A Way to Garden: A Hands-On Primer for Every Season

A Way to Garden: A Hands-On Primer for Every Season

by Margaret Roach


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"Those with dirt already under their fingernails will treasure Roach’s in-depth knowledge, wry humor, and reflective look at how seasons in gardening mirror the passage of time." —Publishers Weekly

For Margaret Roach, gardening is more than a hobby, it’s a calling. Her unique approach, which she refers to as “horticultural how-to and woo-woo,” is a blend of vital information you need to memorize (like how to plant a bulb) and intuitive steps you must simply feel and surrender to. In A Way to Garden, Roach imparts decades of garden wisdom on seasonal gardening, ornamental plants, vegetable gardening, design, gardening for wildlife, organic practices, and much more. She also challenges gardeners to think beyond their garden borders and to consider the ways gardening can enrich the world. Brimming with beautiful photographs of Roach’s own garden, A Way to Garden is practical, inspiring, and a must-have for every passionate gardener.  

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781604698770
Publisher: Timber Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 04/30/2019
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 43,253
Product dimensions: 8.10(w) x 10.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Margaret Roach, one of America’s best-known garden writers, creates awaytogarden.com and the public radio show by the same name, which has been called a “top-5 garden podcast” by The Guardian and is the winner of multiple Garden Writers of America medals. She was the first garden editor of Martha Stewart Living magazine where she also co-hosted a weekly call-in radio show for several years. She lives in rural New York State, and her garden has been open for Garden Conservancy Open Days for more than 20 years.

Read an Excerpt

My how times have changed. Though at first thought, the idea of rekindling a 21-year-old garden book might not seem like a task as radical or needed as, say, redoing one of the same vintage about computers, it turns out otherwise. Yes, we still use shovels (if not Word 6.0; I’m now pecking away on version 16.16.2). Yes, the horticultural operating system still begins with “green side up,” though I did recently gift a friend some paperwhite narcissus to force, forgetting to state what seemed to me the obvious. I got a call a few weeks later asking why white spaghetti was sprouting from the pot.

And one more yes, before we get to all the nos. Were they alive, my money’s on the likelihood that Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein would still be discussing the most perennial of evergreen garden topics:

The story goes that Toklas once asked Stein what she saw when she closed her eyes.

“Weeds,” Stein replied.

Me, too; now and forever, I forecast that the gardener shall forevermore have plants growing in the wrong place, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Help!

Much else has been upended, I came to realize as I dug in to revise the book. No, mere updates would not do, Margaret. The catalog sources at the back of the first edition are now mostly fond memories of old friends long gone from the business. (Their progeny live on in my garden, and I still unearth the occasional old plastic label, the printing so faded as to be nearly illegible.)

Some “it” plants of that moment that everyone grew (or wanted to, if only they could secure a piece) are now known thugs, and I, like gardeners everywhere, will spend the rest of my days hoicking them out, sometimes losing the battle. Their tenacity is an in-our-faces, perennial reminder of inadvertent environmental wrongdoing—of cultivating what proved to become invasives.

Plants that were rare—a dramatic variegated- or gold-leaf version some savvy gardener identified from a sport, perhaps—stayed that way a relatively long while. The ramp up to wider distribution was once upon a time dictated by the math of the plant’s inclination to set seed or provide ample divisions or cuttings. As tissue culture laboratories have proliferated, and the secrets of micropropagation, or cloning, for more species unlocked, the pace for many plants has likewise accelerated. Advancements in other methods of mass production, like of wholesale baby plants called liners or plugs, has evolved, too, in ever more mechanized greenhouse facilities. You barely have time to gloat over being among the first to have something special, before it confronts you en masse at the big-box store.

I knew, and grew, some native plants back then—notably winterberry hollies and asters—but our current collective consciousness about the role of natives, about habitat gardening and pollinator gardening, had not taken hold. Today native status is even printed on plant labels (though often imprecisely, since few things are native to the entire nation). The word “nativar,” for a cultivar of a native plant with showier attributes or a different habit than the straight species, has been added to the vocabulary.

Ticks were familiar, but those tiny arachnids hadn’t yet traumatized a chunk of the nation. Our longtime No. 1 annual, the impatiens, hadn’t been assaulted by a devastating fungus-like disease called impatiens downy mildew, and a related species of DM hadn’t yet attacked beloved basil. (As I type this, news is just out that the impatiens genome “sequence and assembly” has been cracked, a critical step in developing a strategy to breed in resistance someday to DM.) And so many introduced forest pests have increased their pressure: The ever-wider encroachment of hemlock woolly adelgid, as one example, saw to it in these ensuing years that I would not dare plant Tsuga. Instead I mourn former stands of what was a foundation species of the northeastern forests I live surrounded by.

