Catherine StewartWhat exactly is GardenDrum?

OK I’m ready to explain as GardenDrum turns 1 year old, growing from demanding baby to hyper-active toddlerhood. No doubt with lots of teething pains to go. What, who and probably most curiously, why is GardenDrum? Is it a website, e-magazine, or a blog site…….?

As no trendy newspaper magazine supplement or shock jock radio star has rung to ask me these important questions, I will have to interview myself. I intend to be hard but fair and hope that our rapport comes through.




Catherine Stewart talks today with Catherine Stewart

So who is GardenDrum?

Me. And them too – the bloggers I mean. They send me their words, photos, sound files and videos which I edit, put together and publish. It’s my idiosyncratic organisation mixed with their great content.

GardenDrum’s launch design

So it’s just you doing all this?

That’s an excellent Dorothy Dixer – thanks. Yes, it’s just me curating and co-ordinating the content but Rob Heggen does the back-of-site stuff. He’s been training me to do more of it as he and Jill have just had their first baby and he is in LOVE bigtime, as well as doing another full time job. We work together fabulously even though he’s in Omaha, USA and I’m in Sydney, Australia. My younger daughter Laura created the original design and still works on it with me when she’s not learning to be a costumier.

There’s plenty of gardening publications around – magazines, TV show, garden talk-back radio – what’s the point of a gardening website?

The internet is now the go-to place for information and ideas, but I thought the gardening stuff was boring – mostly republished magazine stories that were cut-down, with just a couple of pics. I thought something purpose-built for the web, with text, sound, pictures, video and some audience interactivity would be more interesting and maybe other people would too. And when my own daughter bought a house and started her first garden, I saw that adult beginner gardeners are often given unnecessarily dumbed-down information. Just because they’re new doesn’t mean they’re stupid! These days, they probably already have several uni degrees, but haven’t yet learned the craft of gardening. It’s true that anyone can garden but if you’ve never learned how to raise seedlings or put a plant in the ground, it’s pretty intimidating to think your ignorance might kill a living thing. Gardening has still not engaged Gen Y and Gen X but I think they’d come to love it if they saw it as a creative craft to be learned, like gourmet cooking, with all its required knowledge, skills and practice. If you know the why behind the how, you can apply that knowledge to other situations. Maybe if we made gardening sound more involved and complex rather than super simple, it would interest and engage them more.

GardenDrum sounds like a big job. Why do it alone? You must be a control freak. And what’s with the wanky ‘camel-case’ spelling?

Yep, GardenDrum is one hungry beast and sometimes it does nearly eat me alive. In its original design, it was going to be more like an e-magazine format. I started off with some business partners but either through my autocratic ambition or their lack of vision, that fell apart. I was left with the bill and a fledgling website and no clue what to do with it. And the camel-case……..OK, I’ll concede. Wanky it is.

So how did it turn into a garden blog site?

It was one of those ‘wake up in the middle of the night moments’. It suddenly came to me that if I could get a whole lot of professional horticulturists, designers and writers blogging together, there would be something for everyone, in any climate zone. I also looked at lots of garden blogs and found many where the person could write well but didn’t really know enough about gardening or design or gardens to trust their information, or obviously knew their stuff but couldn’t write. By curating my collected bloggers to include those who could do both, I would have something really worth reading. I also knew there would be plenty of garden writers itching to write about what THEY want to, rather than what an editor commissioned – they just needed an outlet. Plus I had this great pool of disaffected ex writers from a certain gardening magazine to call on.

A certain gardening magazine? How carefully expressed. Been busy poaching have you?

Not exactly. I’d written for the mag on and off for about 5 years. A commission would arrive, I’d write the story, get paid and the publisher would have first publication rights. Everyone was happy. Now the publisher required us all to sign a contributor contract, demanding our copyright for free. As per word rates had already not changed in over 10 years, we’d already had a substantial effective pay cut. Now they wanted our copyright too, so they could feed their own website at no cost. The first contract they sent even had us, as individual contributors, indemnifying the corporation against any liability for anything we wrote, which turned out to be an uninsurable risk so they had to drop it. I think it’s an unfair contract for their gain and our loss, so I refused to sign, and other writers got to hear about that.

