I read this stupid stuff so you don’t have to



A magnet for all vintage obscurity, my gardening mentee Ron unearthed this gem from a yard sale or thrift store somewhere in Buffalo: The Lazy Gardener’s Garden Book.

The cover of the paperback I have isn’t as witty as the hardcover shown here; mine has a photographic pastiche where the young male gardener reclines on a cheap webbed lounge chair next to his idle lawnmower, while in the foreground carnations and mums crouch improbably together in a bed of bark mulch.

Maybe some of you have read this—were you as exhausted as I was after reading the first section? No wonder this gardener is passed out! He’s probably comatose from following the strict regimen of fertilizing, pesticide application, weed-killing and fungus-annihilation the author recommends for any lazy gardener who nonetheless wants bragging rights to an emerald-green lawn. Lawn maintenance is the first and the longest section in the book, then trees, then shrubs, then flowers (this section is preceded by a warning that “to produce blossoms of any quality mean unremitting toil, sweat, and tears …” I do admire the exaggeration.

Here are some more priceless nuggets of wisdom from Lazy Gardener:

Handle poisonous chemicals with the respect that is their due and all will be well.

The next time you’re overcome with the yearning for the products of deciduous fruit trees … we suggest you head for the Supermarket instead of your Garden Center.

You have to spray Roses every week, while you might get away with spraying your annuals and perennials every other week. Take what comfort you can from that.

I think this was supposed to be an I Hate to Cook Book for gardeners. (Is there an actual I Hate to Garden book?) But unlike Bracken’s book, which did present some shortcuts and relatively easy things (and was actually quite funny), this is not easy gardening—not even close. The author recommends espaliering, setting up a cutting garden in the shape of a flower wheel, and meticulous hedge-clipping, not to mention the constant applications of chemicals. I couldn’t be bothered to do any of that stuff.

Yeah, I know I’m taking some very easy shots at a book that was written in 1970. And, truth, much of the advice is perfectly legitimate (though if you took away the spraying recommendations, the book would be half its length). But I do think the attitude behind this book exists now—perhaps among some of the would-be “yardeners” who think a clean-edged, minimal landscape isn’t just as much work as a perennial bed. Every few weeks I listen as one of my colleagues at the magazine argues on the phone with various landscaping services, as she tries to restore her traditional lawn-centric yard, which keeps getting drowned, eaten, scorched, or clobbered by unseasonal storms. I wonder if the same time spent looking, thinking, and coming up with a solution of her own might work better. Anyway, the myth of the Lazy Gardener still exists. Not that lazy gardening might not be possible, but … is it? (And still have a garden that is.)


  1. Fun post. However, poisons aside, this is the same thing that drives me crazy about current how-to books. They make gardening sound so very complicated and difficult and suggest all kinds of unnecessary labor, like double digging!

  2. That depends…on what the definition of “lazy” is. As the years go by I feel like I am getting closer to the norm of the amount of work that the average American will actually do. Will I ever reach that level of laziness? I doubt it.

    All the work you describe in that book sounds like what people pay the landscape services to do. People without such a service rarely if ever do that. Only the eccentic gardeners would ever come close and that is not likely to be in the form of applications of chemicals.

    My own laziness comes in the form of giving plants the full amount of room needed to reach mature size without major pruning and a survival of the fittest attitude. If a plant needs to much special attention to live in my garden it is a goner.

  3. Another high-maintenance gardening “expert” is the notorious Jerry Baker – remember him? He hasn’t gone away at all. People still find him on public TV and all over the fricking Web and actually follow his exceedingly onerous regimen in order to kill every living being on their property except the few privileged, fussy plants slated for pampering.

  4. Hey, Elizabeth – those webbed lawn chairs were cutting edge in 1970! This book was out long before we owned a house and I’ve never seen it. It does seem to me that most of our neighbors and relatives put chemicals on the grass but I don’t remember any bark mulch used where we lived.

    When Jerry Baker first appeared on local Chicago TV shows in the seventies, he gave rather practical, basic information at a time when it was needed – that’s hard to believe now!

    And the archly amusing Peg Bracken – her I Hate to Cook Book, I Hate to Housekeep Book and I Try To Behave Myself book on manners are still on my kitchen bookshelf. In the illustrations, everything was done with a cocktail or cigarette in one hand.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  5. I’m ashamed to admit it, but the idea of a lazy gardener appeals to me right now. Between working to pay off my grad school debt and my painful arm surgery recovery, I have neither the time nor the body to maintain a high-maintenance garden.

    All I want–please please please–is something nice that will grow easily in poor clay forest soil in dry shade among hundreds of deer.

    Thank God for Helleborus.

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