Still Making Mud Pies

A bunch of years ago, my wife signed us up for a plot in the local community garden. We didn’t have much room in our yard for any kind of real gardening, so the community garden was the perfect solution for us. Well, for her mainly, since she’s the green thumb in the family.

We’d go down every weekend for a couple hours to do some weeding and check on how our plants were doing. I don’t even remember what we planted, likely just a mix of vegetables. But it was fun.

My son especially loved it. He would run around and look at all the little garden plots, flying up and down the pathways amongst the boxed plots. And then he would come back and tell us all the things he saw that other people were growing. Then he’d play in the dirt with us for a bit before heading home.

I feel like that was me today, running up and down the internet’s garden paths, looking at all the awesome things other people were growing in their little (and sometimes not so little) digital garden boxes. As lovely as they all were, though, I still couldn’t quite find something that matched what I wanted to do.

My main problem, I think, was in the starting conditions I’d given myself. As I think I’ve mentioned before, I’m currently testing two different platforms in this blogging experiment. I mirror all my posts between two sites, one run on WordPress, and the other run on These have both been great so far for putting up posts with ease. And when combined with MarsEdit, the friction factor is reduced to near zero for me. I just sit down, type, and publish. Easy peasy.

And since it felt so easy, I had decided early on that I would like to try and make the digital garden using WordPress and as well. At least try, and see if either one worked better than the other, or if either worked at all.

But I kept running into the issue I described yesterday, where I was worried I’d end up with a mess of individual pages with no real organizational structure to help me keep track of them all. I don’t have any strong methodology behind how I take and make notes, so I knew I’d need some kind of structure to help me keep things organized. It just wasn’t looking to me like these platforms would fit the bill.

So today I expanded my search a bit wider. I went back to my initial restriction, using only WordPress and, and decided that might not be the best way to move forward. Then I stepped back a bit further and started thinking about what I wanted this garden to even be. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it wasn’t going to be any kind of extension of these blogs. Instead, it was going to be its own thing, and it needed to be treated as such.

This was when I came to two important conclusions.

Firstly, I realized I’d need to set up a new subdomain to run this project on. Not only would this help from an organized mindset for me personally, but it would also allow me to develop something independent of the blogging platforms. And it would also give me flexibility down the road if/when I need to make any changes on what I’m using for the backend.

Secondly, I realized that I needed a dedicated environment to write and publish garden entries. I’d been fighting this idea initially, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. The moment I accepted this, I knew it would be the right move.

So back to the research I went, looking through what I’d collected so far for reading material on the topic of digital gardens. I re-read everything, spending more time looking closely at the software tools that others were using and recommending. And that’s when I came across this little gem from Maggie Appleton’s post on Digital Gardening for Non-Technical Folks:

Overall, Obsidian is a great option for anyone who wants to keep their garden simple, non-technical, and get up and running quickly.

Hey, look! That’s me she’s just described!

I’ve used Obsidian a bit, but I’ve never played around with its Publish feature. Mainly I’d been using it for its Canvas feature, which I loved. But then Apple launched the Freeform app which provided similar functions, so I started trying that out. And while I found Freeform to be more restrictive and less versatile when compared to Obsidian’s Canvas, I had to admit that the learning curve wasn’t quite as steep with Freeform.

But now I have a great reason to dive back into Obsidian. Because I think this just might do the trick for me. So that will be the next step. Dive back into Obsidian and see if this will do the trick for me.

Playing in the Dirt

Ideas are tricky things. They come to you with often grand notions of what they can end up being, but they rarely come with instruction manuals on how to get from concept to completion.

This was my struggle today. I started trying to put together this digital garden page, and I quickly ran into limitations. Mostly my own limitations. But also limitations on the platforms I was using. And I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s a problem of approach.

In my head, I’m picturing this: a landing page of sorts that serves as the entry point into the garden, containing sub-categories with links to pages for each entry. Seems simple enough, yes? And it very well may be. But I can’t seem to get from A to B on it yet.

I think one of the main things holding up progress is how fixated I am on the back-end of the whole thing. I’d like this whole thing to be somewhat self-encapsulated. What I don’t want is to build a ton of individual pages that are held together simply with a bunch of hyperlinks. My main concern there is that I might at some point become overwhelmed with pages that have no organizational structure within my editing software.

What I want is folders. And maybe there’s a way to get there, but I haven’t quite worked it out just yet. But I am pretty sure that’s what I’d like. An expandable “Digital Garden” folder that would contain all the sub-pages so I could get to them easily and edit as required. So maybe not even folders, but definitely sub-pages. And I’m sure there’s a way to get there. I’m just struggling with it.

And here I am of two minds. A very stubborn part of me wants to keep digging until I find this solution. Especially because I’m sure it’s something I just haven’t come across yet, and there must exist out there in the vast interwebs the exact solution to my particular problem. But there is also the part of me that started this blog in the first place. The part of me that says perfect is the enemy of good, and that I should just do now what I can with the tools and knowledge that I have.

After all, things can only be improved once you’ve built them.

So fair warning. This will likely be ugly when I’m done with the initial setup. But the whole point of this project is that I won’t be done. Right now I’m playing in the dirt, knowing I’ll get dirty. But the point is to make something. And that will give me something to work on improving down the road.

Tackling the Tech

I consider myself to be an “aspirationally technical person”, in that I don’t have a vast technical knowledge base to draw from, but I’d like to. This is doubly the case when it comes to building this website. I know about as much HTML as I did in the ’90s, which is not much. But I have ideas. And I have the internet to help. And that’s gotten me this far, so something must be working.

As I move now into the phase of actually building out the digital garden structure, I find myself quickly running into some stumbling blocks. A lot of this comes from the examples that I’ve been looking at, which are all fantastic, but which are also beyond the reach of my abilities to build. Right now, at least.

What’s a fledgling digital gardener to do when you don’t have the tools and skills you see others using and you think you might need? Well, for me, I just use the tools I have. I work with what I’ve got.

I’m going into this with a hope, though. A plan, even. Or the beginnings of a potential plan. Part of a digital garden’s very nature is that it is always a work in progress. So that’s very much what mine will be. Not only will the contents of the garden change over time, but I hope that the structure of the garden itself will evolve as I pick up new skills and gather better tools.

I’m essentially allowing myself to be the kid planting flowers in a dirt patch in the back yard. And I’ll hope to someday have a lovely greenhouse all to myself, with raised beds and proper irrigation and all the fancy bells and whistles.

There are still a few more basic decisions I need to make regarding how and where I’ll be putting up the garden. But again my ultimate choices will be driven largely by what I’ll be able to pull off right now.

So wish me luck over the next couple of days as I bang around under the hood and hope I build more than I break. And as always, feel free to send any tips or suggestions my way. New gardeners love advice from greener thumbs!