Out of Ideas?
January 2nd, 2013
People sometimes ask me where I get my story ideas… and whether I ever run out of them.
Ha! I run into a lot of problems in life (most involving computers), but one of them is NOT gardening topics to write about.
I’ve been at it for 20 years now, and I always seem to end up with more ideas and story angles than I have time and space to get done.
My idea folder gets bigger instead of smaller every year.
Where do the ideas come from?
My No. 1 source is you… as in people. Specifically, gardening people.
I run into gardeners everywhere I go, and I hear what’s on your mind, what problems you’re having, what questions you’ve got and what’s going on in your yard.
Especially helpful are the Garden House-Calls I do. Most weeks, I’ll visit two to four gardeners to help them with ideas on improving the landscape.
But while I’m on site doing that, I’m also getting input and making mental notes on how certain plants are faring in the differing settings.
That’s invaluable for keeping tabs on what’s timely, what’s important and which plants are worth telling others about.
For instance, I hardly ever recommend a mountain laurel in a home garden because I’ve not only killed every one I’ve tried, I’ve heard almost universal tales of woes about this plant from everyone else.
On the other hand, when I see something like a ‘Knock Out’ rose or liriope or spirea thriving under every abuse in even a total non-gardener’s yard, then I know what to recommend to the next abusive non-gardener. And that could lead to a garden column called, “Plants for the Abusive Non-Gardener’s Yard” and a PowerPoint program called, “Survivors: Plants You’ll Have a Hard Time Killing.”
I also keep tabs on what’s on local gardening minds by the questions I get through my Pennlive.com Q&A Blog. When something’s brewing, I’ll get a flurry of questions and know it’s time to write something.
What’s going on in my own yard is another idea source. If I see blight ravaging my tomatoes or things blooming out of whack or a job that needs done, those are all issues that might be useful for others, too.
I’ve found that a lot of ideas just come to me while I’m out “working” (playing) in the yard. That’s when my mind switches into that glorious slow-down mode that happens at precious few other times.
Going for a walk is another great idea time. Once again, there’s a lot less noise in my brain while I’m out trying to burn off winter calories that edging, weeding and digging take care of in summer.
Sometimes I get ideas while reading what others are writing. I came across an interesting article that Allan Armitage recently wrote in Greenhouse Grower magazine about why garden sizes are shrinking, and that drove the focus for my recent garden-trends-of-the-coming-year column.
It seems like a lot of blogs and magazines are mentioning fairy gardening and hydroponics lately, so I’ll at least float those topics by some of my local sources.
Speaking of sources, I hear things and get tips from a variety of garden professionals, Master Gardeners, landscapers, garden-center staffers, Extension educators and other such experts.
Example: Last year’s news about the downy mildew disease that was killing everybody’s impatiens came to me first from Deb Shearer, one of the owners at Ashcombe Farm and Greenhouses.
One of the “regulars” on my gardening bus trips, Carlisle gardener Rosemary Blaszuk, tipped me off about the lawsuit that ended an iconic Connecticut garden tour (and led to an e-column here a few weeks ago).
And Mechanicsburg arborist and radio-show host Bob Carey told me when and where our area’s very first official emerald ash borer struck (he knew because he found it in Wormleysburg).
My editors at The Patriot-News occasionally suggest topics, too… typically ones I’ve overlooked as “too basic” and took for granted. But what’s old to me is new and fascinating to a young gardener, so that helps me keep perspective.
And last but not least is the PR person. There’s a whole industry of marketing professionals whose job is to get publicity for their clients’ books, fertilizers, plants, tools, etc.
Most media people get bombarded with pitches – some of it more subtle than others.
It’s useful to stay on top of what’s new, but there’s no chance I’m going to write something strictly on a press release – especially if the point was to sell a particular product.
I do pay attention to PR themes, to common denominators in different pitches or to trends that might be beneath a product’s arrival. All of that can become fodder for a column.
But if I see any of that happening in YOUR yard or MY yard, that’ll carry much more weight.