A week in the life of a garden blogger

Posted By: Alexandra Campbell On: February 19th, 2017 In: Writing & blogging help

What does a garden blogger do?

Or, indeed, what does any blogger do?

And, most importantly, does blogging make money? If so, how?

The world wakes up in February, after the hungover sleep of January. In the garden, the first snowdrops and hellebores are up.

And in the blogosphere, companies start reaching out to bloggers.

What does a garden blogger do?

When I started the Middlesized Garden blog, I promised to be honest about the ups and downs. I said I would reveal what goes on behind the scenes.

So I thought a diary of this week would be one of the best ways of showing you how the business of blogging works.

Sunday – snowdrops day + editing

The Middlesized Garden comes out first thing on Sunday morning. So when I wake up, I check it on a mobile phone or tablet in order to spot any mistakes.

Then I publicise the new post. I use Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and (sort of) Google+. It saves time to use Hootsuite to schedule tweets.

If you only tweet your post once, most people will miss it. You have a better chance of getting it seen if you tweet it around a dozen times, on different days and different times.

So rather than manually tweeting it every time, I use Hootsuite to schedule tweets about posts.

Last Sunday I went to Copton Ash’s snowdrop open day. Copton Ash’s owner, Tim Ingram, talked to me about growing snowdrops.

I turned this into a video for The Middlesized Garden YouTube channel. This, too, has to go on Twitter, Facebook Instagram etc.

I use a Sony Xperia X phone to video. The EE shop recommended Sony phones for the best photo and video because Sony are also camera manufacturers.

Note: there are some Amazon affiliate links in this post, which means you can click through to buy. If you do, I may get a small fee. More about that later in this post.

Here’s the video:

Monday – book review, emails and catching up.

I received a review copy of Good Soil from the publishers, Frances Lincoln.

As soon as I opened it, I was hooked. Would it be very shallow of me to say that I am only likely to read about something as worthy as soil if it’s written about in a very beautiful book?

Good Soil – manure, compost and nourishment for your garden, by Tina Raman has the design and photography you’d expect in a book on Californian smoothies or Danish hygge.

It has beautiful photographs, accompanied by really solid information. You will find interesting tips boxes and excellent advice.

For example, there’s a box on which wild flowers and weeds do best on which soils. And did you know that cow manure is the best manure for fertiliser?

Review of Good Soil by Tina Ramen

A spread from Good Soil – a serious book that’s also a pleasure to look at.

As the intro says: ‘We hobby gardeners often go all out on the plants and decorations, completely forgetting how important it is to build up a good nutrient-rich soil.’  Well, no more.

Apparently, this book is already a best-seller in Scandinavia and Germany.

Note: bloggers are supposed to state clearly when something has been sent free for review.  Like most bloggers, I only review books and products I really like. There is absolutely no point in saying you think something is good if you don’t. That’s why I, along with most other blogs, can’t guarantee a review when a product is sent for free.

Now for the emails

I deal with around 100 emails a day, often from people wanting to ‘guest post’ on The Middlesized Garden. Some are charming, and say lovely things about the blog.

Others are misspelt and vague.

And some offer money. People and companies want to ‘guest post’ because it gives them links to a reputable site. When search engines see these links, this raises a company in the search engine rankings.

So Google have made it clear. If you are paid to link to a company, you should firstly state that it is ‘sponsored’ or ‘collaborative’.

Secondly, you should make the link ‘no-follow’. This means people can click through to the company from your blog, but there’s a piece of code in the link. Google then knows not to recognise it as a ranking signal.

So that is one way bloggers make money. Charging for guest posts on their site.

But  many companies do insist on a ‘follow link’. And a few don’t even want the words ‘sponsored’ or ‘collaborative’ on the post. Some bloggers agree to that.

Why ‘disclosure’ matters

If you don’t follow the rules, then both the blog and the company that paid for a ‘follow’ link could be marked down massively by Google. You may disappear from sight. It’s not worth the risk.

It’s also illegal to mislead readers. There’s more about ‘disclosure’ here:

And I believe it’s important to be honest. If you have been paid to write something, that’s fine, in my view. It’s just wrong if you pretend you haven’t been paid.

