If you are a diligent reader of the Laidback Gardener blog, you know that I publish a new article about gardening every day. I’ve been doing so since May 2014. OK, I’ll confess to having sometimes accidentally published 2 blogs on one day and none the next, but that still works out to one a day: 940 articles. Soon 1,000. I hope you’ve been enjoying them.
I suspect that it may be the only daily gardening blog in the world. At least, I’ve never heard of any others. If you know of one, please let me know!
A Team of One
Have you ever wondered where these articles come from?
First of all, no, there isn’t a team of editors who work feverishly to produce a new article every day. There’s only me, Larry Hodgson, 62 years old, usually to be found writing away on my computer very early in the morning, every morning, 365 days a year. Yes, even when I’m traveling, I try to keep up the flow. Often I write in a hotel room or in an airport waiting room, but mostly I work from my basement office. Wherever I am at the time, I write the text, find the photos or illustrations and put the two together to create what you see: a gardening article.
True enough, sometimes I need my son Mathieu’s help with technical glitches, and my wife calls me upstairs to make sure I eat, but otherwise I pretty much do all the work myself.
No, there is no one to do the revision. And although I re-read each text 4 or 5 times, there are always errors that escape me. If you see any, let me know and I’ll try to correct them.
Some texts are recycled and updated from the many gardening books I’ve written or articles of mine that have appeared in various newspapers and magazines, but most are produced specifically for the blog.
Where do the ideas behind the articles come from?
Sometimes from a reader’s question, sometimes from an article I saw elsewhere, often from a bit of information I’ll pick up at the annual Garden Writers Association conference or during one of the many garden tours I lead… but very often, the inspiration simply seems to come to me out of the blue. I have so much horticultural information stored in my tiny head that it sometimes pours out unexpectedly.
And no, I never suffer from writer’s block: On the contrary, I have so many ideas for articles and books I’d like to write that I’m pretty much resigned to the fact that I’ll never be able to get everything down.
One thing you might not know is that I actually write two gardening blogs a day: one in English, one in French. Mostly, one is a translation/adaptation of the other… which doesn’t make it any less effort. It takes at least as long to translate an article as to write one, sometimes longer.
Why write in two languages? Because I live in the province of Quebec, Canada, in Quebec City to be specific, where French is the main language. On the average day, I’ll hear no English spoken. I answer my phone in French (but quickly switch to English if I encounter stunned silence on the other end!), speak to my wife in French, and even to my dog in French. I very much live in a francophone environment.
That said, English is my native language. I’m from Ontario, where it’s the main language. I really started to learn French from the age of 19 on, when I moved here to study at Université Laval.
The result of this bilingualism is that I have two audiences for just about everything I do, whether it be writing books, magazine articles or blogs: French-speakers and English-speakers. To me, it just seems normal to write in both languages.
Interestingly, the French-language blog is read by many more people than the English one. It had over 1,5 million views in 2016; the English one, 145,000. But the English blog is picking up rapidly. Only a year ago, it averaged 100 views a day, but now it’s up to more than 600 on most days. I take a six-fold increase in just a year as being very positive.
My Personal Garden
People often want to know if I have a large lot, since I write about so many different plants and so many different aspects of gardening, but no. I live on what would be considered a typical suburban lot in North America, about 70 feet wide by 100 feet long (20 m x 30 m). But since I replaced nearly all the turf with plantings, that gives me a lot of space to experiment with.
I’ll pretty much grow anything, from vegetables to shrubs and from annuals to perennials. So many of my garden friends have specific passions, like daylilies or bonsai, but I see my yard as a sort of Noah’s ark of horticulture: I want one of everything!
And I garden a lot indoors too, whether producing seedlings and cuttings for the outdoor garden or growing houseplants. I have about 300 houseplants, way down from 10 years ago when I had over 600 (I suffered a major mealybug infestation and had to toss most of my plants), but the mealybugs are now a thing of the past, so the collection is growing again.
At this time of year, where all the cold-sensitive plants are indoors for the winter, my home can look a bit like a jungle.
Why Do I Write This Blog?
That’s a difficult question to answer, so let’s start by how I even started at all.
It was my son Mathieu (would you believe he is 38? How could that even be possible?), who pushed me in that direction. “Dad,” he kept saying, “if you don’t have a presence on social media, you’re going to die.” He did not mean I’d be physically dying, of course, but rather disappear from public view.
I knew he was right, of course. I’d made a decent living as a freelance gardener writer/lecturer for nearly 30 years, but that’s been fading away for a decade now. Although I’d written 52 books, often 2 or 3 a year in the better years, I’ve not had one published in 3 years. My other sources of visibility and revenue – magazines, newspapers, TV, radio , etc. – are all in steady decline. Print publications are going the way of the dodo, garden TV shows have gone “lifestyle” or turned into cooking shows (and I’m a terrible cook!), and no one wants to pay a garden communicator to be on the radio anymore, you can only work as a volunteer on community radio (which I do).
The two things that keep me afloat now are lectures and garden tours (almost all my garden tours are in French, by the way), both of which depend on my remaining visible to the gardening public. So yes, my son was right, I was slowly dying.
He eventually convinced me I had to make a move. But how? My knowledge about social media was nil and, like many baby-boomers, I was more than a bit leery of it! In fact, until 2 ½ years ago, I’d never seen a Facebook page.
It was Mathieu who got me started with the blogs. He set up templates for both blogs in WordPress (a content management system), put them on the Internet, ensured links with Facebook and Twitter and showed me how to manage them. Today, I take care of both blogs on a daily basis, but if there is the slightest difficulty or question, I still call Mathieu to help me to solve them.
Even though I can now blog, however, I remain very reluctant to use social media in any other way. I don’t twitter nor do I do more than quickly skim over the hundreds of Facebook notifications I receive daily (I find that absolutely overwhelming!).
And if I write so much and put so much effort into these blogs, it’s for a very obvious reason: I deeply passionate about gardening and when you have a passion, you have to share it. It’s the same passion that led me to leave a secure and decently paid job to become a freelance garden writer in 1982, before I’d even sold a single article. I have a blind and unshakable faith in my destiny. I see before me that I call my yellow brick road. My destiny is to share the joy of gardening with as many people as I can. And I hope to continue until my last breath.
In My Crystal Ball
As you’ve probably surmised, the blog you’re reading is far from profitable. In fact, I make nothing from it… yet. But if I continue to pick up readers, perhaps there might be ways of bringing it a bit of cash. But money or not, there is no question of giving up. I intend to carry on with this blog, full speed ahead, and the fact that it picks up more readers day after day is a great encouragement.
Spread the News
I like to think more people would read this blog if they knew about it, so if you have a chance to share the news about its existence, don’t hesitate. Send a few samples to friends, link the blog to a site you manage, tell your garden club about it. You could also like it on Facebook. And if you knew of any company interested in advertising on it, wouldn’t that be cool!
Happy New Year, one and all!
Thanks for reading… and may gardening always bring you the deepest satisfaction!