3 out of 4 newspapers don’t bother to cover gardening



They just run an article once a year to say how popular it is.

So we all know that 3 out of 4 Americans are gardening, and
that vegetable growing is teh bomb. 
Fine, wonderful, in fact. But it would be even better if the popularity
of gardening was reflected in media rather than—more and more—missing in
action. During our interview, USAToday writer Janice Lloyd told me that she
“can’t write about gardening very much,” and as I was checking the paper’s
website over the past few days, I noticed there is no regular gardening column.
There is regular coverage of pets, tech, fashion, and wine, which is all very
well, but I guess gardening is just a once-in-a-while thing.

Then, as Amy points
out a few posts back
, the New York Times gardening coverage is becoming erratic
and, well—strange. (Indoor plant advice in late March?) As many know, their former garden writer Anne Raver is now with Country Gardens, though there does seem to be
some occasional vegetable gardening coverage.  Lucky people around DC still have a bastion of gardening
coverage to look forward to in the Post, but increasingly around the country,
in spite of gardening's supposed popularity, actual reporting on it is a sometimes thing.

As much fun as it is to blog about my own gardening and read
the experiences of others, I’m a daily paper reader and I’d like to see more
gardening coverage. Here in Buffalo, we’ve proven that most of us are insanely
devoted to gardening; we have 16 garden walks in which over a thousand of us
open up our gardens to strangers every year, while community gardens and urban
farms are spreading throughout the east and west frontiers of the city. Yet,
our paper has no staff garden writer.

It’s a rant we ranted often before, but the USAToday
, as affirming as it was, made me want to rant it just once more. 

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. Our local paper has a “regular” garden article that shows up sporadically with such bad advice as: if you’re growing Rosemary indoors over the winter be sure to keep the soil moist at all times. After reading that tidbit I no longer trust the information in the articles

    Is bad advice better than no advice?

  2. A lot of the problem with the garden coverage out there is that no one in authority at a paper usually knows whether the gardening advice is timely and good, or not. And that’s because those folks in management don’t garden. Therefore, they’re willing to get rid of gardening coverage, because it doesn’t bring in much advertising in most places (a big issue!).

    Whenever I’ve worked for a newspaper where someone in management gardens, they care about the coverage — and it shows.

  3. Newspapers are dead, except for very small newspapers in small markets. Why would I read the Sacramento Bee gardening section when I can go online and get all the local garden information I need?

    It’s a bit odd for garden blogers to be complaining about the demise of the newspaper garden section, since we are the very reason for the decline.

    Some newspapers do have a online section, like the San Francisco Chronicle,http://www.sfgate.com/garden/. Interesting that many of the articles are gathered from various blogs around the country.

  4. Actually, Trey, though I read a lot of blogs and enjoy them, I don’t find them to be a good source of gardening coverage/knowledge. Books have been my go-to for that, or advice from knowledgeable nursery professionals.

    Your newspaper, if you have one, in many ways, reflects your community. If you have a gardening community, I think that should be part of that reflection.

  5. I don’t go to the newspaper for gardening advice. Sometimes the West County Times will have an article on orchids, or how perfect tulips are effortless (and it’ll be written at an inappropriate time of year), or it’ll post plant sales happening in various places. I’ve actually gotten better info once or twice out of the The Yodeler, the Sierra Club’s local newspaper.

    Likewise, I generally don’t go to magazines for anything other than inspiration. The only exception to that would be Mother Earth News and their pieces on growing veggies. I haven’t picked up Sunset lately, but that one used to be good, too.

  6. I know! It’s so ridiculous to think that anybody would care about indoor plants in March! Everybody knows you’re supposed to throw all your indoor plants away in February, so you can focus on real gardening! Silly, silly Times.

  7. USATODAY is a national paper. So and article on pets, tech, fashion, or wine works no matter where the reader is. It’s far harder to write about gardening and meet audience needs over such a wide range.

    Too bad for local papers. Their market geographically is about the right size for offering locally tailored gardening info.

  8. Aw, Trey ! I very much enjoy the Sac Bee weekly gardening section ( at least when it really does have garden stuff in it, not somebody’s high-priced “landscaping”). I usually read each garden-related article, pour over the garden events calendar, actually even pay attention to the ads in this section ! Garden bloggers, like the garden shows on the radio, fill a different need & require a different time commitment. Each has their place, and I feel fortunate that here in the Sacramento area we have access to so much garden media.

  9. Our local paper, the Oregonian, may not be perfect, but its gardening coverage (both in print and online) is pretty damned good. They have THREE regular gardening columnists and quite a bit of additional coverage. New York Times, take note!

