By Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp with Veronica Sliva
JEMS: I remember the first time I met you…we were riding on the bus at a GWA meeting (I don’t remember where) and we were sharing our stories. You had just gotten married or got married not too long ago. You were so warm and fun, providing great advice. It’s one of my GWA special memories.
What special memories do you have to share?
VS: My goodness that was a long time ago wasn’t it? It must be over 20 years. And I remember it well. I even remember where we were sitting on the bus. But I don’t remember what city we were in either, which goes to show that memories are perhaps more about the who rather than the where!
I think I had been married only a year or two to Walter and that was after five years of being widowed. We talked about a lot of ‘heavy’ stuff on that trip and it wasn’t all about gardens. What I remember most was your welcoming smile and being so comfortable with you. It was easy to talk to you about anything.
To many people I appear very outgoing, but in reality I am a very private person. I can talk your ear off about this garden or that one, but generally I don’t usually reveal much about myself. I guess I felt “safe” in revealing more of my inner self with you. I think that many writers may be like me. We spend a lot of time working alone. Who was it that said writing is a solitary life? Socializing doesn’t always come that easily. I find it easier to gravitate towards someone I already know. The best advice I was given at my first GWA meeting was to sit and talk to people I did not know. In the beginning I had to push myself. Now it is easier and I look forward to meeting new people (especially if they smile at me).
JEMS: You were so easy to talk to. I was recently divorced and it weighed on me. You sensed that and shared about the loss of your husband, yet how and grateful you were having found Walter during bird watching trek. Who are some of the most memorable members that you met?
VS: Besides you, there is Larry Hodgson, who is a GWA Past President and also a Region VII member. He coerced me into planning Regional meetings long before I became a Regional Director and in doing that I made all kinds of contacts and friendships in the industry that I still have to this day. Larry is one of the most “sharing” people I have met professionally. His story is unique (at least in Canada), in that he makes his living solely from garden writing. Most of us have other sources of income to pay the bills. I was already a technical writer for a software company when I met Larry, but I dabbled in writing newsletters for a local hort society and I had a gardening column in a local newspaper. Larry gave me the push I needed to send out pitches to major publications. When I said goodbye to the corporate world, my second career in garden writing was already on its way and garden writing led me to some TV work, as well as travel writing, which I still do today.
For sure Donna Dawson is unforgettable. Donna is originally from Edmonton, Alberta, but she has escaped our Canadian winters and now lives in Panama. She has been there for 10 years and we stay in touch. Donna started www.icangarden.com in 1994. It was one of the first websites out there devoted to gardening. It is still a superb resource for gardeners. She also started www.gardeningtours.com shortly after and takes lucky travelers all over the world to see beautiful gardens in amazing places. Thanks to Donna, I was lucky to participate in a number of press trips that took us to some very exotic places. We became friends and I enjoyed traveling with her.
I also admire and respect Nan Sterman. I got to known Nan when I was a Regional Director and we were on the board together. Nan’s integrity is what stood out for me. In meetings Nan was always decisive and respectful and she expressed herself articulately even when her views were not the flavor of the moment. At one of the GWA symposiums I gave a presentation about Web Design and Usability (this was very early days of the web), and she took the time to come and talk to me afterwards about it.
Debra Prinzing is one smart cookie that I admire. While on the GWA board she impressed me with her ability to hone in on things that needed to be changed and to stay the course. Her work with the Slow Flowers movement is amazing. She created a network for flower farmers and helped connect them with consumers through her book, web presence and her talks.
And then there is Ken Brown, although I knew of Ken before I was a GWA member. We were at the same high school at the same time, just in different grades. He was in the “in” crowd and a few years ahead of me. Then, years later I moved into his community and joined a horticultural society that he was president of. He encouraged me to join GWA. We have been friends ever since.
JEMS: What is the favorite place where you’ve attended a GWA meeting? Were there any speakers that have really stood out to you?
VS: The year we visited Chanticleer was my favorite meeting. That garden is my favorite of all the gardens I have visited worldwide and there have been many.
In the early days of attending GWA meetings I was always attracted to the business side of things, but nowadays I am more attracted to the “horticulture” presentations. It’s all about the plants now, As for one single speaker… I cannot remember his name, maybe you can…he was a keynote speaker. At the end of his talk he was speaking about what was important in life to him and one of the things he wanted to be able to do was to be able to take his dog with him when they put him in the “home”. I identify with that. It says a lot about a person.
JEMS: Chanticleer is my favorite garden, too. The keynote speaker was William McDonough, author of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, which was published in 2002. His talk sparked some internal practices for GWA, such as searching out accommodations and services for our meetings that embraced sustainable practices. His talk also spurred the startup of Indiana Living Green: A Hoosier’s Guide to Sustainable Lifestyle, which was started with another GWA member at the time. Although now defunct as a magazine, it remains one of my feel-good accomplishments.
One of the things that GWA is known for is networking and I have you to thank for that short-lived, yet well-paying gig with a Canadian agency writing copy for a big box store. Have you ever benefited from GWA connections and if so, what was that?
VS: I think networking is the single most important benefit you can get from any organization, and sometimes it is only after a few years you realize just how much. As an example, Debra Prinzing put me in touch with a Canadian PR agency that was working with a big box store. They wanted someone to coordinate their gardening web content for them. That turned out to be a very lucrative assignment for me and I was able to involve many garden writers throughout the U.S. and Canada. The association with the PR company didn’t last as long as I would have liked due to their budget constraints (same old story), but because I was well connected within GWA I was able to reach out and find people who knew people who could help get the job done. It felt great being able to pass on my good luck to others. It’s like a lot of things when you reach out, you often get more than you expect in return.
I have had many assignments come my way thanks to industry people I have met through GWA events. I can think of a number of company’s that asked me to do some freelance work for them because we met or worked together at an event. And, I have been able to refer writers to others who needed their expertise.
JEMS: I felt the same way when I edited four gardening magazines, where I was able to go to the GWA ranks and pull writers, photographers and even graphic designer to work with. GWA is a tremendous resource, and many members have that gardener philosophy, where they readily share their knowledge and expertise in the same way gardeners share their produce, flowers and stories. Speaking of sharing, did you have anything to do with getting me on Donna Dawson’s fam (familiarization) tour to Grenada? That is truly one of my most memorable experiences and one I’d repeat in a minute.
VS: I suggested to Donna that you would be a good person for that fam. You got yourself on the trip with your qualifications! Sadly Donna doesn’t do much of that anymore. She is very busy with her tours and takes fam trips on her own to search out places for her trips. I don’t get to go either!
Meet the Authors
Veronica Sliva is a former Region VII Director. She lives near Toronto.
Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp is Vice President of GWA. She lives in Indianapolis.