Guest Rant: The Garden Noir of Charles Goodrich


Please welcome poet Charles Goodrich, author of a new collection of prose poems called Going to Seed:  Dispatches from the Garden. Garrison Keillor is fond of reading his poems on the Writer's Almanac.  We're just thrilled that a poet writing about gardening gets attention like this in the wider world!


Much as I love gazing at bumblebees groping a mass of Michaelmas daisies, most of my gardening hours are more like blood sport—slashing weeds, stabbing slugs, inadvertently slicing up worms.  You wouldn’t guess it from all the books full of pin-up photos of specimen plant starlets, but isn’t gardening a morally complex, violent and ecstatic wrangling with the earth?

And all the detective work!  Trying to try to puzzle out the day’s fresh influx of villains–black spot, blossom-end rot, flea beetles, moles!  It’s enough to drive one to poetry, or at least that’s my refuge at the pit-end of the day, with arms scratched and the dirt driven deep under my nails. 

Here’s a prose poem: Garden Noir.  Read it or watch the video and send us your garden detective stories.  Copies of my new book, Going to Seed: Dispatches from the Garden, for the three best yarns.

                Garden Noir

         Damn.  The squashes have crossed again.  This one is supposed to be an acorn squash, but it looks like a billy club with warts.  How far apart do I have to keep these plants?  Some vegetables have no shame.
         And look at this: tell-tale spots on the tomato leaves.  Under my pocket magnifier, pretty yellow rings with dead tissue in the center.  Necrosis, caused by who knows what—a virus, a fungus, a mutant pathogen.  Probably infectious.  Better rip up the whole lot before it spreads to the peppers.
         Listen, you’ve got to be tough to grow vegetables.  Tough, smart, and a little bit mean.  Because plants are headstrong and narcissistic, prey to all the sins of the flesh.  They’ll strangle each other when you aren’t looking.  Make no mistake—in the quest for food, beauty, and truth, a lot of creatures are going to get hurt.       

OK!  Your tales of horticultural noir–in exchange for a book!  Give it a shot!


  1. Every morning and evening I take a container of soapy water to the garden to scout for bad bugs. I get a sadistic joy from catching them as they fornicate — a two-fer! Additional pleasure is derived from introducing under-age slugs to beer.

  2. My tale is probably more out-and-out horror. One fine day as I was working in the compost pile, I uncovered a great many green fruit beetle larvae, which are huge, ugly, awful slugs. For some reason, my daughter (then 5) took to them, and didn’t want me to toss them on the driveway for the mockingbirds, as we normally do. So I tossed them in a bucket, thinking I would get rid of them once she forgot about them. Along came my dog, who took one look inside the bucket and couldn’t believe his good fortune. He gobbled them all up. Shrieks of horror and cries of murder ensued. My skin still crawls to think of it. My daughter still doesn’t trust the killer dog around her odd garden pets.

  3. Rather than tell a story about how mildew still sends me running, I want to say how happy I was to read the words of Charles Goodrich. It is so refreshing to see how language can create a garden experience for the reader, who may or may not be a gardener.

  4. I spotted her pouting face among the pots of generic shrub roses at the local Home Depot. The sultry red petals, the sassy curves of her stems. I slipped a hand into her dewy foliage to check the tag: Rosa ‘Dolly Parton’. Figures. A hybrid tea. What was a dame like her doing in a joint like this?
    “What’s a dame like you doing in a joint like this?”
    She didn’t answer. A petulant little thing. But I couldn’t take my eyes off her voluptuous red blooms.
    “I’ll be you’re a lotta trouble, eh Doll?” I said, taking a closer look. Yup. Already a hint of black spot. Traces of rust. And leggy. Sooo leggy.
    I should’ve just walked away. Yeah, I knew better. But a hybrid tea like her doesn’t just drop into your life everyday, not with giant corollas like that.
    The dame was coming home with me.

  5. Temptations of the flesh ….
    Lilies, tall, voluptuous, scented like Marilyn’s bath
    Colours soft, vivid, shaded and clear
    How can I resist you? What will save me
    From the exorbitance of the catalogue?
    Full well I know the devil’s hand is holding
    That of the copywriter
    Do I stop? Do I even slow down?
    Stealthy though, because the man who shares my bed and board
    Has no understanding of lilies and will
    Object if he sees me type in the numbers
    Of this little plastic card. Sssshhhh!
    “Tis done. How to wait till October?

  6. My neighbor attended a seedling exchange at work this Spring. She gave her extra seedlings to my father, who freely admits he knows nothing about gardening. He planted these seedlings in the vegetable garden and then confessed he’d lost the markers in the process.
    “Don’t worry”, I said. “If they produce any edible vegetables surely we’ll recognize them when we see them.” And so this year we have grown things I wouldn’t normally grow…yellow squash (I’m the only one in the house who will eat them and there are only so many I can eat), cucumbers and a few plants that we were never able to identify.
    Recently I was ripping up what was left of the broccoli plants and I said “what are those plants there. They look a lot like the broccoli, but they’re not”. Dad said “I don’t know. Let’s just get rid of them.” As he carried them off to the compost heap, I thought they looked a little like kohlrabi. A day later I found a wooden popsicle stick and on it was written “KOHLRABI”.
    And that’s the sad story of how I became a cold-blooded kohlrabi killer. The mystery was solved too late.

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