10 Things I Learned at the Garden Writers Meeting

I spent a week earlier this month in Dallas, TX, for the annual Garden Writers Association symposium. It was the usual whirlwind of networking, garden tours, talks, exhibits, and social events. Last year, I was elected as one of the two Regional Directors for the Mid-Atlantic in GWA' s leadership so I also had some official duties to perform at the meeting. Then I volunteered to be an official Mentor to boot. Because that is not stressful enough, I also gave a talk this year on creating Your Own Self-Publishing Brand. This being my 5th GWA annual meeting, I promised to pace myself and to take better notes as it went along. I also promised myself I'd come home with less paperwork and immediately organize what I did haul back. I thought I'd get all the business cards I collected immediately organized and send them notes to check in with all the new folks I met. Ha! None of that has, or probably will, happen. But, if nothing else got done, I did want to at least write this blog post of 10 Things I Learned at GWA. Some are new lessons. Some are things I knew and forgot in the busy-ness of life. Here they are, in no particular order:
1. Be the first speaker on the first day.
My talk followed the keynote speaker on the first morning. Thank goodness! After that I could relax and enhjoy all the other talks. Another side benefit is that my session was SRO and as the event wore on I noticed fewer and fewer people at the sessions. No fault of the stellar speakers, but by the last set on the last day, there was maybe 20 of us in the room.
2. Bring Far More Business Cards than You Think You'll Ever Need
Seriously. I ordered a new box before this year's meeting. Did the same last year. Went through almost all by the end of the event. Disappointingly, by day 2,  I would hand out my card only to be met by many "um, I'm out" responses. You paid how much to come to this networking event and now you are short on cards? Get thyself to a Kinko's pronto and make more -- even if you have to miss the next speaker! No excuses.
3. Pack Plants in My Carry-On
So I interviewed several veteran members on the best way to get your plants home post-GWA and that story gets published just prior to the meeting. Do I obey any of the great advice? No. I end up stufing my extra empty suitcase with papers and tool samples. Ended up using my two permitted carryons as plant holders. You know what? It worked perfectly and I did not have to stress about what the postman or the baggage handlers were doing to my plants. Instead, I got to keep them right at my feet and with me the whole time.
4. Think Like a Poet When Taking Photos
I finally got to attend a photo session by David E Perry. Every year they book his talks against equally stellar speakers and each year I think photos are secondary for me, I'll go for the writing or editingtrack. Then I hear the raves afterwards and want to kick myself. The taped talks afterwards that you can purchase just are not cutting it for those who missed his images. This year I treated myself and sat front and center for Dave's talk. His theme this year was using photos as poetry or story-telling. Excellent tips and definitely slowed me down and changed my photo-taking pace. What do you think of the story being told in the photo I've posted above? (Click on it to see at full size.)
5. If You Do Not Attend, Guess Who Folks Talk About?
If you are not at GWA and you were a past regular, everyone will remark on your abscence and then speculate on why that was. Just saying.
6. GWA Needs to Issue Some Photo and Garden Visiting Etiquette Guidelines
Maybe it was the humidity and heat. Maybe the fact that we just try to squeeze so much into so little time. Maybe GWA members are used to being treated like spoiled prima donna media guests. Whatever the reason, there was an abundance of rudeness in the garden visits and social events. I'm not just talking about the line-cutters at the open bars. We all need to check ourselves and realize there are others trying to get the best shots of the gardens, enjoy their contemplative moments, and maximize our time. These 3 goals are often at odds with each. Official guidelines would help. Like we use "airplane rules" for disembarking the buses, meaning you get off row by row -- you do NOT jump into the aisle and run to front as soon as the bus starts to stop. Let's all be mindful of that and cut each other some slack.
7. We Need to Update the General Public's Image of Gardening
The 'Sustainability Trends" presentation by Kierstin DeWest made the point that the public perception of "gardener" is of an older, elegant active lady. The reality is of young, rebel rule-breakers who are pioneers in their efforts. That is what her numbers show and that is defibitely what I witness on a daily basis. Why the disconnect? I blame arthritis medication advertising by big pharmacy corporations. Let's break that stranglehold and show in our stories and photos what REAL gardeners look like.
8. I Need to Make More Videos
Shirley Bovshow's session inspired me to get back to making more videos. Not that I need to star in any more myself. Truthfully, I don't mind being on camera (ahem). What I do mind is watching and editing myself. Painful! She reminded me about http://www.animoto.com/ and other ways I can do videos fairly painlessly.
9. Garden Clubs Need to Evolve
The "Reaching Garden Consumers" talk pointed out a novel idea to me -- pay per event not by membership. Hey! That way they just pay for what they attend, no strings or commitment, and the garden organization gets to bring in new folks who may even come back again for more as their busy schedules allow.
10. Sometimes the Grass is NOT Greener
Much as I enjoyed visiting the well-to-do Dallas gardens and saw a few plants I'd like to be able to grow back here in the Mid-Atlantic. I would not trade our climate for theirs. Hoo, boy. No way. No how. I took some time during my extra early days in the city to visit a local friend and I looked at the yards of those who are "regular Dallas folk." What I saw: Dry. Sad. Mostly devoid of green. No thanks. Don't even get me started on their idea of turfgrass lawns -- like waking barefoot on a bed of nails. So glad to be home!


