Whatever Felder Rushing’s “Slow Gardening” is, I’m fer it!


Here's my latest for Kirkus Reviews. Click here to read Amy's review of the clicken book "Cluck".

Felder Rushing, despite his actual horticulture degree, radio show, books, and years on the speaking Felderafield-300dpi circuit, is also one of the few real characters in the gardening world.  He stands out from the crowd not just by his distinctive look and Mississippi accent but by ruffling feathers with statements like these:

  • “You don’t have to have your soil tested.”
  •  “Green side up, that’s the big deal.”
  • Or on how to compost:   “1. Stop throwing that stuff away, and 2. Pile it up somewhere.  There are whole books written about composting”, the existence of which he clearly finds ridiculous.

Thus in Rushing’s new book Slow Gardening, a Non-Stress Philosophy for All  Senses and Seasons,  he recommends “forgetting the stinkin’ rules” and “being in tune with whatever rings your bell”.   And for pity’s sake, do it yourself rather than hiring someone to do it for you.  Slow gardening is the opposite of the instant make-overs we see on TV and in perfect magazine gardens (done by professionals).
But don’t go thinking slow gardening is the same as low-maintenance gardening, because to Rushing, topiary artists and dedicated hybridizers are practitioners of slow gardening – because they’re doing what they’re passionate about.  And guess who else he includes in the happy world of slow gardeners – “sharply focused lawn fanatics”.  Sorry, I just don’t buy that lawn perfectionists are passionate rule-breakers who engage all their senses, connect with nature, yada yada yada.  But Felder, it’s your philosophy; you get to define it.

(Pardon the lapse into first-name familiarity but now’s a good time to confess that as two Southern garden writers still holding onto their hippie ways, we’ve become pals.)

But I’ll forgive Felder’s curious inclusion of what I call Torojockeys in the slow club because he’s a big proponent of less lawn and the use of hand tools, and he even declares that “the perfect lawn has become a symbol of ridiculous excess.” And I’m happy to report that his lawn care advice is environmentally sound.  (Actually, his advice about everything is environmentally sound – just not necessarily politically correct.)

Don’t go thinking slow gardening is all organic, either, because true to his laid-back nature and his horticultural degree, Felder’s no purist on any topic.  (He’s often heard recommending the controversial herbicide Roundup.)

Wish we were all slow gardeners
But for the most part, it would be hard for anyone to get their knickers in a bunch (as he’d put it) over Felder’s sensible approach, exemplified in his advice on dealing with pests:  Though some pesticides are safe,  why not just tolerate the pest or, if you can’t, grow something else?  “Try looking at the plant from 10 feet away.  Take off your glasses, stop obsessing, and a lot of garden headaches disappear.”  Works for me!

I’ve decided to adopt Felder’s laid-back attitude toward the few details in his book that I take issue with – the practices I advise against and the inclusion of some questionable types in his Big Ole Tent.  Hey, maybe those Torojockeys will read this book and stop being such resource-wasting tightasses! 

In fact, I wish everyone would read this book and adopt a more Felderian attitude.  They’d enjoy their gardensSlowgar2 more, be kinder to the environment, and be less contentious toward their fellow gardeners, for sure.


Enter to win by leaving a comment telling us if you think you're a slow gardener, a fast one, or something else altogether.  (Felder's clecklist of slow gardening practicers may help you decide.) I'll pick one at random, though, so don't worry about being the cleverest commenter on the block.  Entries close tomorrow night at midnight Eastern time.


  1. I like this post and the concept of slow gardening and would not be the most in need of a book like this, but would love to have something to read on rainy days, or days when the mosquitoes chase me out of the yard.

