Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Small Rant on a Sizzling Saturday: When It Comes to Gardening, Think Locally!

I can't remember a time when the Houston Chronicle wasn't a part of my life.  My parents were faithful subscribers, just as my husband and I have been since we married in 1983.  I was fortunate enough to be a contract employee for a while, working with garden editor Kathy Huber (now retired) and Laura Haynes Weisman, who headed up the garden website. Didn't know there was such a thing? Ah, those were the glory days, brief though they may have been.  I wrote plant descriptions for the plant database that was included in that website, doing my best to provide information that was specific to our challenging growing conditions.

All that is to explain why I'm disappointed, and occasionally incensed, by the Chronicle's trend over the past few years to use articles written by and targeted at gardeners in other areas of the country, with information that at best is minimally applicable to Houston area gardeners and could lead new gardeners to spend time, energy and money that will be wasted if they follow the advice in these articles.  

My rant is prompted by today's article, written by Adrian Higgins of the Washington Post, who is an acknowledged and reputable garden authority in his area of the country. [Only with great restraint did I not put those last 5 words in caps!] I am in no way criticizing Mr. Higgins, mind you, since I am certain he has no control over where the WaPo chooses to syndicate/reprint his articles. Writing about the shade garden, he focuses on the experiences of a gardener in Pennsylvania as well as his own. I'll grant that the descriptions of the types of shade might be useful to a gardener in the greater Houston area and so might the information on paths and elements of design. Those are aspects of gardening that aren't too different from one area of the country to another. 

But when it comes to plant choices and watering, I beg of my fellow Houston gardeners - especially those of you who are fairly new to gardening itself, or to gardening in the Houston area - to ignore what you're reading and instead consult local sources.  Save yourself time, effort and money - not to mention angst and regret - and think about what you're reading, the audience of gardeners to whom it's truly addressed and just how applicable the advice really is to your garden.  

When I first began to garden on my corner of Katy in 1997, I was just slightly less than clueless about what I was doing. That was also in the early days of the Internet, when American Online was the #1 provider and I was an enthusiastic participant in the AOL gardening forums. I was so delighted to find other people who were as passionate about gardening as I was that I took their advice to heart, regardless of where they gardened.  But as I gardened more on this corner and learned more about plants and growing zones and the incredibly vast differences across the country, I learned that when I needed advice about my own garden, I needed to think locally. And over the 20 years I've been gardening here, that is probably the single most important thing I've learned. 


15 comments:

Jean McWeeney said...

You go, Cindy! When I'm visiting family on Houston, I'm frequently surprised by the gardening section. Such a shame because I remember when it was Houston focused.

Kathy said...

Once upon a time, both the NY Times and the Wall St Journal had gardening columnists. Now there's hardly anything about gardening in either of them. The internet now publishes the bulk of garden writing, for better or for worse. But yes, if you are going to publish gardening articles, make sure they're appropriate to the climate of your readership.

Alison said...

Good rant, Cindy! Totally justified. My best source of info when I moved here from across the country and changed zones was locals, especially local bloggers.

Gail said...

This is a much needed rant. It happens in Nashville, too. Way to tell them...

Elizabeth Barrow said...

This is so true! It doesn't matter WHAT is growing in the beautiful PNW or the cool Wisconsin Dells. This is Houston in late July. What grows in Hades?

Dee Nash said...

Cindy, you are so right. We have the same problem in Oklahoma now too, at least in my part. Our entire newspaper is now printed in Dallas, and we only have one garden writer left who does a small piece for the paper. The rest of the gardening articles are all sourced from elsewhere. It is infuriating.~~Dee

Laurin Lindsey said...

Good Rant! You are spot on!!! Every area has its unique set of parameters. I would refer to Kathy Hubner, your blog and Buchanans news letters all the time as I got more involved with gardening. I wrote a long document about Houstons climate to sunmit with my design work for APLD certification to aide the commitee in undestanding plant choices. I have been building a Pinterest board called Plants for Houston for my clients. I would love a list of your tried and true favorites 🤠🌱☺

Rock rose said...

Fortunately we have local writers who write for the Austin American Statesman. Reading what other gardeners have to say about their part of the country is always of interest to me but has no place as local garden advice.

Misti Little said...

I saw Japanese maple and closed it. *argh*!

I think Houston needs to develop our own gardening gurus a little more---it's hard to find bloggers who garden these days, though there are quite a few of us gardeners on Instagram.

GardenJunkie said...

So true Cindy and very well stated. When we moved from CT to AZ two years ago I found all sorts of "local advice" on what to plant in a "sunny" garden. Thankfully I quickly realized that peonies, dogwoods, chrysanthemums and the like weren't likely to survive the scorching 115 degree weather here. But I know many other transplants from northern climes who didn't have much of a gardening background and they learned the hard way that just because advice is printed in a local publication doesn't mean that it's locally appropriate.

VP said...

Cindy, your rant applies on this side of the pond too! We may be a smaller country but I would hesitate to recommend what works for me here in the south west to a gardener in Scotland, for example. I was talking to a friend last week on the subject of 'experts', where I said 'the more I learn, the more I realise what I don't know and so there's no way I can call myself an expert... except for what works in a tiny clay and limestone garden in Chippenham, perhaps.'

Layanee said...

Gardening is all about location, location, location. Submit a few of your own articles to the Houston Chronicle. The voice of experience!

Rebecca said...

So true. Its so hard to get quality local information. So much of the information out there is focused on the northeast. It's one thing to know you are pushing the limits of plants on purpose, it's another to be told to plant the wrong thing for your location.

The biggest complaint in our house is HGTV. There is no reason to have a "G". I miss Paul James (from Tulsa) and the other gardening shows. Now it's all flipping, house selling, and tiny houses (though I do love a tiny house show every once and while).

David said...

Hi Cindy,

I looked up the 'gardening' distance between Houston and Pennsylvania. If you transferred that distance to Europe, it would be like a newspaper on the warm French Riviera using gardening advice from a garden writer in Stockholm,Sweden! Why would any newspaper need to do such a thing?

Anyway, I need to email you and catch you up on the past 2 1/2 years of my life. I'll try to email you soon.

Your gardening friend,
David/:0)

Cindy, MCOK said...

Thanks, y'all, for your comments and support :-) It's a shame so many of y'all can relate to this rant!