Alexandra Campbell wrote her first novel on her father’s typewriter. Since then she has gone on to write 9 novels and 10 non-fiction books. As the title would suggest, The Middle-Sized Garden fills a niche in the market by offering gardening tips to people who have middle-sized gardens. Drawing on her skills as a writer Alexandra uses her blog to cover everything from how to use a garden fertiliser, growing vegetables, and how to improve your pruning. In this spotlight, Alexandra, who features on our gardening blog ranking, chats to us about how she got into blogging, what gardening means to her, and what plants she likes to grow.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your blog? I’ve been a journalist, author and a novelist all my career and originally started blogging because my novel publishers, Little Brown, said it would be a good idea. But I soon realised I didn’t know what I was doing, so I learned about blogging from other bloggers, especially Jon Morrow and SmartBloggers.com, an online blogging school.
Why did you start the blog? I started The Middlesized Garden in December 2013, because people had started to ask me for blogging advice. I wanted to see what it was like to set up a blog from scratch. I chose gardening because I adore it, and blogging is very time-consuming. To do a blog well, I think you need to spend 5-10 hours a week, so you’d better be passionate about the subject matter. Also, I have written 9 books on interiors, and writing about gardens is a logical next step.
What is gardening to you (how important is it you to have a garden in your home)? We used to have a tiny courtyard garden when we lived in London. Having a garden, especially a veg patch, was very high on my wish list when we were looking to move. It was quite a shock to get a middlesized garden, though – I hadn’t quite realised how fast plants grow. We bought a house with a beautiful garden, and within two months it had turned into a jungle. I had to learn very quickly.
What type(s) of plants do you grow? I have one big bed right in front of my kitchen window, where I concentrate the exciting planting and vivid colours. I grow dark red dahlias, orange tulips, purple alliums – it’s my big splash of colour and there’s always something to look at. The rest of the garden has to be easier to look after, so that is where we have shrubs and perennials. We have lots of hydrangeas, euphorbia, Japanese anemones, and we allow lots of self-seeding, so foxgloves, marigolds and smyrnium perfoliatum romp into the gaps.
Did you anticipate for your blog to become this popular and successful? It never occurred to me. I was interested in gardening and blogging. I wanted to do both as well as I could, but I didn’t think any further than that.
What is your major challenge as a gardener? Time! And the weather, of course. This year, the winter in the South East has been a bit harsher than usual, and all sorts of unexpected gaps have appeared in the borders. If a plant hasn’t come up by now, it’s clearly died over the winter, so I’ll have to think about replacing it.
What advice do you have for others wanting to start their own gardening blog? I think it’s important to think about who is going to read your blog and what they will get out of it. People sometimes worry ‘who wants to hear what I think?’ but blogging is also like a conversation with like-minded enthusiasts so if you’re interested in something, there’s a good chance other people will be too.
How do you like to work with PRs? I like to work with PRs in a creative way – rather than just doing a sponsored post, it’s good to think about doing something that really adds value for the reader as well as the brand. I’m working hard on improving my photography at the moment, and it’s exciting to work across several media – tying the post in with social media and even YouTube. But that is also a lot of work, so it’s important to find the right price.
How can PRs improve their blogger outreach? I think it’s important to read the ‘Work with me’. I say that I don’t take guest posts, infographics or link exchanges, for example, but I get 3-5 requests every day. It’s also important to make sure that everything is properly linked up – if a brand is paying for a blogger to write a sponsored post or sending an item for review, then the brand should share the post on all its social media channels. Otherwise, you’re not making the most of the opportunities, either for the brand or for your relationship with the blogger. But I think that sometimes the social media is handled by someone different and they don’t pick up on reviews and sponsored posts! Either that or the brand is making the big mistake of only putting out brand-generated content. Either way, it’s a missed opportunity.
What do you see in the future for your blog? I’d like to keep developing it and slowly grow the monetising side with transparency and integrity. I’m developing a YouTube channel, which is definitely a stretch as I’m not normally comfortable in front of the camera and am not very techy either. But it’s exciting – and that’s what so great about blogging. There’s always something to learn.