News of this site: What we're adding next


Pardon our Dust! We are working on this section...
...but then we may never be done with this topic!


Zero to One at GardenAtoZ

Our first annual report: A good and chock-full year:
     Webinar premiere March 1
     Blue Susan flowers to garner Sponsorship and direction in posting topics
    Begin requiring a $5 annual fee from low-participation members on mail list

And reports on other issues of site administration you've questioned


We've been augmenting our gardening work by writing and teaching for over 20 years. However, we just turned one year old on the Internet.

Overall, we are pleased with our progress and how you've responded. We're encouraged to keep on in this endeavor to make available all of our completed work and open our ongoing discussions and explorations to anyone in the community who wishes to participate.

Yet we're feeling our E-age as we learn that our past experience does not buy us time in getting this website up and walking on its own in the direction we've planned. We set out too ambitiously but we've grown, we're happy to keep at it, and we've learned from every unexpected expense and hour.

Webinars to premier March 1, 2013

So now it's on into Year Two, continuing pretty much as before with particular focus on one of our unmet goals -- to host webinars. We'll tell you all about that plan as we go along, starting with this invitation: We will need a trial audience for our premiere webinar on the evening of March 1. Email if we should invite you.

In a Webinar we can sit down together, you in your living room, we in ours, and talk plants. We'll  use our photos and drawings to explain how to, entertain and encourage. (If we look strange in the photo below, well, that's because it's our premier, so we may dress up. But you can wear your jammies!)



About Blue Susans RudbGoBlu23_7657s.jpg

Our other changes won't stand out to casual inspection. They have to do with how to work soonest on the topics most valuable to you, and developing our audience participation level. They help us to save hours, make better use of the help you offer, and fund the site's expenses more realistically so we can keep this a literal mom and pop (well, grama and grampa) operation. Your first look at a change comes in What's Coming Up 195.

It introduces a change in our manner of posting articles from our library. We have about 23% of the library posted and have been working chronologically to add the rest. Your responses to our Sponsorship requests opened the door to another sequence, one in which we tell you what's available in a given category, and let you choose what's next. That's what you'll see in issue 195's articles Winter damage to plants, and Why no birds, about coaxing birds back to a changed yard.

More articles like it are on the way. For instance, we have an article coming up which includes a perennial selection chart. We took stock of all the other plant charts we have, think you will probably want them all, but need to work more methodically since it's especially time consuming to format these charts for the Internet. So that perennials article, coming out in two weeks will match the format of this week's Winter damage and Why no birds articles. It has a list of post-it-next candidates plus a Blue Susan flower as a participation gauge. A glance at the Blue Susans will tell us or any of you where this community's interests lie.

Beginning a $5 annual fee to non-participants of Market/Forum/Sponsorship

Second, we're looking at our email distribution list. Keeping it current and mailing out each week take a lot of time, especially given our conviction and commitment to the confidentiality of your email addresses. This year we will begin contacting those on the list who have not also participated as Market customer, Forum member or Sponsor. We will be requesting an annual membership fee of $5 from those whose only participation has been to be on the list, beginning with those who have been on the list the longest. Our thanks to all of you who have participated -- you are why we do all this work, to have a community that helps each other grow.

Enough of this. We promised ourselves we'd keep this Year One report short and put the details into articles and our What's Next department Q&A (below). So we're off to write the news now, and if you have questions or recommendations about how we operate or your standing on our list, please check the Q&A below, and email us if your answer's not there.

We are really looking forward E-year 2 and writing year 22.


Here are other items you asked about and we're working on:

The $5 annual fee
Couldn't you write less and cut costs that way?
We wish you took credit cards!
Why do you need more Sponsors?
Can we deduct Sponsorship as a charitable donation?
Why don't you get advertisers?
Fall 2012 publication gap
Forum's new look
Excessively long sidebar menus

More visible "most recent articles" list
Site-use tutorials
Clearest possible links between articles
Trial run of PDF: Five more issues remain in the trial. Do you like the magazine-style PDF? Tell us. Sponsor it!
Sponsorship drive coming up
Articles from other publications
Hurrying up material from our CDs
Commentated field trips
Quotations library

Go over that $5 annual fee, again…

Q: In your first year report it says that if we post questions and talk with others on the Forum, the $5 annual fee doesn't apply to us. Is that right? What does that accomplish?

