Saturday, January 2, 2016

Intention

At the brand-spanking-new League of Unsponsored Blogs (LUB), my friend Lainie asks, What is your intention for your blog in the coming year, and how will you achieve that intention? (Hopefully, she’ll post a link to her UnrulyMom.com blog post about her intention.)

When I first started this garden blog in 2009, I had no intentions. I started blogging on a bit of a whim. I started gardening in Austin in earnest three years earlier. I'd built a raised bed or two or ten and planted things in them that actually did what I’d hoped they’d do, and I was very excited about my successes. I wanted a space to write about my garden as it continued to grow and evolve, to keep records and notes on gardening stuff that I could refer back to, and to connect to other gardening enthusiasts, particularly those in Austin.

Despite my numerous garden failures over four decades in Houston, Susie and Chuk’s garden inspired me to give gardening a go in Austin. Susie and Chuk have a huge back yard in South Austin, full of native plants that attract chirping hummingbirds and flitting butterflies, plus a vegetable garden where Chuk grows hot peppers and tomatoes and herbs for making all manner of salsas and hot sauces, plus shade trees and a peach tree, plus open space for fire pits and smokers and setting off fireworks and other hot and festive goings-on.

When I posted on Facebook in April 2009 that I was thinking about starting a garden blog (yes, Facebook came first), Susie said she’d been thinking about starting a garden blog, too. I told Susie her garden had inspired me, and Susie said my garden had inspired her, particularly the things I’d planted in preparation for our 2007 backyard wedding. (The garden did look ridiculously good that spring.)







Then Susie said, “It's settled, we should both start gardening blogs and continue to inspire each other. :o)”

So we did.

And on my very first post, Laura Wills of Some Like It Hot (then; now, Wills Family Acres) told me about the Austin garden blogging community and suggested I contact Pam Penick (Digging, Lawn Gone!, The Water-Saving Garden) to get connected. Eight years later, I’m still blogging, I'm still gardening, and in 2012, I became a Travis County Master Gardener to boot - so thank you, Laura! (Laura just finished Master Gardener training this fall and is starting her internship this month.)

When I first started this blog, everything about my gardening exploits seemed interesting. Every blossom, every new planting, every garden tool, every pest was a topic to be researched, photographed, and expounded upon at length. The words willingly tumbled out of my brain and onto the page. I wrote 73 posts in 2009. Most were several paragraphs long and all had several accompanying high-resolution photos.

Eight years later, I’m still very interested in gardening, yet I struggle to write a post. I wrote five blog posts in 2015 - five! - which happens to be, coincidentally, the total number of posts Susie wrote on her garden blog in 2009 before she threw in the towel. Blogging isn’t for everyone. Some people would rather just do a thing than write about the doing of a thing.

Early on, my blogging was solely focused on ideas and projects and things I was learning about gardening in Central Texas. I had thoughts and plans and I couldn’t wait to get them out of my head and onto the page. Now that I'm a more experienced gardener, blogging seems like an utterly daunting task at times - sort of like gardening, ha ha ha. The prospect of writing paragraphs upon paragraphs of text with A Theme and Reflections and A Takeaway in TextEdit, hauling the Nikon out to the garden for photos, reviewing and processing dozens (occasionally, hundreds) of photos in Photoshop and uploading them to Flickr, then transferring it all, text and photos, to my ancient, glitchy, quirky Blogger template, then deleting the annoying Flickr text overlays off each and every photo, then adding text hyperlinks, then reading and proofreading and spell-checking and re-writing ad nauseam - it's all too much at times, Big Noisy Sigh; just another chore. It's not a private journal, after all; it's a public blog, open to comments, and writing is hard, y'all.