Whoa there! Be careful what you say. Someone will want to sue you!

I thought this was supposed to be a hard-hitting interview?

Hmmm…..I was just thinking about our insurance. Moving on, you started with a core of 8 bloggers but now you’ve got more than 25, including USA, UK and South Africa. Why keep expanding?

I started finding bloggers whose style and content was just irresistible, who made me laugh out loud like Mary and Tammy, or who made me think and question like Maria, James and Alison. Others added wonderful design knowledge and experience like Leon, Rose and Arno or a wealth of gardening expertise like Jennifer, Tino, Karen, Meleah, Julie, Matt and Bernhard. And Marianne brought her great podcast radio interviews. It’s made GardenDrum a potpourri, or like Forrest Gump’s says – it’s a box of chocolates and ‘you never know what you’re goin’ to git’. And corny but true – I love my bloggers and the best part of my working day is corresponding with them and listening to their latest posts. I read them too but hearing each story, literally in the blogger’s own voice, is the best. Now I just have to meet them all in person! James and Linda and I enjoyed time together at DesignFest recently. James wears cool shoes.

How do you afford GardenDrum? Where is the visible means of support?

Right now I finance GardenDrum from money left to me by my late mother, who loved gardening, but it can’t last indefinitely. There’s so much free content on the web, it’s hard to imagine a subscriber-pays model succeeding. Hey there, readers – let me know if you’d pay $5/month for GardenDrum! But I’m finding gardening advertisers are pretty traditional in their thinking. They’ve happily paid for advertising in print magazines for years, with no direct measure of how well that builds their brand or drives sales. But mention online and it’s ‘how many unique visits, average visit length, number of pages per visit, bounce rate, click-through rates’ and so on.

Mother and I enjoy Bronte House garden

So is GardenDrum successful? Or are you in la-la land?

Well, I think it is but I don’t really know to what I should be comparing it. GardenDrum has been visited over 50,000 times during its first year and visits grow at 25% per month. There will be around 8000 unique visits this month and each visitor spends an average of just over 2 minutes on the site.

GardenDrum unique visits 25 Nov 2011- 25 Nov 2012

So if that’s success, where’s the advertising?

Well, I was told by one company “Relative to someone reading a physical magazine, that [2 minutes] isn’t so long”. I’d counter with – have you ever really watched someone read a magazine? Flick, flick, pause……flick, read………flick flick. if you’ve a quarter page advert on one magazine page, how long do you think it’s looked at by a magazine reader? Depending on what story it’s with, I’d guess an average of more like 10-20 seconds. Also, if the company wants to drive online sales, people do not hear or see a website url and go to their computer and type it in, but they will click it. You can’t do that on radio or in magazines. So any advertisers out there – knock me down in the rush.

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Catherine Stewart

About Catherine Stewart

Award-winning garden journalist, blogger and photographer; writer for garden magazines and co-author of 'Waterwise Gardening'; landscape designer turned landscape design judge and critic; compulsive networker and lover of generally putting fingers in lots of pies. Particularly mud pies. Original creator of GardenDrum. South Coast NSW.

22 thoughts on “What exactly is GardenDrum?

  1. Congratulations on your first year Catherine!
    I seriously hope that advertisers see the merits of your extraordinarily informative site – a great asset to gardeners here and OS. To have attracted such talented bloggers is pure genius – and I know your readers are very appreciative – so we’d all better just do more clicking…
    Clicking off until next time – Kim Woods Rabbidge

  2. Keep up the good work Catherine. As to your last comment, every magazine I know of or have been subscribed to, has been dumbed down massively in the past 2 years or so and that applies to US, UK and Australian publications. (And I reluctantly include The Garden, the formerly brilliant, now merely good, RHS mag in this!)
    It’s little wonder that magazine sales are dropping so dramatically. GardenDrum offers an intelligent alternative with a number of different voices (some I may disagree with on occasion but that’s the beauty of the format). Too many mags now, are formulaic with too few voices and often a single monolithic world view.

