Pardon our Dust! We are working
on this section...
...but then we may never be done with
Zero to One at GardenAtoZ
Our first annual report: A good and
premiere March 1
flowers to garner Sponsorship and direction in posting
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.
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
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!)
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
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
...to 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
We wish you took credit cards!
Why do you need more
Can we deduct Sponsorship as a charitable
Why don't you get advertisers?
Fall 2012 publication gap
Forum's new look
Excessively long sidebar menus
More visible "most recent
Clearest possible links between
Trial run of PDF: Five more issues remain
in the trial. Do you like the magazine-style PDF? Tell us. Sponsor
Sponsorship drive coming up
Articles from other
Hurrying up material from our CDs
Commentated field trips
Go over that $5 annual
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
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
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
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
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
Anachronisms that we are, we throw ourselves on your mercy. Bear
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
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
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
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
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
Q: In fall we missed you for a number of weeks. What
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.
long sidebar menus
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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."
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
Releasing material from our
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
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!
We've put that in place!
We cannot have islands of excellence in a sea of slovenly
indifference. - John W. Gardener -