November 30th, 2006
Zanthan Gardens: Five Years and Still Blogging

fall vegetable garden
2006-11-27. Vegetable garden before the ice storm.

On November 30, 2001 I sent an email to my friends and family announcing that I had moved, virtually. AJM had heard about Movable Type and since I spend a huge amount of time documenting various aspects of my life he thought I might be interested into integrating this then new technology into my existing gardening site.

The birth of Zanthan Gardens officially took place on September 13, 2001 with a plant profile on my signature plant oxblood lilies. I’ve always been one of those people who liked to read every bit information that I can on a topic and then write my own version. Answering feedback I received from a friend, I outlined my vision for the site.

I am finding that the most difficult thing to do is to get the correct tone and keep it. I want it to be personal, specific to my experiences because I like to read other garden writers personal experiences with each plant. I know that I cannot provide complete information about all plants, or even all plants that grow here. So I decided that the best thing to do is to write about plants I actually grow (or books I’ve actually read or nurseries from which I actually buy plants and bulbs).

I am trying to provide the information that I look for most often. Bloom time is important to me, too, and it is what made me start my garden diary. You simply cannot rely on any garden book to “coordinate” bloom time because it is so affected by region, and microclimate, and weather conditions that vary from year to year.

Identifying plants I have and plants I should have is also important to me. Since I live in an old yard, I spent (spend) a lot of time trying to identify various plants. In fact, my first two garden books were actually native plant books. I also find books on weeds to be very useful. Therefore, I want to provide photos and cross-reference the descriptions by other writers.

As you can tell, it is a very beta site right now. Providing the content is secondary to my designing and creating a site. Although I did some web site design and maintenance for ETI, I want to practice doing more complicated things.

I hope, over the weekend, to get the whole bloom calendar up. I also took quite a few photos this morning…so there will be some more plant profiles. I do best with deadlines. I’ll let you know…hmmm. Seems to me that another thing I could set up would be a mailing list.

Reading this again five years later, I’m surprised how clear my vision was at the beginning and how I’ve managed to stay true to it. The original pages, Plant Profiles and In Bloom Calendar of the site were for the most part static. I wrote all the html and css by hand using the text editor BBEdit. When AJM told me about Movable Type, I thought I could use weblog technology to log updates to the other pages. Very soon, I started using them to publish a week-by-week public summary of my personal gardening diary. The blog portion remains only one part of the entire Zanthan Gardens site. I wonder how many people are aware of that? Even I sometimes forget. I have a backlog of Plant Profiles to write and I always mean to update the In Bloom Calendars…but it’s just easier to mouth off on the blog.

The first years of garden blogging were lonely. Fortunately, most of my energy was going into my blog about living in Japan and the ex-pat community there were very early adopters of blogging. I had joined the Texas Gardening webring and met Austin gardener Val of Larvalbug. Other than that I received little feedback. It was almost eight months before I received my first comment from a stranger who found me via a Google search. Two of my earliest finds (or maybe they found me) were fellow Texas gardener, Bill of Prairie Point and sister extreme climate gardener, Kathy Purdy of Cold Climate Gardening.

This last year has seen an explosion in garden blogs. I think the credit goes to Blogger, which makes them easy to set up, and RSS, which makes them easy to track and read. In January, Annie in Austin read about Zanthan Gardens in our local paper and wrote to me about her garden web page Divas of the Dirt. We met at Smith & Hawkins, exchanged some plants and had a great talk. I mentioned to Annie how much we bloggers liked comments, and well, the rest is history. (Annie, do NOT stifle your comments because I said that. You know how I love following you around the blogosphere.) In February, Pam Penick, one of the first people to comment on this blog way back in 2003, wrote to me that she was starting her own blog, Digging. Each time I see an update, I can hardly wait to click over and check out her latest set of gorgeous photos. By June, Annie decided that the water was fine and jumped right into blogging at The Transplantable Rose. This year everything I’d dreamed of when I first began blogging has come true finally. After starting small, garden blogging has flowered and borne fruit. I get to compare notes and photos with other gardeners nearby. What a lot of fun we’ve had meeting each other and sharing our gardens. (Does any town have more active garden bloggers than Austin, TX?) Unexpected bonus: I’m in contact with gardeners all over the world.