  3. Happy Anniversary Catherine.
    I do enjoy Garden Drum. There is much more to it that immediately “meets the eye” as I discovered recently. I would like to see the nurseries “chipping in” with info regarding new products, plants etc. I flick through the mags and can’t be bothered going back in to find them. It’s instant with The Drum. I wish you continued success. Helen.

  4. Happy birthday Catherine!

    I love reading all the new blogs in the morning with a strong coffee, it has been such a joy writing For gardenDrum about whatever you feel relevant to share about gardening,( and I love sharing the african view on gardening) and you made gardenDrum such a fun and happy read, with a mass of information infused into garden drum but without it feeling like a lecture!
    I just love what you are doing, and the best for the future!!
    Next year after chelsea i am heading to australia for the first time! Be ready! I will just have to pop in!!

  5. Congratulations, Catherine, on GD’s first anniversary! It’s been a pleasure to read, write for and an all-round wonderful experience – far beyond words on the screen. GD is very much to your credit – the people, the content and not least of all the photos, all of which provide a rich and unique (and real!) take on gardening in modernity. It puts the reality back into garden reading. I look forward to reading for years to come!
    p.s. I have many more shoes!

  6. You have created a United Nations of Gardening! It is reassuring, and comforting, to realise how similar our gardening dreams and problems are, despite the huge differences in climate and season. There’s a tremendous sense of solidarity: of being part of a world-wide club of enthusiasts (and sympathisers) who are ready to share their ideas and to support and encourage other gardeners, wherever they are.

  7. I only discovered Garden Drum somewhat recently and am addicted to it like horticultural crack cocaine…as a penniless student horticulturalist it certainly brightens my day and sends me off into the ether looking into what I have just learned. Cheers for your wonderful efforts and for sharing your own wonderful story with us. I don’t know if I could pay the $5 a month but I would gladly wear advertising and would probably click on it any time you want to start using it because this site is wonderful and any companies that you would allow to advertise here would be alright by me! 🙂

  8. Catherine, thanks so much for the interesting precis of all the GardenDrum means to you and how it all came together. Congratulations on your first anniversary. I get so much pleasure reading all the contributors’ works. Indeed it keeps me often from the garden, alas. What a wonderful use of your mum’s legacy and what a fitting memorial to her this site is. It is also my pleasure to write for it. I feel v privileged to be a part of what I know is a growing force for good. Am beating the GardenDrum as much as possible. Remember the movie line about the baseball stadium; you have built it and they ( ie advertising) will come!

  9. Great interview Catherine and many more anniversaries for GD!! You’ve done a massive and marvellous job.
    And well done bloggers too for such a great eclectic read!

  10. it’s great Catherine. Truly worth reading. Best of all I like your heads-up on how and why you made it, and how it is going. Well done! And here’s to a clutch of advertisers.

  11. Happy birthday from me, too, and thank you for instigating it. I learned at lot in these flying months about plants and circumstances hitherto completely unknown to me and it became a pleasure to be part of this community. It would be awkward (see Paul’s comment) if there were agreement on all sides, on the contrary, that would make such a forum questionable, if not a missed chance. I also like the idea of conducting an interview with oneself, not necessarily only restricted to gardening issues. This is where the really hard questions come from.

    The chance of winning so many I-pods is frightening, though…

  12. Congratulations on your efforts to date with Garden Drum….perhaps you should see if you can get the copy corrected on the Australian Garden Show Sydney site where your web site is listed as gardendum. Gave me a chuckle on this bleak Winter’s day…

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