Friday, March 1, 2013

What Do We Think of "Paid Garden Writers"?

An open letter to some of the commenters at The Garden Rant, responding to this post by Susan Harris headlined, So, what do we think of "Master Gardeners".   I tried posting this in their comments section, but for some reason, perhaps related to the many links and html involved, it may have gotten stuck in their spam filter.

Susan graciously also tried to post it, but technology (or our limited understanding of such things) seems to have its own drawbacks, hence this post. I'm putting it up here, as a bit of rebuttal, in the category of "Response to the Minister of Controversy."

So, first, go there, read the post and the comments, and come back here to finish.  Rather anfractuous, I know, but I'm not sure how else to proceed.  Here's my comment:

My recommendation to all those out there ragging on volunteers, is to take the plunge and become one – you might learn something, and have a different perspective. And if we're going to question motivations - how about paid garden writers writing reviews of gardening books because they share the same book agent, or publisher?

Even a respected (and wonderful regular read for me) garden writer of the caliber of Margaret Roach still recommended putting coarse material like pebbles in the bottom of containers to improve drainage.

The garbage coming from natural organic enthusiasts about compost tea and its magical unicorn benefits is baffling to anyone who also reads the Garden Professors, and I’ve yet to hear natural organic enthusiasts ever acknowledge that “natural” pesticides (or fertilizers for that matter) can be more toxic for people AND the environment than their synthetic counterparts. Master Gardeners are taught, and try to provide to the public the science of integrated pest management, or IPM, not a gardening philosophy of naturalness, in all its Hobbesian savagery, which starts from an unassailable axiom that natural and native is better, regardless of any evidence to the contrary.

And one of the biggest promoters of planting invasive species are the Permaculture enthusiasts as Dr. Chalker-Scott noted discussing the highly praised book Gaia’s Garden. (See here, here, here and here).

And there are plenty of independent nurseries out there still making a profit from selling Butterfly Bush, as well as the Barberries, Japanese Spirea, and Burning Bush. And I’ll note, that the science of invasiveness is hardly settled, nor as black and white as some of the native-only, anti-immigrant fundamentalists would have you believe. I believe even Dr. Gillman and Dr. Chalker-Scott take different positions on the issue, as they’ve shared with the rest of their readers.

And while I share the snicker at Jerry Baker, the lone reference to Biodynamics on The Rant I could find, is hardly dismissive.

Pot, Kettle, folks.

So, I strongly urge you Susan, to try again in the University of Maryland system. Jon Traunfeld is an excellent manager of the program, and I’m sure your experience will be quite different than the DC one you've ranted about several times now.

This site for home vegetable growers, for example, is run and written entirely by its MG volunteers – Growit Eatit, and I doubt you’ll find better information elsewhere, even from people paid to write about the subject.
Update: Sunday, March 3.  Karen Jeannette of the eXtension Master Gardener blog responds to Susan in the comments section here.  And I should correct the misnomer that USDA has jurisdiction over the program, as Susan indicated.  As I understand it, each state, under the aegis of its Land Grant University college of Ag Sciences, in the department of consumer horticulture under Extension outreach, has jurisdiction, to varying degrees.  The fed's role, and the purpose of eXtension, is as an umbrella resource to bring together and share with the participants, best practices and ideas for fullfilling the outreach mission. 

And read through these posts to see how we go about recruiting folks to give of their time and talents in support of that mission.


  1. OK as a paid garden writer I hereby say-ith and declare unto thou:

    Compost tea does nothing but grow dangerous bacteria if not used henceforth and herewith

    Compost tea does nothing but leave behind spent compost and does not offer anything beyond what it was when dry

    stones in the bottom of pots do not help drainage but prevent it by breaking up the uniform capillary space thus causing water to pool just above the the stones. proponents claim of good drainage is because the stone are for the most part dry.

    Native is not all the time better
    Biodyamic is HOOEY as Jerry Baker

    Some MG programs are good most however suck
    I volunteer some 90 plus days a year

    I now proclaim as a remunerated garden archivist to the masses the above verbiage as that of my own

    Greg Draiss
    The Real Dirt on Gardening

  2. Thanks for commenting, Greg. And in honor of your honesty, and exception that proves the rule, this little fishy will pass on the "most" bait dangling before me, and note that I might even pay to read your stuff. Cheers.

  3. Instead of exceptions to every rule, which only encourage the breaking of rules, there should be instead RULES FOR EVERY EXCEPTION. That way the offending rule breaker must ask for judgement before such rule is eviscerated.

    Greg Draiss
    The Real Dirt on Gardening

  4. and I am amazed at how different the MG program in Franklin County (and PA) is compared to DC. The UofMaryland MG program I attended many years ago required classes that were of college level.

    Here in Franklin County we had weeks of college level classes we were required to attend. And even universities teach beyond a curriculum of facts that it is important to know where to look for an answer and what it means when you find it.

    After all, when a reporter asked Albert Einstein for his phone number, he looked it up in the phone book. The surprised reporter was told by Albert that he didn't need to remember the number when he could look it up!

    Good reply, Ray.

  5. Thanks, Carol. I picked up the word when first teaching myself how to write for a blog back in 2002. It came (I think) from On-line Journalism Review ( in a discussion on how powerful the embedded link is in writing an article, although it can lead to an "anfractuous" reading experience, if not done properly. Don't get to use it much, though, but it popped right up when I was putting this post together.

  6. No argument, Greg. Let me rewrite my first comment, and just say your response was exceptional, and leave it at that.

  7. I dislike posts which leave unanswered the questions in their titles.

  8. Hi Sue. If you read the post, and followed the links, you'd know that the title comes directly from the Garden Rant, as a response. So, I guess your beef is with them. I'm afraid there's not much I can do about that.