Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A year of blogging

Garden one year ago

Today marks one year since I started this blog and published my first post.  The most immediate reason for blogging was the shutdown of the federal government last year: being stuck at home for an indefinite period of time, I decided to use my time productively rather than watch TV and surf the web!  I had been thinking about blogging for a while, and in fact had tried my hand at blogging once before (I was particularly proud of Transitional Species in Insect Evolution, about the evolution of termites from social, wood-eating cockroaches); but before I get too self-congratulatory I should also note that my previous attempt at blogging lasted just over a year!  Finally, after years of posting commentary and photos on several plant and gardening-related websites and discussion lists, I realized that in a very real sense I was already blogging; I might as well pull it all together on one site, attached to my own name.  Plants and gardening have always been a passion for me, and I hoped to direct and focus that passion.

Garden, early October
The garden this morning

With just a tiny urban garden, and a limited number of plants, I was afraid I would run out of things to say in no time at all.  That hasn't happened, in part because gardens grow and change from season to season and year to year, often in ways we never anticipated.  Two significant events occurred during the last year that I couldn't possibly have foreseen: my father suffered a major stroke in early November, and my area experienced its coldest winter in 20 years.  Both of these affected my gardening, and hence my blogging: my garden and my plants, both indoors and outdoors, suffered neglect as I traveled back and forth to Buffalo several times to help with my father.  I lost several plants in the garden, including two of my palms.  I also lost almost an entire year's worth of begonia breeding.  Adding to my general depression, our oldest cat, Sage, grew increasingly frail over the winter and spring, and died in June. 

Sage in happier times, June 2008

I've been documenting my garden with photographs for over 10 years, and I've always been honest about how well or how poorly my garden and individual plants have done. I've never been afraid to show my garden at its worst, something few other gardeners seem willing to do.  I've never tried to hide the fact that some of my plants haven't done well, or that my garden looks pretty awful in the winter and early spring.  That said, my first year of blogging just happened to coincide with my garden looking its worst in years.  Between the hard winter and my time way from home, my garden has been neglected even more than usual.  And that's saying something, because I'm a notoriously lazy gardener; neglect basically defines my gardening style.  But I love the fact that gardens change and grow, and I'll freely acknowledge that we sometimes face challenges or even complete curve balls. And for every plant I lost in the garden--and in the end there were just a few, most notably two of my windmill palms--that's an opportunity to try something new.

Schefflera delavayi
Schefflera delavayi, planted last year, 2013-2014 winter survivor

Sambucus nigra 'Black Lace' at a plant sale this spring (yes, I bought it)
In some ways, my neglect paid off; I discovered many plants emerging very late, including several begonia species and hybrids, that I might otherwise have dug up or planted another plant on top of.  The survival of so many begonias, through such a cold winter, has given me some hope that my begonia breeding program may indeed produce some hardy hybrids. 

Begonia hybrid
Hardy begonia hybrid

Begonia hybrid
Begonia hybrid, a surprise survivor

New, untested begonia hybrids; will they be hardy?

I had intended to blog primarily about my own garden but I branched out with blog posts about Smithsonian Gardens, a Palm Society meeting, plant nurseries and botanical gardens, nursery trade shows, eating weeds, and plant diseases.  My father's stroke and my subsequent travels to Buffalo prompted me to reflect on some more personal topics, and to write about my family and my childhood.

My father's prized rhododendrons, June 2014

I've been doing a fair amount of travel and have visited several gardens, public and private, always with my camera in hand.  Each of these garden visits has given me a new perspective, and something new to write about.  It has also been a great pleasure to meet the gardeners behind so many wonderful gardens, and I look forward to touring more gardens and meeting more gardeners next year!