A: That's right. We put ourselves out to help and to share. We want our readers to participate in growing this community, too. Some do, by Sponsoring, by purchasing our books and other products, and by posting questions and talking to others on the Forum. Those who do any of those things are pretty much on our list for life. We won't even talk to them about this $5 annual fee, unless they specifically ask.

On the other hand, some people are receiving our weekly emails but we don't hear from them to know what they're doing with the information, or what they're thinking. We don't know if we're helping them with gardening problems, if they are passing along the ideas we publish. Maybe our newsletters have become junk mail to them, allowed to continue because they figure it's like other junk email -- automated, impersonal, no one at this end being inconvenienced by its generation. They may not realize we're just two people trying to share, and that it requires real effort and expense on our part to send each and every email.

Keeping the email list current is a lot of work that must be done every week or it compounds. It's also very time consuming to send out the emails. We have determined to keep it personal so we do not compromise the confidentiality of emails. 

We can't see automating the process -- that would involve hiring a helper or engaging a mail service. Either way, the savings would be minimal or non-existent but there would be an increased risk that email addresses would be compromised. That's not acceptable in our current situation.

So we are beginning to contact those who have not participated in other ways, starting with those who have been longest on our list -- five years for some. We'll ask for a $5 annual membership fee to remain on the list at their current activity level. Given the pace we'll be working, new readers will still have a year or more to get a feel for this community. That's plenty of time to find ways to participate before we must ask for a fee.

Writing less: Perhaps monthly rather than weekly

Q: You could do less, and that would solve some of the problem with time you invest, right? You write so much, we've considered unsubscribing from your list  because we can't keep up.

A:We write as we see news, plus we still have 15 years of existing material to post. Our aim is to post it all so that we can build on what we've already written, not rewrite the same things as each year cycles round to spring again. We keep learning new, we want to keep writing new.

Questions and ideas also come in all the time from members of this community. Fascinating stuff we try to stay on top of.

So we can't go slower or we won't really go at all.

We're sorry if our news is sometimes overwhelming. We face that same challenge here with publications we receive. We're sometimes two years behind in our reading. This world is so full of information now that each individual must choose where to open channels, where to close them. Of course we hope we'll remain a resource to gardeners even if they don't receive our newsletters, or if they receive them and don't read them regularly. We will always keep our website and our Forum open to any who want to come look and read.

We wish you took credit cards

Q: Why don't you?! We would have Sponsored or bought a CD but couldn't figure out how to place the order.

A: We are sorry for the inconvenience. We take checks. We take what amounts to an email I.O.U. and put a bill in with the materials we mail out, or bill after we have done the Sponsored work. We do realize that the world is a one-button-it's-done place and we're out of step but we can't bear the cost to get in step.

We looked into establishing a merchant credit card account but vetoed that based on cost. We think you would be as astounded as we were at how many charges there are and how high, monthly, per transaction, annually, to set up the account, to cover the lag in transfer, to insure a certain amount in case of returns, to maintain security via software updates, etc. Our financial anchor has never been strong -- our efforts gone into doing rather than having. We'd have to raise prices significantly to cover all these costs, and also change from gardener-writer-teacher to merchant to keep them covered. We aren't here to sell products so much as to run a co-op.

So we're working on a Paypal arrangement but know it will have its own costs and issues.

We must also revamp our Market pages, and will need to work with our programmer to do that. Given the finite hours in a day and our decision in 2012 to stop scheduling 24 hour shifts, it will not happen soon.

Anachronisms that we are, we throw ourselves on your mercy. Bear with us.

Why do you need more Sponsors?

Q: You have a long list of Sponsors. Including businesses. Seems like you should have plenty of operating funds. What do you do with Sponsor fees?

A: We keep writing more. And although we have many Sponsors, it's not a large amount of money. The average Sponsor contributes $30 to this effort.

We do have some business Sponsorships but they're modest -- to appear on three or four pages rather than the one most private individuals elect.

Sponsorships pay for normal business costs you can probably imagine: Website hosting, programming, technical support, debugging and restarts (grrr to hackers who are an expense just to keep fending off), software updates, office supplies, an Internet connection, licensing fees, etc. They also pay for some of the time that we work on the site, when we exceed the number of free hours we have and cut into the time we should be earning a gardening wage. On average, each article takes four hours to post to the site, not counting time required to write the material and take the photos in the first place, so a $30 Sponsorship is only a  token compensation.