A couple of months ago Kathy Purdy was kind enough to include me in her great series on Garden Blog Pioneers. My vanity has made me curious…Do you know of any garden blog started before November 30, 2001? that’s still running? Pamela Shorey mentions that Outside in the Garden was named blog of the day four days earlier. However, the earliest archive I can find is December 12, 2001.

by M Sinclair Stevens

12 Responses to post “Zanthan Gardens: Five Years and Still Blogging”

  1. From Julie (Austin):

    Happy “Seedtime” and thanks to MSS & Zanthan!

    May your Sagittarius firstborn continue to bring adventure and joy.

  2. From Annie in Austin:

    Congratulations on #5! How old would that be in blog years?? Things happen so quickly on the internet that we’ll need a higher number than the 7 used as multiplier for our canine friends.

    Hey, Julie, since M says the blog began under Sagittarius, but the website’s birth was September 13, it looks like we have two planets at work! The methodical format suggests that Virgo was in charge from the onset, but Virgos don’t believe in astrology anyway.

    November 30 is the date on which my husband came to Austin for a meeting and interview, described as ‘just checking out a possibility’. That was eight years ago, so this date has major resonance in my life, too.

    Thank you for your encouragement and example, and don’t worry! Unlike Edith Bunker, I no longer ‘stifle’ easily.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    PS I brought my Meyer’s Lemon inside and wondered if you did the same.

  3. From bill:

    Congratulations on the anniversary. May there be many more.

    Yes, it is amazing how many garden bloggers there are now. I can’t keep up with them all. And Austin does seems to have the most.

  4. From Kathy (New York):

    Pioneers get lonely, don’t they? I think both Texas and California have a lot of garden bloggers and they have two things in common: a climate where you can grow plants nearly year round and a high proportion of tech-savvy people. Whether or not Austin wins as the garden-bloggingest city is for others to decide.

    I know Pam Shorey had a lot of trouble with her first blog; it basically went down the tubes. So just because you can’t find an earlier archive doesn’t mean there wasn’t one. But that blog is no longer active. I will send her an email with a link to this post and perhaps she can tell you herself.

    Given that Pam S. was listed as “blog of the day” in November 26, 2001, I’m sure she is the hands-down winner. She must have been blogging for some time before that. Not that we’re in a contest. The thing is that, until you pointed it out, it never occurred to me that garden bloggers were rare at the time. There were plenty garden webpages and, of course, the forums. I was posting to usenet years before I had my own site. And so was Annie in Austin. I hope that my main point shines through…I’m so happy now that garden blogging is mainstream. I find interesting things to read every day and I love sharing everyone’s passion.

    I think the hi-tech aspect is more important than the weather. If it were just good weather, Connecticut and the Pacific Northwest would lead the pack like they do in garden books. Maybe weather plays its part in reverse. Certainly the garden blogs I read (such as yours) are in regions general slighted by garden publishers. I started Zanthan Gardens for the same reasons you started Cold Climate Gardening–because information specific to gardening in Austin was hard to find in books and magazines. — mss

  5. From Kathy (New York):

    Oh, and I meant to say congratulations. It’s been a pleasure reading your blog and getting to know you.

  6. From Carol (Indiana):

    Congratulations on 5 years. I have only recently (within the past year) discovered blogging, and I am here primarily because of Blogger and how easy it is to use. Plus the price was right. I benefit from the trail blazed by all you pioneers. Thank you for leaving a trail for us all!

    (And I hope you didn’t really have an ice storm down in Texas, though I hear it got cold. (I saw the caption on your veg. garden picture.))

