When an actual garden photographer comes to shoot



by Susan
Suddenly, gardenbloggers and coaches are in the news a LOT, and a secret pleasure for anyone who’s been interviewed is to compare really stupid
questions that nongardening journalists ask and the sometimes ridiculous things they want us to do for their cameras.  And here at GardenRant we’ve all hooted over a publicity shot of some model pretending to garden – in blindingly white slacks! 

But when Organic Gardening Magazine comes to town, there ARE no smirks of superiority on the gardener’s face.  Just the opposite, especially when the photographer involved is one Rob Cardillo (whom I’d coincidentally interviewed a while back), because he knows his gardens and how to capture them for the pages of a magazine. (Go ahead and drool over his portfolio of gardens.)

To begin with, he takes his time.  He arrived from Philadelphia about 3 in the afternoon and worked til 7, then showed up the next morning for another few hours.  I’d been asked to write a detailed outline ahead of time so he’d know exactly what the article would cover (about coaching, of course, but specifically my "tips" for spring) and he drew up a plan for illustrating all those tips.  But he didn’t just want to show color and any old fake action shot – no cliches, please!  And he didn’t want to demonstrate the same old advice that OG readers have seen so many times before.  So I was encouraged to suggest my own quirky tips and to hell with conventional wisdom!

See, a photographer with Rob’s background knows what’s new information for the readers and knows which shots are cliches – like the lady gardener carrying a pretty flower-filled basket – yech!  He knows how to create vignettes that tell a story.  And he knows exactly what it takes to create a winning cover – or so we hope!!  But that’s enough hints for now.  We’ll all have to wait til the issue comes out next spring to see the final result.


At  the risk of over-gushing, I’ll just add that when you’re busting your butt to get the garden ready and even running the vacuum indoors, then submitting to hours of bullying instructions from a camera operator or photographer, a little courtesy goes a looong way and Rob was a total prince.  He loaned me his hot-shot camera with the super-wide angle lens to capture my back yard and helped me find a wide angle camera that I could afford.  And he’ll be GIVING me the entire batch of photos after the article’s been published.  Woo-hoo!

I just hope these photos show how hard a real garden photographer works, whether by arranging some sedums in pots for just the right effect or closing in on some teeny tiny vegetables.

All right, gang, let’s get snarky!  My personal favorites are:

  • "What’s your favorite evergreen for spring?"
  • For the April issue of a magazine, "How do you install a spring garden?" The news that spring-blooming bulbs are planted in the fall really bummed her out.
  • "How many gardens do you have?"
  • Having just been told that many coaching clients need to be taught to prune because it’s complicated and hard to learn from a book, "So, how DO you prune?"

Anybody have some to contribute?  No names, please, just the juicy quotes.  I’m hoping that if we compile a list that’s ridiculous enough it’ll convince some editor somewhere to take the bold step next time of hiring an actual garden writer for that piece about gardening.  That was the reaction we had here at the Rant to some nonsensical questions by a freelancer for a women’s magazine: Gee, why didn’t they hire a freelancer who knows the subject?


  1. Those questions are funny — though I’m not sure I get the spring evergreen one. Lots of broadleaf evergreens bloom in spring, so why not have a favorite? Anyway, I don’t have any journalist questions to add, but I did hear an interesting one from a reader: “Why don’t my tomato plants ever produce tomatoes? All they get are ugly yellow flowers, which I pull off.” Gotta love it.

  2. Well, Jessica, if we’re including homeowner questions, the one that knocked me over was: “Will the bees hurt my flowers?” which tells us what a SHAME it is when city folks have no opportunity to be in nature. And a little gardening will fix that in no time.

    Good point about the evergreens blooming in spring, but I don’t think this particular writer knew that. She thought that a “spring garden” was something you go out and buy in the spring.

  3. Question on a radio call-in show: “I had this plant with red flowers, but it died. What did I do wrong?” You mean, apart from forgeting its name?

    As for magazines actually hiring real garden writers… Well, one magazine has this trick of saying they’re desperate to hire you, they want you so much, they can’t think why you haven’t written for them for a few years, they ask for half a dozen feature ideas – which they then give to their favorite hacks to screw up while never ever returning calls or emails. Then five years later they try it again!

    You not only need the expertise for this game, you need a thick skin – and a few old trees to swing an ax at! AAAHHH!

  4. I was out working in my garden and was thinking about this post and the all-time dumbest questions. I’m certainly glad I didn’t read this when I was first starting out. It’s not very encouraging to think that ‘experienced’ gardeners are making fun of those who are just starting out and are interested in learning how to garden.

  5. Kate, people who skipped school and don’t know how plants reproduce deserve to be laughed at. That’s basic information you should have by the time you turn ten. I don’t think it’s entirely fair to make fun of somebody for not knowing the advanced gardening stuff, but that flowers are pollinated and turn into fruit is hardly esoteric knowledge.