A portion of 2012's Sponsorships also went to pay outstanding start-up programming fees and clerical help for the initial huge input. This year we will need to change out one of our computers, buy webinar software and buy or lease related hardware, etc.

Can we deduct Sponsorship as a charitable donation?

Q: ...we might even be able to qualify for matching funds from our employer.

A: We are not a non-profit. We have discussed that possibility and tabled it for being too complex for what we can manage.

Why not get advertising?

Q: Sorry, but I don't want to pay for this. Why don't you get advertisers?

A: We don't like the look or feel of advertising on the site or what it might do or appear to do to our reporting. We also don't want to become salespeople with our non-existent spare hours. Every ad must be sought, designed, and maintained. The nature of advertising is to be in your face -- a National Parks site we visited recently for information about wildlflower walks  threw a "Donate now!" screen over the site within 5 seconds of our arrival. A small business' site we chanced upon in doing research had roll over ads that popped up and virtually refused to go away, just because we moused near them. On many sites, animated graphics run constantly on peripheral ads or announcements blare at us if we chance to click in the wrong place.

No thank you -- we have been told, "That's okay, we're immune to that." However, we ourselves have a very low tolerance for it, and even less tolerance of the thought that we would be the ones designing, maintaining, and billing for ever-escalating obnoxiousness.

What's come next in advertising discussion has been "Can't you seek grants?" We did look around for grants to help us develop and teach a children's program in Detroit and did not last long working our way through that system. Grant writing is a profession and our hats are off to those who have that ability.

Fall 2012 publication gap

Q: In fall we missed you for a number of weeks. What happened?

A: The year was a hard one, the spring growing season beginning to early that we had to drop our design work and other administration, unfinished in order to go out and keep up with natural events. Frosts, replanting, the hottest driest summer in decades all took their toll. We kept up, if only by a slim margin, until the fall outdoor busy season, an innjury and some family grief demanded our time. There was not even time to send a "We're out of the office" memo. (See our remarks about the $5 annual fee, regarding address list upkeep time and mail-out effort.)

Those crises have passed, leaving us that much more determined to keep up with the website. So we've increased our effort to streamline the work, obtain more participation in Sponsorships, pursue offers of office help, etc.

Forum's new look

Q: I noticed last fall that during the fall the Forum took on a new look. Why did you change it?

A: In fending off a hacker attack and restarting afterward, we had to peel off the "skin" our programmer put in place. That skin had colors and fonts that matched the rest of GardenAtoZ.

What you see at the Forum now is the bare bones appearance that came with the software. Everything is functional, although we wish it was more attractive. We will revamp it as soon as we have a bit of time and funds to pay the programmer.

Excessively long sidebar menuslong menu.jpg

Q: When I open a department in the left-hand menu for What's Up news, the entries go on and on. It's so unwieldy to scroll through. Can't you change that?

A: Sorry! We should have packaged and moved many of those articles into the Ensemble Editions department this summer and fall. We lagged behind. We'll catch up soon.

Until then, you can close that long menu and get qcuikly down to the next department by clicking on the What's Up tab in the horizontal bar.

Preparing some aids: "How to use the site."

We've been told, "The site is confusing,"  "I can't find the newest articles," "I got lost trying to read all you want us to read," and "Cut with the cutesy titles; just make it clear what an article's about!" We hear you. Yet we've also heard, "It's the best!" and "I love it!" so we'll go one step at a time through this murky tub and avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

We've started with the top tab under "What's Up" and renamed it "The most recent articles" since it is a list of titles and links to the most recent articles. We'll remember to point you more directly to that to find your way around.

We are also working on eliminating the mystery, "Where did that article go?"  with a how-to of our Search function. It's a very good Search function, even better than an index. We don't think we've given it the press it deserves.

It's going to take some doing but we're also working on a graphic to describe how articles flow from our newest section, "What's Up" into the main library, "Ensemble Weekly Editions."

For cutesy titles, we apologize. We'll try harder, although we'll be fighting our own strong aversion to sequel-ization ("Cut a spruce 1" and "Cut a spruce 2," etc.) that may be the only other answer between an e-world where short articles reign and a real world where living plants keep presenting new ifs, ands and buts.

Most easily navigable trails as we link in and outward from our library

It's fascinating, all the links we can make, and essential to our don't-repeat-ourselves objective. It's also frustrating to keep track of all the links already made plus those that develop as each new article affects the old. (Our programmers tell us that if we could develop a simple way to track links, we could make our fortune, so badly needed is that technology.)