The Middlesized Garden only does a few sponsored posts. We only do them if I feel sure that the product is good, and that the sponsor is happy to stick to the rules.

I also read about a dozen other blogs a day. Some are gardening, homes and lifestyle blogs.

That’s why I know that a few bloggers are accepting money for paid posts, and not disclosing they’ve been paid. The same companies approached me.

Interestingly, however, some companies are increasingly emphatic that the guidelines must be followed. Wayfair works with a number of bloggers and insists that all links ‘must be no-follow’ and that posts must be marked ‘sponsored.’

Tuesday – Pippa Greenwood for tea and Gardeners Question Time

On Tuesday, BBC Radio 4 Gardeners’ Question Time recorded at the Alexander Centre, Faversham.

By coincidence, I handle the social media for the Alexander Centre. Blogging or handling the social media for other companies is another way bloggers earn a living.

Pippa Greenwood and I had been communicating on Twitter about her plug-plant veg growing sets, so I suggested she pop in for tea beforehand to talk about it.

Pippa Greenwood

Gardening author, plant pathologist and BBC Radio 4 panellist Pippa Greenwood in the Middlesized Garden. She’s talking about her new veg growing sets.

She started Grow Your Own with Pippa Greenwood to help people who want to grow their own veg but either don’t feel confident or are too busy to grow from seed.

Pippa is a trained botanist and plant pathologist, formerly of Wisley and Gardeners World. She’s a regular panellist on Gardeners Question Time, gives talks and is the author of many gardening books.

Grow Your Own With Pippa Greenwood is a range of garden-ready plug vegetable plants. You choose the ones you want. They’ll be sent to you when they’re ready to plant, along with precise growing instructions.

She also sends you a regular newsletter and advice on products that she recommends. And you can buy Gift Vouchers. That’s a really nice present for anyone thinking of growing their own for the first time.

‘Although I am really pleased to find that people are coming back year-after-year,’ she says.

‘And every year is different, so if you’ve just started growing veg, you may get disheartened when you get a bad year. If you’ve got access to good advice, then you either find out how to deal with bad weather or unexpected pests. Or at least you realise that it wasn’t your fault, and it is worth trying again.’

10% discount on Grow-Your-Own With Pippa Greenwood

There’s a 10% discount for readers of the Middlesized Garden. Order from www.pippagreenwood.com.

Use the discount code 12462-VNZJ7 when checking out. Valid until 15th May.

And there’s more about Pippa and her vegetable plug plants here:

We did the video interview in the back garden. I don’t have a tripod for my phone, so we propped it up on a table, step-ladder and two copies of Nigel Slater’s Tender.

Makeshift video tripod

My makeshift ‘tripod’. The cost of blogging equipment adds up quickly, so a proper tripod will have to wait. I managed to do a quick ‘poo-pick’ of the garden before she arrived, but we sat amid piles of pruned branches.

We then went to the Alexander Centre, where I interviewed the BBCGQT producer, Dan. He told me that Gardeners Question Time will record anywhere from a big city centre to a small village hall.

‘We try to vary where we go, week by week,’ he said. He revealed that the programme has never been to the Orkneys, so if there is an Orkney Horticultural Society reading this – invite BBCGQT now! Dan says he’d love to go.

A week in the life of a gardening blogger

Warming up for Gardeners Question Time at the Alexander Centre in Faversham.

If you go to Gardeners Question Time, there’s a pile of forms. You can write your gardening question on the form. If you’re chosen, you will be moved to a reserved seat at the front. If you fancy this, Dan advises you to choose a question that hasn’t been answered on the programme recently.

I use a Zoom Handy Recorder for interviews. The microphone on a mobile phone is never as good as the camera. A proper recorder or microphone makes the sound much better.

Wednesday – People’s Friend and photo/film editing

Twenty years ago, my journalistic work came mainly through magazines I’d worked for in the past. Now it’s more likely to come through editors reading the blog.

People’s Friend magazine has asked me to do fortnightly gardening pages for a couple of months. I’ve been gathering info for this during the week, and put it together on Wednesday.

A blog keeps your name out there, and anyone wanting to use your services will have a good idea of what you do. It’s a calling card, plus portfolio.

Whether you’re a writer or a specialist in cheese-making, cake baking or crochet, a blog can help you be better known in your field.