  6. Sorry, nothing to offer, here. I’m still wiping away tears (of laughter– laughter!) from that “will the bees hurt my flowers?” question.

  7. Color me old-fashioned.

    I believe that people ask questions because they don’t know the answer. From a certain point of view these questions have humour, but from another, it’s simply a lack of information and experience.

    I believe there are no stupid questions – sometimes it’s stupid people that ask them and sometimes stupid people that answer them. But mostly it’s because either or both don’t have the information they need in a confusing new subject area.

  8. I’m afraid I have to disagree with Doug – that there are no stupid questions is an oft-repeated falsehood. Many questions are stupid, particularly ones to which the questioner should already know the answer. This post is about people posing as knowledgeable who actually are not. If you’re writing a garden piece, you should know something about gardens before you get there. In that context, basic questions are, in fact, stupid. This is not to say that a garden beginner is not perfectly entitled to ask basic questions – of course she is.

  9. What we need to do as gardeners is to let editors know when a gardening article is disappointing. This way they might spend some extra effort to hire better garden writers who would ask better questions and who have the background to understand and present the issues in an understandable manner.

    There is another side to this issue though. I wrote an article for Vero Beach Magazine on Australian pines and other invasive plants in that part of Florida. The person doing the layout created a beautiful spread with wonderful color photos including one of a white pine. The caption said it was an Australian pine; she had no idea that these are flowering plants and not pines at all. More than one of their readers called in to point out the error. Since then they send me the proposed layout and ask for advice and captions. The lesson here is that editors do listen, so demand better. Ginny

  10. I had a caller on a radio show ask if the potatoes he planted during the January thaw in New England would be okay. When he said ‘What do you think’ I quickly replied “I think you have the start of a compost pile!” I regretted that just a bit as he was so enthusiastic but, then again, a compost pile is a plus isn’t it? At least he was trying!

  11. Yes, there are stupid questions, particularly in the context of this post, which is aimed not at beginning gardeners, but at garden writers who don’t know what the h they are talking about.

    There are also such things as bad ideas. My boss always says, “no such thing as a bad idea!” and I’m always screaming (inside): “YES, YES, there is! Read your history!”

  12. Eliz/Kira The confusion/difference here imho is whether we’re talking about garden writers or stupid questions about gardening or a combination of both.

    Re stupid questions – I stand by my post.

    To deal with the “both” The reality in the publishing world is that if you have a writerly, saleable idea – you sell it to a publisher. As long as you can find the source material (i.e. a garden expert) it doesn’t matter to the publication whether you yourself have that expertise. The question is whether you can deliver a competent article.

    The argument being posted here is that only those writers who also garden and know something about gardening should be garden writers.

    This is an ongoing issue in all genres of writing – from “can men write romance novels” to “how valuable are garden blogs where the person isn’t a trained horticulturalist” ? My answer is that it depends. On the writer.

  13. And then there was the gardener / garden writer who didn’t know the difference between the foliage on a radish and a carrot.
    … sorry, couldn’t resist.
    We all gotta learn at some time or another, or we just keep on asking those darn stupid questions.
    ( smirky smile )

  14. Hehe. I’d like to see any garden photographer catch me after I’ve been gardening for 30 minutes or more. They could do it as some kind of garden expose–the photo of me as “What you REALLY look like after working in the garden”. Or maybe they could do a time-lapse series on de-evolution….

    Within 15 minutes my hair looks like it’s been styled by eggbeater. Within 30 minutes, there are twigs added to the style. Within 5 minutes I already have large water-soaked spots all down the front of my clothes. Within 15 minutes I look like I wrestled with a tray of potting soil and lost. Within 25 minutes, it looks like I’ve been rolling around in a hog waller except for the grass stains on my knees. Within 30 minutes, there is dirt up my nose, in my mouth, in my bra, in my underpants (I have NO idea how that happens) and between the toes of my workboot-clad feet. The shins of my jeans are coated in cat hair from my feline “assistants”, and the cats have dirt and twigs in their fur. I tell you–it ain’t a pretty sight.

  15. I can’t speak about garden magazines or other special publications, but the decline of the newspaper biz means specialized beats like garden reporting are going away. Be thankful any writer is asking you any question, dumb or not, because we’re lucky to have any gardening coverage in mainstream publications. And it’s only going to get worse.

  16. Thankful for poor reporting? A professional does not need to know all there is about the subjects they write about. I wrote about drug sniffing dogs once! What is so silly here is that the reporter asked very odd questions without doing any preparation. The person being interviewed should have nicely said, “Oh, I wouldn’t print that one” since the reader is (all too often) insulted.

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