Formats Unpacked: 'Gardening-eBook.info' - A Gardening Book on Notion
How a gardener wrote a book in project management software so that people could edit their own versions
A huge welcome to all new readers. It was lovely to get an email from Substack to say we are featured on the Substack homepage and in their new app. It’s always nice to get a little recognition for all the work that goes into this. Thanks to all the very smart writers who have contributed over the past two years.
Speaking of smart writers, today’s format comes from Stuart Waterman. Stuart is a strategist and copywriter. He contributes to one of my favourite Substacks, The New Fatherhood. You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Over to Stuart…
What is it?
The catchily-titled Gardening-eBook.info.
What’s the format?
It’s a Notion ebook of gardening knowledge and life philosophy written by retired IT strategist-turned-allotmenteer & food grower, Steve Richards. An intricately-detailed work-in-progress, the author admits it will never be finished.
What’s the magic that makes it special?
I made the decision in summer 2021 that within the next year I would endeavour to use our long-neglected terraced back garden to grow food. I was sick of buying herbs that turned to mush in our fridge, bored of lettuce that tasted of nothing and tired of paying for the privilege of eating underwhelming scraps of kale.
However, all I had ever grown was basil on my windowsill, so I had a steep learning curve ahead of me. Nevertheless, I was hopeful that the goal to become at least partly self-sufficient, for at least part of the year, was achievable; and I hoped that somewhere along the journey it might become an activity my currently three-year-old child would come to enjoy too.
In time I would start picking up relevant books in charity shops and receiving them as gifts. But to begin with, I went to the place everyone goes to learn stuff these days: YouTube. This is where I first encountered Steve Richards, through his channel Steve’s Seaside Kitchen Garden & Allotment.
I was immediately intrigued by Steve’s unassuming manner. There was no flashy editing, no tiresome exhortations to like and subscribe and no cumbersome product placements. It was pretty much just him talking to the camera interspersed with clips of the progress of his various crops.
I got the impression that his urge to create content was less about a desire to become some kind of influencer, and more because sharing the knowledge he has acquired - he only started growing food in 2016 - could benefit others in the way that gardening has helped him. As someone with an autoimmune disease that led to early retirement, Steve is passionate (in his own understated way) about how gardening has provided purpose, nutrition and other benefits that have improved his life.
In the course of watching his videos - regular updates from his allotment, garden or seedling-stuffed conservatory - it became apparent that Steve also has an eBook which he’s published on Notion. For those not familiar with Notion, it’s project management/workspace software that has become very popular in recent years. One of the interesting things about the software is the degree of flexibility and customisation it allows - this has inspired people to use it to create and host CVs, portfolios, wikis, landing pages and all manner of other content types.
For the beginner gardener, Steve Richard’s eBook is a goldmine. And for those interested in what I think of as ‘grassroots content creation’, it is absolutely fascinating (as is the gardening sphere as a whole, by the way). There is no shortage of professional gardening personalities, books, magazines, shows and YouTube channels out there - many of them very good. But there is something uniquely compelling about a skilled amateur painstakingly cataloguing their knowledge, referring to their specific personal experiences throughout, that imbues this kind of content with a rare authentic flavour. Sure, that comes with the odd typo, but grammatical accuracy is at the bottom of my list of priorities if I’m trying to work out when and how to transplant broccoli seedlings into the ground.
Part Wiki, part strategy document, part how-to guide, part philosophy paper, Gardening-eBook.info looks at things from a high level (such as pragmatically listing the pros and cons of growing your own food) and also from the perspective of what to do at what point in the year, and exactly how to do it (e.g. How to grow tomatoes).
From grow lights, to compost, to seeds, to netting for crops, to ideal planting dates… He covers it all, including, vitally, examples of times he got it wrong and how to avoid doing the same. And while he will experiment with new gardening methods and techniques, I love the fact that his data-driven approach means he’ll provide an outcome that guides his decisions.
It all feels very open-source; the ebook is available for free to read, copy and adapt as people see fit, and it is a continual work in progress. There’s a sense, for me at least, that Steve is merely using a modern format to continue the ancient practice of sharing the hard-won knowledge that enabled humans to learn how to grow food effectively in the first place.
For all the detailed information he provides, I find it fascinating that Steve provides useful context via the modestly-titled ‘Philosophy of life and gardening’ page’. It’s an illuminating insight into how he applies the skills from his former career to gardening, why he started growing food in the first place, what motivates him to keep going and more.
As I alluded to earlier, gardening has opened up a vast new content galaxy for me, mainly on YouTube. Highlights have included channels like The Kitchen Garden with Eli & Kate, Huw Richards, Emma Bailey, My Family Garden and homegrown.garden. New Substack newsletter The Earthworm, meanwhile, provides a relatable weekly read from a fellow back garden grower. Thus far I’ve been underwhelmed by podcast offerings, though. Suggestions welcome!
I was delighted to read Stuart’s email asking if we’d be interested in him unpacking a gardening ebook written in Notion. We try to cover all sorts of formats here. Naturally, we do a lot of TV, podcasts and online video formats. But over the last two years, we’ve covered joke formats, quiz formats, card trick formats, interactive story formats, and more.
So, if you have an idea for an interesting format you would like to unpack or think we should unpack, get in touch.
Thanks for reading. See you all next week.