In contrast, it’s easy to write a Facebook post’s worth of words and snap an iPhone photo or two, and quick, too, with almost immediate feedback from friends and family. Facebook might be partially responsible for the obvious decline in independent, personal interest blogging. Facebook has even tried to revamp Notes as a blogging platform of sorts. Alas, the kids just aren't that into blogging; apparently, blogs are for old people. Others point to the death of Google Reader in 2013, or the rise in Pinterest, Snapchat and Instagram, or the move from desktop computing and keyboards to mobile computing and touchscreens, coupled with the relentless onslaught of comment spam that caused many bloggers to turn off blog comments, not to mention the noxious blog scrapers, or the malware that redirects your visitors to other sites through seemingly innocuous gadgets... or maybe a little of all of the above. In any event, less blogging + fewer comments = poof! - there goes the community. Sponsored blogs, monetized blogs and blogs largely dedicated to “review and giveaway” posts seem more prominent today. Building an online personal brand, search engine optimization (SEO), web traffic, hits, clicks, page views, social media "strategy" and other PR trappings became Things that indie bloggers were supposed to start caring about and largely didn't, particularly Millennials.

While blogging's hey-day seems to have passed, that isn't necessarily a bad thing; it is what it is. But Lainie's question makes me think - does posting gardening stuff on Facebook achieve my original goals for my garden blog, i.e., a digital garden journal and a way to connect with other gardening enthusiasts? No, it doesn’t. If it did, I would have never started a garden blog. If no one read my blog - would there still be benefits to blogging? Yes. I do want to keep a garden journal, and this blog works well for that. I do look back at old posts from time to time; most recently, to figure out when my garden broccoli started forming heads in past years. For such purposes, I appreciate the chronology and linear time perspective of a traditional blog. (It's much more difficult to find old posts on Facebook.) Also, if I stopped blogging, I wouldn't be a part of the Austin garden bloggers community anymore, and that would be a tremendous loss. But I'm not a natural journal-keeper. I didn't journal a lot when I was younger. It doesn't come naturally to me. And since I've slacked off on blogging, now there are gaps in my garden journal.

In addition to my blogging struggles, my garden is in a wee bit of upheaval as well. After a decade of gardening in Austin (wow, a whole decade now!), some garden areas aren’t really working as well as in years past (read: too high maintenance) and could use an overhaul, tons of plants have flat-out died, and the projects are piling up faster than I can shovel.

We got approval in October 2015 to install a 550-gallon barrel for collecting rainwater off our patio roof and obtain a rebate from the city, but other more pressing concerns this fall and winter pushed that shovel-ready project to the back burner, and I’m not confident we’ll make our late January installation deadline.

This past summer, we came to a verbal agreement with a noisy neighbor to split the cost of a cedar fence, so I took down the raised veggie plots near our shared property line at summer’s end and began removing the bird-planted brush along the chain-link fence. Unfortunately, the neighbor backed out of the deal when he saw the price estimates we’d gotten, so now we’ll have to fund the full cost ourselves. In the interim, I’m struggling with half the veggie garden space I’m used to, and I’m not sure what I’ll do with that space once the fence is up - more raised beds? Stock tank planters? A huge berm? Lots of decisions for someone that's not great at garden design.

Meanwhile, the noise from the neighbor’s gas-powered commercial lawn equipment, 5-ton refrigerated cargo truck and barking, whining Husky pup continues to invade our residence, day and night, through our leaky Sixties-era aluminum windows. Replacing our windows might reduce the noise, but at a significant cost, and our houses are very, very close, so how much noise abatement is actually possible is questionable. Nonetheless, I intend to start saving up to fund that home improvement project, once my car is paid off in a couple of months.

In November 2014, we erected a DIY greenhouse - a short "high tunnel" of sorts - over the lime tree that outgrew the pop-up greenhouse. It works splendidly to keep the grackles off in summer and the frost away in winter. But it needs weeding, too, and the moisture-resistant stick-on zipper doors are not holding up well, so at some point, we’ll need to build proper doors for the thing.







In February 2014, we put in a retaining wall (a project I never blogged about); the builder recommended topping the eroded soil with compost then rock. Two years later, that space has become overgrown with weeds; the front garden is weedy as well. I’ve decided that cardboard under hardwood mulch is likely the most sustainable, low-maintenance and walkable solution for the weedy paths, but weed-whacking and rock removal comes first.



