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Two Years in the Virtual Garden

August 22, 2011

Entering the real garden in late July (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) It was two years ago today that I clicked “publish” and sent the first post of Jean’s Garden out into cyberspace. I’m not entirely sure what my motivations were. A friend asked me if I had “ever thought about writing a garden blog” at a time when I didn’t even know what a blog was, and her question piqued my interest. I had been wishing for a way to share my garden and my emotional responses to it with others, and I also had an interest in trying my hand at a different, more creative style of writing than was possible in my professional work. A garden blog seemed to fill the bill.

Jean’s Garden has definitely fulfilled those hopes. The kind of discipline a blog imposes has provided an opportunity to improve my writing; I have even begun to entertain the dream of publishing a book of garden essays that would consist of more polished versions of some of these blog posts. The extent to which the blog has allowed me to share my garden was brought home to me this year when I published several posts about a new garden project, the serenity garden. Dozens of readers followed the progress of this project and shared my pleasure when the plants finally went in the ground this month.

This brings me to some of the unexpected pleasures of garden blogging. The first of these is the international community of gardeners and garden bloggers that I now find myself a member of. I don’t really know who I expected to read my blog (I don’t think I had given it much thought), but I didn’t anticipate the extent to which writing a blog would involve me in a community of bloggers who read one another’s blogs and provide encouragement and support to one another. My new virtual gardening friends have enriched my life.

Another unexpected aspect of garden blogging has been photography. When I began, I thought about writing, but not about visual images; I quickly learned, however, how important photographs are as a central feature of garden blogs. Writing a garden blog has gotten me out into the garden with my camera on a regular basis, and it has reconnected me with the kind of nature photography that first captured my interest more than four decades ago. After a lapse of many years, I am once again reading about photography and trying to improve my technique; and I am finally learning to use the capabilities of my digital SLR. Garden photographs have become another important way to share my garden with others, particularly in the Jean’s Garden gift calendars (see A Year of Gifts from the Garden and A New Year in the Garden) that have become a big hit with my family and friends.

I also didn’t anticipate the extent to which writing a garden blog would improve my knowledge and understanding of gardening. This has happened in a number of different ways. First, I often find that I need to do research to gather information before I write. Second, writing about  gardening and garden design has deepened my understanding and made me a more aware, thoughtful and intentional gardener. Third, I have gained enormous amounts of new knowledge from reading others’ garden blogs and through the comments that other gardeners leave on my blog.

Plants that I have featured in popular posts - clockwise from top right: delphinium, Siberian iris, daylilies, tradescantia, hardy geranium, amsonia (photo credits: Jean Potuchek)

An anniversary provides the occasion for analyzing blog statistics. In the early days, almost no one read my blog. There were more than 100 page views the first week, as friends and family visited in response to a mass email, but most of them did not come back. Some posts published in the two weeks after that were not read by anyone at all. I began to list my blog on blog directories in an attempt to reach potential readers, and that led me to Blotanical. My participation in this garden blogging community helped me to develop a core of regular readers and was key to establishing my blog in the first year.

In the second year, numbers of page views and of readers have continued to grow, and I have noticed that many of these now come to my blog via search engines. These readers are not looking for the kind of emotional/spiritual reflections on gardening that I originally imagined myself writing in this blog; they are looking for information. Thus, an early post about the iris budfly (Battling the Iris Budfly) that no one read the first week it was up now gets read regularly as people try to figure out what’s happening to their irises, and three of my five most popular posts (see the sidebar listing) are portraits of particular plants. (Who knew so many people out there were interested in learning more about tradescantia?) It turns out that my strength as a writer is conveying information in a clear and engaging way (not surprising, since this is a skill that I have honed over 35 years of teaching) and that garden blogging is more connected with my professional work than I could have imagined.

I know that many garden bloggers find the third year difficult as the inexorable demands of blogging begin to seem more burdensome than pleasurable. Right now, though, I am excited to see what my third year in the virtual garden will bring.

53 Comments leave one →
  1. August 22, 2011 3:58 pm

    I remember how spoilt we were when I first found your blog. You were on sabbatical and had time to research the Blotanical community.
    Perhaps the proverbial third year is harder, because the initial enthusiasm wears off, and any niggling problems come home to roost.

    I think your blog will continue to fly. Happy second blogaverary!

