Breathing Life Back Into A Blog

Recently I tackled the challenge of energizing an established blog.

The back story: In 2007, garden author Nan Ondra and I launched Gardening Gone Wild. (Photographer Rob Cardillo introduced us.) Nan and I wrote passionately about natural, free-flowing gardens. We loved writing without publishers and editors hovering. When comments came in from all over the world, we were surprised and thrilled.

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I’m a big believer in community, so I corralled Nan into agreeing that we bring in fresh voices. Connecticut designer Steve Silk (formerly with Fine Gardening) and Midwest designer Adam Woodruff were, for a while, in our core group. Award-winning photographer Saxon Holt and best-selling author and photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin are long-time GGW regulars. We also have prestigious guest contributors. Because all of us make a living as garden media, I believe GGW’s posts are comparable to anything published in top gardening magazines. Saxon’s “Camera Always Lies” series gives insight on photo techniques, composition and subject matter. Although Debra is best known for her two books on succulents, she’s a career journalist who has written hundreds of feature articles and won dozens of awards.

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My background is in broadcasting. I’ve done a lot of TV, was the regular Garden Contributor for The Weekend Today Show, and hosted a call-in radio talk show on CBS. When you have the airwaves from 6-8am on a Saturday morning, it’s the perfect time to grab gardeners. My show became a community that discussed gardening and its meaning in listeners’ lives.

When I wrote Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening (which is 60% spiritual/self help and 40% gardening) there was a bidding war, and I went with Warner (now Hachette). Since then, I allowed myself the luxury of owning my spirituality and attended seminary in New York. I live both in Philadelphia and Tel Aviv (another story), am the CBS Radio News Gardening Correspondent, contribute to USA Weekend Magazine and other publications and am in the process of designing my new garden, a roof top in the center of Tel Aviv (yet another story).

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GGW is an important way for me to live my values. Although it hasn’t always been easy, I’ve given it conviction, focus and discipline. I’m extremely proud of how GGW has evolved into a community of talented garden authors, photographers, journalists and designers.

Debra sums it up: “If we have a better-than-average blog, it’s because we give away what we used to be paid big bucks for. As print media dwindles and the Internet expands, we’re exploring the challenges of a rapidly changing media marketplace. More importantly, we love what we do—sharing information, mentoring others, and writing about what drives us wild (in a good way) gardening-wise.”

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GGW has won awards, been mentioned in magazines, and received national and international recognition. But overseeing a blog was more work than Nan and I anticipated. We went through soul-searching dry periods followed by productive brainstorming. One result was Picture This, GGW’s monthly photo contest. Topics are seasonal, fellow bloggers enter by posting photos on their sites and  the results are judged by professional photographers. It’s hugely popular (Check out this month’s contest with David Perry as judge) and is also a wonderful way of creating community.

During the latter half of 2010, Nan had been leaning toward leaving. I knew, and trusted, that GGW had the potential to evolve in positive and exciting ways. Sure enough, synchronicity works. Bulb specialist and author Tovah Martin (thanks to Sally Ferguson) and British author Noel Kingsbury (whom I met thanks to interviewing Piet Oudolf for GGW), are now on board. Another score: Andrea Jones, the renowned Scottish photographer is going to be the judge for February’s Picture This. You’ll also be seeing her photographs cropping up in Noel’s posts.

Our shared vision: GardeningGoneWild, created and produced by Fran Sorin, is a group of authors, photographers and broadcasters who share their expertise, insights and adventures. At the core are Saxon Holt, Debra Lee Baldwin and Fran Sorin, new contributors Tovah Martin and Noel Kingsbury with guest contributors from the heights of horticulture. GGW focuses on design, photography, plants and personal insight. By sharing our passion, we help others enjoy their gardens in creative and wild new ways.

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A few suggestions for establishing and/or revitalizing a blog:

            — Network until you find one or more kindred spirits whose talents and goals dovetail with yours. It’s much easier to create a quality blog if you share the work, but only if you have the same level of commitment.