Florida 2014
Butterfly World, Coconut Creek, Florida 

Green Spring Gardens, Alexandria, Virginia

Peonies and iris
Cornell Plantations, Ithaca, New York

Pine Ridge Gardens
Pine Ridge Gardens, Orchard Park, New York

Smug Creek Gardens, Hamburg, New York

Plant Delights Nursery/Juniper Level Botanical Garden, Raleigh, North Carolina

JC Raulston Arboretum, Raleigh, North Carolina

Butterfly Habitat Garden
Butterfly Habitat Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

Ripley Garden
Mary Livingston Ripley Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

On that first day a year ago I wrote 4 blog posts, the most I've ever published in one day, and one of the very few times I've published more than one in the same day.   This post makes a total of 98 so far, getting 162,000 views to date.  What are some of the things I've learned?  The biggest surprise is that most of those views aren't from human eyes.  My blog is averaging about a thousand views per day, but about 80% of these views are coming from web crawlers like Google, or spambots.  In fact the top three most-viewed posts account for almost half of the total views, apparently thanks to the spambots.  Why some blog posts are more attractive than others, I have no idea!  But I've also been surprised to find that traffic to my blog is coming from around the world, with a very large number of views coming from the UK and Europe.

I've learned that there are literally thousands of garden blogs out there.  Sometimes it seems like everbody, their dog, their cat, and their goldfish is blogging these days.  And so many of them are better than my own!  A couple of my favorites, probably because we're interested in many of the same plants, are Danger Garden from Portland, Oregon and Alternative Eden from the UK.  How do these bloggers do it?  Blogging is incredibly time-consuming, but there have been some perks.  Being a garden blogger makes me "press" and I've received complimentary press passes to two nursery trade shows, MANTS and IGC East. It's also a great excuse to meet people!

So who knows, I just might have another year of blogging in me.  I've enjoyed revisiting some of my old blog posts.  If you've made it this far, I hope you've been clicking on some of the links to revisit them with me.  If not, please do!  I've also posted links to my most-viewed and most-commented blog posts below (oddly enough, there is virtually no overlap between the two).  Thanks for reading; as always I appreciate any and all comments, and if you like my blog or any of my individual posts, please do share them on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media!  You can find me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, @DCTropics! 

My most-viewed blog posts:

1. Fabulous Fatsia (ca. 40,000 views)
2. The Southeastern Palm Society (ca.  29,000)
3. Palm Progress, 2009-2013 (ca. 10,000)
4. Cornell Plantations: gardens far above Cayuga's waters (ca. 6,000)
5. Is my palm dead? (ca. 2,000)
6. The saga of the Scottish Rite palms (ca. 1,700) 
7. Seemannia: a gesneriad with commercial potential (ca. 1,100)
8. A midsummer miscellany (ca. 1,100)
9. Signs of life (ca. 1,100)
10. Washington windmill palm winners (and losers) (ca. 1,000)

My most-commented blog posts:

1. Basil Downy Mildew: say good-bye to pesto
2. Is my palm dead?
3. Hardy begonias emerging
4. Washington windmill palm winners (and losers)
5. Credit where credit is due
6. Remembering Sage, queen of the world


  1. I've enjoyed your thoughts on blogging... been at blogging since 2010 myself and enjoy sharing our two acres of ornamental gardens in this way as well as in real time... Larry

    1. Thank you, hope I'm still at it 4 years from now! I never realized just how much work a blog can be...

  2. We always look forward to reading your posts, about your travels, experiences, new plants, and all the adventures you have with your garden. Sailing through trying times and still blogging means it was meant to be :)

    1. Thanks so much, it really has been quite a year for me! I like to think that blogging has helped me keep my sanity, although others might disagree...

  3. I've enjoyed reading your blog and I'm glad to hear you've gotten pleasure from writing it. Blogging certainly should be enjoyable since it is a large time commitment. But those other pleasures, being able to share your Sage's happy days in the garden and your father's prized rhododendrons are wonderful ways to honor their memories.

    Garden blogs are a place where I can find real information about plants and their performance in the garden. I greatly value that information. That kind of information is so helpful when deciding what to buy and where to place it. And those gardeners that give so freely of their thoughts and experiences with plants are to be congratulated and so should you for accomplishing your first year of gardening!

    1. Thank you, there's a lot of work and sometimes even despair involved in gardening (and life in general!) but so much pleasure and joy too, and I'm trying hard to focus on that aspect of it! I'm glad to hear you've enjoyed my blog.

  4. Happy blogaversary! You've posted about a lot of interesting issues, places, and plants! Looking forward to reading another year's worth of garden adventures!

    1. Thanks so much, for the kind words and the encouragement. I've enjoyed reading your blog too!

  5. Congratulations on your one-year blogaversary! I've just discovered your blog (I came by way of your comment on The Outlaw Gardener). I'm glad you kept at it. Going to have a look at some of your old posts now.