  10. The Washington Post has for a LONG time had four weekly columnists – exemplary! – but has recently let Scott Aker go, I was sorry to hear. Still we have Adrian Higgins, Barbara Damrosch and Joel Lerner every week. Hang in there, y’all.

  11. Tom took the words right out of my mouth (or fingers)…the Thursday Oregonian includes the home and garden supplement which is usually at least 50% garden, sometimes more. Thanks for the reminder of how lucky I am to live in a community that values gardening and where that is reflected in the Newspaper.

  12. I wish I could say that a gardening mecca like the San Francisco Bay Area had good gardening coverage in the local media, but it has gotten less and less over the years, and many of the papers grab gardening copy from national sources that don’t relate to northern California conditions at all.

    It does appear that newspapers are a dying breed, with no sustainable revenue source these days. As to the web/internet filling the breach, I don’t think it really does.

    Even garden based magazines such as Sunset have really cut back on their garden content, and are not nearly as informative as the gardening articles were back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. I can easily compare them, as I have held on to old Sunset magazine issues since I first started subscribing back in the late 70’s.

  13. Tara mentions that gardening is a multi-billion dollar a year industry and why wouldn’t newspapers want to tap into that? Perhaps the advertisers have already headed to greener pastures, i.e. online and specialty publications.

    Laura say’s, “Aw, Trey ! I very much enjoy the Sac Bee weekly gardening section at least when it really does have garden stuff in it, not somebody’s high-priced “‘landscaping.'”

    They are are trying to appeal to a broad range of readers interests like “home improvement”, or “landscaping”. No in depth reporting because the readership is just not there.

    As gardeners and garden professionals we would like to see gardening take over the world, and newspapers and other mass media report it. Reality does not match up to our wishes however. The best place to read about, and interact with fellow gardeners is via garden blogs and specialty publications.

    Craig hits it on the head with his comment, “USATODAY is a national paper. So and article on pets, tech, fashion, or wine works no matter where the reader is. It’s far harder to write about gardening and meet audience needs over such a wide range.”

    The future of garden reporting is niche oriented, either geographically or area of gardening interest. The smaller the audience the more passionate and likely it is to read and interact.

  14. What’s really strange is that the San Francisco Bay Area has a HUGE gardening audience. We had Western Hills Nursery – which redefined offerings of California natives and Mediterranean plants throughout the whole industry – plus lots of wonderful other nurseries (Berkeley Hort, Wegman’s, East Bay Nursery, Regan’s Nursery, Yamagami’s, Half Moon Bay Nursery plus the tons up on Sonoma County), gardening clubs, TONS of Bonsai clubs (there is practically a Bonsai club every few miles plus the GSBF COllection North in Oakland), orchid societies, arboretums/gardens (Strybing, UC Berkeley, Filioli, Hakone Gardens, Lake Merritt) . And yet…

    The San Francisco Chronicle will post about a local gardening show and once in a while – every few weeks or so, or maybe longer – have an article about gardening that is more cursory than informative. Their own articles about their rooftop garden is like watching someone who has read about gardening, but never got their hands dirty try for the first time and fail and wonder why their plants didn’t live up to their four-color spread imaginations. They did post this week about some heirloom tomato sales coming up, at least.

    But I was thoroughly disgusted when last summer they posted a story on perennials that was written by someone at the Washington Post. The article covered flowers that bloomed already a few months back and had things like “peonies” which don’t grow in the Bay Area because it’s too warm. The article was for mid-Atlantic region and they were posting it for San Francisco region gardeners. I left them a terse message to get a clue and cited chapter and verse on each point in the article that did not apply, especially how things that the article said were going to bloom soon had already finished for our area.

    And the worst of them is the San Jose Mercury News. They had a garden reporter, Jackson (forget her first name) and she was WONDERFUL! Every week I looked forward to her column. Then she retired/left and then since then the SJ Merc has had a gardening section worse than the SF Chronicle. They will post shows on the events calendar section. They did have online an article today from their sister publication, the Contra Costa Times on 10 aloes for the region. I found myself giving up on them ever having a descent gardening section ever again when a few years back they had an on going series on growing tomatoes upside down in a bucket. And that was it. Nothing else.

    I think people are ditching the papers for blogs and more info intensive magazines – though magazines are struggling on their own.

  15. Here in Houston, we have http://www.houstongrows.com which is the online Gardening portal created by the Heart Corp’s Houston Chronicle. But I don’t think bloggers are the reason for the fall of newspapers; that can only be blamed on advertisers having more options to advertise in many more different venues … esp. online. That, coupled with the recession, is why so many top-heavy newspapers have folded in the past five years. In Houston, they use “reader bloggers” to submit content for the newspaper’s website, without getting paid for what they submit, and then the newspaper sells ads around the content online. The benefit to the blogger is a larger community of gardeners; though that community could drift if taken for granted and neglected.

