Just. Plain. Dirty.


It sure is “ironic” when a notoriously litigious company comes out with an ad campaign that looks and sounds awfully familiar. And I do mean awful. I can not bring myself to point to the website.

Davin Risk’s photograph of my “dirt manicure” published last year.

If the products based on fostering a chemical dependency, the litigious streak, and the sudden co-opting of a cultural shift towards organic wasn’t enough than an ethically questionable marketing strategy definitely leaves little doubt as to what I think about this company and their products. DIRTY.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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32 thoughts on “Just. Plain. Dirty.

  1. I thought the model WAS you. The font, the ‘collage’ nature of the spread… I seriously thought this was a shot of You Grow Girl being mentioned in a magazine, until I read your post and took a closer look.
    I’m just shocked.

  2. Disgusting. Do you have a lawyer with copyright expertise? Do you copyright your blog? I think updates have to be made (at least in the US) every 3 months. Be interesting to pursue, not for revenge or out of anger, but because they so clearly have infringed upon your creativity. Any remuneration you’d be entitled to could be donated to charity, for goodness sake.

  3. There is a bigger issue here than creative infringement although that is certainly a part of it. The fact is that if they had ever come to me legitimately my answer would be NO. I do not support this company or their products, period.

    But the bigger issue isn’t about me personally but that they are trying to co-opt a lifestyle to legitimize their brand. They are ripping YOU off. And they are doing that because they are losing customers and they want to seduce/appeal to a younger, more conscious consumer. They want your money — they are desperate because their survival depends on it yet they don’t really know how to “tap that audience” so-to-speak.

  4. ummm…didn’t this same company just sue an organic fertilizer company, terra cycle, for their use of the green and yellow label…because that’s an “original” color combination idea that scotts came up with? hmmmm…pot calling kettle….!?!?!?

  5. I’m sorry Gayla. That makes me feel gross, too. I’ve gone on long rants about Scotts/Miracle Gro myself, and these are the dirtiest of tactics, and not in the honor-badge-of-dirt sort of way.

    I’d like to add (make aware) that almost all of the gardening items sold in Target are linked to the Scotts brand, including varieties of bird food and the huge array of Smith & Hawken (=overpriced, cheaply made without consideration for the environment) planters and odd duck lawn ornaments.

    They’ve got a lot of sneaky ways. Gross.

  6. Just subscribed to the blog (saw a mention in Real Simple magazine).
    I was going say something along the lines of buttercup…my sister worked for terracycle last summer, and I got to hear all about the stuff Miracle Grow was trying to pull…rrrr, fires me up!

    I’ll definitely be reading this blog more, though! Exciting!

  7. That’s just gross! Shame on them.

    On a brighter note, I was really excited to see your blog named in Real Simple’s “Best Blogs” — though I do admit to a bit of a desire to keep you all to myself. Hopefully, that mention was one you’re happy about.


  8. Ugh … this is nasty. After the Terracycle lawsuit, I’m amazed that they’d stoop to this. They must have some inkling of how many gardening types (of all ages) they have pissed off. This is just another example of their lack of scruples.

  9. When I opened the issue of the same magazine you photographed for this post, I was sitting at the table with my husband and said…”dirt manicure”? Miracle-Gro??? And then went on a rant with him against the fact that a company who is knowingly polluting our water and soil supply with too much nitrogen and other chemicals could ever claim to be organic friendly is beyond me. Thanks for putting this in here – I am glad to see others as weirded out as me….

  10. There’s not much more to be said that’s already been mentioned, but I just wanted to add my two cents that this is completely ridiculous.

    Entirely too many corporations jumping on the “organic” and “environmentally friendly” wagon who aren’t… it’s terribly unfortunate for uneducated consumers who really WANT to make a difference with the products they choose.

  11. Gayla, you are fabulous! Don’t worry about the big boys and their dirty games. I think they’ve figured out that this green revolution may be worth paying attention to, but they’re not ready to really make the change. We, the consumers, get to call their bluff, and that’s why we visit your site, for the real deal.