    • August 23, 2011 2:15 pm

      Diana, I was spoiled then, too (although I’m not sure I realized it at the time). Don’t give up on the Blotanical research; it’s still in process. I have more data waiting to be analyzed, and I’m trying to get a better understanding of two very different areas of research that it connects to — blogging/ social networking and the history/ social meaning of gardening. I’m just on my way home from the annual American Sociological Association meetings, and I went to hear a number of papers on networking and social media.

      • August 23, 2011 5:12 pm

        Did Google Plus get mentioned at your conference?

        At first I read – don’t give up on Blotanical – I’m feeling disheartened that nothing is happening.

        But looking forward to reading your research, when it is ready!

  2. August 22, 2011 4:17 pm

    Congratulations! I have not reached my first year of blogging, but I hope that I can continue blogging and reach my second anniversary with as much grace as you have. I am challenged as you and other bloggers by the obligation and commitment of blogging, but, so far, it has not deterred me from continuing. The rewards seem to outweigh the challenges. I enjoy your particular view of gardening and your garden adventures. And I am so glad you plan to stick around…

  3. August 22, 2011 4:33 pm

    Jean – your blog is a delight to read. I hope your third year of blogging is filled with inspiration, creativity, and passion.

  4. Lona permalink
    August 22, 2011 4:52 pm

    I have enjoyed your posting and gardens so much. It is amazing the joy one can get from blogging with other gardeners. I know I would never have imagined it. Congrats and we hope to see many more from you.

    • August 23, 2011 2:18 pm

      Michelle, I’m really impressed with how much you’ve accomplished with your blog in less than a year. That Earth Day Reading project was inspired!

      Chad, Thanks for the kind words; I could hardly ask for more than inspiration, creativity, and passion (or even any two of those three :-))

      Lona, Thanks so much for your kind words and wishes.

  5. August 22, 2011 5:05 pm

    Jean congrats is such a small word for all you do and have done through your blog. My 1st anniversary is next month and I relate so well to what you have said here about what blogging has done for you. Without your wonderful blog and your unbelievable kindness in recommending my blog, I think my blog would still have such a small readership and I would not have progressed as a gardener and writer. So here’s to you dear Jean. Truly a one-of-a-kind woman who inspires me daily…thx!!!

  6. August 22, 2011 7:15 pm

    I’ve enjoyed following your blog from the beginning, and, with anticipation, look forward to a banner third year (and beyond) of reading and learning pleasure! Happy Blogiversary!

    • August 23, 2011 2:21 pm

      Donna, I’m blushing! Thanks. Seriously, though, I think you’re giving me way too much credit for your own success. Your blog already had a considerable following when I discovered it; it’s the quality of your writing that makes it such a success. I may have helped it along a bit, but I’m sure it would have been discovered by others without me.

      Aerie-el, Thank you so much for your support and your kind wishes.

  7. August 22, 2011 8:01 pm

    I love the searches that bring people to my site. I’ve had “congressional flashmob swarms tel aviv and jerusalem” (?!! I think it must be because of my foreign service blogroll.) Also “trees that smell like cotton candy” and “messy poplar trees pictures.”

    Happy anniversary!!

    • August 23, 2011 2:24 pm

      Cindy, I enjoy the search terms, too. My own personal favorite was “husband won’t mulch.” I always wonder what kind of information that reader was looking for: how to persuade her husband to mulch? instructions on how to mulch herself? alternatives to mulching? how to find a husband who would mulch?

  8. August 22, 2011 8:12 pm

    Happy Blogaversary!! Your posts have been so much fun to read, looking forward to more. 🙂 This reminds me, I think we started around the same time, I must check dates!

    • August 23, 2011 2:25 pm

      Rebecca, I think of you as part of my garden blogging cohort — a group I bonded with virtually in part because we started about the same time. Happy blogaversary to you, too!

  9. August 22, 2011 8:14 pm

    Very nice post Jean on your anniversary. I think you expressed the sentiments of many of us.


  10. August 22, 2011 8:23 pm

    Congratulations Jean! I share many of your sentiments about garden blogging. It’s been a real pleasure writing for fun again instead of for work and I’ve met so many wonderful people. I’m looking forward to seeing how your garden and your blog progresses over the next year.

  11. August 23, 2011 2:21 am

    🙂 Happy 2nd birthday! I know everyone eventually tires of the grind of blog writing but I do hope you can see to that 3rd year!

