One size fits all?

Both images courtesy of Shutterstock (Image at right is St. Paul, not St. Cloud, closest I could get)
Both images courtesy of Shutterstock (Image at right is St. Paul, not St. Cloud, closest I could get)

What do St. Cloud, Minnesota and Westerly, Rhode Island have in common? Westerly is a seaside community in southern Rhode Island; St Cloud lies in central Minnesota and is bisected by the Mississippi river. Summers and winters are more moderate in Westerly; winter temperatures fall to greater depths in St. Cloud. There are other important differences, including one that gardeners need to know: St. Cloud is hardiness zone 4a and Westerly is 6a.

There is one similarity between the two communities. The newspapers in both just published the same AP gardening story about what to plant during an era of climate change. Recommendations include the possibility of “ripping out the front lawn and its bordering rhododendrons and replacing them with a landscape of native grasses, groundcovers, succulents and rocks.” I don’t have too many problems with the article per se. It warns gardeners to consult their local experts and to find plants that will be sustainable in whatever conditions climate change might produce in their era (drought, heavy rain, etc.) and draws quotes from sources across the US. It tries to be as universal as possible and has a correspondingly bland tone, although much better written than a lot of what I find online.

I’m happy if people replace lawns with native grasses, groundcovers, and rocks. That’s not the problem. I just think it’s sad that these two communities (apparently) don’t have local gardening writers who can talk about these issues, using examples taken from area gardens, and drawing on personal experiences with which readers in the community can identify. Such an article could identify tried-and-true lawn replacements that can be found in nearby independent garden centers, perhaps.

The reliance on syndicated material is becoming common with smaller—and, increasingly, larger—media outlets across the country. We’re lucky enough in Buffalo to have a weekly gardening column written by a local expert, though I am always perplexed when I see that almost all of the food coverage comes from other papers, and we do have a food editor. Food, at least, is universal enough so that it doesn’t matter as much. Gardening isn’t. If my local gardening columnist writes a well-researched and substantiated (with local examples) article about how weather extremes call for different planting strategies, I’m more likely to pay attention. Not so much with generic and generalized advice that attempts to cover coast to coast.

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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


  1. Well, Corporate America certainly thinks that one size fits all. They keep trying to force that on us all the time.

  2. It seems especially silly to have this article in the St Cloud times, when much of it focuses on a garden in California’s central valley — a climate that’s about as different from central Minnesota as you can imagine.

    (Also – I’m pretty sure that Shutterstock photo is not St Cloud, MN – though I sure wish it looked like that!)

  3. I agree with you, Elizabeth. In the Seattle area we used to have so many local garden writers contributing to our newspapers and radio programs. Now it has been whittled down to one or two. Syndicated general articles just aren’t the same. I’ve switched to listening to radio programs from the UK and back east because our local offerings have almost disappeared (with maybe one exception). I wonder if the earlier surge in interest in all things “gardening” is receding, or if it’s just the disruption now of all things digital.

    • “(with maybe one exception)”

      And it can get a bit repetitive… Ooh la la! 😉


      Fortunately the Sunset magazine I read at the local library has sections that pertain to this region. Though if you drive a short distance you can go from our maritime climate to the high desert of the Yakima Valley. So the best thing is to deal with your own local experts, like the county extension.

  4. Absolutely spot on, Elizabeth! Local newspapers don’t even take advantage of local talents; here, in a University town, they could have a weekly column by a myriad of experts; entomologists, horticulturists, landscape arthitects, etc; and the University would love the press exposure; and I don’t think they’ve ever even asked.

  5. Excellent post. Here in New England succulents don’t do well and rocks will be filled with weeds very quickly.

    Having a local garden writer does not solve all the problems. Our [very] local paper does have a garden writer but she seems to be stuck in the past – she doesn’t “believe” in climate change and she’s a big fan of pesticides. I haven’t found her advice to be very useful.

    Her recommendations for when to plant vegetables may have worked 20 years ago but for the past 5 years I have constantly planted tomatoes 3 week ahead of her schedule and haven’t lost a single plant to frost.