Beware of the time sink…

But – and it’s a big but – blogging takes time. If, for example, your work is very local, you’d be better off spending that time networking rather than blogging.

If you’re a florist who wants more weddings, then it’s probably better to spend the time at wedding fairs or at local events. If you’re a florist who wants a book deal, then blogging is an effective way forward.

I’ve seen several book review bloggers go on to get book deals, and then become novelists in their own right. The book review blogs got them known in the publishing industry. Their writing talent got them the deals.

Photography, video and editing takes time

I probably spend an hour or two each day taking photographs, editing them, then sharing them on social media or creating videos.

This includes making YouTube thumbnails and Pinterest images, using Canva. I’m not a trained designer – far from it – but images are vital both for the blog and social media.

Use Canva for YouTube thumbnails

A YouTube ‘thumbnail’ (cover photo). I made it with Canva and one of my photos.

Having worked with some brilliant ‘proper’ photographers, I know the difference between their work and mine. I have a lot to learn.

But some bloggers’ photography is good enough to sell. One friend has signed up to the Getty Images photo agency. Most months he only gets about £20. Occasionally, however, someone buys a chunk of his photos for a book or catalogue. Several hundred pounds (or more) come in.

If you blog in a visual industry, such as gardens, homes, art etc, then syndicating your photos is another option. Garden bloggers Harriet Rycroft and Andrew O’Brien – you should give it a go, if you don’t already!

Thursday – the Garden Press Event

I went up to London to The Garden Press Event in the Barbican.

This is where garden companies introduce their new products to the media.

The first person I saw was Charles Dowding. When I explained that the Middlesized Garden was for people whose gardens were larger than courtyard but smaller than an acre, he said ‘Like mine.’

No dig guru Charles Dowding.

‘No dig’ guru Charles Dowding and Steph Haggerty at The Garden Press Event.

I was impressed to find out that Charles has achieved so much in the world of veg with just quarter of an acre of veg growing space. The total area of the plot is only three-quarters of an acre.

‘Some of that is house,’ he says. ‘And I keep the rest fairly wild.’ Charles has written several books.  The most recent is Charles Dowding’s Vegetable Garden Diary from www.charlesdowding.co.uk.

He gave me a copy for review.

The book starts on February 14th, because that’s when Charles starts planting seeds. And it gives you week by week ‘no dig’ veg planting and harvesting advice.

Gardening equipment is now easier to use

I’ll review other products I saw at the Garden Press Event in a few weeks. But the headline message is that tools are getting lighter, brighter and easier to use.

Wilkinson Sword has some super-lightweight tools. Burgon & Ball has luminous-bright tools that can even be seen in the dark.

Burgon & Ball luminescent tools

Burgon & Ball’s luminescent tools- no more losing tools in the compost heap!

And Cobra have a lithium-ion lawn-mower which means you can mow  a middle-sized lawn with a battery-powered mower. It’ll do 40-50 minutes before you need to recharge it.

For the purposes of full disclosure, I must also reveal that Cobra had some delicious cup cakes on their stand. I’m not sure where Google stands on cake bribery.

The Garden Press Event is also an opportunity to catch up with people you normally only ‘see’ on Twitter or Instagram. Mr Plant Geek, Michael Perry and I had a quick catch-up, and I also met a fellow garden blogger, The Chatty Gardener.

Friday – coaching, writing and catching up

Coaching writers or bloggers is another strand of work that comes via the blog.

People get in touch because they’re thinking of starting a blog.

Sometimes people want a ‘blog clinic.’ Their blogs may already be successful, with a good following. But they have a sneaking feeling that they may be missing a trick or two.

Or they just want another eye on their work. When there’s only you, it’s easy to overlook something.

They’re not necessarily garden bloggers. Coachees have included Emma Varnam, who has a very successful and beautiful crochet blog. Rachael Hale’s lovely Home & History Magpie focuses on historic homes.

Whether you’re a primary school teacher or a pianist, you can publicise your coaching and teaching via a blog.

But the ‘local’ issue crops up again. If you want to coach eleven year olds to pass exams, you’d be better off spending the time getting involved with local schools.