  12. My husband told me to say ‘hang in there Gayla Trail.’
    Those people at MG suck is all I have to say. I never use the stuff and never will(although sadly my sister swears by it … but I’m still working on her …).
    I hate that new gardeners might see that ad and purchase that crap. However, not every new gardener will. I have a friend who just started to garden and who did buy some MG product, but after talking to her, she got rid of it and instead reads your blog to get helpful hints.

  13. No offense meant to you Gayla, I love your blog. But I have heard the phrase “dirt manicure” before, years before you used the phrase on your blog. Its a rather common phrase in gardening circles where I live, I even remember my Grammy saying it when I was little. I don’t think Miracle Grow infringed on you.

  14. Heather: I acknowledge the stickiness of this issue… but the connection is more than a specific phrase. There is a clear connection between the language of the text and images used…

    I have also clarified in a comment that this is not really about an infringement.

    The bigger issue is about a corporation that produces and sells environmentally unfriendly products on a massive scale and then wants to do that while also riding the popularity of a cultural shift towards conscious consumerism by co-opting the language (visual and otherwise) of legitimate organic/environmentally responsible and sincere gardening culture.

  15. Hi Gayla,

    I agree with Bren’s comments (February 24th, 2008 at 7:56 pm) and would add that it may not be that a giant corporation/industry “is not ready” but that it is too big to act as quickly as it should. Do not let it get to you… Sure, corporate actions like this will fool some of the consumers… but, you keep educating and networking the rest of us and we will pass on the info to those “fools” soon enough… AND TRUTHFULLY GAILA, you have better, positive things to do with your energy.

    I also agree with Heather and would like to add: As the son of an advertising copywriter/artdirector/designer who followed in his footsteps… I have seen over my lifetime that nothing “creative” hasn’t been said or done OR DESIGNED before by someone somewhere. Copyright laywers will tell you this AFTER they have spent your money. Again, we all have better, positive things to do with our energies. Like responsible gardening.

    If you find that issues like these still “get you going” then just take yourself out to the compose and turn it over until the feelings are gone, then post something for us all to enjoy on your YGG site. I think we all enjoy gardening (and YGG) because of the inner peace it provides, not only for us as gardeners, but for everyone who enjoy our gardens too.

    The “bad” corporations will try, but your reply…

    “The Green Revolution Will Not Be Terrorized.”


    P.S. I am sure that I am speaking for everyone reading my post… I hate when I ramble on…

  16. I feel silly. I never actually thought or new about MG’s “dirty” history or practices. I will no longer purchase there products.

  17. alphatango: I am a professional designer. I worked in advertising once many years ago. There is a reason I stopped. I am also a media literate artist. I know what the status quo is regarding these issues but I am not interested or invested in maintaining it.

    Yes there are wonderful, incredible sides to gardening but it is also a mega-money industry with a dark side. It’s not all sunshine and roses and I can’t always turn a blind eye or “stay focussed on the positive,” nor do I care to. That’s not who I am or who I want to be. I have to be vocal and active in speaking out against the sides I don’t like as much as I speak with passion about what I love.

    I also want to be clear in stating that I don’t think all companies in the gardening business or corporations are BAD. Money isn’t bad. It’s how we use and abuse it. It’s how we make it and what we do to make it. It’s about making responsible and ethical choices and I think corporations should be held accountable to that. We have power as consumers but I worry sometimes that people stay so focussed on that side that they forget that we also have a voice that extends beyond our wallets.

  18. Gayla,

    So we have that in common… “getting out the advertising industry” to use our talents and powers for good. I left the ad biz about 14 years ago for all the right reasons… Then television too… Since then I’ve created for a great municipality/city dreaming up public sector campaigns and designs to fight litter and violence, promote accessibility and civic pride, and… to promote community gardening, the “greening” of our City. My anti-litter campaigns were adopted by about 30 cities and towns around Toronto.

    As far as a “talking wallet” is concerned:
    1. My city pay is a fraction of what I earned in the ad biz.
    2. I never buy BAD corp’ gardening products. And your YGG site and members show/warn me how/when not to…

    Perhaps I should have suggested that we all “Water our positives and let others’ negatives wither.” …or “Gardeners don’t need rose coloured glasses.”

