On Being Social with a Purpose, Six Reasons Why You Should Attend MANTS  


by Phyllis Gricus

True confession: I want to hibernate in January. I have no natural inclination to want to travel for hours with the possibility of bad weather. Then walk the streets of Baltimore in the cold. And then have to exercise my social muscle and interact with (gulp) people!

For me, winter is the season for hunkering down at home, usually socially unplugged.

I will occasionally be digitally social. You know, new-school style: Online. From the somewhat anonymous comfort of my warm, smart device. Not the old-school, real face-to-face time way. Yet, in spite of my trepidations, most years I do make the effort to attend MANTS. And, SURPRISE! I’m always glad I did!

Yes, I must continually remind myself, as if It’s a news alert…This just in: Social Exercise is good for you and your business! Maybe you have the same social hibernation tendencies? If so, let me share my 6 reasons to remember to get out from behind the digital screen:

#1 Camaraderie: Garden writers, err, Gardencomm-ers?* are an inspiring and fun group to be with. The name may have changed but the familiar fellowship among our members remains the same. Each time I attend an event with other members I am reminded that I have found my people.

#2 Idea generators: Andrew Pidgeon, the marketing director from FibreDust/Enroot Products discovered during his product presentation of Gift Wrap that Grows just what an engaged crowd we are. The wrapping paper, embedded with wildflower seeds, goes a step beyond recycling—it can be planted! The group threw out questions about growing zones, shelf life, and possible vegetable seed paper. When I spoke with him afterwards, he was thrilled with the crowd participation and suggested that we had just helped him write his next marketing plan.


#3 Opportunities: There is so much to see at MANTS and without Marianne Wilburn’s keen eye for unique things I wouldn’t have learned about Best Bees, a company that offers beekeeping services to green industry professionals and interested homeowners. (A landscape design client of mine may be interested. See? Good for business!)

#4 Relationship Building: The social exercise continued as I moved from table to table at the Connect Meeting (otherwise known as “Let’s meet and drink at the hotel bar”). I was entertained as Pat Stone provided comedic foil to Doug Oster’s and Marianne Wilburn’s all-in-good-fun teasing.

#5 Energizing: Jan Kirsh, sculptor and landscape designer, attends MANTS each year for the social interactions with many of her suppliers. This year at the coaxing of Gloria Day, she stayed for the Connect Meeting and attended the Media Breakfast. Jan touts the creative synergy she draws from meeting people from different facets of the horticultural business.

#6 Education: Katie Elzers-Peters (The Garden of Words) is wicked-smart! I sidled up to her table to eavesdrop on the conversation about digital marketing. Did you know readers like lists? Thanks for the tip, Katie: You got this blog post started!

In summary, remember to remember the six reasons you will want to attend MANTS next year!

And remember to tag your media posts and share published work with the good folks who sponsor the media breakfast: Eve Hemsley Butt eve@MaroonPR.com; Anna Levendusky; Anna@MaroonPR.com


#MANTSBaltimore | #MANTS2019


*It’s also good to adapt to and even embrace change. Many thanks to the dedicated members and officers who are shepherding our organization into the future. Your efforts are appreciated!

Meet the AuthorPhyllis Headshot

Phyllis Gricus is the principle of Landscape Design Studio, LLC in PIttsburgh, PA, a firm dedicated to creating sustainable and imaginative gardens. As a freelance garden communicator she has written for various publications and media outlets.

“I am GardenComm” by Tom Christopher

by Tom Christopher

As someone who came up through the world of traditional print media – magazines, newspapers, and books – I have found the last few years professionally challenging. Opportunities in those older media have shrunk, even as I became ever more passionate about gardening. For me, gardening is not just as a means to self expression but also a way to initiate the public into a greater environmental literacy. I strongly believe that you can’t garden without becoming aware of the natural systems that underlie both success and failure in that craft. Gardening, because it is intrinsically enjoyable, is an ideal way to reach strangers with a message of greater environmental responsibility.

Casting around for new outlets, I turned to radio. The couple of contacts I had at local radio programs were both discouraging about my prospects of breaking in. It wasn’t until I contacted two fellow members in GardenComm, people whom I knew had successful radio programs, that I received any encouragement. Armed with these veterans’ advice, I pitched my services to two radio stations: an internet radio station whose studio is in a neighboring town, and the local public radio station, whose broadcast area covers much of central Connecticut.

