Tag Archives: garden conferences

Garden Writer’s Association – 2014 Pittsburgh Symposium

As I had mentioned in my last post, I spent last weekend in Pittsburgh, PA attending the annual Garden Writer’s Association symposium. This was the second GWA conference I’ve ever attended with the first being in Dallas back in 2010.

When I ventured to Dallas I had only been “garden blogging” for seven months. What the hell was I thinking? I had no right to be there at that point in my blogging life. In fact, I gave serious thought to skipping the conference all together upon arriving and touring Dallas on my own for the weekend. I was more equipped to bar hop for three days then I was to share my experiences with writing.

I eventually relented and had a blast and realized there was something to this garden writing thing.

I met so many interesting and unique individuals and the acceptance was overwhelming. Sure, there were a few raised eyebrows when I shared my garden writing role, but the majority were supportive. I considered the trip and my foray into garden writing as a not-quite-mid-life-profession-semi-crisis and was all in. The passion was unearthed and it was full speed ahead.

Fast forward four years and I’m still doing it. And friggin enjoying it. The 3 to 4 post per week pace hasn’t slowed down and I have yet to hit the “worn out” button. Not only do I enjoy what I am doing with this blog, my podcasts, the social media interactions and some other garden related writing, I NEED this. The creative outlet is rewarding and stimulating in ways I had never experienced before. The idea that someone gives a damn about what I have to say is pretty damn cool. Who knew?  

There is such a stark difference between this and my “day job” and that contrast inspires me to express myself in a different and unique way. It just feels good. I have no big plans to conquer this universe; it is much more about enjoying the journey rather than the ultimate destination.

Which brings me to the Pittsburgh trip. I hadn’t attended the last three GWA symposiums due to scheduling conflicts, family travels, costs, etc. but this one was within driving distance so I decided to give it a whirl. I didn’t go with any preconceived notions or a plan of attack. I really looked forward to catching up with people I met in Dallas, connecting with social media friends in person, meeting new garden peeps, getting my brain stimulated through various workshops, going on garden tours in the area and getting to see Pittsburgh for the first time. Maybe someday there will be a book deal to be had but for now, it was all about soaking in the experience.

I can report that all of the above was accomplished and Pittsburgh is all sorts of awesome.

I’ll always remember the trips on the bus and the rotation of people I had the joy of sitting next to. Each had their own fantastic back story and career trajectory. I could have listened to each of them speak for hours and it reminded me that it is the people that make this so damn interesting and rewarding.

I’ll remember catching up with someone I hadn’t spoken with since Dallas as we walked the grounds of The Newington Estate and tried to figure out where we are going with this writing gig.      

I’ll remember being the lone male at a dinner for twelve overlooking the Pittsburgh skyline. I am fairly confident that I admitted to watching and loving The Bachelor and that I have an almost crippling fear of heights.

I’ll remember riding the “Incline” at night, the family of rare spiders that rode with us and the woman with the greatest nails I’ve ever seen outside the Guinness Book of World Records. Those nails led to a spirited discussion on how she functions in the bathroom … never mind.                  

I’ll remember to continue to dig for my inner awesome.

I’ll remember Rick Darke’s keynote address and the images of the NYC High Line. A September trip has already been planned.    

My brain is so full of ideas/directions to take this garden writing/communicating thing and hopefully you will stick with me along the way. Here are just some of the thoughts bouncing around my cranium at the moment:

  • Why the hell not try to write a book? Maybe about the psychology of handling deer damage? Or the best “full sun/deer resistant/rabbit resistant/wet feet/zone 6B loving” plants? That isn’t hyper-specific or anything. 
  • Why not up the videos and get the kids involved? My daughter likes power tools and she would love to show off her abilities for an audience. Maybe she can become a star and I can ride her coattails.

** Quick plug – feel free to click on the YouTube link on the right panel of this page and subscribe to my YouTube channel. It is in its infancy stage right now, but I promise much more to come. **  

  • Why not make this a combined effort with my wife where she cooks what I grow or simply cooks and you just watch me eat? I am like a totally awesome eater.
  • I learned a lot about myself and what gardens/plants/styles work for me based on all of the garden tours (more on that below).
  • I realize the persona I carry on this blog is very different from what people expect when they meet me. It made me realize that the true me is probably somewhere in between “Blog John” and “a little bit repressed in real life” John.
  • I understand attention spans are at an all time low and blog posts need to be short and grab the viewer immediately, but today’s post defies all of that logic and I don’t give a shit.
  • Pittsburgh is really cool and I need to take the family back soon.

Ok, enough words. Let’s continue John’s very very fun and informing weekend in Pittsburgh through some professional level photos:        
First, the garden tours.

I need more …




I live on such an open lot and it has been such a challenge to make it cozy and inviting in any way. I’m not even close to creating even one “garden room”. I’ll keep trying, and it still fun as hell, but maybe it isn’t in the cards at this house. Time to talk to the family about moving.

As pretty and colorful as the following photos look, it doesn’t resonate with me as much as I’m sure it does for so many others. I can appreciate it for what it is, but when you sense there is a full time gardener on staff at that home, it loses a lot of soul:    

I can’t state enough how much I love Amsonia:

All of the following photos were taken at the same private garden – the garden of Ava Davidson – and this was by far my favorite of all the tours. My biggest regret is not finding the time to chat with the owner so I could pick her brain a bit. This garden oozed with stories and it would have been nice to listen to some of those:

The mix of art/foliage/color/texture/fun was perfect and I would be smart to remember that when I am in design mode with my own garden.

On my final morning, I took a walk along the riverfront to say goodbye to the city that treated me so well for four days and to reflect upon all that I had just consumed:  

I loved the mix of urban/grit/modern/plant life Pittsburgh offered and thought the two pics below summed that up pretty well:

I feel invigorated as a result of this trip and hope that translates in all I do in the near future.

Thank you again for taking the time to stop by and read my stuff. It really does put a smile on my face each and every day.