know better. One experienced pro took me under her wing. She told me of her
theory of the evolution of the garden writer. According to her well-thought-out
analysis and years of field observation, garden writers are a breed apart –
literally. One does not become a garden writer because one is a conformist.
Writers in general have earned a hard-scrabble, ornery reputation. You certainly
don’t go into it for the job security or money. Pair that with the often
solitary pursuit and love of gardening in one individual and you get someone
with little respect for authority and a whole lot of time spent living inside
their own heads. When you get a bunch of us together is it any wonder chaos
ensues? My theorizing mentor told the tale of a group of GWA attendees at an event a
few years earlier who took over one of the buses and did not allow others to
enter so that they could use it exclusively for the touring day. They had so
cowed their volunteer bus captain that he turned Patty Hearst and by the end was
defending their ill-behaved actions.
Suffice it to say that I had a great
time at this meet – no joke. I love meeting the people in person whose books,
articles, and blogs I’ve so enjoyed reading over the years. And yes, we can all
be a little cantankerous at times, but isn’t that why you keeping buying and
reading our creative output?
If you were at GWA ’07 in OKC, please share your thoughts and observations in a comment.
I’m truly looking forward to GWA ’08 in Portland and another encounter with the
tribe of wild garden writers.
Photos by Kathy Jentz. Top, an unnamed participant. Bottom, touring.