Even the earthworm has evolved from being regarded as a gardener’s (and farmer’s) best friend to a leading suspect in environmental havoc. I didn’t even know years back that there were no native earthworms in the northern United States—that they were all introduced species (including many kinds in warmer regions). And nobody knew just how destructive some of the latest imports, notably jumping worms from Asia in the genera Amynthas and Metaphire, would prove to gardens, yes, but to forest ecologies most terrifyingly, as they impoverish soil and interrupt the process of succession in parts of the Great Lakes Forest, the Great Smoky Mountains, and New England. We will be hearing more about them regularly, I forecast. Need I mention that the gardener’s other once-reliable companion, the weather, doesn’t seem very friendly or familiar at all, either, as the climate shifts? The expected meteorological pacing of each space of a season is no longer, and all the time we face extremes that are ever more perplexing to manage around.

As unsettling to keen gardeners (and to a greater degree, farmers) has been consolidation of the seed industry, as seed genetics became regarded as intellectual property—something to patent and own. The number of players has shrunk to a few giants, and their focus is on money-makers—genetically engineered agribusiness crops, yes, and also classically bred hybrids suited to large-scale farming because of their uniformity, perhaps, or inclination to ripen all at once for ease of harvest. Some heirloom home-garden seeds that didn’t have such profit potential got neglected, but, blessedly, counterforces have risen up to protect and reinvigorate some of them.

I didn’t know years back that my garden would become a laboratory for data collection. Though I was interested in science—something the garden opened up for me in a way no high school teacher ever had—I was not yet one of what are now millions of citizen scientists who today record backyard observations, adding my bird counts and moth counts and more to giant databases that scientists can use for research (but could not compile without us). In the old text of the book, I could hear the first hints of the gardener, and person, I would become. I met a Margaret who was, as I am now, devoted to organic practices, and already proselytizing. I also met one-time friends, plants that starred in the first edition but have since gone—not because they all died, but because my enthusiasms shifted. For example, once mad for silver, I’m now all about the gold (leaves, that is).

A younger Margaret shared joyful anecdotes of interactions with the first birds she came to know, and an apparent delight at a growing number of beneficial insects, too, as her deepening sense of connection to the bigger picture took hold. Missing in the original book were amphibian adventure stories, as their populations in the garden have multiplied to almost comical proportion, and I have undergone the metamorphosis into She Who Lives with Frogs. I likewise failed then to celebrate my reptilian brethren—to trumpet how important it is to make snakes at home in an organic garden. There is good reason for that last oversight: I was not yet a recovering ophidiophobiac. Quite to the contrary.

Today, I describe my approach to gardening as “horticultural how-to and ‘woo-woo’”—a blend of stuff you need to memorize, like how deep to plant a daffodil bulb, and stuff you need to feel when you witness a seed germinating, for instance, and just surrender to (like getting over a fear of snakes, and instead of screaming, thanking them for eating slugs and mice). I was glad I could hear both how-to and woo-woo notes in the old Margaret, and my nowadays constant invocation to strive for a 365-day garden was evident, if not labeled yet as such. I guess I am still me (or always was?).

One more thing, or actually two, have not changed even a little. First, I garden because I cannot help myself. I hope that you may feel that calling.

Most of all: this book is still titled A Way to Garden because it is not the only way, just my way. It’s the one way I have gradually sorted out despite all the shifts in trends and technology and even the taxonomic order of things, as tried-and-true plants were renamed (and sometimes then unrenamed for dizzying good measure). Whatever pest or predicament is thrown at me, onward I do dig, and most of all: weed. Perhaps mine is a way to garden that will work for you, too. I hope so.

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A Way to Garden: A Hands-On Primer for Every Season 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Caroldaz 14 days ago
The best recommendation of this book is that it seems like the author is talking to you. It is not a book filled with technical terms, many do’s and don’ts or just telling you what you must do. She talks of her first experience in gardening, how she planned and was honest about her impatience to just see everything there! It covers everything, from buying the seeds to mulching. An excellent book whether you are a beginner to gardening or have experience. I love the photographs! I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.