David Marsden is the author of popular and award-winning gardening blog The Anxious Gardener. His blog has won awards from the Gardening Media Guild and the Royal Horticultural Society as well as appearing recently in both The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times.
David was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions we had about his blog and his life in the garden.
You can follow David on Twitter here.
Hi David – thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.
Let’s start with how you first got into gardening, and some info on the gardens you currently work on.
A few years ago, and suffering a mid-life crisis, I realised I needed a change in direction and decided what I really wanted to be was a National Trust gardener. With that as my goal, I gained gardening experience with a few private clients and worked part time in a plant nursery and later a garden centre.
But before I could follow through by applying to the NT, I was offered the job of gardener at a local big house, The Priory. I couldn’t quite believe it: my commute was a few minutes walk; I’d be my own boss; have a huge garden to renovate and nurture; and I’d be better paid than at the NT. It was an incredible slab of luck.
I split my week between The Priory’s six acres and The Old Forge, a similar sized garden in the South Downs. Both gardens were neglected when I started and bringing them back has been an ongoing, enjoyable, stiff learning curve.
When and how did you first get into social media and the opportunities it can present?
I became aware of Twitter – as something I could use – when someone tweeted a link to my blog. Suddenly my blog had traffic arriving from a new source and a light bulb flickered above my head. I opened a Twitter account, found other garden bloggers and, following their lead, learnt the basics. Twitter is now one of the biggest drivers of viewers to my site.
My teenage son talked me into starting a Facebook page for the blog and, despite my reluctance, the boy was right: Facebook now brings in a similar number of visitors as Twitter. I’m also on Pinterest and, recently, Instagram. All four platforms advertise my blog and allow me to interact with people from all over the planet. I think that anyone starting a blog today will find it unnecessarily difficult without any social media presence.
Why “The Anxious Gardener”?
When I started out, I didn’t think that blogging would hold my interest beyond a few weeks and I didn’t spend long thinking about a name. I liked the sound of ‘The Anxious Gardener’ and registered it without much further thought. It was only afterwards that I discovered it was also the name of a book and instantly regretted my unoriginal choice.
For a long time, I would litter my posts with the words “anxious” and “anxiety” to convince readers that I am indeed an anxious person. But truthfully, I’m not particularly and I no longer pretend otherwise. On occasion, when meeting somebody, I have been asked whether I am “The Anxious Gardener”. I find that quite startling but, anxious or not, I’m now very comfortable with my blog name. It fits, like David.
You seem to have grasped very well what it means to write for a web audience, in terms of style, readability etc. Is this something you’ve worked at, or something that came naturally?
Thanks but I never thought about “writing for a web audience”. I had sent several silly texts to BBC Radio 6 and each time the presenter read them out on air. Hearing my words on national radio gave me the confidence and encouragement to write.
Initially, I just wrote about a place I love, The Priory, and hoped that somebody/anybody would be interested. My style has evolved over the years and re-reading some of my old posts now makes me wince. Writing a long-term blog has taught me so much about structure, grammar and the like but I’m still learning and don’t suppose I’ll ever stop.
How do you go about choosing images for your blogs?
They usually pick themselves. My writing is almost always dictated by my photos. I study my images for a series that suggest a story. I then select the best pictures, load them into a blank draft post and fill in the gaps with text.
Grass cutting looks to be a big part of your work (as one might expect!) – do you have any tips for someone who’s recently found themselves with a large lawn, and doesn’t really know what they’re doing?
First off, mowing will keep you fit – so feel self-righteous.
Secondly, use a good, reliable mower. It doesn’t have to be new and very expensive but it must be reliable and up for the job.
Personally, I’d recommend a mower with rollers. It may not be to everyone’s taste but I do like a stripy lawn. Stripes give me something to concentrate on and a peculiar, tingly satisfaction when I’ve finished.
Thirdly, plug in your ear-phones, listen to loud music and sing along (no-one will hear you above the sound of the mower engine). Dancing though is a no-no as your stripes will be all over the place.
Fourthly, mow often – it’ll be easier.
Fifthly, use sunblock. And a hat.
Gardening and blogging/social media are almost opposite activities – one manual and solitary, one digital and social. We might be getting a bit academic here, but is there something about them that means they work well together, balancing each other out?
I don’t think it is academic at all and it was precisely a need for this balance that started me blogging. However much I love my job, I do get lonely and hugely miss interaction with fellow workers. I miss laughter. Writing about the gardens allows me to share what I am doing, what I am seeing and invites a conversation. I also needed mental stimulus as some of my gardening tasks are pretty boring. Blogging and social media have provided that stimulus in bucket-loads.
Wildlife seems important to your blog. What wildlife do you most look forward to seeing in the garden?
Generally creatures I rarely see or have never seen before. When I first started at The Priory I was very excited to see my first ever great spotted woodpecker. Now I see one most days yet barely notice them. Occasionally, I see kingfishers and tawny owls too but I doubt I’ll ever be blasé about them. A couple of days ago, I saw a red kite at the top of the drive. I knew kites were approaching my corner of Sussex but still, it was a real thrill to see the very first one. An otter would be my ultimate visitor. Or a barn owl.
What do you see as the key factor behind the success of your blog?
I honestly don’t know. I can only write about what I know and write as I know how. That people like what I do has been a surprise bonus – otherwise I would have given up years ago. As I’ve said, the blog was only meant to be a short-lived experiment but the reaction of readers has been amazing and for that I’m ever so grateful. Whilst they continue to read, I’ll carry on.
And finally, a quickfire round of your garden favourites…
Favourite plant or flower?
Oak (maybe beech).
Favourite gardening tool?
A cheap, ten year old pair of secateurs.
Favourite job in the garden?
Favourite time of year to be in the garden?
Any day when something beautiful stops me in my tracks and reminds me why I chose this profession.