            — Define what your blog is all about, as you would the mission statement for a business or organization. Just as a magazine or TV show has its own personality, so does a blog.

            — Never compromise on quality, both in words and photos.

            — Don’t be afraid of being controversial, sparking discussion and expressing strong opinions.

            — Post frequently, ideally every three days. Respond to every comment.

            — To boost traffic, have contributors get the word out via their own networks. Use social media. Create a Facebook page. Visit other blogs and participate in discussions.

            — See your blog as a community. Understand and respond to the needs of visitors. Encourage dialog and their own expressions of creativity.

            — Blogging is trailblazing, a process you can’t always control. Be flexible and anticipate delightful surprises.

            — Expect regular contributors to occasionally need time off. Have a Plan B.

            — Dry spells are part of the cycle of life. Be patient and live with ambivalence. Trust that a sliver of light will come through and the creative process will begin its dance anew.

NOTE: Check out Amy Stewart’s post about Group Blogging on GardenRant.

About Fran Sorin

Fran’s book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, now considered a classic, was groundbreaking when published as no one had written about gardening in the context of creativity, spirituality, and transformation.

In addition to being a recognized garden expert and deep ecologist, Fran is a broadcaster, journalist, Ordained Interfaith Minister, and Soul Tender.

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15 Responses to Breathing Life Back Into A Blog

  1. PlantPostings January 14, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    Wow, so well said! As a new blogger, I thank you sincerely for your advice!

    Hey Plantpostings from Wisconsin…am so glad that you found the post helpful! You may be a new blogger, but you sure aren’t a new gardener. I identified with your latest post on your blog called ‘Gardeners Are Persistent People’. How right you are about our successes and failures. I give a plant 5 tries before I give up on it and I’m not embarrassed to admit it. If you don’t have humility in the garden, you might as well give it up. Your photo of the delphinium close up is divine…Years ago, I apprenticed at a garden called ‘Doe Run’, one of the Dupont family gardens near Longwood…the head gardener, a wonderful Scottish gentleman, Jock Christie, actually created a delphinium garden each year (and of course, it was from seed). It was magical. I appreciated just being able to grow a few groupings of them in my garden…some years were better than others.

    Will be checking out your blog for sure to see what you’ll be talking about. Welcome to the blogging community and thanks for connecting. Fran

    P.S. Please enter this month’s Picture This contest…you are a good photographer…and it is truly a fun contest…and the subject will allow you to experiment. it’s a great way to get your name out in the garden blogging community and to meet other gardeners :)

  2. Jacqueline Schick January 14, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    I always check in with Gardening Gone Wild. Saxon Holt drew me in because I am a terrible people photographer and the art genes in my family don’t kick in until retirement, I am still working and still waiting. I have always had gardeners in my life and I find myself trying to recreate the photos of my life in the mountains of the Central Hudson Valley in my garden in Takoma Park, MD in my garden. The imagination always lies. So, while I really do not know any of you I truly appreciate you work, your knowledge, and your inspiration. Best regards… jacie p.s. I will try the mason jar technique, but also sent it on to my dad – the latest generation of retirees whose art gene kicked in.

    Jacqueline…
    Your first sentence gave me a good laugh…I’m sure you take better photographs than you think. Saxon has a wealth of information and his ‘The Camera Always Lie’ series is one of the ways that all of us amateur photographers can learn more about garden photography. Please do enter Picture This for January. It’s great that your retired, art-rich father might enter; but the whole point of Picture This is to experiment and have fun; so good for it. And thanks for your kind words about GGW….looking forward to more interaction with you! Fran

  3. joey January 14, 2011 at 11:52 pm #

    Thank you for background and tips … a joy to connect :)

    OMG Joey, I saw your blog for the first time on BestGardenBlogs.com and fell in love with it. It’s one of the most beautiful blogs I have ever seen (and hey folks, it’s not limited to gardening). Your photography is absolutely outstanding as is your subject matter.