Did I mention the word daunting?

But I digress. Back to the point of the post! I intend to keep this blog going, of course, because the Austin garden blogging community is full of warm and inspiring and knowledgable and generous people, and I want to remain a part of it, in addition to the national garden blogging community, and the Garden Bloggers Fling that the Austin garden bloggers inspired. Toward that goal:
  • I intend to write no fewer than one post a season, and ideally a post a month.
  • I intend to devote a minimum of four hours a month (an average of an hour a week) toward blogging.
  • I intend to schedule blogging time like I would any other appointment.
  • Rather than posting on Facebook, I intend to post gardening stuff here, on this blog, then link the post to Facebook.
  • Last but most certainly not least, I intend to dedicate an hour a week to commenting on garden blogs I follow.

To reduce the “dauntingness” of blogging, the length of my posts will likely decrease, and perhaps the number of photos. This post took well over 4 hours to write and put together, which pretty much guarantees my future posts won't be nearly this long. There's something to be said for simplicity: more posts, less rambling! Happy new year to all!

Words and photos © 2009-2016 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

20 comments:

  1. It does seem daunting when you put it this way! With this post you are about one-quarter of the way to your minimum goal.

    Blogger has made quite a few updates since 2009 so writing and uploading photos is much easier and faster now. I focused on Facebook for a while but some of my friends mentioned they missed the blog so a combination seems to work.
















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    1. Funny thing is, for many years I didn't feel like it was such a chore. I'm hoping by having a bit of a plan, I can focus more on the fun stuff and less on the chores. Blogger has made improvements, it's true, but the scammers always seem one step ahead, and Blogger has less protection against that sort of thing than WordPress. And Flickr, where I've been hosting my photos, has added some annoying script to the photo links that has to be stripped out manually (there's no way to turn it off), adding to the "chore list".

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  2. I've always been on WordPress, and love it as a platform. However, just processing the photos and making it look interesting enough to read became a big burden after a few years for me. But I have to say that my biggest reason for no longer blogging except maybe once a year is my discouragement with trying to get anything to grow or bloom here. It is such a struggle, and nothing ever looks like I envision. I can't grow the plants that I like, and I guess I wonder why bother if I don't love the plants. This is a tough place to be a gardener. Obviously it's not my number one passion or I would willingly do it anyway. Blogging about my struggles just became even more hassle. However, I wouldn't give up the friendships I've made for all the blooms in the world!

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    1. I wish I had started out on WordPress but at the time it just seemed so much more difficult to learn and Blogger seemed much more simple and user-friendly. Remember when you did that mini-WP seminar for us after Blogger went on the fritz right before the Inside Austin Gardens Tour a few years ago? I was going to move to WP then and never did. I have thought about ending this blog with the rather outdated name and starting another new one on WP, but that seems daunting as well. So I press on here.

      Central Texas is an incredibly challenging gardening environment. Yet I have greater success here than I did in subtropical Houston. Perhaps my expectations were lower for gardening here after getting beaten down in Houston, and that's why I'm happier with the results? Also I think we are all very hard on ourselves and our gardens. I've seen your newly revamped garden, Robin, and it's beautiful; to say you can't get *anything* to grow or bloom here simply isn't accurate, dear. But I totally get what you mean when you say that nothing ever looks like you envision, you can't grow the acid-loving plants you love here, and blogging only about the struggles makes garden blogging less fun. Speaking only for myself, the reason I really love indie garden blogs is that we tend to be brutally honest about our gardening struggles and limitations, when we choose to blog about them; they resonate more with me and I learn so much from reading them. Kinship!

