Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Gardening in the Digital Age

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Just past 7 on the mountain and Karl the Wonder Dog just headed back to bed. He came out, licked my hand twice and decided the wind was too much for him this morning. He'll be back in half an hour or so, and in the meantime maybe the thermometer can coax itself up past zero. He no doubt heard the wind and did a dog translation for wind chill temperature. The wind is brutal this morning!

Gail and I sat by the fire last night reviewing what has transpired in the world of digital gardening since we did our first website years back. We saw the site as a necessity because our gardens were here at our house in the middle of nowhere. As our little handmade catalog became more and more expensive to produce and mail, the digital world seemed the way to go while providing gardeners with lots of color pictures, good gardening ideas and easier updates for us.

One wouldn't think you'd receive negative comments about being progressive and offering more at your own expense but that was in the pre-electronic era. Cell phones were new and the likes of Kindle, Nook, ibooks, Sony, or Readius didn't exist. Many folks still had dial up when we did our site and we drove people nuts with download times even though our picture sizes were small and images were plentiful. Despite what politicians promise every year, much of rural America remains on dial up and complaints, though fewer than before, still trickle in. When you make any business decision, you know that you cannot please everyone.

After the website, we started this blog, The Vermont Gardener, and when we purchased land on Route 2 and decided to move our business, we started another blog, Vermont Gardens, to discuss building a horticultural business. Our intentions were good, but as the business move required more time, Vermont Gardens was merged with The Vermont Gardener. Some have suggested that I take Vermont Gardens down as it's been dormant for a year and a half now but every month someone goes back into the history and finds something to comment on.

Gardening blogs are plentiful and they represent all manner of gardening around the world. As I began my blog, I linked to blogs I liked. Quickly I found that blogs were popping up every minute and I couldn't possibly even find the time to add those I really liked as links to The Vermont Gardener. Then I found Blotanical, a server for gardening blogs. I joined that and in 2009, was named Vermont Gardening Blog of the Year.

But 2009, was the year of Facebook and I started a page to keep up with the competition. I started a page under my name, George Africa, and then started a Vermont Flower Farm page. Web visits bothered me and as I looked behind the way I had constructed our website and FB page, I found that competition within the hospitality business for the words "flower" and farm" were intensive enough that I changed the name to Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens. Every bed and breakfast in New England had caught on to promoting flowers on the dining table, flower petals on the sheets and at weddings, and walks in gardens. I had to change how I used words and ideas just to compete.

Last spring I decided to try Twitter which was all too easy. My thought was to purchase an Apple phone and walk the gardens each morning uploading the latest blooming flower with a description, price and invitation to visit. The idea was good but cell coverage at our home and business hardly exists at all to the point of remaining more trouble than it may be worth because of inconsistency. I continued with taking the pictures and I put them out via computer. My time saving ideas for promotion are still waiting for someone to deliver technology here.

Twitter and Twitpic did it for me and before spring I suspect we'll exceed a 1000 followers. Again, it's all part of the digital challenge. People offer invitations each week to join Linkedin and a variety of social networking tools but I have had to close the door for now for the sake of time management. Visitors have suggested I build an application for electronic devices and give it to people so they can tour the garden with accompanying flower pictures, descriptions, zonal information and price. Fine idea but again, time in a two person business is tight and each decision like that must be tempered with financial return for time and money spent.

One of the greatest rewards of digital gardening relative to our business is Gail's feedback on customer and visitor response. People look at our website, good or bad, and come with a list of plants they want to purchase and a list of questions to ask. This makes for better gardeners and makes us better retailers. People say the pictures and information are tranquilizing and entertaining and that's nice to know too. They find the blog from the site or the site from Facebook or Twitter or from other links. And through this process, every gardener learns other digital resources which eventually come full circle to us.

Digital gardening is nice for days like today when wind keeps birds and critters in the woods, pushes snow horizontally, and wind chills cause frostbite in minutes. It is only going to grow. Some social networks may grow, merge with others, even fail.... but they will continue.

Up top is a picture of a great old lilium named Journey's End. We grew this lily for years and then availability diminished and by accident Gail and Alex planted tulips next to the last ones I had. Tulip breaking virus took one year to bring the plants down and their journey was over. In contrast, social networking will remain strong and will grow bigger....a great journey that's really just begun If you aren't a digital gardener yet, get clicking!!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the crackling fire and fresh coffee make me happy! Outside gusts to 16 right now.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Social Networking Works!©
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm


garden girl said...

Beautiful lilies George - what a shame they are gone. I hope our milder temps will spread east to you - sounds like you're due some milder weather!

Barry said...

Its tough, this whole digital gardening thing! I noticed the word 'GLOG' when describing a weblog that has gardening as its topic.... what will they think of next?

A personal weblog [glog] is one thing, but when you have to create something for a business...... I spent so many hours last year investigating the world of social media, starting a FB page, and considering Twitter [the least favourite of the SocMedias for me!] and then realized that the weblog that acted as a website for the business was sadly lacking...... it ate up the time I should have spent ordering and watering.

My own weblog went into a dormant period while I reconsidered what exactly it was that I wanted to say - not usually one to suffer from a lack of words..... Its back again, slightly modified to meet my personal desires, as well as meeting the needs of the business by means of introducing new and exciting plant material that we will be carrying in the coming season.

Its sometimes overwhelming! The demographic of our surrounding customer base is of the 45-80 year old who really isn't up on these latest technilogical advances, but in order to 'grow' and expand the business we have to look at the younger, savvier crowd. Iphones and Smartphones.... we went so far as to look into the 'tags' that are imprinted with what looks like a 'chip', that when scanned links you to a site that gives you the specs about said plant. I rebelled immediately. I would like to keep my job thank you very much, and besides, three quarters of my pleasure comes from interacting with my clients.

I long for a simpler life George! Already I am up to my ears in Powerpoint presentations for the coming season....... LOL!

Kim Corey said...

Hey George--- I'm really enjoying reading these posts---and viewing the pictures. I had a lovely visit and tour given by you at the flower farm over the summer.

It'll soon be time to get back out in the fields, if spring has its way. As an experienced grower(private gardens, Trapp Family Lodge, etc.), I know the anticipation of getting back to mechanical gardening (as opposed to digital gardening!) can make you feel like a kid at Christmas. I've got "ants in my pants" just thinking about it. : )

I'm going to email you with a question about the upcoming season. In the meantime, glad to know you're out there as a Vermont "gardening friend" resource---- one who really seems to know his stuff(The farm tour was most impressive----Thanks: ) ----and as an enjoyable writer.