However, I can coach or teach by Skype, so I’m not limited to local activity. Many bloggers also run excellent online courses.

For example, Jen Stanbrook’s Pinterest courses range from free webinars  and ‘strategy course’ to paid-for Pinterest coaching and workshops, all backed up by Facebook Group support.

Saturday – writing and photographing the next post

There hasn’t been alot of time for writing (or gardening!) this week. So at 9.30am, I went to a friend’s house to photograph next week’s post.

You can read about that next week, so now is probably a good time to mention affiliate sales.

What are affiliate sales?

If you are, for example, an Amazon Affiliate, then you can sell products via Amazon from your blog. You sign up, then you get special links to insert in your posts.

If someone clicks on the link and buys within 24 hours (without visiting another site), you would get a small percentage. Typically, this is 3%, but it ranges from 1%-10%.

It doesn’t affect the price the buyer pays.

The affiliate fee on books is 7%, so if you click through to buy the Gardener’s Companion to Medicinal Plants after my review, I would probably earn 94 pence. That’s only if you buy while clicking through my link. If you leave the site, but then return to buy the book, I wouldn’t earn anything.

However, if you buy other things, having clicked through via my site, I’d also get a small percentage on those.

As you can imagine, it takes a while for pence to add up. To date, in February, I have earned £33 via Amazon Affiliates.

Only recommend products you personally rate

And it is important to recommend products in your blog that you would recommend to a friend. People won’t be impressed if you just stuff your site full of links.

I only recommend either products I’ve tried myself, or those which have an exceptionally high number of positive reviews. It can take a while to hunt the latter down.

Often the products I recommend are ones I’ve bought, such as the Zoom Handy Recorder or Sony Xperia X phone that I mentioned earlier.

What about advertising?

You need hundreds of thousands of page views a month to make money from internet advertising.  Fashion, beauty, travel, food, parenting and personal finance blogs can get that many, but a garden blogger is operating in a smaller industry.

I also find that internet advertising interrupts my reading. And if I don’t like it, then you probably don’t like it either. So, as a garden blogger, I don’t personally think it’s worth taking advertising.

So that’s been my week. What about yours?

If you’d like help with blogging or writing, do get in touch. Email me at alexandra@themiddlesizedgarden.co.uk.

And to get a post from the Middlesized Garden every Sunday morning, enter your email address in the box on the top right.

Thank you!

33 Comments

  • I’ve been meaning to reply to this blog for a little while,….
    Firstly, thanks for an informative and insightful blog post… once again I’ve learnt a lot.
    Also thanks for giving me the confidence to continue,.

    I paid my first ever visit to the garden press event this year, but I felt a bit intimidated by some stall holders, I was made to feel that bloggers were a nuisance, whereas reading many other bloggers posts on the same event, it suggests the problem was me, not those on the stalls.

    I think I’m suffering from imposter syndrome. (Learnt that from pro blogger).
    Once again. Great blog post.

  • Lisa says:

    Thanks for a really useful, insightful post. I blog for fun at the moment but I now know some of the things to watch out for if I ever do decide to monetise my blog ☺

  • E bradley says:

    I just saw this post on your twitter and it’s really helpful for me as a new blog to see where I should be concentrating my efforts and has given me a few new ideas! Thanks!

  • Alexandre- thank you for this really insightful read. Much of the knowledge I obtain in regards blogging (and I’m still rather new ) comes from very useful but outside the gardening (or in my case the grow your own) niche. Wonderful to read about the working life of a blogger with the same area. Thank you.

  • Karen says:

    Thank you for all your useful and very helpful hints and tips. I didn’t know about ANY of them! I’m almost afraid to write anything now though. Have just realised blogging can be a minefield if you don’t know what you are doing , like me. Hm. I need some courses or something. Thanks again. Karen

  • Thank you Alexandra, that is all really fascinating stuff. I assume you do the whole ‘no follow’ thing with product test reviews too? I confess as a relative newbie (one year) I didn’t know about it. I think I have a bit of editing to do!

    • Reviews and other companies mentioned naturally in the course of writing a blog post don’t need ‘no-follow’ links. The principle is that the ‘follow’ links are between companies and blogs that rate each other, and if you’ve reviewed a product positively (based on the assumption that you genuinely did like the product) then it would be entitled to a ‘follow’ link. However, if the company pays for the review in any way, including through gift vouchers, as well as sending the product free, then it definitely comes into the ‘no-follow’ category.

