When the Tables Are Turned


By C.L. Fornari

A garden communicator’s garden is photographed for a national magazine.

Some years ago I’d made an appointment to photograph a Cape Cod garden but when the day arrived it was dead sunny. I called the owner, explaining that the light was too harsh and could we please put the appointment off for a day or two. “No!” was her reply, “You’ll come today or not at all.” It turns out that she’d been up at 4 AM, deadheading, raking, and primping. She was nervous about the garden looking its best, and couldn’t face the possibility of extending that tension another day.

Now I know how she felt. Normally I’m on the garden communicator side of this situation. I show up with my notepad and cameras, take photos of the garden, and jot down plant names and the gardener’s comments. But last week the tables were turned. On September 6th Kindra Clineff came to my garden take photos for an article that I’ll be writing for Country Garden Magazine.

The focus of the article will be annuals, so needless to say, I put a great deal of thought into which plants I grew and purchased this past spring. Some of those efforts paid off and the visions manifest…others, not so much. I planted Golden Delicious Pineapple Sage next to African Blue Basil as usual in the fragrance garden, but the basil was miss-labeled and the plants don’t have the usual purple colored foliage. Tragic? No. Opportunity lost? Certainly.

I started purple Gomphrena from seed to plant in Annual Alley. I typically mix six or more annuals in this area, planted “field style.” But the Gomphrena only grew was half the size it was touted to be, so the Blue Horizon Ageratum, Nicotiana, and annual Salvias quickly grew over it. The Forecast Zinnias, however, were half again taller than the seed package predicted. So the Gomphrena is hidden and to my eye the zinnias look leggy and awkward.

Opposite that river of color I plant Dahlias and Nasturtiums, and normally in early September both are huge and in full, glorious boom. This year, the Dahlias were barely budded on photography day. Whether it was the cool June weather, the very hot August temperatures, or something else, the Nasturtiums that normally hide the mulch path are feeble. Even the black aphids that like them so much are only making a half-hearted run at the leaves.

In the cutting garden, the Zinnias and Dahlias are also late to mature but the Verbena bonariensis has been this summer’s over-achiever. Two weeks before the photographer arrived all I could see near the garden shed was a sea of purple Verbena. In order to give these beds some definition, I pulled half of it out, filling an entire garden cart with stems, flowers, and dozens of very annoyed bees.

Once the gardens were as good as they were going to get, I worried about photography day. I’m normally a tad weather obsessed (my husband would say completely weather obsessed) and this photo shoot had me checking my forecast app every thirty minutes. Will there enough clouds to shield the sun but not so many that everything is gloomy? Will it pour? Or worse, will we get one of our classic nor’easters that will flatten all the flowers?

Fortunately, none of those fears came to pass. The day arrived and although the weather was hot and humid, there were enough clouds to make shooting without shadows possible. Annual Alley was a crayon box of primary colors, even without the dahlias and nasturtiums. In the entry garden where I mix annuals with perennials, the Senorita Blanca Cleome was a mass of white flowers next to the red foliage of Hibiscus acetosella. Yellow Profusion Zinnias lived up to their name and the Variegated Spreading Salmon Sunpatiens looked like plump, flower-covered pillows all along the front walk. The shed was newly painted and the Verbena bonariensis in the cutting garden was filled with bees and monarchs. None of it was perfect, of course, but it was complete enough.

I’m thankful it’s over, but I’m also grateful to have had the experience. It was instructive to watch someone photograph my gardens from perspectives that I usually don’t take. It was nice to have so many areas deadheaded and weed-free all at once…although I don’t expect that to ever happen again. And from now on, when I make an appointment to see and photograph a garden, I’ll know exactly what the property owner is experiencing.

Meet the Author


C.L. is a writer, speaker, podcaster, and radio host who joyously grows all manner of plants on Cape Cod.

Chicago Botanic Garden | Buehler Enabling Garden

header.jpgBy Toni Gattone

A few weeks ago, I attended the GWA: Association for Garden Communicators conference in my hometown of Chicago. I joined their organization in 2015 when I discovered it was open to all garden communicators, including speakers, writers, and photographers. Three years ago, I was a garden speaker and I was anxious to hone my craft.


Since then, I have become an author, having just finished my manuscript for my upcoming book that will be published next year by Timber Press. It was a daunting task, but I am happy to have accomplished such a goal. Because of my affiliation with GWA, I now have a network with many talented and accomplished authors and speakers.

