Planning for 2018

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Seedy Saturday is behind us and the countdown to spring has begun. Choosing seeds may be the first gardening decision of the year, but those entering the Monarch Awards are germinating garden plans and ideas as well.

How does one improve a nature-friendly garden? Enlarge the existing beds? Make more? Introduce more species? Close gaps in bloom times? Buy or build a water source? Create layers and tiers in borders? Disconnect the downspout? Reduce soil compaction? De-pave the driveway? Whatever choices are made, the Monarch Award criteria (plants, soil, water, materials, practices, and beauty) can serve as a guide to garden improvement.

Looking back at 2017

Good intentions don’t always produce good outcomes, as the contest organizers learned last year. The detailed online questionnaire was intended to solve “data” problems experienced in 2016. Well, the software created more problems than it solved, as is often the case with a techno-fix. But we learned some important lessons about how people are using, or not using, technology.

We learned that many entrants are using smartphones and tablets to enter the Monarch Awards. This makes a browser-based questionnaire pretty challenging. We also learned that multiple photo uploads are difficult. Wanting to be fair and objective, we asked for a lot, probably too much, information. So we’ve turned things around for 2018.

It’s now easier to enter the competition!

The bedrock of electronic communication is email. So that’s what we’re going to use. No forms, no survey, no data. Just text. The story of a garden, in the gardeners own words.

So the playing field will be a bit bumpy. But what we lose in precision and clarity we gain in accessibility. No one gets frustrated or left out because of computer / phone / browser problems.

For the organizers, reading through dozens of essays with no predefined structure will be challenging. The technical committee that reviews entries and recommends finalists is up to the task. We’re willing to give this process a go and do what it takes to make entering the Monarch Awards contest easier and less daunting.

New this year: Caterpillar Awards

Responding to feedback, we’ve reduced the “intimidation quotient”. People who’ve been gardening a long time (or have professional training in horticulture, botany, or ecology) too easily forget what it’s like to be at the start of the gardening journey, when knowledge and creativity are strong but tiny flames.

So we’ve decided to recognize the newbies, the enthusiasts working on the first draft of their masterpiece. We are not only looking for neophyte gardeners. We’re also interested in the little places– the postage-stamp gardens, the tiny properties and quiet corners that, when clustered together in dense urban settings, form a whole greater than the sum of the parts.

So don’t let glossy magazine pictures deter you. You don’t need big swaths of wildflowers and rows of flouncy shrubs to make a difference.

Whatever you can do, do it. It all counts. And if you’re doing it well, even on a little bit of land with a little bit of experience, we’ll shine a spotlight on your garden with a “Caterpillar Award”. It’s a way to recognize gardeners who are on their way to becoming mature Monarchs.