Margaret Roach on Garden Writing and The Backyard Parables, plus Inkitchen’s First Contest
As garden blogger, I owe Margaret Roach a lot, and have already thanked her for being such an ongoing inspiration.
But it’s more than time to thank her again, and not just for A Way to Garden, blog extraordinaire. Although she’s working more than full time to build A Way into what I’m sure will soon be a horticultural empire (look out P.W.; there are people as enterprising as you are who can actually write, to say nothing of taking better photographs), she has continued to be a generous friend to all her fellow members of the plant-besotted community.
That being the case, it’s no surprise that dozens of us who’ve been given the chance have joined the “ blog book tour” for her latest book, The Backyard Parables.
Margaret has now done a very great many interviews, in person, on the radio and online, and although I don’t know whether she’s as bone exhausted as she has a right to be (I’d be comatose, myself), I do know it made a lot of sense to take her suggestion and confine myself to one question. Being me, I cheated a bit and made it an essay question.
Leslie: Both in print and in person you often say, in moving and inspirational ways, that your garden has saved you, that it’s so much a life partner the two of you are more or less married. Being a long time fan of A Way To Garden, which grows more wide ranging, handsome and instructive with every passing year, I can’t help wondering: isn’t this really a threesome?
Ever since you made the commitment to live with your garden full-time, the blog has been an outlet for your writing, an incentive to hone your ever more formidable photography skills, the salon to which you have welcomed thousands of virtual friends and (perhaps not least) an opportunity to exert the kind of control that’s impossible in the garden. Please discuss.
Margaret: Had you not just said this “out loud,” I suppose I would have put the three-part harmony together in my mind only semi-consciously. But of course: You are right. (And I’d guess that perhaps the same holds true for you, which might be why you are particularly aware of the website’s role for me, for us.)
In the nearly 30 years I’d been a journalist before I moved upstate fulltime, and unplugged from the outlet—the connectivity to an audience, and the collegial environment of an office—that professional journalism provides, I’d always had both colleagues and a community of readers. Then, poof!—no more of either. Uh-oh.
So I guess even though I couldn’t literally replace the colleagues, I started A Way to Garden to at least have that ongoing conversation that readership provides. Since Day 1 of the website, I have heard what other gardeners are wondering, worrying about, wanting to find. That has been an enormous help to me, making me feel like I am still a journalist, and part of something. It has also introduced me to virtual colleagues (like you and other online garden writers).
At first I was like, “But what about photos? I have no photos!” and thought that would be the insurmountable obstacle. Coming from the Martha Stewart world, with its visual richness, I almost let the fact that I had no photo crew and stylist and art director stop me from making the website. Then I just got practical—rural living will do that to you on many fronts because necessity is indeed the mother of invention. I got a digital camera and a cable to connect it to my computer and experimented.
Turns out the camera, and the process of going outside with it (and not just a shovel!) in my hand has slowed me down, made me really notice things I never did when I was all about “chores, chores, chores.” It has helped me really see the garden, at last, to get to know it much better. And it has given me endless topics to write about. I see no end in sight.
As for control, well, you are correct there, too: It’s much easier to put forth a small window on something orderly and “together-looking” in a blog post than to make a 2.3-acre garden behave on schedule. (Or behave at all, sometimes.)
The constant reminder of who’s in charge (not us!) that the garden provides to me (rubs my nose in?) is its greatest lesson, or parable, to use the word from the new book’s title.
A reader who came to a bookstore event the other day said that in “The Backyard Parables” I write more about times of chaos and loss and when all goes haywire than I do on the website, and that she liked that. “Do that more on the website,” she said. “Show us your failures.” Sage advice, right?
As usual with Margaret, sage advice indeed. One of the best things about being a garden writer is that you’re not at all dependent on the garden’s doing well. It’s just as easy – easier, actually – to be both instructive and entertaining when you’re writing about failure and catastrophe.
I knew that long before I knew Margaret, just as I’ve long known that the same logic applies to food writing (one of many reasons I’ve never wanted to own a restaurant). But it did take Margaret to teach me how much blog readers love contests – at least contests that award valuable prizes.
So. Here’s our first contest! I will be giving away two copies of the Backyard Parables. To enter, use the comments. One winner will be chosen by blind drawing from the names of everyone who asks, even if all they say is “count me in.” The other goes to the person who is best able, in my sole judgment, to write without being cloying, predictable or religious about a happy garden experience. Feel free to be as wordy as you want. By the time we get to the comments, the only people still with us are readers. Contest ends on Fat Tuesday, February 12.
Contest update – just to be sure there’s no confusion. The Happy Story winner will be chosen first, then the names of all the runners-up will be added to the count-me-ins for the random drawing.