Too polished? Review of the blog ‘View from Federal Twist’ by Lucy Masters

June 4, 2014

in Blog Reviews, Reviews

A very long time ago I promised you reviews of blogs, and indeed, I’ve had this one for a while, as usual. But here it is at last, and it’s by Lucy Masters, the amazing organiser of the thinkingardens suppers (sorry, the Veddw one is fully booked already).

And it’s of a blog by another of my favourite people, James Golden, (and the blog was designed by another favourite person: Karen Wilde.)

Enough nauseating. Here’s the review of James’ blog: Federal Twist

Anne Wareham, editor

Federal Twist Copyright James Golden

Apologies for nicking your picture, James, but thought you might forgive me for this..

I approached thinkingardens about the idea of a blog review and Anne suggested I knew nothing about it, but landing on the opening page, I instantly disliked it. It was extremely elegant and well presented. The photography was beautiful and the layout cool and considered, all the things I struggle to achieve and hardly ever do.

Before going on further I stopped and asked myself, ‘why read a garden blog?’ It can’t be to find out about the mechanics of gardening as there are websites and books that will give more focused answers. It might be to follow the progress of a garden but mainly, given the huge number of garden blogs, it was because the blog and blogger ‘share’ something with you. Their experiences connect and resonate with yours and so they are able to provide insights and highlights that are relevant. Blogging, I felt, should be intimate rather than corporate.

Federal Twist Copyright James Golden

The garden at Federal Twist, copyright James Golden

Knowing I wasn’t going to like the overly polished federaltwist, I started to read it again with the aim of trying to see what others had liked. I began with the post “Ecological disruption: Has Travis Beck been in my garden?”  – it sounded suitably self important. It was more than surprising and not a little humbling then, to find a third of the way through the post that I was really, really interested. I realised that the author was well read, thoughtful and articulate. He wasn’t pompous or longwinded and actually, if it mattered, I liked him. It dawned on me that of course, there is another reason to read a blog and that is to learn something totally new. “Is planting Dahlia ‘Bishop of Landaff’ an immoral act?” is an engaging article about native plants and it made me think in a way I don’t often bother to do.

There is much in this blog to enjoy and admire. I equally loved reading posts like ‘Garden is a verb’ which talks about an area of the garden he is replanting. The photos are very good and are an essential element to the blog. However, it is in his writing that the author really paints pictures with the plants. The names are listed like the words of a poem.

“Rudbeckia maxima (five) in a group, several new and recycled Miscanthus, Panicums, two amazingly mature Baptisias ….  10 Liatris ligustylis, several Angelica gigas, and a number of things to seed in:  Prunella grandifolia as a ground cover, Bronze fennel, Verbena bonariensis, of course.’’

Federal Twist Copyright James Golden

From ‘Garden is a verb’ by James Golden. Copyright James Golden

So, I stand totally corrected. This is a clever and insightful blog, it’s authorative and yet intimate. Most importantly, it is a blog from the heart. Federal Twist cares and there is something great in that. Not every post will to be everyone’s taste but it is definitely worth a visit. Or two.

Lucy Masters

websites: WikiGardening , Sometimes gardening, Blackthumbsblog

lucy masters portrait




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Laurin Lindsey June 5, 2014 at 3:45 pm

I like your review, it was intriguing and straight away I had to go see James blog and read some of the posts. I enjoyed your insight into what one might like to see in a blog. Being very new to blogging this is helpful. I also like all the follow up comments. I read blogs instead of watching the news or scrolling through FB. They are my windows to the world, which is vast and full of so much information and insight, things I would never know about. And yes hearing the thoughts of others…gets me out of my own limited brain. Happy Gardening!

Kjeld Slot June 5, 2014 at 11:13 am

James and his blog
is not a how-to-do,
– or a must-have
– a lifted finger
or a norm
of right and wrong.
Nor a popular thing
and thumbs up
or marvelous results of strengh and manmade beauty

James´ blog is a nutrient for my brain
and he makes me try a little harder
to read things and thoughts
about gardening
I can´t find elsewhere.

Kjeld Slot

Diana Studer June 4, 2014 at 9:53 pm

There is a whole other side to James’ garden blog. A formal garden in Brooklyn, which he has crowdsourced with his readers.

Too polished? It took a degree of determination, to continue reading the review. Frankly this is perhaps the one garden that I’d like to walk, of the hundred or so I read about.

lucy June 4, 2014 at 8:15 pm

Thank you for the comments. Michael I did actually like the blog as soon as I read it. It was just the very consummate look of it that put me off. I had expected a blog to be somehow more raw than Federal Twist at first appeared. However, as Thomas so rightly states, there is a humility about the writer that is very engaging. Which I think is in contrast to what the look and often the titles suggest. When I wrote the review I hadn’t read the blog extensively so I didn’t really get that wider understanding of James’s project to explore the meaning of gardens. I do agree that he manages to mix wider complex intellectual points with the more personal journey and that’s an amazing feat.

Elayne LePage June 4, 2014 at 6:02 pm

I am also a fan of James’ Federal Twist garden and blog. I found the garden on a Garden Conservancy tour and have loved it ever since. The blog is always interesting and yes the photos are excellent but being in the garden is even better. It is hard to believe but being in the garden is even better than the wonderful photos. I am a very tall woman and being in James’ garden makes me feel like a tiny fairy floating through a magic place. The plants are very tall in the fall when we have visited and are really wild looking. It is like no other garden I have ever visited and we really enjoy it. Usually my husband and I take these tours, walk through the garden, enjoy and leave but we have taken a seat in The Federal Twist and stayed and enjoyed for quite a while. We like watching the garden and people watching, as they enjoy too.

lucy June 4, 2014 at 8:16 pm

I can imagine you are right – to see and experience the garden would be wonderful…one day!

Paul Steer' June 4, 2014 at 5:58 pm

I too love reading James’ blog for the same reasons as Thomas Rainer. Honesty and depth do it for me.

Thomas Rainer June 4, 2014 at 5:04 pm

I am a huge fan of James’ blog and share many similar points of view–which certainly biases me. Your last paragraph was spot on.

I do wish you touched more on James’ larger project: an exploration of the meaning of gardens as experienced through his own personal garden. What I find remarkable about his blog (and the reason I keep coming back) is the intimacy of it. James’ photos and writing reveal a search for the emotional current that animates a garden. He is a broad thinker. A pragmatist, not a crusader. The fact that he lays himself bare in such a humble, raw way encourages readers to confront their own gardens with an honesty that is often rare in the self-promotional world of garden blogging.

Garden blogging (and social media generally) encourages you to count your followers and friends; it favors breadth of your social network rather than the depth of those connections. Federal Twist offers a refreshing alternative. James digs deep. The result of that engagement is a gift to the rest of us.

Michael B. Gordon June 4, 2014 at 6:41 pm

Thomas, another excellent writer who I never miss, nailed James’ blog. I couldn’t have said it better. Unlike Lucy, I knew I liked the content and tone of this insightful garden writer the first time I read his blog. He has big thoughts without a big head. I winning combination for any writer.

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