    Anyone who hasn’t been on, must do so. I just tried getting on to comment on your last post and couldn’t figure out how…clue me in. Anyone who hasn’t been on joey’s blog, it is truly a must see! http://www.joeyrandall.blogspot.com

    So…on another subject….are you a cupcake lover? If so, we can talk further about it on Facebook. Thanks for
    getting on and connecting. I appreciate it. Fran

  4. Anna Flowergardengirl January 15, 2011 at 12:52 am #

    Wow–I didn’t know you wore so many hats but I do know that I connect with you. I do know I love everything you say and how you say it. You have a heart of gold.

    We are both very passionate people. Thank you for believing in me–promoting blogs–and sticking with your vision. When you do well–we all do well. Helps our reputation as garden bloggers. Some people just don’t get sharing and how it works–but you do! Big hugs!

    Oh yes Anna…I love synchronicity…or the feeling of ‘it’s meant to be’. Who ever thought a phone call on how to use BestGardenBlogs.com would lead to a friendship? Right back at you sister….you are one heck of a lady and your passion is endless…you are doing so much to help the garden blogging world…alot of us appreciate you and what you do. And for anyone who is reading this and hasn’t contributed to BestGardenBlogs.com, I suggest that you get on; if you have any questions, on how to join and contribute, you know who to contact. It’s a super idea…and a win/win situation for every one.

  5. Debra Lee Baldwin January 15, 2011 at 3:45 am #

    Fran, it’s a joy to co-blog with you. I hope you’ll share more of your personal journey in future posts. I think GGW’s visitors would be intrigued by it, and by what it’s like to live and garden in Tel Aviv.

    Debra..
    The feelings are mutual; you are a shining light and such an integral part of GGW. I do plan to start posting about gardening, agriculture and the incredible diversity of ‘flora and fauna’ in this tiny country. Expect some very funny stories about my roof top garden. I think I’ll start a new category on GGW called ‘Starting Over In The Middle Of Life’…boy, is it ever different gardening here; I’m learning tons of stuff; alot to share.

  6. A Year In My Garden January 15, 2011 at 5:10 am #

    Altogether it adds up to a recipe for a really good blog – informative, surprising and with great pictures

    Thanks…love your use of words; recipe, informative and surprising. And yes we are very lucky to have two fine photographers, Saxon Holt and Debra Lee Baldwin, as our core contributors. BTW, if you didn’t notice, the photos accompanying this post are none other than Debra’s.

  7. Darla January 15, 2011 at 7:56 am #

    I just learned quite a bit, thanks! I have enjoyed GGW posts…I actually just promoted your Picture This contest for January by showing some of my experiments with the mason jar. It’s the post before GBBD. I don’t always comment here as I feel that some of the topics are a bit deep for me yet..I’m learning though.

    Darla,

    I’m so glad that you’ve enjoyed GGW posts. I sure hope you entered your photos in the contest. If not, I’m giving you a nudge to do so. And please….as far as topics being too deep for you to comment, if you have a reaction, thought our question that you want to share, go ahead and do it…..you are a member of our GGW community. We love the comments!!

  8. Mr. McGregor's Daughter January 15, 2011 at 10:33 am #

    I’ve been a fan of GGW since the beginning, and, while I’m sad to see Nan leave, I look forward to more informative and thought provoking posts from your wonderful blog.

    MMD,

    I know that you’ve been with us since the beginning…and believe me, we appreciate it. Like the garden, our lives continue to change: havingTovah and Noel as contributors bring a whole other dimension and expertise to GGW. We’re thrilled that they’ve landed with us. The good news about Nan is that you can still find her blogging at Hayefield….where she continues to do what she has always done so well…inform and inspire.

  9. Benjamin January 15, 2011 at 11:16 am #

    I’m so happy you wrote this post, and happy GGW exists as it does, and evolves as it does (with so many voices). After my PhD defense in 09, my director gave me a copy of Digging Deep–that’s my favorite kind of garden writing, and perhaps we can see more of it here, too? That’s probably the hardest kind of writing to give away, though.

