Garden writers are special breeds of writers. Not only do they put words together in a pleasing way, they often describe the beauty of a plant or garden, creating pictures in the mind for the reader. Readers want to know “Where does it grow, in what areas of the country?” “Will it grow in sun or shade-or both?” “What temperatures will it tolerate?” “How tall will it be when it’s mature?”
Garden writers not only offer the beauty, which is obvious, they offer the way to success in the growing. They are primarily teachers. So, where does all of this knowledge come from? Where does the help come from so we can function in this age of mass communication?
Most members of The Garden Writers Association, a non-profit organization begun in 1948, believe their connection with the organization and other members is more than valuable, it is mandatory for any garden writer who wants to be taken seriously. Judy Lowe, the author of 11 garden books, the most recent being Herbs! Creative Herb Garden Themes and Projects who edits and writes for The Christian Science Monitor newspaper's Diggin' It blog explains, “I know that as an editor, I've always seen GWA (Garden Writers Association) membership as the 'litmus test', so to speak, as to whether a garden writer is a real pro. Someone I can count on to deliver a good product and on time.
Lowe, who is a past President of GWA and has just been elected to the GWA Hall of Fame says, “I never really think of the symposiums as large conferences, although some people do. They offer so much information that keeps me up to date on the latest technology and plants, both of which help advance my career.”
According to Robert LaGasse, the Executive Director of GWA, “There are almost 1,700 members. The organization has a good, active Board, made up of members from around the globe. The organization is broken up into 6 U.S. regions and Canada (and the rest of the world).” If you are a member, the rewards and learning opportunities are many and varied. In addition, support from the organization and its members is exceptional.
GWA assists members on a variety of fronts,” says LaGasse. LaGasse continues, “The regions hold regular meetings. This year there are 10 or 12. Some regions hold more than one. The organization tries to focus on the community’s needs using webinars, eblasts, Facebook, Twitter, the original Quill & Trowel Newsletter and a new weekly e-letter. The Garden Writers Foundation conducts national polls of gardeners and industry professionals and posts the results on the website. They often do follow-ups. For instance, this fall’s survey will address the issue of sustainability. What does the public think this is? How are they doing to implement it in their lives?”
Probably the largest single offering is the yearly Garden Writers Symposium. It is held in different locations each year. This year it was held in Indianapolis, Indiana. Next year it is Tucson, Arizona's turn. Speakers consist of writers helping writers as well as experts in the gardening field.
Linda Nitchman, awriter, editor, photographer, speaker, and now a GWA Region V Director,has been a member since 2002. She adds, “The publishing industry is quickly and constantly evolving. One benefit to me is the opportunity GWA offers for staying current on emerging technologies--the latest tools of the trade. I can count on GWA programming at national symposia, in regional meetings, on podcasts or through the newsletter to keep me in the loop. I can also count on other GWA members to share their expertise with me and encourage me to try new things.”
“Garden Writers are extremely sharing people,” says LaGasse. “You don’t find a lot of jealousy or competition in the group. They are one of the most uniquely giving groups.” New members never expected to experience this kind of openness. They might come to the Symposium knowing no one and “leave knowing everyone.” LaGasse laughs as he explains, “Hotel people refer to us as The Huggers.”
When I joined, almost 11 years ago, the organization was known as the Garden Writers Association of America (GWAA). A few years ago, the name shortened to Garden Writers Association to reflect its widening international circle of members outside the United States. According to LaGasse, “The largest contingency other than the U.S. is in Canada, then the U.K., then a smattering of other countries.”
Betty Mackey, Publisher at B. B. Mackey Books says, “I am not sure how my career would have turned out without the Garden Writers Association, which I joined 26 years ago. Here are just a few of the things I gained over the years:
-Friends in all regions of the country and in varied aspects of the garden communications world.
-A stronger connection with gardening trends.
-Photography tips from masters of this art.
-Well organized trips to see great public and private gardens in the USA, Canada, and England including early morning photo shoots.
-Sample plants and seeds”
Denise Schreiber, author of Eat Your Roses published by St. Lynn's Press, states, “I have been a member (of GWA) for a few years now and it has been one of the best investments I have ever made in my life. Each GWA Symposium I attend, I learn something new. There is such an exchange of information between all of us that if I never attended one of the seminars (held at the Symposium) it would still be worth it.” She continues, "Since I've become a GWA member I've decided to become more involved in the organization and recently ran for and won the Region II Director post. It's a way to give back to GWA and all the help and mentoring I've received.
In a mixed marketplace (print newspapers, magazines, and books vs. electronic news and blogs) LaGasse says, “I see the garden industry as the last bastion of the Ma and Pa business. Garden writers bridge the gap between industry and the consumer.” We still record words for reading at leisure, whether on the internet, through a phone application, or in print. Information from growers, suppliers, and experts is funneled directly to the public through the garden writer’s efforts, with the help of this very active organization.
So, the next time you read a little article by a professional about some new plant on the market, know that you have months and years of knowledge and experience, not to mention growers and other companies, behind those few carefully chosen, colorful, lovely words.