    • August 24, 2011 10:35 pm

      Eileen, Thanks. I guess part of the reason that the community of garden bloggers is so vibrant is that so many of us find these unanticipated pleasures in it.

      Marguerite, Yes, “writing for fun again” really expresses it. It’s not that I dislike the writing I do for work, but it doesn’t have the same scope for creativity and variety that blog-writing does.

      Jess, Thanks. I don’t think the third -year grind will get to me. I’m a person who thrives on discipline, routine and a methodical approach (you know, all those spreadsheets :-)). I often joke that when other people think they’re in a rut, I’m feeling like I’ve got a comfortable routine worked out.

  12. August 23, 2011 6:58 am

    Happy anniversary! It’s been pleasant and instructive so far…

  13. Garden Walk Garden Talk permalink
    August 23, 2011 7:36 am

    I have enjoyed your wonderful blog for awhile although I am not a frequent commenter here. Your writing is so engaging and well done that you make a great contribution to the blogging forum. I too started blogging as a way to write about gardening in a completely different way than my profession. I wanted to add the fun that is often not part of my daily, and very serious work. Plus, I doubt many would be interested in the technical and infant stage of a garden (landscape) beginning anyway. I know we are not very well acquainted, but I have been reading your blog often. Happy birthday number two, and I hope you keep blogging. My first birthday was recently and I was happy to have made it that far. It would be wonderful for you to compile your essays into a book. It seems a natural progression for such fine and thoughtful work.

    • August 24, 2011 10:41 pm

      Donna, Thank you so much for your kind words. At this point, I can’t imagine not blogging. The teaching year (especially the fall, when I have my heaviest teaching load) is a challenge; but I worked that out last year by blogging less often (about once a week) and cutting back to 1 hour a day for blog reading/commenting. I think this scheduling will work again this year. (BTW, I think I would find learning more abut the technical and infant stage of a garden very interesting.)

  14. August 23, 2011 8:06 am

    Happy two years, Jean! I always enjoy reading your posts and looking at your inspiring garden.

    • August 24, 2011 10:42 pm

      Amy, I feel the same way about your blog. I think for each of us it is partly about the fascination of someone gardening in dramatically different conditions from our own. (Are you getting any relief from the heat yet in Austin?)

  15. August 23, 2011 10:54 am

    Dear Jean – Congrats on 2 years of blogging and may there be many more happy blogging years to come! I think a book is a great idea as I know I for one would happily purchase it.

    I have to add – my own little blog started out as a fun blog to post the odd picture and write some trifling fact about my garden. It has been through the interaction with experienced garden bloggers like yourself that I am trying to up my game, put more thought into what I put out there and learn every day, not just to be a better gardener but a better garden blogger. Your blog is one of the ones I look up to and aspire to and I thank you for the privilege of being able to learn from you.

    • August 23, 2011 2:22 pm

      YES YES YES!!!

      Erhm… I mean… I’d just like to say the same as Christine…

      • August 24, 2011 10:44 pm

        Christine and Soren, These are sentiments to warm a teacher’s heart. As much as I enjoy praise for my writing or my garden or my photographs, there is nothing I find more gratifying that the idea that I have contributed, even in a small way, to others’ development. Thank you.

  16. August 23, 2011 12:20 pm

    Happy anniversary! Has it really been two years? My own 2nd anniversary is coming up in a couple months, and my experience has been similar to yours. The time committment is much greater than I thought it would be, but so are the rewards! I have enjoyed following your informative and beautiful blog! This month has been a tough one for me, scheduling and time-wise, and I have missed some of your posts. I am anxious to catch up on your serenity garden, so I am off to do that now!

    • August 24, 2011 10:56 pm

      Deb, I don’t know about you, but the 2 years has sped by in some ways and in other ways it seems as though I have been doing this for a much longer time. I’ve been struck by a number of veteran garden bloggers who announce that they are going to stop blogging, but then return after a few weeks or months hiatus because they are missing the blogging community so much. Sometimes when I have been very busy at work, I find that I can’t catch up with all the missed blog posts (I’ve had as many as 400 piled up in Google Reader!), so I just give myself permission to skip them and start over fresh.

  17. August 23, 2011 8:07 pm

    Jean, only two years? Really? I was certain you were a Blotanical ‘veteran’ before I joined! It is remarkable how quickly two years passes.