  2. Well, my approach to composting has always been to just pile it up however it comes.
    As to planting a little bit at a time “all year round”, well, that might work in Mississippi, but it sure doesn’t work in Zone 4 Vermont (just down the road from his publisher, in fact). Unfortunately, we have to get it all in in a fairly short season, which means some long days in the garden in late spring. And as we get older we are not above hiring strong teenagers to do soem of our heavy lifting (like moving a whole big pile of wood chips from where the trees were chipped out back to over by the garden) So perhaps we are medium-slow gardeners 🙂

  3. HA! This made me laugh out loud! I can sure see my own attitude to some of those issues. Would love to read the book.

  4. Wasn’t this same review posted a few days ago on GR?

    I’m paid to be a fast gardener, but at home I’m a slow gardener. The vegetable garden is still a work in progress after 20 years.

    I’ve been a fan of Felder since I found out about his bulb-rustling ways and his tire trees.

  5. I love Felder Rushing! I’ve gotta recommend his podcast “The Gestalt Gardener,” which is not only extremely helpful (especially to a Montgomery, AL gardener like myself), but fully charming.
    As for slow gardening, I think I may be the slowest gardener…

  6. I love the concept of slow gardening. I’ve always considered myself as a procrastinating gardener but perhaps I’m more in the slow lane.

  7. As a Type A personality masquerading as Type B, I guess I have to say the same for being a fast gardener masquerading as slow. Right now, I just want everything in so that I can tend on my own schedule. Sad, but true…

  8. I’m with Kate. I’m a slow gardener at heart but always thought it was because I was a little bit of a slacker. I’d love to read this book at learn how to really hone my skills!

  9. I’ve been a little too slow this season. And now I’m stressed about how the garden has gotten away from me. Maybe his philosophy would help me stay on track, and help me not worry about it when I don’t.

  10. This year, for the first time, I’ve opened my garden to tours and mentoring visits. I have no problem describing myself as a “lazy” gardener. For me, that means working with the time, space, and natural resources at hand.

    Specifically, “slow” gardening is also part of my approach to my own gardening. I had the initial vision for my backyard native habitat garden the first month after we closed on our home. It took me six years to realize it, and it’s still a work-in-progress.

    Gardening slowly provides time to observe the garden season-after-seasons, seeing what works, learning what that corner of the garden needs. In essence, I don’t plant a garden; I grow a garden. Growing takes its own time. So call it “slow,” it’s how gardens become themselves in the real world.

  11. I’m definitely already a slow gardener but could pick up some tips on how to be even slower. I especially agree with the use of quiet hand tools. There’s nothing worse than a leaf blower!

  12. Yay! I love Felder Rushing. I copied his tire tower in my front yard. I remember him being a garden rebel from long ago.
    Here’s another book, that I’ll have to buy if I don’t win it.

  13. As a Felder fan from way back, I recognize my gardening “style” in the slow gardening description you provided. I’d love to have a copy of his book to toss casually on my coffee table as if to say ” you see, there IS a method to my madness.”

  14. I’m neither slow nor fast but something else altogether. Reading through Felder’s slow gardening list, I fear I’m too lazy to qualify as a true slow gardener. Or maybe it’s the heat — my gardening does speed up in spring and fall!

  15. I’m such a slow gardener that my garden has a hammock hung in it. I am mastering the art of holding the garden hose with my toes so that my hands can remain behind my head.

    I’ve often said that if I were to write a book it would be titled, “Lazy-Assed Gardening”.

  16. I thought slow gardening was MY idea! I’m sure my neighbors wish I were quicker, but I’m (relatively) content to keep an unsteady and uneven pace in the yard and garden.

  17. I am absolutely a slow gardener! My philosophy is, put something in the ground and see what happens. If a plant is too finicky, I’ll find something to replace it with. Live and let live!

  18. I think I fit this gardening model quite well and, like others, would like to make sure I’m doing things as slow as possible. That being said, my garden is pretty well in place so much of the actual heavy work was done in my younger days when I was not so slow. Or patient.

  19. From a Mississippi girl now living in Tennessee, I know that slower is better – but I’d love to have Felder’s, who I remember listening to on NPR back home, input!