      Google wants you to link to companies – it views links as a positive sign that a blog or website is interacting. It just wants to make sure that if your blog is about pink poodles, then all your links are to genuinely good pink poodle products or relevant people in the world of pink poodles, not random companies that have paid you to be there.

  • Thank you. Always interesting to hear how fellow bloggers sort their work. I recently plunged into Twitter scheduling on behalf of a small company. Having got frustrated with Hootsuite, I turned to Tweetdeck and find it much quicker to use. Have you tried both, and if so what do you prefer about Hootsuite?

    • I only use Hootsuite because it was the first one I ever started using, so I can’t compare them. I think different tools suit different people – there’s also bufferapp, which has a great blog, full of useful info, but I find it less easy to use as a scheduling tool. I tried Tailwind for scheduling my pins on Pinterest, but got myself in a muddle, so Hootsuite is the only one I use now.

  • rusty duck says:

    Busy week! A great post Alexandra, I am much the wiser. Part of me thinks I should get more involved in the blogging circuit, it would be great fun to meet you all at these events. It is easy to believe that it’s too far to travel to anywhere when you live so far out in the sticks.
    Very envious of you going to Australia. I was out there for six weeks this winter. That was a long way (!) but even so can’t wait to return.

    • Six weeks sounds wonderful – we are only going for 2. And I know what you mean about feeling things are too far away to get to – I sometimes feel like that about Kent, and it’s only just over an hour from London.

  • What a fascinating and informative post! I’m astonished that you found the time to poo pick with all this going on. Did Pippa Greenwood appreciate all your efforts? It would have been lovely to catch up at the Press Event. I’m sorry that I missed you.

    • About ten minutes before Pippa arrived, I realised that the garden was like the dog-mess equivalent of a minefield! The weather had been so awful that neither of us had kept up with it over the previous week. I blame the dark nights and mornings, of course. Shame to miss you at the Press Event.

  • Rachael Hale says:

    Thanks for a brilliant behind-the-scenes look at your week, Alexandra.. Despite having no green fingers at all, your blog is one of my favourite weekly read s and I’m extremely grateful for the link.

    And if anyone is looking for a blogging or writing coach, I can whole-heartedly recommend Alexandra. Her friendly encouragement, practical advice and expert insight have helped me enormously on numerous occasions.

  • cristal punnett says:

    Very interesting article, I’ll definitely be reading Good soil

  • You make me realise that I have a lot to learn! One day, when I don’t have the day job to do, I might just be able to do justice to my blog!

    • You’ve got a lovely blog – and thank you for the mention. I so agree with you about how people find information now, although I probably still prefer books for flicking through in search of random inspiration. But when it comes to finding specific info, the internet, especially YouTube is so useful.

  • Misa says:

    Emma pointed Twitter at this blog post, and I’m really glad I followed the link! This is excellent advise and extremely witty to boot – I love your reveal of your “tripod”, and the cupcake comment made me laugh out loud. Definitely going to bookmark this and will probably be a frequent returner. (Sadly, I have no garden whatsoever, but that doesn’t stop me looking at pretty pictures.)

  • Linda Casper says:

    Thank you for the very helpful tips. I hadn’t realised how much effort went into producing such a professional blog. Although mine is mainly for our gardening group, you have given me food for thought on how to improve it.

  • Lucie says:

    Fascinating post. Time for a rest now I think Aleaxandra!

  • Caro says:

    Even as a blogger with seven year’s experience, I’ve found this post very informative. I heard about the whole disclosure/no follow thing from a blogging friend several years into writing my blog – that’s the sort of information that takes a while to realise so I hope your readers will pass this on! Were you at the bloggers’ meet up on Thursday? It was great to put faces to so many blogging pseudonyms and I thought the day very enjoyable and worthwhile.

    • I left the Garden Press Event just before, as I can only manage about three hours of any exhibition space (something to do with the lighting, I think, so I have to get round it all as quickly as I can before I turn into a frog). But I met the Chatty Gardener.Your blog is beautiful! Thanks for commenting.

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