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  3. I have you in my sidebar blog list so I get to read when you do post. I just have to say, you make blogspot sound so difficult. I don't host my photos anywhere and up load them directly from my PC after editing in photoshop. It is so quick and simple, I'm not sure why you don't do that too. As far as the length of the written part of the post, it seems like FB has spoiled people to skim over the text and just look at the pictures. I tend to be picture heavy. May will mark ten years for me blogging and I am still at it. Although, I don't post as much. I relate to not being good at keeping a journal and yet I love my blog for that purpose. So, it's OK with me that I don't get as many comments as in the beginning. In my mind, I'm sure they are out there and enjoying whatever I post.

    Now I'm insterested in checking out the LUB because I get irritated with the sponsored ad filled bloggers and tend to avoid them somewhat.

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    1. Congrats on 10 years of blogging, Sharon, and thanks for sticking with my blog! Writing this post has helped me to get clear on my intentions for the blog going forward, and reminding me why I started it seven years ago. I know I read and enjoy many blogs even if I don't comment so I'm sure you're correct on that point.

      I admit that my workarounds to Blogger's old glitches and quirks are probably making things harder for me. I found Blogger's photo positioning tools very problematic early on and had trouble positioning and sizing the photos so they look the way I want them to look. On this post I did upload these old photos to Blogger (essentially, I guess Google is hosting the photos) and they look OK without captions. But when I tried to add captions to the flower photos, Blogger automatically changed the positioning from Left to Center. Even when I changed each photo back to Left, Blogger wrapped the text around all the three photos which I didn't want and couldn't figure out how to fix, so I deleted the captions as a workaround... yet another minor annoyance that makes blogging more difficult and less fun.

      For many years Flickr hosting has worked well for me, until just recently when Flickr added script code to the embed links that places a Flickr watermark and a hyperlink to Flickr on top of the photo. If I were using the free version of Flickr I might understand, but I pay an annual fee to Flickr, so this is a dealbreaker for me. Flickr claims they are doing this to protect photo rights of photographers (to discourage and track non-authorized usage) but I think it's more about marketing Flickr as a hosting site.

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  4. I made a lengthy comment last night, but for some reason it didn't post, so here I am again. Similarly to your story, I started blogging with a burst of enthusiasm that lasted several years. I treasure the friendships I've made in the Austin Garden Bloggers group - amazing group of people. However, processing good photos and putting them into a readable story became more of a burden than an enthusiasm, mostly after garden became more of a burden than an enthusiasm to me. Without horrid climate and soil, gardening here is way too much hard work for meager rewards. I realized that there just isn't much to blog about when I'm begging plants just to survive, never mind thrive and bloom and be pretty. I know it would be different if gardening were one of my passions, but it just isn't. I have other passions, and gardening is a great hobby to get me outdoors. But I'm easily swayed into other things when it's a million degrees outside or hasn't rained in months. Love reading about others, though, so keep those blogposts coming! Great post, Caroline.

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    1. Thanks, Robin, and sorry - in order to weed out the spam and avoid having readers jump through endless Captcha hoops, I have to approve every comment individually. There is always a delay between when you comment and when that comment shows up. I can usually get comments approved within a few hours but sometimes it can be up to 24 hours.

      I've often wondered what would happen to the Austin garden bloggers group if most of us stopped blogging regularly.

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    2. I think the friendships and community that has formed will outlast all blog posts!

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  5. "I've often wondered what would happen to the Austin garden bloggers group if most of us stopped blogging regularly."

    Perish the thought! I really rely on the companionship of my fellow Austin bloggers. Gardening here would be much harder -- and it's already hard enough -- without being able to read about everyone's struggles and successes. We're our own best support group. I'm glad you've found reasons -- your original ones -- for continuing to blog, and think you're wise to set do-able goals. I sometimes see people pledging to post multiple times per week and think that's a good way to burn out. BTW, your retaining wall looks great.

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    1. I rely on our blogging family, too. Long may we blog! P.S. I used the same company that installed your front garden walls. I was really happy with their work.

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    2. Oh good! I'm glad De Lara Landscaping worked out for you.