    I agree with you, blogging has significantly improved my photography skills too. I can see the difference between photographs in our early posts, compared to today, and feel so much more comfortable with the camera now.

    Blog statistics are interesting. I find it amusing some days to read through the search terms that led people to our blog, and many of the terms are phrased in the form of a question, from those looking for answers to their questions. As I’m sure you find too. Sometimes I realize the questions may have gone unanswered, but that makes me that much more aware when I write my next post.

    Congratulations on two years! Happy Blogoversary!

    • August 24, 2011 10:59 pm

      Clare, I think one becomes a “veteran” very quickly in the virtual world. I remember that when Jodi at Bloomingwriter put out her call for experienced bloggers to mentor newcomers, I hesitated; I had only been blogging for 5 months myself. But I decided to plunge in and have been doing the “Blog of the Month” reviews ever since.
      I know what you mean about the questions. I sometimes feel as though I should answer them, and then realize that I can’t because I don’t know who did the search. I like the idea of taking up some of these questions in later blog posts; great idea!

  18. August 23, 2011 8:31 pm

    Congratulations on your blog anniversary. I always enjoy your writing and great photos. Your blog on gardening was the first to appear on my blogroll. I’m sure that anyone that goes to your link enjoys your blog as much as I do. I’m looking forward to your third year.

  19. August 23, 2011 9:12 pm

    Happy 2nd Blog Anniversary to you! And many more. It is wonderful the friends we make across the cyberspace, knowing if we met in person we would be as longtime friends 🙂 May you gather many more friends as you continue your blogging journey. Well done.

  20. August 24, 2011 3:31 am

    Jean, your blog is of a much higher scale than mine and I just feel happy that you read mine! I’m still new to this blogging world, and I have always looked to yours for inspiration. Your blog is so knowledge and research based, but with beautiful photographs to go along with everything.

    Many congratulations on everything you’ve achieved to far.

    “Husbands won’t mulch!” LOL.

    • August 25, 2011 10:36 am

      Karen, Thank you. I am honored to write the first garden blog that you included on your blogroll.

      Toni, Thank you so much. I have had an opportunity to meet several of my virtual friends in person and it didn’t feel like a first meeting at all — more like getting together with old friends.

      Diane, I always look forward to reading your blog, and I’m honored that you think so highly of mine. Thank you.

  21. August 24, 2011 3:34 pm

    Jean, Happy anniversary! You forgot to mention meeting bloggers in person as an unanticipated result (or maybe that was intentional.:-)). Carolyn

    • August 25, 2011 10:42 am

      Carolyn, I did want to mention meeting bloggers in person, because it has been such a delight; but I couldn’t figure out how to fit it in. My attempt to include it resulted in an impossibly long, complex sentence — and because I was writing this on the road (at professional meetings) where I was dependent on public Wi-fi connections, I didn’t have the time to revise and get it right. I always feel self-conscious about referring to virtual friends as “friends,” especially when talking to non-bloggers. But after our two fun days together in PA and Maine, it now feels right to refer to you as “my friend Carolyn.”

  22. August 24, 2011 5:46 pm

    Congrats, Jean!
    I agree,
    entering Year Three seems to present challenges.
    I’m glad to hear you’re feeling optimistic!
    Lovely to know you, if only in the blogosphere….

  23. August 24, 2011 7:42 pm

    Happy Blogoversery. I enjoy reading your posts and your pics are great. jim

    • August 25, 2011 10:46 pm

      Alice, I’m an eternal optimist; but I really am looking forward to another year of blogging (even if I have to slow it down for the next few months while I get through my brutal teaching schedule for the fall semester). I still have lots of stored ideas for posts that haven’t gotten written yet.

      Jim, Thanks so much, and thanks for continuing to visit at times I know your life has been very busy, too. (Those grandkids are the cutest.)

  24. August 24, 2011 8:20 pm

    Jean, congratulations on yet another milestone–first, the planting of the Serenity Garden, and now your blog turning two. The lovely thing about showing up late to a blogging party is that you can read everyone else’s comments. I’m nodding my head in agreement at all of those wonderful things they’re saying about you, your garden, and your blog–you deserve every single one of them. I’ve just read a few of your early posts, including the one where you first mention the idea of the Serenity Garden. The continuity between then and now is striking, but so is the much stronger sense of community in your posting now–the sense that you’re not just breaking the ice, you’re continuing a long-standing, on-going conversation. It’s just gorgeous to see how that’s grown. Enjoy year three!