  20. I’m a “thankful this is my hobby and I don’t have to survive off the food I produce” gardener. Mostly veggies, so I guess that’s on the fast side. Happy to have a new garden author to inspire me during the long, cold winter evenings.

  21. I have an answer to this question: “Wasn’t this same review posted a few days ago on GR?”

    You saw the link to this review posted on the Rant last week, not the review itself. That’s our deal with Kirkus – we help promote the reviews on their site, and a week later we post them here on the Rant.

  22. “Try looking at the plant from 10 feet away. Take off your glasses, stop obsessing, and a lot of garden headaches disappear.”

    That is the absolute best garden related comment I’ve ever read! And it fits my philosophy pretty well bang on. I think I’d probably be considered a slow gardener and a bit of a disorganized one, which probably drives my neighbours with the perfectly manicured lawns insane but I enjoy the way I keep my yard! And honestly the plans I have for the future, when time and money permit, are going to be great but a bit unorthodox, but in the mean time its a half finished piece of art (which might be a permanent state).

    I expect this book would be a great read, and I’ll definitely have to read it someday whether I win it or not.

  23. Slow but proud. Southern gardeners don’t really have much of a choice, the heat forces us to slow down. Count me in.

  24. I love the concept of slow gardening – my garden is certainly a work in progress and although I love to see the instant makeovers, wouldn’t it be boring to have all your projects completed by someone else?

  25. yep, i consider myself i slow gardener. when people compliment me on my garden and say ridiculous things like ‘oh, i just kill anything i plant’ I tell them to embrace their black thumb and pull the plug early on struggling plants. my black thumb says “if a plant is not happy after a year of planting, i move it or toss it.” and i do this with zero guilt.

  26. Definitely a slow gardener. Our compost is turned whenever the wind is blowing in the right direction if I’m in the mood and our lawn is a haven for maligned free-range ground covers.

  27. Definitely do some parts of his philosophy–always something in bloom, composting, paying attention to what does well, loving hand tools, starting things from seed, and scented night-bloomers. I think I would really enjoy the book!

  28. Damn, this is how I garden, thought I was the only slow
    get around to it and enjoy it now gardener in the world,and a northerner, too. I guess i don’t need the book.

  29. I love his philosophies (although I’m not down with the harsh pesticide). Real gardening, at least at my house, is not like one of those landscape improvement shows with crazy, instant results. That approach doesn’t seem like much fun anyway!

  30. You gottta love Felder and his “get a life” gardening advice. As another southerner, I can attest we often just plod along with the time and tides, trying to stay ahead of the weeds, the invasives, the bugs and the humidity. Indeed, sometimes I feel like I am in reverse gear. Then something really beautiful blooms and we slowly start plodding and planting again.

  31. Perhaps my love of using a reel mower and a half moon edger (tools powered by moi) on my small patch of lawn qualifies me as a slow gardener? However I fear my refusal to compost (I send my yard waste and food scraps away with the city…they compost it and I buy it back! Freeing up space to garden in my yard rather than pile up rotting matter) disqualifies me from the club.

  32. One more who is becoming a slow gardener – but I have my exceptions. I moved into a yard that had been neglected for years and slowly took on one project after another: kill lawn (with layers of newspaper), remove water hogs, add low-water and native plants. Alas, I was slow to come to deal with an enormous privacy hedge of plumbago, a hundred feet long, ten feet deep and twelve plus feet high, all at the top of steep incline. I am using power trimmers and will probably end up using glyophosate or vinegar on the rampant seedlings as one of us has already done damage to our backs, digging down to remove unwanted seedlings. Alternate suggestions are most welcome.

  33. S-L-O-W gardener, absolutely. My lawn was brown before being brown was “green” because I didn’t think about hauling out a sprinkler until I laid my head down on my pillow at night…..and I certainly wasn’t going to move then…..at least not for the lawn. So maybe I’m not a slow gardener, but a lazy gardener.