    I get my most reliable advice from fellow garden bloggers. Blogging for The Win.

  6. Men ruling the news perhaps. The bottom line is the main focus. What good are the local papers if we can’t have the local writers give us what fits our needs. Seems like knowing bloggers from our closer areas is one solution. It would be good if they had a good knowledge base to support their advise. Keep up the Rant , it’s important to the Gardeners out here.

  7. So true, and so sad! The worst part of this to me, as a fellow garden writer, is that there ARE tons of us out here would love the chance to write for small local papers as freelancers. But the papers don’t want to invest in local writers. Too expensive I suppose. Cheaper just to subscribe to the AP wire and pick and choose each week. Newspapers cannot pay well even when you do get a gig. The one local paper that did hire and pay local writers went under years ago and now only exists as a free publication online. They want writers, but they want them to work for free. No thanks, I have groceries to buy.

    Meanwhile, the Washington Post — my region’s biggest paper — drives me insane because so much of their home and garden section is only aimed at the extremely wealthy who own homes in the most expensive neighborhoods. They have articles on things that just seem preposterous to those of us with a few square feet of garden space and a small budget but a big desire to have a lush garden. (It is always some story about some extremely rich couple that ripped out their entire house and redid it just for a better view or something, while the rest of us are thinking: yeah, right! We would just like to have a view at all from any part of our property… hell, many of us would just like to own our own property.) Why does the Post do it? Probably because that is what advertisers around here want: the richest readers who will come buy expensive furniture, or hire their landscape consultants or whatever other service they are selling.

    Anyway, thanks for ranting about a topic that I often rant about myself!

  8. I write (for free, unfortunately) a weekly column on gardening and green issues for our small local paper. This used to be done years ago by Doc and Katy Abraham, and then once they passed on, gardening was basically dropped from the paper altogether. I contributed guest essays and commentary occasionally, so I asked one of the editors why we couldn’t have a gardening column again – one that pertained specifically to the Finger Lakes region. His reply was basically “I don’t know – you want to try it?” I did, and now it’s been going for 2 years. The people seem to like it and appreciate it, and I always hear the same theme; that it’s about time we had gardening information that pertained to our region, not California. Yes, I know I’m laboring for nothing in the monetary sense, but I feel I’m helping fellow gardeners around these parts – and isn’t that a worthwhile thing to do?

    • Sally Cunningham writes for the Buffalo News as a freelancer. I know that doesn’t pay well but at least it pays something and it keeps her voice out there. Even without pay, I agree that what you are doing is valuable. They should pay you something though.

  9. Exactly what happened here–the local garden writer took a buy-out because the newspaper cut staff to the bone and is close to bankruptcy.

    Thank goodness for garden blogs!

  10. Frankly, we also need better feedback to local retailers and growers alike to report which genus and specific cultivars are performing well in our changing climates without too much “babying.” This is something I’d love to ask regional Landscape & Nursery Associations to help promote. If plant consumers were encouraged to give feedback, we could really build better local/regional databases to identify appropriately sustainable plants for our gardens. But I wonder if the industry feels they benefit by some plant failures………encouraging the use of plants that thrive and multiply may be seen as less profitable to the Industry than offering some that struggle and ultimately fail..with consumers returning for more…..or is that too cynical?

    • I’m sure many if not most of the mom & pop nurseries (we have several here in Tri-Cities, WA) have a genuine love for gardening and want to help their customers’ gardens thrive. But I don’t think it’s possible to be too cynical for the big box stores (from which I still buy stuff not available elsewhere).

  11. To be fair to the newspapers… My wife and I are enthusiastic readers and gardeners, but the time and money we once spent on newspapers is now spent on line and reading, well, free articles and news such as Garden Rant. We do have a local gardener – a university horticulturist – but I guess the money for the paper comes mostly from ads paying for an online presence, and that must be less than it used to be for a distributed paper.

    News in general comes from AP and such. Local reporters are fewer than they used to be all over the world. We do have a couple of books by Rant authors, and by writers recommended here.

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