Thank you for sharing what you learned. My goal next year is to actually attend the garden tours and keynotes. However 7A breakfast call time is just wrong.
Adriana - yes, those early mornings are TOUGH on a body - I figure it is just 5 days of it and I can crash when I'm back.
Kathy said…
I am glad to hear you are not following your post-symposium resolutions any better than I am following mine. I will also attest that having the last speaking slot before everyone adjourns for the awards dinner is the pits--but somebody's got to do it, and that somebody was me.

I did not notice the rudeness you did, but maybe I was on a better-behaved bus. There are a few individuals who are notorious for it.
Lois said…
It was great to visit with you in Dallas, Kathy. A lot of us gardeners actually are elegant, mature, women. Dan and I address the hectic schedule by adding on the after-tour on Tuesday plus three days of vacation. We crashed at a cousin's outside of Austin.

Shirley Bovshow said…
HI Kathy!
Glad to hear you were encouraged to create more gardening videos. I look forward to seeing more of you on the Garden World Report Show. How about contributing some video reports? We do all the editing! Win/win.
Shirley B
C.L. Fornari said…
Re: "5. If You Do Not Attend, Guess Who Folks Talk About?"
The rumors that I was lunching with Oprah or plant collecting with Dan Hinkley were not (sigh) true. I couldn't come to the Dallas meeting because I was speaking at a Master Gardener conference in Rochester, NY. A delightful bunch of plant people, by the way. I got to visit a fellow hortaholic's garden and that made me feel like I got a small taste of the usual GWA event. Missed you all.
Danielle Ernest said…
Love the post, Kathy!! I am still trying to get all those business cards entered into our system, but first the IT person needs to do some work. I also noticed the rudeness this year, which I hadn't in the past. I think it was the heat! It was great to see you!
Rhonda said…
Yikes, I was your seat buddy one afternoon, hope I behaved!
Since it was my first time, I didn't have much to compare with; but it is jammed with so much stuff, you get kind of panicked about packing it all in.
All in all fun.
Thanks all for stopping by!

Rhonda - you were an angel :-)

CL - oh, the stories we invited! - I had you partying in Ibiza with the Australian men's soccer team

Shirley - will start brainstorming video ideas asap

Kathy P - that last slot is tough - but you know those who DID make the effort to attend were serious, dedicated learners

Lois - great way to decompress - I did the opposite arriving early to visit a friend and get the lay of the land
Denise said…
I was witness to one of our members who earns their living as photographer rather than as a writer, telling someone "you're in my picture". My suggestion to them is, well the first one you can't print, the second is, make an appointment when there are not 500+ garden writers in the vicinity and take as many photos as you like.
I didn't make the last session either but there was a problem with my boarding pass and reservation and that took priorty over everything.
Pretty to visit, couldn't begin to fathom living in that heat.
David Perry said…
Kathy, love the hints at an untold story in your photo. It really works. And I'm honored that you made time for my presentation and found food for thought within it. Thank you for the kind words and for such a thought provoking post. So many insightful points . . . Namast'e,
Hi, Kathy -- The title of your post seduced me, and I enjoyed your 10 insightful observations. I was at a book marketing seminar in San Diego instead of GWA. Learned a lot, but missed meeting you in person and seeing my other garden blog buddies.

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