    • August 25, 2011 10:50 pm

      Stacy, I have to admit this has been even more fun than going to your own funeral to hear the eulogies! I really appreciated your observations on both the continuity and the changes in the tone of my blog. I find it really difficult to get a sense of my own writing and hearing someone else’s more objective take on it is really helpful. I fully intend to enjoy year three as soon as I get a chance. (I spent today meeting with my first year advisees for the first time and scrambling to get my syllabi finished and sent off to the printer, so the insanity of the new semester really is upon me. I know you know what that’s like!)

  25. August 25, 2011 12:18 pm

    Happy Anniversary! I loved reading about the process that your blog and you have gone through over the past two years. Imagine what the future holds!


  26. August 25, 2011 10:51 pm

    Kevin, Thanks so much for this comment and also for your message on Blotanical. I never expected this post to get so much positive response, so it’s been a delightful gift from my virtual community.

  27. August 26, 2011 1:30 am

    Congratulations on your 2 years, Jean. Yes, garden blogging, like gardening itself opens a world of learning.

  28. August 26, 2011 8:56 am

    Good Morning Jean: Congratulations on your blog anniversary. I have enjoyed your blog over the years and am looking forward to the next few years. Your style of writing and the presentation of your blog has a way of making the reader feel welcome to your Garden. So don’t be surprised when you look down the drive way and see a whole lot of Bloggers coming to visit.

    Have a Wonderful Day,

  29. August 27, 2011 12:24 am

    Hello Jean,

    Congratulations on two years. Isn’t it amazing how fast time flies by?

  30. August 27, 2011 2:22 am

    Interesting, your note on moving from words to photos. I observed the same progression in myself. Blogging can be such a visual mode of expression (dare I say “art form”?). And gardens are so visual.

    I’ve enjoyed your first two years, and I look forward to viewing what’s next!

    • August 28, 2011 12:29 pm

      Grace, Thank you. It’s interesting to me that when I decided to begin a garden blog, it never occurred to me how much I would learn from it.

      John, I love the idea of visitors to the garden. Recently, I have found myself fantasizing about having a garden open house (kind of like Jodi at Bloomingwriter did in Nova Scotia). I think this is something that will need to wait until after I retire.

      Noelle, Do you feel the same way — that, on the one hand, the time has flown by, and on the other hand, it’s hard to remember life before blogging?

      James, Yes, this really is a place where a picture is sometimes worth a thousand words. Thanks for your virtual friendship and support.

  31. August 30, 2011 8:58 am

    Jean, Just wanted to add a slightly belated happy anniversary comment. I agree with what others have said here – your blog is so engaging and thoughtful, it is always a pleasure to stop by. And your hard work reviewing the new blogs on Blotanical very month has been such a great contribution, identifying all sorts and styles and types of garden blogs for us to visit (and incidentally helping my little blog find its way in the world).
    May your third year provide continued pleasure for you, and all your many readers. Jill

  32. August 31, 2011 10:26 am

    Jean, Congratulations. I am coming up on my 4th! blogoversary and knew as much about blogs as you did when I started. I found your blog not long after I started and put it on my blogroll. YOu are so thoughtful, and full of information about things I never considered. That is the unexpected thing I didn’t understand and didn’t expect from blogging – becoming a part of a wonderful community of knowledgeable and passionate people who came at gardening in many different ways. And the blog has become an interesting record, more regular than I ever kept before, of the garden, and to a lesser degree of what is going on at the End of the Road.

    • September 2, 2011 5:22 pm

      Jill, Thank you so much. Your comment reminds me that it’s the first week of a new month and I need to get to work looking at the newly listed blogs.

      Pat, Thank you for your kind words and wishes. I’ve always been a fairly obsessive record-keeper, so I don’t use the blog for that (although looking back at previous bloom day posts is always instructive), but I do love the sense of being part of a gardening community.

  33. September 13, 2011 9:20 pm

    Writing keeps the mind fresh and sharp, and I always enjoy reading thoughtful blogs that add a human touch to it. Thanks for your words–they do help a lot of people think about what they do and why they do it.

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