  16. U.S. newspapers were already in big trouble before blogs. The British newspapers like the Guardian and the Telegraph still have excellent coverage — no surprise there. Blogs extensively covered the recent San Francisco garden show, and I like the added dimension blogs give of a conversation that gradually unfolds and builds as bloggers write about what they thought was successful about the show and why. Who knows how much that free promotion enhances the show’s chances for the future? But for professional writing and especially photography, magazines like Gardens Illustrated still have no peer, and it’s rare when blogs attain that level. Optimistically, I think we’re in a lull until the economy improves and the next generation inevitably expands out beyond the vegetable garden. Until then, blogs do an amazing job of keeping the flame going.

  17. The Idaho Statesman has had one weekly gardening column for many years. Two years ago, they started an online gardening newsletter that is emailed to subscribers every Thursday (you don’t have to subscribe to the Statesman to get the online newsletter). It includes the long-running printed column, a Master Gardener column (which I write), a blurb about gardening events around southwest Idaho and occasionally a gardening column of national interest written by someone at the parent company or at another newspaper. There are occasional series, like a weekly column about the vegetables received in a weekly CSA distribution that ran one summer.

    This online newsletter was started when more prominent papers were throwing their gardening columns on the compost heap. In the arid sagebrush-steppe, gardening is very different from anywhere else in the country, so we need local advice. Idaho may be a “backwater,” but our newspaper is on the cutting edge of the gardening scene!


  18. No kidding. I was on the New York Times “Home & Garden” section about a week ago, and there was not one single reference to the garden anywhere on the page, except for the title. Highly disappointing.

  19. I get most of my gardening info. from the local garden radio talk shows and books. Wish we had an on-line gardening newsletter as described by Greg. I’d subscribe. Laura

  20. I don’t think it’s so much about “getting my info.” You don’t “get food info” from the food section, you read food coverage. Restaurant reviews, foodish travel, coverage of the local ag scene, and sure, maybe a few recipes, but usually with an in-depth and interesting exploration of some ingredient. There’s plenty of plant-ish newsy and cultural stuff newspapers could cover as they do for food, travel, arts, and sports. It just doesn’t happen because the higher-ups don’t see gardening in that light.

  21. I think most of the papers, and especially the San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News, have gone the way of HGTV. All “H” and no “G”. The title for the sections should be called:

    “Home & well, no gardening this week, or last week. Probably not next week either.”

  22. I write a bi-weekly garden column up in the cold north (not so cold right now — we’ve had some record heat lately) in Ottawa, Canada.

    Although many of my articles are inspired by local gardeners or events, they often find their way across the country due to the umbrella corporation that owns papers from east to west.

    Last summer I wrote about a couple who moved here from Edmonton and when their old friends saw them featured in that local paper, they were thrilled to be able to connect again.

    I’m lucky that my editor gives me a large amount of free reign. Of course, you’re right; the editing is not horticulturally based, rather for space and journalistic syntax.

    The most recent garden writer before me (who was, even though not horticulturally trained, very good) wrote articles that were interview-based, which were fun and dynamic to read and spoke very much to our community.

    But papers have indeed taken a hit. I am on contract and my pay per article has been drastically reduced. It is certainly not a job that I could live on. I do, in fact, garden professionally and this certainly makes writing during my active season challenging.

    When my contract began, it was thought that my columns would only appear during the summer months. But I reminded my editor that gardeners (and others for that matter) especially love to read about gardening during the months when our growing is stuck inside. Hence, some of my winter columns (and they did continue regularly through the coldest months) were about making changes to and planning your garden in the spring.

    And yes, the ubiquitous indoor plant article (anytime is a good time for them!) And for some of us, March is still (usually) the dead of winter…

  23. So, step up and offer a syndicated garden column! We have a wonderful paper, Chattanooga Times Free Press that offers one whole page of liberal op ed and one whole page of conservative op ed. There is a garden column once a week but he’s boring! I want a columnist who issues warrants for Crepe Murder, a common crime around here. One who is eccentric and off the wall. One who is the Dear Abby of plants…one like YOU!

  24. Very good article. I agree that newspapers are very spotty, some are better than others. Here in Marin County, our local paper, Marin Independent Journal, does a respectable job, but mainly it is very hit and miss, mostly miss.

    Its up to us to use the web to better inform both new and not so new gardeners, even though so many of us would prefer to be informed in our Sunday (or Saturday) paper. Our example is our site, http://www.thedirtcheapgardener.com

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