Confessions of a Fake Garden Memoirist


After the news of yet another fake memoir surfaced in the New York Times this week (this one written by Margaret B. Jones–not her real name–about a childhood of gangs and foster homes that she, well, sort of didn’t actually have), I felt that it was only right that I come forward and unburden myself at last. Reporters are no doubt digging into the backgrounds of many memoir writers, and it is only a matter of time before they get to mine. To spare my family the embarrassment of a prolonged media circus, I am going to put an end to the speculation now.

I speak, of course, of my own memoir, From the Ground Up.  Reporters are bound to uncover inconsistencies, inaccuracies, and outright falsehoods in this alleged account of my first year in the garden. Of course, I did not intend to deceive anyone.  My account was based on my own faulty memory, impaired as it was by poor record-keeping, addiction to certain substances which shall not be named here pending the publication of my forthcoming addiction memoir, and confusion between my own life and the memoirs of other, actual garden writers, whose recollections of their own gardening adventures were so compelling that it seemed as if they had happened to me.

I take full responsibility for any confusion, disappointment, or gardening that may have resulted from my foray into the murky world of memoir/fiction, and I appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight.

  1. I didn’t actually plant a garden.  There were gardens, and I saw those gardens, and I had many heartfelt conversations with other people who had seen those gardens.  The experiences of these observers-of-gardens were combined into one character–that would be me–for the sake of maintaining a cohesive narrative.  I believed at the time, in my addled state, that this was a commonly-accepted literary technique.
  2. To suggest that I spent my Saturdays toiling in my new garden is an exaggeration.  Those were the early days of ER; I was totally hooked on that young Doug Ross. (George Clooney in scrubs? Hello!)  I spent most Saturdays indoors with the shades drawn, hitting Rewind on the VCR remote until the little << rubbed right off the button.
  3. I didn’t really ever wonder what was going on in my compost pile or sneak outside in the mornings to check on the worms.  Seriously, who does that?
  4. I have never actually tossed snails into the street and waited for a car to run them over.  Please. Some of us have jobs.
  5. I did not nervously guide my friend Annette through the garden that summer. I did, however, guide her through the Union Square Macy’s in San Francisco, which is kind of like walking through a garden except that there are way more shoes to buy.
  6. My childhood cat, Gray-Baby, who died so sadly at the end?   Actually a goldfish.

Again:  really, really sorry about that.  But in my defense, I must point out that I’m not the only one.  William Alexander’s recent garden memoir The $64 Tomato?  It was actually a $28 tomato.  How the fact-checkers missed that one is beyond me.  He kept receipts, didn’t he?  Use a calculator, people.  And Aurelia C. Scott’s memoir Otherwise Normal People, about going behind the scenes in the world of competitive rose growing?  Based entirely on a Wikipedia entry.  Scarlett

But we’ve all learned from this experience.  In fact, the three of us are working on a new book together:
The Fake Garden Memoirists’ Club, a sort of Devil-Wears-Prada- meets-Nanny-Diaries- meets-Orchid-Thief-meets- Eat-Pray-Love, about a group of sexy young garden writers who, stung with shame from the garden memoirist scandal, are forced along a spiritual path to confront the realities of their own backyards, find something interesting to say (preferably involving the local food movement) and peddle their unembellished horticultural adventures in the high-stakes Manhattan publishing world. 

Film rights to be auctioned next week.  Naturally, I will be played by Scarlett Johansson.


  1. I knew that all that stuff about statues of river gods and twelve-tier fountains was a little implausible for a rented yard in Santa Cruz–but–boo!hoo! I trusted you, Amy.

    Now all your readers will wind up in rehab, too.

  2. Whatever happened to good ol’ artistic license?! I’m sure that there isn’t a memoir out there that doesn’t have at least some alterations and enhancements to reality. Afterall, no one’s every day life is so interesting and action packed that it can fill a whole book and keep the reader engaged the entire way through.

  3. Now that you’ve found the courage to admit it was all a fiction, Amy, I can summon the strength to confess that I didn’t actually buy or read the book before I reviewed it for a publication which does not exist (but which IS a composite of several actual magazines I’ve seen in my doctor’s office). I skimmed the reviews and made the rest of it up.

