without our help
How to tend a prolific bloggerGarden Q&A columnist for the New York Times, Leslie spends her days in gardens, thinking about gardens, shaping gardens to life.
When she’s not blogging that is.
In 2005, when we began the process of designing her first website, I suggested that, given her newspaper background and her ingrained understanding of editorial calendars and deadlines, she was the perfect candidate for a blog.
“It sounds awful,” I believe was her reply. But you could hear that dawning resignation in her voice, the first indicator that she’d already accepted the inevitability of this path despite her devout Luddism.*
She posted her first entry on May 6, 2005. Fourteen people read it that day, she and I among them. The numbers left her unimpressed, but she knew as well as anyone that a garden doesn’t grow overnight.
She persisted. When it wasn’t gardening season, Leslie, who also happened to be one of the opening chefs for Chez Panisse, wrote about preparing food. Eventually, her mushroom-expert husband started contributing as well, and her blog's roots grew deeper.
By her post on May 6, 2009, Leslie had an archive of 306 articles and hundreds of photos resulting in over 25,000 incoming links. Most of them were timeless, with gardening advice or cooking process that is the same today as it was four years ago. She returned to us with a different challenge: how to make the first article she wrote as easy to find as the most recent.
Her blog had overgrown. It was time to uproot, reorganize and replant. This was tricky. Leslie’s website design had garnered more admiration than any other we’d done. How do you go about ripping that up?
You start by assessing what you’ve got and seeing what’s of value. You work through the fear of throwing things away, or of creating a lot more work for yourself. And you grasp that, even when everything is new, it still has to feel familiar.
We achieved that by keeping key landscape features and replanting them in an entirely new organizational structure. Part of the trick in that was looking to Leslie’s and our own background in newspapers and magazines. We split articles into departments on the garden, the kitchen, out in the wild and in the home. We split them yet again for Leslie’s more fastidious readers -- avid gardeners love taxonomy -- but with the intention of keeping deeper categorizations unobtrusive to the casual browser. Finally, we built a topical index that Leslie can generate through tags, because an article on asparagus doesn’t always have the word asparagus in the title.
The resulting structure maintained Leslie’s identity, brought her content better into focus and made it easier for her regular readers to use her as a gardening and cooking reference. As much work as it was, it created the capacity for Leslie’s blog to grow unhampered for the next several years.
After that...well I’ve seen Leslie at work out there. I’ve learned that gardens, like blogs, are living, changing and unpredictable things, and I’m sure it will all be coming up by the roots again some day.
* A comment from Leslie Land:
I may be digitally unskilled (one reason I need you so desperately!) but I am not now nor have I ever been a Luddite - in either the conventional or historically accurate sense. My objection to having a blog was based on the alas profoundly accurate apprehension that I'd be creating a monster that would more or less eat me alive.