It’s not often I feel personally slighted by something on the radio, but, like super blogger Veg Plotting, I was a bit stung by last week’s comments by gardening expert Pippa Greenwood about know-nothing gardening bloggers. (In answer to a question about bloggers identifying pests and diseases, Pippa said, “I’m always very wary of information on blogging websites, because half of it’s bunkum, and it’s quite obvious that people don’t know what they’re identifying.”)
As VP has already so ably argued, expert gardeners like the Gardener’s Question Time Panel and other celebrity gardeners have been known to give misguided advice or undertake drastically wrong gardening practices. So even if bad guidance were rife among gardening blogs, they would by no means be the only guilty parties.
But my own experience is that gardening blogs don’t give bad advice. Most I writers I read — from gardening journalists like Lia and Jane to well-spoken enthusiasts like Jean and Lisa — publish blogs that are journals of what works and what doesn’t in their own gardens, which helps me avoid mistakes. Even more helpfully, the best gardening blogs are chronicles about the gardener’s relationship with his or her outside space. Although many writers start their blog believing they’ll be giving out advice, many find their posts end up being more searching, more philosophical, and that’s what I love about the blogs I follow.
When advice is doled out, I’m comforted to see it’s usually based on first-hand experience. The comment stream that follows blog posts entails fruitful chats among readers, and authors are happy to stand corrected if a reader points out an error, an omission, or indeed a misidentification of a pest or disease. It’s this conversation which makes blogs live and breathe, and which has made me get over my initial journalist’s suspicion of the medium.
As a journalist myself, I was a blog denier for many years, seeing blogs as nothing better than a mob’s mouthpiece, accuracy optional. In journalism school we revered facts and were trained to question everything we heard (“If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out,” my professor told me). When blogs rolled around, it pained me to see unsubstantiated rumour and opinion being elevated to the same level as proper journalism. I’ve gotten over it. Blog dross falls to the bottom, quality rises, and the chance blogs offer to discuss and interact is worth the occasional mistake.
I wonder if the comments by Pippa Greenwood — who, I must say, is my favorite GQT panelist, with tremendous knowledge and a great skill for drawing pictures on radio — were motivated by a similar, deeply held suspicion of the blogosphere.
So can you trust the advice you read on gardening blogs? Always consider your own climate, soil type and other environmental factors (exposed? shady?) before applying the advice you hear online — that’s just sensible, and most avid gardeners would do this instinctively. The real threat I see to anyone seeking advice online — on anything from horticulture to medical conditions, child development to business marketing — isn’t blogs per se, but rather the nonsense topical content which only exists in order to provide search engine visibility for a website.
I know you’ve come across this kind of thing, stuffed with keywords designed to make Google sit up and take notice. “The thing about gardening with roses is that roses, when they’re in your garden, bring the scent of roses into your garden all summer long. There’s no doubt that, if you grow roses in your garden, bringing them into a house is also a great way to bring the scent of the garden into your home with roses.”
When looking for your answers, use common sense, get a second opinion if you’re very worried, or consult expert panels like GQT or or the immensely helpful Facebook pages connected to other radio shows, like BBC Radio Leeds Gardening with Tim and Joe or KUOW Seattle’s Greendays gardening panel. These guys know what they’re talking about, and you might even get your question read on air.