  34. I think I might be a slow gardner. Its so hot here in summer, I just water and let the weeds do what they will. Some lawns are necessary. We live where a river runs through the back yard just 50 feet from the house. Without our St. Augustine grass we would lose our soil in the high water years. I am not familiar with Felder, so please choose me so I can be.

  35. As I get older, I realize I am adapting more and more to being a slow gardener. Especially love it when he says “Take off your glasses, stop obsessing, and a lot of garden headaches disappear.”

  36. I loved Felder Rushing’s approach. This is our 5th year in our present home and we are happily eliminating more and more grass and converting to prairie flowers and grasses (we live in northern Illinois and can dig up plants along the roads and railroad tracks all the time) We sometimes just throw heavy brown paper down on an area we want to reclaim, throw a wheel barrow of compost over the top and in a few weeks the grass is dead and we can start planting. We do a ltttle every single day but in the spring us northerners have to devote a few long weekends to getting everything back in shape after the long winter. We have hundreds of bulbs so we are lucky to have something blooming in our yard from April until the first good frost. We started a farmer’s market in our town so all the local gardeners and farmers can share their bounty with their neighbors. We don’t know what we would do without our little slice of paradise, our garden. It feeds the soul and the stomach! Happy Slow Gardening.

  37. Definitely a slow gardener. I need this book to defend my ways to the rest of the family!
    Interestingly,this approach has been enforced through the Master Gardeners Program, which embraces slow gardening fully! Seems counter-intuitive that these folks with the greatest yards are the ones that look the other way when pests appear and compost piles overflow.

  38. I’m a manic gardener in our brief Iowa springs–that short window when perfection seems possible–who is inexorably battered by our fierce weather extremes, my increasingly achy joints, and incipient, creeping realism into becoming a Slow Gardener by August…every year!

  39. I’m a slow gardener. I’ve been on my land since 2003. The garden has evolved but the shade has taken over where the vegetable garden has been for twenty or so years (I knew the previous owner). I’m not going to cut down the mature oakes just to keep the garden where it is. Instead I have moved the vegetable garden to large containers and have let it evolve to its present spot, where we’ll do raised around the deck we are planing.

  40. Love to read this book and share with my other rose-a-holics in my newsletter. Gardening in a “process” not something to get done in an “hour or two”. Love to sip my coffee or wine while weeding or deadheading my roses.

  41. Being another southerner, i can understand and embrace slow. We sway with the time and tides around here. Sometimes, when the weeds and the invasives get away from me and the mosquitoes and the humidity get to me, I actually think I am gardening in reverse gear. Then something beautiful will bloom and I am infused with enough energy to keep plodding along in this heat.

  42. I have two small children (ages 1 and 3) and so I am a sloooow gardener. I often don’t get to until it is two weeks too late. But my three year old Max and I enjoy planting and harvesting veges (if I can keep him from pulling those that aren’t yet ready) and also weeding together. So, having things a little ragged at the edges will have to do for now.

  43. I like to think of myself as a patient gardener rather than ‘slow’, however, with the state of my tomatoes this year, I could be considered a ‘non-preserving’ gardener!

  44. Just bought a new house and am trying to get my garden started, but even with that, I am definitely a slow gardener. As my dad always said, measure twice, cut once … or in my case, measure 15 times, draw 5, and dig once!


  45. I have taken down small trees with my pruning saw. If that doesn’t make me a slow gardener, I don’t know what would. The only thing I don’t do myself with hand tools is large trees.

    Of course, the older I get, the slower I garden.

  46. I’m a medium-slow gardener. Thanks for posting about this! It definitely puts the relaxation of gardening back at the top of the list!

  47. Well, right now, I’m hard at work mowing my lawn. True fact. You think I’m goofing off on the internet, but I’m mowing. See my horse out there in the front yard? Yep. MOWING. Also, one of my mottos is, “Compost happens.” So I guess I’m a slow gardener.

