CrrriticScience Says

One size fits all?

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Both images courtesy of Shutterstock (Image at right is St. Paul, not St. Cloud, closest I could get)

What do St. Cloud, Minnesota and Westerly, Rhode Island have in common? Westerly is a seaside community in southern Rhode Island; St Cloud lies in central Minnesota and is bisected by the Mississippi river. Summers and winters are more moderate in Westerly; winter temperatures fall to greater depths in St. Cloud. There are other important differences, including one that gardeners need to know: St. Cloud is hardiness zone 4a and Westerly is 6a.

There is one similarity between the two communities. The newspapers in both just published the same AP gardening story about what to plant during an era of climate change. Recommendations include the possibility of “ripping out the front lawn and its bordering rhododendrons and replacing them with a landscape of native grasses, groundcovers, succulents and rocks.” I don’t have too many problems with the article per se. It warns gardeners to consult their local experts and to find plants that will be sustainable in whatever conditions climate change might produce in their era (drought, heavy rain, etc.) and draws quotes from sources across the US. It tries to be as universal as possible and has a correspondingly bland tone, although much better written than a lot of what I find online.

I’m happy if people replace lawns with native grasses, groundcovers, and rocks. That’s not the problem. I just think it’s sad that these two communities (apparently) don’t have local gardening writers who can talk about these issues, using examples taken from area gardens, and drawing on personal experiences with which readers in the community can identify. Such an article could identify tried-and-true lawn replacements that can be found in nearby independent garden centers, perhaps.

The reliance on syndicated material is becoming common with smaller—and, increasingly, larger—media outlets across the country. We’re lucky enough in Buffalo to have a weekly gardening column written by a local expert, though I am always perplexed when I see that almost all of the food coverage comes from other papers, and we do have a food editor. Food, at least, is universal enough so that it doesn’t matter as much. Gardening isn’t. If my local gardening columnist writes a well-researched and substantiated (with local examples) article about how weather extremes call for different planting strategies, I’m more likely to pay attention. Not so much with generic and generalized advice that attempts to cover coast to coast.

Posted by

Elizabeth Licata
on July 21, 2014 at 9:07 am, in the category Everybody’s a Critic, Gardening on the Planet.

10 Comments

  1. It seems especially silly to have this article in the St Cloud times, when much of it focuses on a garden in California’s central valley — a climate that’s about as different from central Minnesota as you can imagine.

  2. I agree with you, Elizabeth. In the Seattle area we used to have so many local garden writers contributing to our newspapers and radio programs. Now it has been whittled down to one or two. Syndicated general articles just aren’t the same. I’ve switched to listening to radio programs from the UK and back east because our local offerings have almost disappeared (with maybe one exception). I wonder if the earlier surge in interest in all things “gardening” is receding, or if it’s just the disruption now of all things digital.

  3. Absolutely spot on, Elizabeth! Local newspapers don’t even take advantage of local talents; here, in a University town, they could have a weekly column by a myriad of experts; entomologists, horticulturists, landscape arthitects, etc; and the University would love the press exposure; and I don’t think they’ve ever even asked.

  4. Men ruling the news perhaps. The bottom line is the main focus. What good are the local papers if we can’t have the local writers give us what fits our needs. Seems like knowing bloggers from our closer areas is one solution. It would be good if they had a good knowledge base to support their advise. Keep up the Rant , it’s important to the Gardeners out here.

  5. So true, and so sad! The worst part of this to me, as a fellow garden writer, is that there ARE tons of us out here would love the chance to write for small local papers as freelancers. But the papers don’t want to invest in local writers. Too expensive I suppose. Cheaper just to subscribe to the AP wire and pick and choose each week. Newspapers cannot pay well even when you do get a gig. The one local paper that did hire and pay local writers went under years ago and now only exists as a free publication online. They want writers, but they want them to work for free. No thanks, I have groceries to buy.

  6. Frankly, we also need better feedback to local retailers and growers alike to report which genus and specific cultivars are performing well in our changing climates without too much “babying.” This is something I’d love to ask regional Landscape & Nursery Associations to help promote. If plant consumers were encouraged to give feedback, we could really build better local/regional databases to identify appropriately sustainable plants for our gardens. But I wonder if the industry feels they benefit by some plant failures………encouraging the use of plants that thrive and multiply may be seen as less profitable to the Industry than offering some that struggle and ultimately fail..with consumers returning for more…..or is that too cynical?

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