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Garden 2.0 

There are no plants online, but you can cultivate your 'friends'!

For months I've been ignoring the Facebook and LinkedIn invitations my friends have been sending me. I spend too much time on the computer anyway; the last thing I need is to get sucked into social networking. A cousin who is also a writer told me that Facebook was a wonderful way to procrastinate. While that should have been a warning sign, I was somehow seduced by the possibility of all the non-work she and I could accomplish together online. So I signed up.

At first I only had two friends, which made it a little sad to be on Facebook. I’d log on and feel like a little kid at the edge of the playground waiting for someone to come talk to me. But these social networking sites have this weird, organic, spidery way of growing, and now I have 25 friends, which is more people than I could probably get to come to a party at my house in real life.

Some of those friends are gardeners. And they Facebook about their gardens. One person posts a picture of their compost pile, and somebody else posts a comment suggesting that they might like to add a little manure to get it going. Someone puts up pictures of their flower garden. Everyone says how pretty it looks.

It's pretty mild-mannered stuff, and very, very brief. Facebook is all about posting little snippets of information about your life. Nobody wants to read a paragraph; everyone has too many friends to keep up with for that. A quick "something ate my Casablanca lilies" is really all anyone wants to hear. So when I log on to Facebook, I am presented with this stream of microchip-sized bits information about my friends and acquaintances, and a fair amount of it is horticultural in nature.

Facebook isn't the only social networking opportunity for gardeners. When I logged into LinkedIn, a site devoted to helping professionals network and get jobs, I immediately got invitations to join groups of garden writers and horticulturalists. (MySpace also has plenty of garden action, but I'm one of those old and boring people who can't stand the clutter and animation and irritating music that spontaneously plays on MySpace, so I stay away.)

GardenWeb, which started as a discussion board and has now expanded to include all sorts of tools and directories, is a pretty good time-waster for gardeners forced to sit in front of the computer, although some people grumble about the ads and general corporate-ness that has infused the site since it became part of the NBC-owned iVillage. Still, there are hundreds of discussion boards on topics as obscure as bog gardens and terrariums. You can swap plants. You can buy stuff. You can also make some attempt to keep up with new posts in the garden blogosphere through a feature called GardenVoices; it's worth checking out if you want to launch yourself into that world.

There's a new site called Folia ( that attempts to be a kind of LibraryThing for gardening. (I’ll get to LibraryThing in a minute) You can catalog the plants that are growing in your garden, keep track of them over the years, post photos, meet people who grow the same kinds of plants you do or garden in similar climates, and so on.

And there are others. Dave’s Garden, which includes user-generated reviews of plants and garden centers. Blog-and-discussion-board mash-ups like You Grow Girl. TheMulch, which is sort of like Folia only -- well, it’s called TheMulch instead.

You're probably thinking that this sounds like a huge waste of time, and you would be right. A recent post on Folia posed the question, “How do you structure your time on Folia?” When you're going online to discuss how you structure your online time-wasting activities, you know you're in trouble.

Oh, and I promised I would explain about LibraryThing. Take this entire column and replace "gardening" with "books." Then replace the names of all these social networking sites for gardeners with names like LibraryThing, Shelfari, and Goodreads. You get it, right? You can catalog all the books in your library, meet people who have all the same books you do and even join groups to discuss and swap books on, say, gardening. On LibraryThing you can even compare the books in your library to the books owned by famous dead people through a project called I See Dead People’s Books, in which historians, librarians and archivists are cataloging the libraries of Thomas Jefferson, Sylvia Plath, Franz Kafka, and others. (I share three books with the library of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but they are all three by F. Scott Fitzgerald, so that may not count.)

I hope you have found this little journey through horticultural social networking as exhausting and overwhelming as I have. All of these networks are starting to grow together, like invasive bindweed converging on itself at the end of summer. Now my Facebook friends can see what plants I’m growing on Folia and what books I'm reading on Shelfari; I can show my YouTube videos to my LinkedIn network; and I have no doubt that soon the books I’ve entered in LibraryThing will start Twittering to the movies in my Netflix queue. It's a terrifying prospect that makes me wish those contractors working on Confusion Hill would cut the fiber optic line more often.

I’m going to back slowly away from the computer and go outside to pull some weeds. But if you’re hooked into any of these networks, send me a friend invitation. We can all use more friends, even if they are imaginary Internet friends who have come together for the sole purpose of spending more time in front of the computer without actually getting anything done.

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Amy Stewart

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