  48. >>Try looking at the plant from 10 feet away. Take off your glasses, stop obsessing, and a lot of garden headaches disappear.” << Or, as I tell my clients, "Consider the holes to be lace." Much easier on the blood pressure.

  49. I think I have the makings of a slow gardener, although I can sometimes over-research things before I attempt anything!

  50. I think I’m a slow gardener. Though I used to teach composting, I have two large wire baskets that are doing a marvelous job. I bury the vegetable and fruit scraps, in the leaves from my very treed yard. I used the black plastic compost bin to hold the bunny
    I sat for a week. I could move it daily while she grazed her weight worth every day on my weeds. She loves dandelion greens, violet leaves, grass, bramble leaves. I don’t use any pesticides so it was safe for her. In repayment she gave me nice fertilizer and dug holes ready to plant some
    new pots of flowers.

  51. I’m definitely a very slow gardener which probably has more to do with my laziness and heat intolerance than anything else, but I love the idea of choosing this style of gardening.

  52. I’m definitely a slow gardener in many respects. But I use a moderate composting method where I build piles with alternating green and brown layers, because I want it to heat up at least once and I also want it faster than the passive method. I’ve even written whole chapters on soil, mulching, and composting.

  53. i bet felder (hey, we are on first-name terms — i have downloading his podcast for more than a year) would find someone who did not disagree with him on something to be highly suspect.

    this massachusetts gardener loves him, and i get lots of good info. gardening is gardening, regardless of location.

  54. I could say I’m a slow gardener, but I’m thinking it’s only part-time. I put in drip irrigation so that I never worry about watering, but one can’t be lazy when planning that out. Summers find me happy to the admire the outdoors from air-conditioned comfort where it’s easier to think those weeds are in fact the seedling I set out last Spring. And I’ll venture out in the cool of dusk to see if the veggies are producing, where the flaws in the garden are hidden by waning light. But come Autumn & Winter, I’m in action – collect & chop the leaves from every yard on the block to use as mulch, plant & transplant & transplant again, trim & deadhead & prune … and get it all set to be ignored once it starts growing again !

  55. If Slow Food is the enjoyment of cooking from scratch and the rejection of readymade culture, then Slow Gardening must be something that takes that idea to the next level. Saving the seeds that bear the beans that become the chili doesn’t seem a bit lazy to me. All you wonderful people make me smile. You must not know how much work you’re doing because you’re having so much fun.

  56. I think I want to be a fast gardener but with 2 kids under 3, I am definitely not! Sounds like a great book!

  57. I’m probably somewhere between. I try to do a couple of buckets of weeding every day (one in the flower beds and one in the veggie garden) but I do have to load up on weekends, especially during the school year. Actually, since I coach (track and sometimes cross country) “weekend” frequently gets condensed into “Sunday.”

  58. I must be a slow gardener, because that’s just what I do with my compost. Eventually, it rots, and what doesn’t I just pull out and fling aside.

  59. I’m a Tennessee girl exiled to dry, brown, dusty California, where all the “grass” is prickly and you can never go barefoot. If I had Felder’s book I might not be so homesick.

  60. Today I witnessed my neighbor outside watering his mulch. Not the plants growing in the mulch, but the mulch itself. He is a retired guy and is outside ALL the time mulching, raking, and clipping his round green shrub balls. Would he be considered a slow or fast gardener….I don’t know….I don’t know what I am either but I like the looks of this book!

  61. I’m part slow, part fast: not much of a lawn, spread out the chores, compost everything but still do too many chores, am trying to add some whimsy to the garden. One thing though–I never need a break from TV because it doesn’t reach into my backwoods valley

  62. Schizophrenic slow gardener? Maybe that’s me? I had a moment with some of my crazy weeds this summer where I started to see their beauty. Yet I am so devastated someone is biting all my tomatoes just as they ripen, eating my corn, all my green beans. I can’t seem to get over that…..