    Benjamin-
    Did you ever make my day!! It means a great deal to me that my book, Digging Deep, is your favorite kind of garden writing. It will be my pleasure to do more of that kind of writing on GGW. And thanks for your thoughts about GGW; as is obvious from my post, I’m happy that it exists too. Fran

  10. ryan January 15, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    Interesting to hear the story of the blog. I think another idea about revitalizing a blog is to look back over past posts. You guys have created a lot of great content and looking back at it must create a certain energy and creative spark to carry forward.

    Ryan-
    Am glad that you found the evolution of the GGW interesting. When I read your comment, I thought ‘Wow, I have never once even thought of what Ryan said”. So, thank you….I am always so busy working that I rarely think of taking the time to look back….and it certainly is a worthwhile thing to do!! Fran

  11. Scott Weber January 15, 2011 at 2:00 pm #

    I can see that I’m not alone in appreciation of this post, it’s reassuring to see that even bloggers/writers who I hold in such high esteem can, on occasion, feel uninspired and struggle for direction! I’ve enjoying this site for quite a while, and while I’m sad at Nan leaving, I will continue to look forward to future posts, knowing you and the rest of the crew are still so dedicated.

    Scott,

    Are you kidding? I can’t speak for other contributors on the blog but I can tell you that for me, in all areas of my life, I intermittently hit a dead end. You know the theory of opposites…where there’s dark, there’s light….
    happiness/sadness, movement/stillness….I could go on and on….but you get my rift. So, you certainly aren’t alone. Thanks for your support of GGW…looking forward to more good interactions with you. Fran

  12. Jan (Thanks For Today) January 15, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

    Hello Fran, As I read through this post I became concerned that you and Debra were leaving…but am glad you will still be here. It’s wonderful to welcome additional writers to your great blog. I found it quite a while ago and have stuck my toe in now and then with a comment, or a photo, for one of the contests. After talking with you just a little via FB, I am glad you’ll still be here and look forward to the newest installment of GGW.

    Jan-
    I’m so glad you decided to come over to say ‘hi’, especially after we connected on FB. Thanks for your support and please do make comments…we love it when other gardeners respond to what we write…and do enter Picture This…this month’s looks like it’s shaping up…would love to have you enter….Fran

  13. Pam/Digging January 17, 2011 at 12:04 am #

    It’s interesting to hear about how GGW has evolved. I’m sad to see Nan leave but know where I can find her, and meanwhile I’m excited to read and see the work of your new contributors. I look forward to following GGW for a long time to come.

    Pam-
    Thanks for your kind words. We’re excited also about Tovah and Noel’s contributions to GGW. Fran

  14. Stacy January 17, 2011 at 8:45 pm #

    One of the things I love about GGW is the mix of voices – you have plenty of individuality while still presenting something that works together as a whole. I’m sorry that Nan is heading elsewhere but look forward to the new folks’ postings – and to hearing about rooftop gardening in Tel Aviv!

    I love what you say about keeping to your blog’s mission – it’s a little tempting when a posting day is coming up and you’re fresh out of ideas to post whatever comes to mind first. Thanks for that reminder to stick close to what matters

    Stacy-

    Hmmmm….your words make my ‘heart smile’. The new energy, voices and ideas with Tovah and Noel as contributors, has been wonderful. Planting and learning about my rooftop garden in Tel Aviv is a true beginning.

    You are right on about the temptation of just writing anything when your posting day is fast approaching…I have no answer for that dilemma except to concur that your feeling is shared with at least 90% of us who are writing. Fran

  15. Heather January 18, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

    Thank you for the encouraging post! I visit your blog regularly and always enjoy the insights and beautiful photography.

    I am a beginning gardening and home decor blogger–a hired gun, although I am genuinely passionate about both areas. I’m still trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t, all while respecting the boundaries of my niches and not stepping on other bloggers’ toes. I promoted your Picture This contest on my home decor blog, although I’m not sure if very many people read it! =)

    It’s not easy to start from scratch and figure out what to put together now to establish some sort of information library for my clients. And to build readership… Writer’s block doesn’t help. ;)

    Thanks for the tips!