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  6. I need to blog more too. And you're right, it takes forever to put up a post. I take sooooo many pictures, and by the time I finish processing my photos and adding watermarks and metadata, my enthisiasm has usually waned. I need deadlines like garden tours to get anything up in a reasonable window of time. I'm even behind on my most simple regular posts-- the wide-shot meme with a picture from the same spot at the beginning of every month. Got the pictures, haven't posted. I guess I should go do that right now instead of fucking around on FB!

    The things that motivate you to blog are the things that motivate me, though. I am a lousy record keeper, so it's nice to have the visual references (and it's encouraging for me to see progress when it feels like my projects take forever), and I would also really miss being a part of the Austin garden blogger community. Y'all are my favorites to hang with and really make growing things and bitching about growing things so much more fun.

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    1. Facebook is an enormous time suck, isn't it? It's like being at a perpetual cocktail party that no one wants to leave! I love, love, love Facebook, and I love garden photos but if that those are the things holding me back from blogging as frequently, then it would behoove me to maybe cut back just a tad on both, I'm thinking... just a tad!

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  7. First of all, GREAT post, Caroline. I think your analysis of the genre and its evolution is spot on and I share many of your feelings about the challenges in posting. But I do still love doing it. It's a question of making time for so many different hobbies, reading (as in books), blogging, scrapbooking, cooking, and gardening. There just aren't enough hours in the day. While I love keeping up with folks on FB, sometimes I just have to close it and focus on other things - mostly actual work! But my goal this year is to be more balanced and try to give time to all the things I enjoy - including blogging and reading blogs. I finished a book and read a book during the holiday break and it was delightful. Like you, I cherish the Austin blogging community and would hate for anyone to stop blogging and fall away from our little family. It's always a treat to read an update from those who post infrequently. I wish you lots of planting and blogging inspiration in the New Year, and I look forward to reading your posts!

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    1. Thank you, Diana! Balance is so important and I've let this project go for too long. Despite all the challenges, I love blogging, too. I've really enjoyed being back at it - and having people read and comment after my limited posts last year is very encouraging. Thanks for being here!

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  8. Great post. I totally agree with all you said.
    I started blogging to document what was happening in this new garden adventure. I'd been 'lurking' on Austin garden blogs, and just wanted to join in.
    I've met SO many great gardeners/friends...and, since being admitted into the Austin Garden Bloggers group, in person friends.
    I've learned SO much from all of you. This is a really challenging place to garden. I need all the info, and encouragement I can get.
    Last year, with travel and health challenges, I've blogged less. It is work...the photos, trying to think of new things that will be interesting to readers...something more than whining about the deer...although that is my life...
    But, I have a lot of friends and family who keep up with what's going on here, through the blog.
    So, I really do need to do a better job this year.
    Thanks for the inspiration.
    Happy New Year....

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    1. I'm so glad you stopped lurking and joined in, Linda! Sometimes life gets in the way of blogging, doesn't it? I hope to hear more about your 50th anniversary cruise to Hawaii - what a remarkable milestone! I enjoy reading about your deer and your creek and your gardens on your blog, and I bet your friends and family do, too.

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  9. Very interesting post, and thoughts I've had as well. Facebook definitely isn't a good substitute for a blog, but does seem to accompany it well. I've been thinking about my own intentions and why I write the blog. At first it was just a journal for me to reflect, then I got caught up on making sure my posts were interesting for others to read. Now I seem to be going back full circle. It seems communication has moved more to Facebook, so having the blog more as a journal of what I'd like to look back on makes more sense, and of course comments are a bonus!

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  10. I SO understand! Sometimes, social media in general, along with blogging, has become another fearful "job," like wrangling Bermuda grass. But I so value your posts that teach me so much. Like you, this year, last year, the year before that: I resolved to blog more and keep up with bloggers more, since I love the perspectives. At the same time, I'm sort of losing "my time" with my own garden. I want to enjoy my discoveries without feeling so compelled to grab the camera and post about it with a picture in focus, crafty wording, and multiple platform postings. BUT on the other hand, we learn from each other. There lies the conundrum! So, I look forward to your future endeavors, always, at a pace that suits your busy life.

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