A salute to Susan!

From my visit to the DC area in 2017: you can barely see her but I love the backdrop.

This week we celebrate the milestone birthday of longtime Ranter and Rant cofounder Susan Harris. Susan is the only original founder left of the three who started Rant in 2006. (Amy Stewart and Michele Owens have moved on to other endeavors; I came along in 2007.) When Rant started, Susan lived in Takoma Park, Maryland; she now lives in Greenbelt, Maryland, where she created and edits the Greenbelt Online website. I think Susan is supposed to be retired, but I see no signs of it; as you all know, she also has an award-winning website, Good Gardening Videos, which separates the truly useful from the WTF for all of us. In past years, Susan has also been active in lawn reform and the “green the grounds” campaign for more sustainable institutional gardens.

Susan and me in Chicago with other bloggers in 2009

You’re all down with the “birthday week” concept, right? I sure am; we need extended celebrations more than ever. I hope Susan is having a happy birthday week. In honor of her sticking with Rant and keeping it alive by bringing our fabulous recent/new Ranters onboard, I’m including some excerpts from Susan’s twelve years of ranting. She has always been more of a sharer and educator than ranter, but I did manage to find some stronger statements among her many, many posts, as follows:

On leaf blowers:
So readers, are these things really necessary or are they absurdly inefficient? I’ve never used one myself, but I bet they’re good at clearing leaves among perennials and shrubs.  Other than that, I just don’t get it. But I do know that for me, using a leaf blower would be right up there with spraying with pesticides as the least enjoyable of garden chores.  Downright odious. (June, 2006)

On Jerry Baker:
But more importantly, if this guy were a medical quack, would he be allowed on, much less promoted by, public television? Hell, no. But I suppose nobody takes gardening seriously enough to dare suggest a little proof and heck, it’s only the environment at stake, anyway.  Bottom line, why hasn’t this guy been totally discredited and run off PBS long ago?  Apparently only a couple of stations have been persuaded to drop Jerry’s programming; is that because gardeners, even master gardeners, are happily zoned out in their gardens?  Guys, it doesn’t have to be that way, especially now that gardeners and environmentalists are often one and the same. (June, 2006)

On native plants:
Soooo, the only way we can stop doing harm is to convert our gardens into preserves for indigenous plants, using a large assortment of them so that after the weak ones succumb, there will still be some survivors. That way we can “feel good knowing that you’re not adding even more on top of this problem.”
I know I can be a pain complaining about generalizations—from any source—but have I mentioned that sometimes they confuse the public, whose gardening attempts so often result in plant death, disappointment over the resulting appearance, and the eventual abandonment of gardening altogether?  (June, 2007)

On lawns:
Lawns have been attacked for some years now, with claims that they require obscene amounts of water, fertilizers, pesticides, and gas-guzzling mowing, so of course the only responsible thing to do is to get rid of it all, right? But lawns are so useful they’ll always be with us, and are the criticisms even warranted? Or do Americans just need to change their lawn-care practices and expectations of golf-course perfection? (August, 2016)

On ”invasives”
I wish “invasives” weren’t lumped together as they so often are—with little or no details as to how, where, and under what conditions they can damage other plants or natural areas. Plants that are invasive only along streams or in regions with mild winters can get banned from places where they’re no threat at all.
In my neighborhood the mistaken (I contend) banning Periwinkle creates a special problem. All coop members are required to cover the ground in their (mostly shady) yards, and banning the shade-loving, pest-free, evergreen Periwinkle leaves us with very few choices, mainly Pachysandra and Liriope. They too are listed as invasives—somewhere—and may end up banned, too. Then what? (September, 2018)

More on native plants
I count myself among Tallamy’s many fans for his inclusive and—let’s be honest—realistic message, which I believe results in many more plants being planted and much more benefit to the environment than the natives-only approach ever could.
It also helps the medicine go down that Tallamy seems like a genuinely nice person, not intent on shaming us gardeners. (March, 2019)

There are many, many other posts from Susan and others well-worth reading in the Rant archives; I’m glad we have them, broken-image icons and all.

Happy birthday, Susan! Long life to her and Rant.

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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. Thank you to Elizabeth for this lovely post and for being the perfect blogging partner for almost the entire run of GardenRant. (We recruited her about 6 months after launching in 2006.)
    I DO note that these clips are the RANTIEST of my 1,715 posts here. I actually rave more than I rant, honestly.

  2. Happy birthday, Susan! Great quotes – one of the reasons Garden Rant is some of the most enjoyable reading that comes our way. Mental compost to enrich and deepen gardener imaginations. Thanks very much for your articles and insights, and hope they just keep coming.

  3. Grateful here for Susan and for every one of you who rants or comments. By definition, gardening can be a little solitary if not lonely, and few people have lived as long as me with shovel in hand…so yes, grateful for this website and all of you.

  4. What I could tell you about Jerry Baker! I was a garden shop manager for Kmart corporation back in the late 70’s – early 80’s when Kmart made Baker their garden “spokesperson”. I ran the highest grossing garden center close to headquarters so Baker was brought around a lot at first. He was a fired cop, who got lucky because someone at Kmart heard a few radio spots he was doing on gardening for some reason. They thought he was an expert. What a laugh. He didn’t know a marigold from a petunia- really. I had to explain the difference between an annual and a perennial to him. He told me he didn’t have a garden because he didn’t have time for one. He said he remembered how his grandmother gardened and based his ideas on that. He was writing pamphlets for Kmart with his junk remedies when I pointed out to my buyer that sure didn’t help us sell our products. And some of his ideas were dangerous- like getting on the roof with a hose sprayer of soapy water – which I pointed out. I started “quizzing” him on his garden knowledge when they brought him around and they eventually quit bringing him- or he wanted to avoid me. LOL

  5. Belated Happy Birthday, Susan. I’ve enjoyed your contributions to Garden Rant through the years. You make a difference.


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