Going Ashore

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marshall_rby Roger Marshall

I design boats for a living and originally worked as an independent designer. When I moved from my native England to America to work for a large corporation, I was told that all my design work had to be for the company. I planned to go independent again after leaving this company, so I began writing magazine articles to keep my name in front of the boating public. It worked, and I ended up writing more than a thousand boating articles for magazines all over the world. At one time, I had stories in American, Japanese, Australian, English, Swedish, and Danish magazines in the same month. (This was in the days before the Internet.) I also wrote fourteen boating-related books in addition to designing boats under my own name.

During that time I sailed more miles than I care to remember all over the world (all in the name of meeting clients) I wrote magazine articles on a variety of places, wrote about a huge variety of boat races, and wrote many technical stories on the features of the boats that I saw. I visited Australia, New Zealand, most of Europe, and sailed the Indian Ocean, the Pacific, Atlantic, Caribbean, Mediterranean, and many lakes and ponds in between. In all, it was fun and I kept writing about boats. As the century ended, it became apparent the days of the independent designer and the boating marketplace had grown smaller and smaller. Eventually, it went from a peak of some 22 million people who said they go out on boats, to about 14 million today.

When I wasn’t sailing, I tended my expanding (and quite weedy) garden. I also talked to editor friends who had moved from boating magazines to gardening magazines. One of them encouraged me to write a few gardening articles, which ended up in Country Living. With that credential it was relatively easy to begin to write for other gardening magazines and I did so. As I began writing about gardening, people began to pay attention to their yards and gardens. Participation in gardening went from twenty million or so to nearly 50 million and then to 70 million.

Parallel to this, or perhaps driving the bus, came pesticide scares, food contamination issues, and people began to seriously grow their own vegetables. Most of these people needed instruction on how to grow, when to apply fertilizer, when to harvest, and even what to grow. Many simply looked up this information on the Internet, which created a need for expert content providers.

Stores such as Home Depot and Lowes saw the opportunity and expanded their offerings, and today you can go into most big-box stores and buy plants along with your breakfast cereal and grilling meats. Thus a huge market was developed, which for a garden writer meant opportunity.

I began seriously writing about gardening and went from being the president of Boating Writers International to a member of the Garden Writers Association. I moved from the ocean into the backyard so to speak, and wrote magazine articles about gardening and what I preferred – greenhouse gardening. This led to being able to write three books about gardening. The first, How to Build Your Own Greenhouse, is listed by the publisher as a best-seller after seven years in print.

R Marshall coverIn talks with greenhouse manufacturers, I found many owners didn’t know what to grow in their greenhouses. This led to my second gardening book, The Greenhouse Gardener’s Manual. It tells owners of home greenhouses how to use their greenhouse, what plants to grow, and when to grow them.

The third book, 25 Projects for Your Garden, came from having to make a lot of the items I wanted in my own garden. For example, in New England the soil sits on solid rock, so I made raised beds. I wanted a fence around the vegetable garden, so I built it. I also built greenhouses and a deck, so these items became subjects for this book.

Gardening is, for me, a quiet time. It is a time to contemplate what I am doing and why things happen the way they do. I find that sitting and weeding the garden is an ideal time to dream up new ideas for books and articles. I often run inside with muddy hands to find pen and paper to write down an idea.

For me, moving from writing about boating to writing about gardening was a natural progression. I knew about both and I knew how to write, so why not? For a writer to move from one niche to another might be difficult. You have to build your platform in the new niche before quitting the old. If your market is shrinking and another in which you have an interest is expanding, why not make the switch? You don’t have to leave the old market entirely. I still write about boating, but I pick and choose my outlets and keep building my new niche.


Roger Marshall lives, weeds, writes, and gives away excess produce in Jamestown, Rhode Island. He also edits the Hobby Greenhouse Association‘s magazine.

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