    Carol of May Dreams Gardens

    I enjoy your blog, too. The book club is a wonderful idea! I’m a big fan of Henry Mitchell and now feel quite guilty that I haven’t written anything up on him. However, after reading some of the other reviews, anything I had to say would be redundant. We did have our first hard freeze last night but the frozen precipitation just missed us. — mss

  7. From M2 (Austin):

    It’s funny that I can still remember you teaching me the word “blog.” Strange that it was happening, and that I didn’t know about it. Now it’s such a huge thing–and so important to me–and it’s still so young and new!

    You’re a ground breaker, virtual and real!


    You were my first visitor and first person to give me feedback. You probably don’t remember but the email I quoted above was to you. I’m so glad you are blogging now. I don’t know what I’d do without my daily story fix…especially if you insist on following your true love to a different state. — mss

  8. From KAT (California):

    Congrats on the anniversary! I spent most of 9 / 13 / 01 weeping in front of the TV or on the phone with friends and family who thought I might know more than they did about what was going on. You are fortunate to have had your absorbing work. Because of your wonderful observations and consistency, I think of you now as a 21st-century Gilbert White–all you need is a tortoise!

    I could spend only so much time looking at the TV that week. I’d just been laid off so I didn’t have anyone to talk with. Funny that you referred to my “absorbing work” because I always envy that you still make money from your writing as I once did. I guess I’ve given away the milk so long now, no one thinks it necessary to buy the cow. — mss

  9. From Pam/Digging (Austin):

    Congrats on your blogiversary. You certainly blazed a trail for me. I read your blog, and Tom Spencer’s web journal, for years before I got mine up and running. It’s wonderful to be part of this online community, not just in Austin but all over the world.

  10. From mylubbock:

    I am lucky that I started gardening when there were online regional-specific resources. Since I didn’t have someone to teach me, I relied on your blog and GardenWeb to guide me in the early years.

    I have been very happy to see the growth in garden blogging – especially happy to see more Austin garden blogs.

    Many thanks for sharing!

    Glad to hear from you again. Did your oxblood lilies bloom this year? The daffodils you gave me sent up have sent up their leaves and I’m hoping for flowers this year. I got them in the ground to late last year. Thanks for reminding me about GardenWeb. I use it a lot to find out what questions and answers people had about the plants I was trying to describe. GardenWeb led to me being quoted by Art Wolk in Garden Lunacy: A Growing Concern. I guess that makes me a garden lunatic. — mss

  11. From Julie (Austin):

    Glad to hear your garden wasn’t stung too badly the other night. Amazing that the beautiful cosmos came through.

    Rereading your post, and Annie’s comments, seems Zanthan Gardens has two birthdays, one when the first post went up, the other when it met “the world” via your email announcement. To use Christian terminology, mayb. November 30, 2001 was the “christening.”

    I mark the birthday of my own website Oct. 19, 2004, since that’s when another writer posted a submission — making it bigger than just me.

    The very first post, though, was (???) September 13, 2004, about Morton King and his weathercasting OXBLOOD LILIES.

    You and Zanthan are sending out ripples, waves too, whether people see and acknowledge them or not.

    Thanks for all of it,


    To sum up–Zanthan Gardens went live September 13, 2001 and that it’s anniversary. Just the weblog portion went live November 30, 2001. The blog was and is only part of the entire site. There were plenty of garden webpages when Zanthan Gardens came on the scene. However, Kathy Purdy made aware that there weren’t many garden blogs in 2001. So I was just curious who else was out there at that time. — mss

  12. From mylubbock:

    The oxbloods did bloom this year. I am very excited to have some of my own. I think next year will be even better. Thanks so much again.

    I think GardenWeb has lost some of its appeal for me. It is still good for specific answers to specific questions (as you describe) and for exploring new obsessions, but the landscape design forum seems to have slowed down a lot. Ah well, nothing is perfect.