    Let the healing begin!

  4. “I didn’t really ever wonder what was going on in my compost pile or sneak outside in the mornings to check on the worms. Seriously, who does that?”

    Ahem. I do that. Think I could get a book deal out of it?

  5. Does this mean that I’m not REALLY your Dad or that I rally wasn’t a guitarist? O! The humanity!

  6. Oh, crap. I read that book, Amy, and believed it. It was one of the first books about gardening I ever read and I loved it. I was so naive then. I think I’m having to grow up a little bit now and I don’t want to. I’m sad.
    I still love the book though.

  7. I haven’t read the book yet (so many books, so little time) but hoo boy, do I ever want to now! Scandal aka publicity – it’s all good for book sales.

  8. As a nonfictioneer and writing teacher myself, this is all BIG in the academic world. Editors of certain journals prefer FULL truth, no memory fogging it up, no embellishment (on purpose or not) to enliven the experience. I subscribe to the school of poetic license–that in order for the reader to have the same or similar authentic experience as the author did, the author has to take certain liberties. Among those liberties are NOT outright lies or fabrications. I believe in composites, and use composites for scenes and characters in my work. Some say that’s blatantly unethical, but if you didn’t have composites of experiences the book would be 5 billion pages long and a solipsistic bore (this then this then this then this…). I could go on, but no one wants me too I’m sure.

  9. It’s people like you that make the stories of real gardeners less plausible. I, for one, am shocked that any publisher would have missed the clear signs of plagiarism in the book. Just because you live in an area with gardens does not entitled you to take on a gardener’s voice!

  10. Will you be going on Oprah to apologize?!! And thus send your book soaring onto the NY Times Best Seller lists!!

  11. Do I get to play myself while Scarlett Johansson is playing you? It might help her get into character.

  12. If the *&%$#!!@ publishing houses would start looking for something actually interesting instead of falling all over themselves to pay big bucks to people for yet more drivel about drugs, gangs, and violence, they wouldn’t be as likely to find themselves in this fix. Yet again, they’ve gotten what they deserve. Let’s all campaign for a new publishing mantra (and yes, I know it’s actually “mantram”): More gardening, less garbage!!!

  13. I see Tilda Swinton as perfect for the role. I know she’s a decade older than you, or 2 decades depending on what day it is. But she looked fabulous at the academy awards, all scrubbed clean and radiant.

  14. Your confession — great! But don’t take “reality” too seriously. We want gardening literature to be interesting. Why not bring a smile to our faces occasionally — like your confession did? As for the $64 Tomato, wasn’t that a bore? When condensed to its basic skeleton, it wouldn’t rate a two-line “Humor in the Garden” in Reader’s Digest, if that dinosaur still exists.

  15. Reality? Fact? Fiction? Those of us brought up on semiotic theory know far better to believe in any firm definition of any of these entities.

  16. Ok, since we’re coming clean here, I must confess that I didn’t really die at the end of the book; I’m circling the globe in an alien space ship with Elvis and Malcolm X. Shameless memoirest tactic, kill off the beloved pet to yank on readers’ hearts.
    p.s. Old Yeller says hello.

  17. Given how great your blog is, I can predict that your upcoming, even more fake publication, “The Fake Garden Memoirists’ Club” will be an instant best-seller.

    Not one of us would be able to resist buying a copy.

    So glad you really don’t die in the end, too.

  18. You Ranters can always be guaranteed to be entertaining, but this is definitely a gem–and the comments are priceless, especially the takes-herself-far-too-seriously anita who doesn’t recognize humour (however it’s spelled) when she sees it. Priceless, all of it. Could you ask Gray-Baby if Jeff Healy is there in that spaceship, playing blues?

  19. Dear Jody – Yes!! Jeff Healy is here. How did you guess? We also have Jeff Buckley, singin’ Hallelujah.
    Uh-oh…excuse me. I have to go instruct Elvis on how to clean my litter box.
    p.s. Jethro Tull (the gardener, not the musician) loves the Youtube police chickens. Yep, he’s up here, too.

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