We do not intend for anyone to follow every link from an article -- no one knows better than we who forge them, how tangled the trail can become in following every path. We make links only to note "Here's a possible avenue for further exploration of this point." We promise to try harder to make most worthwhile links while avoiding a future full of "Page Not Found."

It will take time to smooth these bumps. Some situations may be best addressed by programming changes; since there's no budget for that, we may have to institute some stop gaps. We'll report on those here..

We'll trial PDF magazine format plus on-line articles

1/3 of those who responded to our August, 2012 poll preferred our magazine format in PDF. They enjoyed its portability -- print it and read it anywhere. Others liked its share-ability -- make an extra copy for computer-less Aunt Mel. Some liked it because they connect to the Internet only now and then and want to download all the latest news in one stroke. Others mentioned that the magazine's "look" was more pleasing. We're glad you appreciate all of this!

We're sorry we don't have time to do both, but certain that while we can do only one we must stick with our on-line work to keep the library moving forward. So we've developed an option to hire help to produce the magazine.

So far, we've explained to the interested parties (poll respondents) that we could trial a parallel publication in PDF magazine format if we have sufficient Sponsorship to produce those magazines through the growing season while we recruit more subscribers. When we have enough individuals committed that we know we can cover a year's worth of payments to others to produce the PDF, we'll turn the magazine into a conventional subscription.

A generous group of you have come to bat for it, and thus Sponsored a magazine's issuance for 10 weeks. These fine people have not only covered the ten week's production fees but agreed to share the results with all our readers. That's critical, since potential subscribers need to see the magazine format to compare it to on-line material.

Our thanks to that group. Starting with issue #190 we will post a PDF magazine each time we issue a new E-Summary. The Sponsorships already made will carry us ten weeks. Then it will be winter when Steven and Janet hours can carry it a while longer, even if our campaign for additional Sponsorship has not yet born fruit.

If you want to see the PDF continue beyond the trial, please point it out to others. Email us and let us know you want to subscribe when the time comes. Or Sponsor it now -- maybe enough people will continue stepping up to keep it rolling forward without formal subscriptions.

Coming up: Sponsorship drives

We've launched our Blue Susan campaign for Sponsors with issue #195. Bear with us -- we will try to avoid interrupting any regular news with our pleas for Sponsorship.

On-line classes: Webinars

During the 2012 growing season, our exploration into "Webinars" -- classes with live chat -- had to go on hold. We're picking it back up now. We will trial a Webinar on the evening of March 1, 2013 -- email if you would like to be in that trial audience and we'll be sure to get the details to you.

There are equipment and software costs involved, and hosting support for each webinar. It's a considerable cost, so we're thinking about offering Webinars by subscription: Your choice of X number per year without additional registration fee, probably a  savings over registering for the same number of classes one at a time. If that would interest you, let us know and we'll talk to you about the rates and so on as planning progresses.

Opportunities to buy in to recordings of classes/talks

We may be able to give you the chance to review audio- or video recordings, or transcripts of the live chat from webinar presentations you could not attend "live."

Our work from Michigan Gardener, Fine Gardening, Better Homes and Gardens, etc.

Will we link to Michigan Gardener for the ten years' work we've done there? It's work not even in our queue yet, not yet scheduled to be posted here. Likewise our Fine Gardening work, Better Homes and Garden columns... We do own the material so we could put it here.

One thought we have is to re-publish those articles with all their original photos and data. That's because most of the time we give a publisher several choices for each photo spot, and send along related bits and facts to be used as filler if needed. Much of that data and the extra images are never seen, and because we saw them in place when we wrote, we forget they never made it to light.

Releasing material from our  CDs

About 150 Ensemble editions and 600 articles from our first five books are available on the CDs so we assigned them a low priority for posting here. Other, unavailable material will go first.

We have pulled many of them forward as Sponsors requested them or as our own new material called for links back to them.


Still just dreaming. Two things are sure, says Steven, "I am not a videographer and we need a much better camera than what we have now..."

Commentated garden tours/field trips

This could be a blast and we hope start them next year. Roll cameras, line  up shots, and use them to recap our visits to gardens. Make them available as pdf documents to download, if we cannot include them in a Webinar series.

Encourage others to do the same!

A Quotations library?

We've put that in place!

We cannot have islands of excellence in a sea of slovenly indifference. - John W. Gardener -