    …if ad agencies twist those phrases and turn them into profits, I won’t let it bother me. …I’ll just keep gardening responsibly.

    Much Respect.


  19. Hey Gayla,

    Thank you for being bothered enough by this situation to post about it. It further encourages me to use what power I have to counter the substance-less crap of this company & others like it. If you just turned away from it unruffled & dug into some actual dirt instead, I wouldn’t know about this or have access to the additional info provided by others in their posts. Australia’s example is excellent. Seems some damn good things can happen when a bunch of bothered people get together.

  20. Interesting post. I am in advertising (writer) and the ads originate with the advertising agency; the client just approves them (usually). Not saying it wasn’t somehow related, but unless Scott’s does their advertising in-house, the agency presented and designed the work. There are companies who try to dictate their ads, of course. I don’t buy Scott’s products and I garden a lot — I’ll read more on your site to learn more. Thanks.

  21. I worked in advertising too… on the side of the agency and I continue to work as a designer. Out-of-house or not the process of putting together a campaign includes input from all sides to greater or lesser degrees depending on the working relationship. But regardless, the client is always involved.

  22. The client may be involved, but as MTHS said I guarantee if they do not have an inhouse as MTHS suggested, they did not do the amount of research it would take to come across your site and that entry and image and phrase. i appreciate that you do not like Scott’s, but i really doubt they purposely infringed on you in any way. it seems more like a coincidence to me.

    (i too am a graphic designer. i work inhouse for a national television network, and while we have an inhouse we also outsource some projects to an ad agency so i know a lot about that process.)

  23. I don’t see how the possibility is so impossible… certainly no more impossible than Scott’s legal domain over the colours yellow and green. Furthermore Scott’s PR and marketing people HAVE contacted me in the past…

    There are so many examples of big multinational corporations desperate to appear authentic (for a variety of reasons) “drawing inspiration” (to be kind) from some pretty obscure sources. They are in search of a visual and written language that captures that authenticity. It’s not just the advertising companies… and I don’t believe a company as big as Scott’s is naive about the way they advertise their products. In this case it’s about selling a product that is out-of-sync with a past, longterm marketing scheme.

    I have also stated a few times now that the “infringement against my property” is not the main point I am trying to make and this sort of “what if?” argument takes away from that point.

    The legal issue is a moot point given I don’t have the money or resources to legally go after a company like Scott’s… and frankly whether one is legally in the right or not doesn’t matter… what matters when it comes to these sorts of property rights battles is who has the resources to go the distance. I am not a massive corporation but one person… my resources would not take me down the block.

    I think we’ll have to agree to disagree…. it’s a go nowhere argument.

  24. Oh. That’s just sad. :(
    I went to a lecture about the actual damage that Miracle Grow and their ilk can do to soil, as well as the likely sources for their product, and it was just very shocking. I was surprised since they are so ubiquitous in gardening and I didn’t know much about it. Still don’t.

  25. And as a side note- the “organic” Miracle Grow packages of potting soil, etc. are printed with this message on the back:

    IMPORTANT: Wear gloves when handling this product.

    So much for their “dirt manicure,” eh?

  26. OK, So let’s say Scotts is innocent, this time. I am afraid that copying a good idea is the smallest of their sins.
    I have done some tests of products, myself, with controls, etc. They actually have a potting soil, now, that kills plants. How’s that one.
    Worst of all is herbicide resistant grass seed – -found 40 miles from its test site.
    I appreciate capitalism, but Greed…

  27. Is that THE Ken Druse of the fantastically awesome book “Making More Plants?”

    Thanks for making those important points JNEF and natural gardener. When this came up last week I contemplated writing a much longer post listing the many environmental issues with their products but will admit that my anger got the best of me and I instead opted to fire off a quick post only linking to the chemical issue. If anything this experience has pushed me to be more forthcoming in my indictment of their products. In the past I have tried to focus on educating gardeners on alternatives and mentioning the harmfulness of these sorts of products without pointing fingers (mostly to protect myself from litigation) but am rethinking a less passive approach.

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