Both stations’ studio managers were receptive. An initial spot as a guest on the internet radio station turned into a weekly gardening program. At first I served as a co-host, but within weeks I was hosting the program by myself. Meanwhile, the public radio station had accepted my proposal to supply weekly short radio spots about “greener” gardening – the studio manager there said that often programs came in a couple of minutes short and that my spots would be ideal for filling the resulting gaps.

Thanks to my years of reporting on the gardening scene, I have had little trouble finding interesting guests to feature on my internet radio program. I’ve also connected with the Connecticut Horticultural Society, working out an arrangement by which I interview its guest speakers each month on the day before they address the membership. And once a month I go downtown to the public radio station’s studio with the scripts I have written to record four two-minute spots focusing on some aspect of environmentally informed gardening.

Instead of watching my audience shrink, I am now reaching new markets. Many thanks to my generous colleagues at GardenComm.

I am GardenComm.

About the AuthorTom Christopher headshot

Thomas Christopher is the author of more than a dozen gardening books, and of a syndicated weekly newspaper column.  He is also, now, the host of a weekly radio program, and contributes short spots to a public radio station, WESU in Middletown, CT.

“I am GardenComm” by Larry Hodgson

gc i am logo_finalby Larry Hodgson

With the coming of the New Year, the Garden Writers Association (GWA) has taken advantage of its 70th anniversary to update its name. It is now Garden Communicators International and will be known as GardenComm. This name change has been a long time coming.

This was long the logo of the Garden Writers Association.

It’s been apparent for years that the name “garden writers”  simply didn’t cover it all. Many of its members are photographers, artists, lecturers, garden tour hosts, horticultural consultants, podcasters, PR people for public gardens and the horticultural industry or work on radio or television. All do reach out to gardeners to share information, but they don’t all write. Even garden bloggers—and there are many of us!—often don’t, for some reason, seem to consider themselves writers. So, a more comprehensive name was needed … a name like Garden Communicators International, GardenComm for short. Because all of us (yes, I’m a member!) communicate about gardens and gardening. It’s what we do and it’s what brings us together! 

I’ve been a GWA member for over 30 years. In fact, I’m a past president of the association and have held all sorts of offices within GWA over the decades, including chairing the Local Arrangements Committee for the Quebec City symposium in 2013. 

I can still recall how surprised I was to learn there was actually an organization for people like myself who made their living communicating about gardening. I was, in 1983, just starting my career, writing freelance about my passion for gardening for a newspaper and a few magazines and beginning to give lectures. I had no idea what I was really doing and whether you could actually make a decent living at it (I certainly wasn’t at that point). Then, while I was in Miami for the World Orchid Conference, I heard that there was a “Garden Writers Association of America” meeting in the hotel just across the street, so I wandered over … and met the friendliest people I’d ever run into to in my life. They just welcomed me in (well, I did have to pay admission, of course!) and presented me around. To my astonishment, I found myself hobnobbing with famous authors (well, famous in the gardening world) who treated me like I was one of them! And, I now realize, I was! 

I ended up skipping the rest of the orchid show and spending the final part of my trip attending outstanding lectures, visiting extraordinary gardens and simply socializing with this new group of like-minded people (we’d call that networking today). I was hooked!

GWA2019 Save the Date.png
Don’t miss the 2019 Annual Conference and Expo.

It was thanks to GWA that I got my first book contract, that I learned how to put together a decent PowerPoint presentation, that I learned the tricks of the trade of being a garden speaker, that I was able to pick up the latest gardening news and trends and that I simply developed the reassurance that what I dreamed of doing—making sharing my passion for gardening my life’s work—was indeed a viable way of life. And every year I attend the annual conference and exposition, wherever it takes place (it will be in Salt Lake City in 2019!), to reconnect with old friends, meet new ones, pick up new information and visit exclusive gardens. I owe GWA—now GardenComm—all my gratitude. 

Visiting outstanding gardens is one of the main draws of the Annual Conference & Expo.
On the QT, GardenComm’s bimonthly newsletter.

Are you a garden communicator? Do you blog, write about gardening for a local paper, share information about gardening in other ways? Why not consider joining GardenComm? At $105 US for a year’s membership, that’s a whole lot less than just about any other professional organization (indeed, I spend more every year on seeds!) and you certainly get your money’s worth. And tell them the Laidback Gardener sent you, for…  I am GardenComm!

larry hodgson

Larry Hodgson

Meet the Authorheadshot - hodgson, larry

Larry Hodgson is a freelance garden communicator living in Quebec City, Canada. A past president of GardenComm, he writes regularly for various publications, lectures widely and is the author of over 50 gardening books. You can read his daily gardening blog at laidbackgardener.blog. 

