Feisty Women Win Raves for Their Rants

The women behind Garden Rant -- from left, Susan Harris, Michele Owens, Elizabeth Licata and Amy Stewart -- have gathered only once, but they're constantly in touch.
The women behind Garden Rant -- from left, Susan Harris, Michele Owens, Elizabeth Licata and Amy Stewart -- have gathered only once, but they're constantly in touch. (By Kc Kratt)
By Adrian Higgins
Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sometimes it is useful to state the obvious. The invention and universal acceptance of the Internet has transformed gardening, and for the better.

One of the great boons is in finding sources of exciting new plants you might see in your travels. In the old days, that meant trying to buttonhole the gardener, or thumbing blindly through mail-order catalogues or making endless phone calls. It was hit-or-miss, and usually miss. Now, type in name of the variety, and voila: $10.95 plus shipping and handling.

The other great change is in the notion of an electronic forum where ideas and advice are shared and didactic instruction debunked.

The discourse can run to dull or worse, but it is a place for gardeners to come together as fellow travelers rather than strangers and where everyone's diary -- one's blog -- is personal but far from private. Post an entry, and expect a load of responses, most well-meaning.

"I think that's the mystique of blogging," said Elizabeth Licata, gardener and blogger. "These people are your friends, and they care about your garden, even though you've never met them and they'll never see your garden. That's kind of interesting. Astounding."

A year ago, Licata became the fourth member of a group of garden bloggers with an attitude. Garden Rant ( http://www.gardenrant.com), started in mid-2006, is one of my favorites: A blend of gossip, news, crusade and, yes, raw rant, it blows the cobwebs out of gardening's mustier corners.

Licata joined Amy Stewart, Michele Owens and Susan Harris. Licata lives in Buffalo, Owens in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Harris in Takoma Park and Stewart in Eureka, Calif., but this being the Internet, their home towns are little more than street signs in their virtual community.

The ranters have a world view encoded in a manifesto that reads thus, in part: Bored with perfect magazine gardens. Suspicious of the "horticultural industry." Turned off by any activities that involve "landscaping" with "plant materials."

Licata, 50, was recruited when the others realized they needed an extra hand to help keep fresh entries posted on at least a daily basis. The rants come with a heavy dose of reality that is missing in a lot of gardening coverage. This week Stewart refers to a magazine story in which the writer displays her powers of perspicacity by suggesting that pink may be coming back into vogue as a flower color.

"I just don't know what to do with the news that a particular color has gone out of style," Stewart wrote. "I can't manage to keep all the weeds pulled in my garden; I'm certainly not going to yank out all the pink or purple just because it's fallen out of favor with designers."

Stewart also once suggested people post pictures of the ugliest part of their yards, and she gets my vote of the week by downloading a video clip from YouTube in which a pair of hens breaks up a fight between two rabbits. It's called "Chicken Police."

"I troll YouTube every now and then for odd videos related to plants, insects or garden-scale animals," she said. The blog is also full of links, including links to each of the women's personal blogs. Hey, they're not only endearingly offended, they're plugged in.

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