The Stopwatch Gardener

A gardening blog from Sheila M. Averbuch

Who wants a garden rosette?


Click for larger imageThe proliferation of gardening and garden writing awards has got me wondering whether we gardeners are an especially needy bunch. The diversity of form in these awards is vast, from the well-meaning chain letter to the tongue-in-cheek high-school popularity contest to the bright lights, big city variety. (And if you haven’t quite had enough, the Garden Writers Association 2010 Media Awards is now accepting entries). They perform similar functions: pushing forward a few individuals whose writing or photography is generally recognised as excellent.

And it’s not just gardening media but gardeners themselves, of course, who long for the rosette of recognition for their plot, whether that’s being named “Garden of the Year” by a magazine, growing a prize-winning leek or being chosen for the Yellow Book. (In case you don’t know it, the best private English and Welsh gardens are published in an annual volume and open up to the public a few days each year, with proceeds going to charity.)

I’ve concluded that gardeners are not extraordinarily needy, but we are driven to participate in so many awards by two major factors. First, like all other adults who have moved beyond school years, we no longer have regular assessments by knowledgeable teachers who can check and comment on our work. Is our work good? Have our skills matured enough that we can solely trust our own judgement on that? Whose judgement can we trust? In the absence of anything better, the awards become the bar, and the judges’ decision is final.

Second, with a few exceptions, gardeners and garden writers are largely isolated from each other, and awards serve as a kind of community-building exercise. Online communities like and especially Blotanical, where unofficial awards abound, have tapped into this hunger among gardeners to find and connect with other likeminded gardeners and garden bloggers., an arena for energetic garden criticism and analysis, to me seems to be in the same vein.

It is really only in arenas like these that kindred souls can be found. A US gardener in Maine wrote recently of her joy to discover that a septic tank problem was so serious it would require vast and expensive replacement work rather than, as she first thought, less-expensive repairs which would have destroyed a recently laid path. She received dozens of messages of support, and who but fellow gardeners could really understand this gardener’s logic?

The “awards” circulating on communities like Blotanical are simply a way for gardeners to further connect with and show their appreciation for their distant comrades. To me it’s a shame that so many of these awards take the form of a chain letter, though (“I give you this award, please nominate ten others who should also get it”), as this gives them a certain viral nature that can make honorees unwilling to pass it on, and lead to award fatigue like that described by The Galloping Gardener.

My own garden is a modest patch but I have seriously considered trying to qualify for Scotland’s Garden Scheme (our Yellow Book equivalent). On the surface that looks like I’m wanting a stamp of approval on my work, but really it’s just the company of other gardeners I crave.

Online communities are fine, but to have fellow fanatics stand in my garden would be wonderful. I have yet to meet anyone but Gordon the gardener (he cuts our grass) who will happily chat with me for ages about this self-seeder or that rose bush, pruning techniques, the usefulness of underground irrigation and so on. In the same vein, I joyfully submitted Stopwatch Gardener and my photography to a variety of awards schemes, if not genuinely expecting to win, then at least happy to be among “my people.”

I’ve realised that it’s not awards I really want, it’s company. It is ironic that gardening and garden writing — for me two quite solitary acts — aren’t fully satisfying unless I can share them with someone else who understands. And that means you, if you’re reading this. If those Rosa moyesii geranium seeds I planted last week eventually germinate, you’ll probably understand better than anyone who’s actually near me how much that means.

Thank you for reading.

13 Comments to

“Who wants a garden rosette?”

  1. On December 5th, 2009 at 11:33 am Ken Says:

    Awards and award events are big money makers for organizations. I spent over $300 submitting for awards this year. Just think about all of the people who submitted with hefty fees. We’re not covering costs, we’re generating capital.

  2. On December 5th, 2009 at 12:31 pm The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    Good point. The financial aspect can also lead to mushrooming of categories an an awards contest — that was my experience when involved with website awards in Ireland.

  3. On December 5th, 2009 at 1:07 pm Liisa Says:

    I would agree that it isn’t so much recognition that I want, but the company of individuals who share a similar passion. I don’t want my garden to be graded, but enjoyed. Blogging is a way for me to learn from others and show off my garden a bit in the process, since I live at the end of a dirt road, and nobody really sees it unless they are lost or expected. I suppose that the excitement I feel about gardening makes me want to share it with others. None of my friends enjoy gardening as much as I do, so blogging is kind of an outlet for me, where I can blather on knowing that readers generally share the same interest. I have found the awards to be a great way to discover new blogs. I don’t really have time to sit down and search through all of the new garden blogs that keep popping up. I have really come to appreciate the community I have come to know through blotanical.

  4. On December 5th, 2009 at 2:37 pm Jean Says:

    I think you’ve got it exactly right here — it’s the need for appreciative garden company that makes garden blogging and garden social networks like Blotanical so addictive. Like Liisa, I live and garden at the end of a dirt road; and, like you, I am aware that my garden is seldom seen by others. I used to sit out in the garden on some days in high summer and wish someone else could see it. Now I take my camera, capture those beautiful garden scenes, and put them up in my blog, where others immediately ooh and ahh over them.
    I hope you will apply for the National Garden Scheme; that border ought to be shared.

  5. On December 5th, 2009 at 5:52 pm The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    Liisa – yes, like you, none of my close friends are garden-obsessed and Blotanical has been great at putting me in touch with people who are! I feel for you being at the end of a dirt road; I’m in the middle of a small village but our garden is hidden round the back…I shamelessly leave the curtains open at the front to let people peep through the front room & out the french doors at the back to see what I’ve done!