Pitch it Right for a Home Run


by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

GardenComm members and others recently posted on The Business of Garden Writing Facebook page that they wanted to know more about pitching to editors. Here are some tips on pitching articles for magazines, newspapers, corporate blogs, newsletters and other publications. 

  • Make sure the publication accepts freelance articles, photos or artwork. Not all of them do. Check the publication’s website for guidelines on submissions. Some publications provide guidelines and some do not.  
  • In the publication’s staff box or on the website, try to identify to whom the submission should be sent. Avoid “to whom it may concern.” If it’s unclear, send the pitch to an editor and address him or her by name. 
  • Read the publication. I know this sounds really basic, but you’d be surprised how many freelance writers don’t do this. If you can’t get an actual copy, look at the website. Pay attention of the tone of articles, what kinds of information is generally included. Are articles reported or written from personal experience? Are articles illustrated with photography or other graphics? If there’s a pay wall, call or write the publication and ask for a sample copy. 
  • Articulate in the pitch how your article fits in the magazine, what news or information does it present? Does it advance a topic? Will it speak to a certain demographic or skill level? 
  • Include a brief bio that indicates where you’ve had articles, photos or artwork published. You want to reinforce that you are experienced and up to the job. 
  • Identify whom you would interview for the article and what information they would contribute. 
  • Submit a summary of what the article will say.  
  • Send a couple of examples of photos or graphics that could illustrate the article. These do not need to be extremely high res, but should be large enough that the editor can get a good sense of the quality of the image. Keep in mind that some publications will assign their own photographer and graphic artist. 
  • Does the publication use a particular style, such as Associated Press? If so, write your article in that style. Follow any guidelines provided. Editors appreciate not having to edit for style, do they can focus more on content, clarity, flow and other aspects of storytelling. 
  • Consider running the pitch by someone who has written for the publication for review. 
  • Most publications work with writers and photographers as work-for-hire, so make sure to understand what rights you retain, if any.  
  • Usually email is the best way to submit ideas. Follow up with a phone call or an email in a couple of weeks. I know it’s terribly unprofessional, but some editors do not respond at all.  
  • Submit a clean, well-written, error-free pitch. Good luck! 

A recent experience 

Someone recently pitched a story for one of the magazines I edit. The idea was a good one, but it was obvious that she’d not read the magazine. Still, I accepted the story idea, which had good photos. That and the fact that I actually needed an article like she pitched. 

I sent her the guidelines for the article and she immediately sent back her piece, not written in the format required. In fact, there was no article, only photos. I emailed her back, suggesting that I had not been clear in what was needed and explained in more detail. I told her the info was in the guidelines. Her response was she had a creative brain and was not a detail person and had overlooked the instructions. She agreed to read the directions and resubmit the article. 

So, once you get the job, follow the guidelines and meet the deadlines. The less work or worry you make for an editor, the more likely you’ll get more assignments. 

 Meet the Author


Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, vice president of GardenComm, is editor of On the QT and the former editor of five magazines.  This article recently appeared in On the QT, Jan-Feb 2018. 


Baseball image courtesy of Worldsartsme.com 

What Did You Learn at #GWA2018?


By Carol Michel

It’s been almost four months since the annual conference was held in Chicago.  Looking back, have you used anything you learned there?

I can emphatically answer “Yes” to that question.  The one session I marked on the list and made a point to attend was “So You Want to Have a Podcast” with C. L. Fornari and Ellen Zachos.

In the same style as their podcast Plantrama, C. L. and Ellen  bantered back and forth and gave us the inside scoop on their real live experiences of launching their podcast over a year ago.

Looking over my notes, I see that I underlined Who Is Your Audience and wrote it in all capital letters.  C. L. and Ellen said their audience is more interested in plants than gardening.

I underlined Consistency Matters. They told us to make sure we publish new episodes on a consistent schedule to help engage and build an audience.

I also underlined “The Riches are in the Niches.” I’m still thinking over what that means but I have a pretty good idea. To me it means carve out your own niche, be yourself.

As with most presentations at the conference, C. L. and Ellen did not hold back. They gave us their recipe for how they record their podcasts. They shared their secret sauce.  Plan, Record, Edit, Drop.  They told us the brand of microphone they use, the software they use, and their entire process from start to finish.

