Garden Rant: Uprooting the Gardening World
I'm really interested in telling stories, and good stories have some drama and conflict and suspense in them.
Amy Stewart, Garden Rant
Gardens matter. They feed us, they delight us, they teach us - and above all they entertain us. And entertainment, teaching and delight are just a few of reasons to check out Garden Rant, a popular group gardening site that's been around since 2006. You'll also find gossip, humor, and genuinely useful ranting that both avid and casual gardeners won't want to miss.
We caught up with Amy Stewart, one of the founders of Garden Rant to find out more about what gardening things she's coveting now, wicked plants, druken botany...and the allure of urban chickens.
Garden Rant has been around since 2006. What was your breakout post or series of posts that put you on the map? I don't know that there was any one thing — when we got started, most of the garden bloggers were just writing about what they planted in their garden and stuff like that. So we did two things that were unusual at the time but are maybe not so unusual now. First, we never said anything about how-to-garden stuff, and second, there were four of us, so there was always something new on the site. It's not at all unusual now to have a team blog like that, but at the time there weren't as many people doing it in the garden world.
You like to write about wicked plants, wicked bugs, black gardens – what fascinates you about the dark stuff? Well, I'm really interested in telling stories, and it just so happens that good stories tend to have some drama and conflict and suspense in them. I wrote a book called Wicked Plants and one called Wicked Bugs that were both intended to be a sort of entertaining look at the dark side of the natural world and the power that nature has over us. We think we're in charge, but there are all kinds of tiny insects and inconspicuous berries and seeds that can kill us. It's a mistake to think that just because something is plant-based, just because it's all-natural, that it's by definition good for us. The natural world makes all kinds of poisons, usually for defensive purposes, and people tend to forget that.
But people have really responded to the idea — in fact, a lot of botanical gardens and science museums started doing exhibits based on the books. When you promise people murder and mayhem, they really turn out!
For people new to your site, what are your all-time most popular posts or sections? We love controversy at GardenRant. People think of gardening is a very tame activity, but we see it as something much bigger than that. It's how people interact with the plant kingdom, and that's huge. So our top posts are always the ones that have to do with some kind of controversy involving plants and people. For instance, there was a big dustup over Caitlin Flanagan's article about school gardens. And then recently we took on Scotts over the way they co-opted a grassroots social media campaign. And in that case, Scotts actually backed off.
Urban chickens – why do you think people are suddenly rediscovering raising chickens? I've been raising chickens for several years now and they make great pets. They contribute far more to the household that my cat does, that's for sure. They eat snails and slugs in the garden, they dig up weeds, they lay eggs, and their manure makes a great fertilizer. So really, what's not to like? I think some people are raising chickens because they want to get away from an industrialized food system, and that's definitely one benefit, but really it's just incredibly entertaining to sit out in the garden in the afternoon with a cocktail and talk to your Buff Orpingtons.
You have a book coming (congratulations!). Drinking and botany - what's the connection? Well, everything we drink comes from a plant. Run is made from sugarcane, tequila is made from agave, bourbon comes from corn, and so on. If you look around in a liquor store, or sit in a bar and peruse their selection, almost everything you see in those bottles is a straight plant extract. From the very minute humans started to participate in agriculture, they figured out how to make booze. Even nomadic tribes in Latin America would move around to find fruit to harvest in turn into wine. It's a very old tradition and it is inextricably linked to the plant world. But no one had really made that explicit connection, so that's why I wrote The Drunken Botanist. The research was incredibly fun as you can imagine, and the book tour's going to be even better — I'll be going on the road with cocktail shaker my suitcase.
Where do you go online for gardening inspiration? Who are your soulmates in gardening? I've gotten into Pinterest more and more for gardening stuff. As with design, cooking, and cocktails, it's very visual, so it lends itself to a visual medium like Pinterest.
Any favorite gardening products you're coveting (or ranting about) right now? This is something that I am excited about — I persuaded the people at the Territorial Seed Company to let me go through their catalog and pick out all the cocktail-friendly plants they have on offer. We put them together on a single page, so that anybody wants to plan a cocktail garden can find all the plants in one place. Check it out here: The Drunken Botanist Plant Collection.
Other products we love? I am crazy about these hand-forged English garden tools from Clarington Forge. Here's a video I made with another garden writer and blogger, Genevieve Schmidt, about them. And this rubber rake is the greatest thing ever.
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[All images Amy Stewart]