    Jean – I so enjoy the photos of your garden…I’m coming to Maine next October & maybe we’ll be close enough to you to be within actual oohing and aahing distance! Your & Liisa’s comments make me wonder whether there an equivalent of the Yellow Book could work in the US. There seem to be thousands if not tens of thousands of avid gardeners with ooh-able gardens who would probably love to raise money for charity while also getting some fellow garden fanatics to visit their place. It would require some organising, though!

  6. On December 6th, 2009 at 2:36 pm Deborah at Kilbourne Grove Says:

    I have often thought that North America needs to have the “Yellow Book”. Lots of horticultural societies will have garden tours of their members, but we need something nationally not just local.
    Not one of my personal friends or family, understand what a garden “fanatic” I am, I am happy to have made friends with gardeners who are also obsessed.

  7. On December 7th, 2009 at 9:03 am Martyn Cox Says:

    Who wants a garden rosette? Answer: I do. I know that there’s an opinion that awards are simply self congratulory back slapping, but as someone who wholely makes their living from writing about gardens and gardening (and has done for the past 13 years), then being recognised by your peers for producing a work of excellence is something to aim for and a sign that your writing is above average (and there’s a lot of average, or below average writing out there). As a direct benefit it can lead to more work for the recipient, something not to be sniffed at in these hard times. Sadly, though, awards rarely live up to expectations and are often derided by those who do make their living from writing. Often the best or most inventive piece of writing, or a ground breaking book, are overlooked for more mediocre or popular TV tie in work. And in the recent Garden Media Guild awards, a blog was shortlisted that is essentially a hastily written and often incoherent stream of consciousness, full of typos and mistakes – work like this sets no standards of excellence at all and leaves the awards open to ridicule. Obviously this is down to the choice of judges, and the judging criteria, and until both are improved, I and others, will take such awards with a pinch of salt.

  8. On December 7th, 2009 at 9:41 am The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    Deborah – I hear you. Surely some enterprising soul could get this going in the US/North America, with a few big private gardens on board and a big sponsor or to to defray startup costs? Surely Yellow Book US has been suggested in the past…I wonder about that.

    Martyn – Yes good point — I will try to answer clearly altho I am well flu-ey and a bit addled! I don’t mean to sound anti-awards, they are critical for marketing, but imperfect? Yes. I helped organise and judge web awards in Ireland and the resulting prizes were critical for helping providers sell themselves to prospective clients who needed a way to assess these skills that were so foreign to them. I remember the variation in commitment among judges to judge “their” category…some eyeballed entries, some studied them, some blew off the responsibility altogether. This was my point about moving beyond school years: how can we be confident of the calibre and consistency of the judging? But how can this even be raised without looking sour-grapey? Your point about questionable shortlistees is interesting. Anyway thanks for commenting…I did hugely enjoy reading the OMG awards even if I don’t know enough to make suggestions!

  9. On December 11th, 2009 at 12:59 am Twitted by green_garden Says:

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  10. On December 16th, 2009 at 4:42 am Grace Says:

    Hi SWG~~ Ah such a interesting subject. I’ve received a few of those chain-letter awards. As much as I appreciate receiving them, I don’t pass them along. For one thing, I don’t find the judging process very enjoyable. It’s all SO subjective and it’s extremely easy to hurt someone’s feelings. Who’s to say whose blog is better than the rest? I also shy away from Blotanical’s popularity contests. It’s the same people who are recognized over and over with a few exceptions. The Golden Globe nominees were announced today and I found that many fine actors and movies were overshadowed by the popular, the familiar. Same thing with politics. Incumbents almost always have a greater chance of winning. In a way, it’s almost like being turned down for a first job because you don’t have experience.

    As far as the social “reward,” I have met several kindred gardening spirits through blogging, sans awards. And although I enjoy camaraderie and companionship, the accolades I receive are simply the icing on the cake. The cake can stand alone if it needs to. In other words, I garden for ME.

    Your blog is impressive and I’m going to visit your gallery. I’m curious about the rosy red flowers in your main border photo on the sidebar. Poppies?

  11. On December 16th, 2009 at 11:13 am The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    Hello Grace – thanks for your considered reply and your very kind compliments. You and I think the same, I believe! That flower you mention in the main border is a perennial called geum ‘blazing sunset’ – a closeup is here. I grew it from seed so can’t NOT keep it, but its fire-engine red has been a challenge to integrate into the rest of the border…I’ve surrounded it with blues to tone it down a bit!

    It grows strongly from June through October and has a base of rough near-evergreen leaves which I cut away in autumn so that the tulips beneath it can get some light. No scent, but such a great grower.

  12. On January 10th, 2010 at 2:39 am Allan Becker Says:

    Just found your site, So glad I did. Please tell me more about the flower garden photo.
    Where is it located?
    Did you or your husband take the picture ?
    May I share the photo with my readers with a link back to your site?

    Visitors to my blog respond well to beautiful flower gardens. While there is an endless uploading of flower close- ups posted to most garden blogs, very few photographers have been able to capture the beauty of flower gardens. You have. Its a great accomplishment. Kudos!

  13. On January 10th, 2010 at 9:52 pm The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    Allan, believe it or not, I am sitting here with Best Borders by Tony Lord on the table beside me – mother in law just gave it to me as late Christmas present. Adore it! Have been trying to incorporate lots of regal purple into the garden and have really enjoyed Lord’s overview of Sissinghurst’s purple zone.

    Thank you for kudos. I took a garden photography course with the amazing Andrea Jones — UK dwellers should consider attending these semiannual courses — and she challenged me to take nothing but long shots over the whole weekend! I took this shot & have been trying to wean myself off the uber-closeup; please do share it if you like. I took it in our back garden near Edinburgh in Scotland. I have so struggled to incorporate those seed-grown red geum into the rest of the garden scheme…they are not understated…but as they’re my babies I can’t get rid of them.

    Lovely to hear from you and thank you for the kind comments.

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