It was one of those sessions you didn’t want to miss. One of those sessions where you wanted to take notes and then refer back to those notes again and again. One of those sessions you could put to practical use right away.

Dee Nash and I are doing just that with our newly launched podcast, The Gardenangelists.  We have miles to go and much to learn, but with C. L. and Ellen’s advice from their presentation and their offers of assistance whenever we need it, we are launched.

What have you used from the annual conference to further your garden communications career? Let us know! Write a blog post about it and send it to me at Indygardener@gmail.com and we’ll share it in the weeks ahead.

And by all means, reserve the dates now for the next annual conference in Salt Lake City from September 4 – 7, 2019.  You never know what session next year is going to launch you off into something new and exciting.

Meet the Author


Carol Michel is the author of Potted & Pruned: Living a Gardening Life, which received the 2018 Garden Media Gold Award for Best Overall Book from GWA: The Association of Garden  Communicators, Homegrown and Handpicked: A Year in a Gardening Life and a new children’s book, The Christmas Cottontail. She is a lifelong gardener with a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from Purdue University, an avid collector of old gardening books, and claims to have the largest hoe collection in the world. A popular speaker, Carol regularly writes for her award-winning garden blog, http://www.maydreamsgardens.com.

Want to write a blog post for GWAGrows? Please contact Carol Michel at indygardener@gmail.com



An Invitation to Review Your Most Successful Swag Plants—even if you got them years ago

Bd9zqc5ABy Mary-Kate Mackey

I find one of the best perks of being a professional garden communicator is receiving plants to trial and review. However, a downside to this process is that sometimes, it takes years before the review plants are able to show off their best qualities—think trees and large shrubs.

So, what can be done to strengthen the connections to magnanimous growers and marketers? I was pondering the reviewing drawback—time and seasons in the ground—while working in my garden the other day.

Above my head, the leaves of Acer x freemanii ‘Marmo’ were bright with fall color. I got this maple as a four-inch stick from the Morton Arboretum when the GWA Symposium was in Chicago in 2006. Colleague Kirk Brown teased me for taking home such a humble subject. “It’ll take years,” he said.

Yes, it did. Now, in 2018, the tree has grown twenty feet tall. With outstretched gangly adolescent arms, it’s giving promise of the mighty fifty- to seventy-footer it will become. No fuss, no diseases, just terrific. It’s one of the most satisfying plants in my garden.

I looked around the beds and borders for more review plants that were also spectacular latecomers. Do you remember what year we were given small starts of Sambucus ‘Black Lace’? That fifteen-by-ten-foot deciduous shrub—who knew it would grow so big?—reliably blooms, like floriferous pink and black wallpaper, on the best sunny days in June. I’ve received countless hydrangeas, including Incrediball®, which now has a seven-foot bulk, making the massive flower heads not appear outsized. My white reblooming Iris ‘Immortality’ glows again every fall. The thornless rose, Oso Happy Smoothie®, always showers blossoms until frost. I’ve got daylilies so vigorous they look like they’ll punch you in the nose as they burst open. And in the front of the border, hardy black sedums return each year along with the one-foot shrub, Weigela ‘My Monet’. I almost threw that one out because it didn’t grow or show much for two years. Now it reliably holds its own with both green-and-white variegated foliage and bright pink flowers.

And I thought—I bet a lot of members have success stories like these in their gardens.

What if? What if we shared those stories as short posts on, say, the GWA Facebook page? For clarity, we could do a single plant per post. Perhaps with a hashtag #GreatPlantReview? Or, are there better ones to add? #GardenCommGreatPlantReviews? #WhatWorks? We could include a photo of the plant in its glory, what year we got it, from whom we got it—with a link?—and a sentence about what makes it so terrific now. If we don’t know some of the information, other people who have also received that plant could comment, or add pics of their own plant’s same success on the string.

And if this crowd-sourcing/sharing idea took off, I would be happy to curate and organize the posts later so they would have a permanent place where the organization could point to these short reviews. Of course, it won’t tell growers and marketers the exact data on how efficacious their plant distributions are. But it would be a way to say thank you to those who have been so generous with us.

Which swag have succeeded in your garden?

Meet the Author


Freelance writer, author, and Region VI National Director, Mary-Kate Mackey is a five-time GWA Silver winner. Her latest book, Write Better Right Now (Career Press) is available at Amazon and independent US booksellers. Ideas? Suggestions? Contact her at marykatemackey@gmail.com.