Continue reading “Chicago Botanic Garden | Buehler Enabling Garden”

Why I’m Making it a Priority to Attend Cleveland Grows!

Green Circle Growers Orchid Bay_GCG webBy Susan Martin

BUSY. It is our standard response when someone asks us how we’re doing and there’s no doubt many of us truly are busy. Making a living as a professional garden communicator takes a tremendous amount of effort to stay connected, educate ourselves on current issues and practices, and to keep the work coming.

As the summer travel season is coming to a close, maybe you are feeling weary of traveling to trade shows held in huge conference centers packed to the gills with merchandise, coordinating meetups and dinners with colleagues and schlepping backbreaking loads of catalogs back to your hotel room. I get it. I’ve been there—just a month or so ago, in fact.

But I’m going to the GWA Cleveland Grows! meeting anyway. Why?

First, I’m going because Clevelander Maria Zampini and I have crafted a once in a lifetime experience for you. Our scheming began on a rainy night last October (yes, we’ve been planning this for almost a year!) at my kitchen table over a glass of wine and a map of Cleveland. No huge conference centers, no schlepping, and everything is planned for you.

I’m also attending because I know this event is going to be a ton of FUN. I like to plan the kinds of meetings I like to attend. If you’ve ever attended a meeting I’ve planned, you know I pack a lot of action into a short amount of time and everyone leaves with cool swag. Cleveland Grows! will be no different.

Most importantly, I’m attending because this is going to be one of the best opportunities for professional development I’ve had all year. We’ve planned a wide range of experiences that will offer something for everyone who attends.

We’ll be touring two grower operations I’ve been reading other people’s stories about for Landcraft-DennisSchrader's gardenyears but have never toured myself—Willoway Nurseries and Green Circle Growers. Both companies are rolling out the red carpet for us, giving us private tours, telling us the stories behind their operations, feeding us catered meals and giving out the kind of swag that will make you swoon. The photo opps are bound to be equally valuable.

We’re touring Petitti Garden Center too, consistently ranked in the top 100 garden centers in all of America. Given that IGCs are some of my favorite places on earth, I’m pretty confident I’ll like this place. We’ll also get caught up on trends this retailer has seen this season, which will lead to new story ideas.

For my own personal gardening inspiration, I am looking forward to touring the private gardens of award winning local garden designers Bobbie Schwartz and Nancy Drobnick. Bobbie and I share a love of perennial plants and membership in the Perennial Plant Association. She’ll be signing copies of her new book, Garden Renovation, for us in her garden. For over 40 years, Nancy has studied has intensely studied world metaphysics, mathematics, physics, astronomy and horticulture. People who have visited her garden tell me my mind will be blown. I can’t wait.

The most incredible opportunity we’ve lined up is something unique to Cleveland. This area happens to be the home of many of the industry’s leading trade publications’ editors including Matt McClellan (GIE Media), Jen Polanz (Ball Publishing) and Janeen Wright (Meister Media). They will be joining us on Friday evening during our catered dinner sponsored by Green Circle Growers for a Meet the Editors panel discussion. They’ll share what they are looking for from us and we’ll have a frank discussion of how we can all work better together. Live. In person. Exclusively for our group. What a remarkable opportunity!

At the end of an exhausting but extremely fulfilling Friday, we’ll retire to the Embassy Suites by Hilton hotel in Beachwood, OH. Rooms are large enough to share and the hotel offers a free breakfast. It is conveniently located just minutes from our first stop of the day on Saturday morning.

This meeting is guaranteed to be 24 hours of incredibly worthwhile experiences that will refresh my spirit, renew my way of thinking about how our industry operates, boost my photo library and fill my “fun” quota for the month. I wouldn’t miss it. How could you?


All are welcome—bring a friend!
Member Rate: $60/person
Members can reserve a spot for a guest at their own member rate.
Non-Member Rate: $95/person

Did we mention we’re only holding 50 spots open for this event? Register today while there are still a few spots left!

Questions? Reach me at gardenersuesnews@gmail.com or Maria Zampini at maria@upshoothort.com or call the GWA office at 212.297.2198.

See you in Cleveland!

Meet the AuthorSue Martin

Susan Martin is a Regional Director for Region III and member since 2004. She works full time as a professional horticultural marketer, writer and speaker for trade and consumer audiences. After earning her stripes pulling weeds in her mother’s garden since age four, Susan has earned the pleasure of gardening in “black gold” (acidic sandy loam) near the shore of Lake Michigan.