  63. Felder is great! Must check out his latest book.

    I’m a Slow Traveler (rent apartments in neighborhoods, mostly France for me, and stay for at least 5 days in a place to get to know the locals)… and glad to know that Slow Gardener is now catching on!

  64. just love felder…saw an article a few years ago in newspaper…felt like a kindred spirit…love his “let nature rule” approach and his yard art and how he brings simplicity back to the garden. how did we ever lose it?

  65. Felder is a hoot! (And not to mention, a voice of sanity in a sea of sometimes useless complexity of instruction). In addition to the book, he has a website with many pictures of his garden and things he finds interesting in the garden. His bottle tree picture collection inspired my bottle tree!

  66. Apparently I have been a slow gardener for some time now, I simply thought that I was clever with some of my methods which border on the negligent: throw-it-on-the-pile compost (I’m a master), copious amounts of straw and mulch (bless you, Ruth Stout), timing my planting to the next rainfall (hauling hoses is too much a chore), paying my daughter for drowning Japanese Beetles, dubbing a bed of un-staked tomatoes an “experiment,” even choosing to not plant zucchini as I know others will be only too happy to unload theirs… For me this sounds not like a “how-to” but an “I, too.”

  67. I’m not quite a slow gardener yet, but I’m trying to move that way. It’s all a learning experience. 🙂

  68. Fast gardener, as I am the clock, in other people’s gardens (who wants to pay for a slow gardener) and fast gardener at home because I am in other people’s gardens all day. I do the 5 minute rule at home by pulling weeds and pruning as many perennials as I can each and every day before I head off to work. Plus it all has to be down correctly and the place needs to look good to keep DH happy.

  69. Totally slow. Every year, I just try and add a little bit more. Last year I added some trees, this year a darden around the trees and a compost bin. Next year a rainbarrel. Bit by bit. Makes total sense.

  70. Scooting in just under the deadline! I am a sloooow gardener. Accused of being crazy for working in the same bed all summer ad nauseum. Still contemplating whole untouched areas of my yard after 2 years in a new house. Letting it all settle in my mind, trying to feel it. Whole areas left to weed. I take much pleasure in small successes… they’re all I have!

  71. Well, it’s not Vermont, but gardening in Ohio means there are certainly some times of the year when mimicking a sloth with pruners just doesn’t rise to the level of what needs done.

    Still, gardening is a counterweight to the rest of my type A life, so it’s almost always done with a glass of wine or a pomtini, which are guaranteed to slow you down enough to unbunch even the most spectacularly twisted of knickers.

    I am jealous of John though. While I can pick flowers with my toes, they aren’t long enough to enable me to hold the hose, which inevitably ends up blasting my pomtini out of my hand whenever I try. 🙂

  72. Great term – slow gardening,been doing it all along, just never had a tag for it. When it comes to bending rules and ringing the bell, I am there. Enjoyed the site! Some great comments.

  73. Yup…I’m slow. Especially in the summer when it is 100 degrees outside. I’ll pull a weed, drink a glass of lemonade, pull a weed, drink a glass of tea, pull a weed, drink a beer…Well, you get the picture!

  74. Since I’m not likely to ever be the cleverest commenter on the block I will just say good morning and it’s a nice day in the garden in Minnesota today.

  75. I appreciate the comment about looking at plants from 10 feet away and appreciating them from that distance. This is indeed a philosophy I can live with!

  76. I’m a moderately slow gardener with this year being my first true year of daily journaling and taking photos to show garden progress and nature fascination. I have many photos of insects mating, deer standing outside the 7 ft. deer fence looking in etc but my favorite photo so far is the flagging tape which is tied to the fence(to alert approaching deer) in the “mouth” of a white gourd blossom which is growing on the fence netting. “Feed me!”.

  77. love it. back when i had a big yard, i used to go out there and pull the cape oxalis that blanketed the yard tiny bulb by tiny bulb. and while i was down there i notice all kinds of things. slow is the way to go.

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