Trust Me, My Hair and Nails Don’t Look Any Better



Why is your garden such a mess?  You call yourself a garden writer?

The above questions are on everyone’s lips, including

  • professional photographers trying to shoot my garden for magazines
  • the mail carrier who can’t stick mail in my basket without being velcroed by a ‘Russelliana’ cane
  • my neighbors, who oscillate between horror and pity when they climb the front steps
  • my husband, who is upset that he has to park in six inches of as yet unmoved compost
  • Sean next door, who is actually too polite to raise the issue, but has been living with my half of a 10 yard load of wood chips in his parking spot all summer.

It hasn’t been a pretty year in the garden, though in my defense, last year my vegetable garden was spectacular, just a sea of well-weeded and beautifully organized food. IMG_0907

And we did have some good moments here this year, namely the best tulip spring ever, thanks to Elizabeth’s suggestion that I try some species tulips.  I wound up with the same three colors–purple, yellow, and orange–in an outrageously artful and piquant range of shapes. Oh, and it was all extra-amazing, because it happened at the same time as the wild white violas were blooming like sprinkles on a colorful cake or sequins on a colorful dress.

The roses were nice, too, back in June when someone restrained them.

What the hell happened since?

  1. The media business struggled. My dream job–gardening columnist for a major newspaper–no longer exists, killed off, ironically, by the likes of this blog and many others.  Maybe it’s possible to make a living as a garden writer after you’ve written 8 books, but on a single book? Impossible. So newbie garden writers have to keep the day job, unless they marry rich or are born rich. Nope and nope.
  2. The economy is horrible.  But, after a dry spell, I’ve had a flood of writing work since May, and it would be insanity to turn it down.
  3. Sometimes garden writers have kids with demanding schedules.
  4. No funds for help.  Of course, help is not really my thing.  I love using a shovel and wheelbarrow.  Let’s get back to no time.
  5. Lack of inspiration.  I made my vegetable garden in the city this year, and let my beautiful country garden become a mess of weeds.  Some people are city people.  I am just not. The things that make me happy are the sound of peepers, the motion of dragon flies, fireflies when a hillside is full of them, and meadows pulsing with insect life and goldrenrod in late summer.  None of these things can be found in 7500 square feet of theoretically civilized yard.
  6. Henry the dog.  He’s a country character, just like me, and needs to run off the leash every day. So we run.  He’s undoubtedly prolonging my life, but shortening my gardening time.

The other big question on everyone’s lips is, why am I not more ashamed?

  1. I’ve been gardening for a long, long time. There are bad years in the garden, and there are spectacular years, just as there are in life.  Next year, I am convinced, will be a better year.


  1. Release the mail carrier and allow Sean to park in his rightful spaciousness and enjoy a guilt free Autumn!

  2. It must feel very discouraging. When I sold my previous house, the entire summer was spent renovating the “new” home to be, and my garden was a disaster. I was the gardener in the neighbourhood, and my garden was the worst.

  3. I can empathize. Here, I hate to make excuses, but the weather has been just horrible for gardening in the Midwest. I feel a bit like you do. I might manage to get things cleaned up a bit before the snow flies, I’m still hoping!

  4. I feel your pain… I’m constantly making apologies for my gardens this year. Weather, injury, kids other priorities – it just didn’t happen this year the way I wanted it to. Hopefully next…

  5. I thought by this time in my life there would be lots of time for the garden, but it is not so. Family and community make their rewarding demands still. And a little paid employment. Of course this year my excuse for chaos is the weather – but I always have some excuse. Still the garden brings me pleasure so I continue, as I can.

  6. I’ve decided that a productive vegetable garden can maybe be orderly but mine will never be manicured and beautiful if it is to produce intensively. The potatoes need support and I can afford last years rusted political signs but not laquered bought posts. The squash and kale must be covered against borers and cabbage worms respectively and those row covers are ugly. The squirrels or cats dig up any soft dirt with seeds or small plants so there has to be grating down all over the place. And then there is the netting for the raspberries (not to mention the raspberries themselves looking like rabble.)

  7. There is nothing about a weedy , unruly garden that a little leaf litter or snow cover won’t fix. My plot at the local community garden has gone to hell…. I console myself by sipping my coffee among the potted plants that have no more room for weeds. All things in good time….

  8. Don’t forget the unforgiving summer! It was a race to dash outside, grab what I needed, and get back indoors within five minutes because of the 100+ temperatures and unrelenting mosquitoes!

    But the reward is better than the pain!

  9. I hear you sister, this has been one wretched gardening year for me as well. Keeping my fingers crossed for next year.

  10. Thanks for a peek into the world of freelance writers/gardeners! Yeah, I keep reminding people that ALL gardens look scraggly by the end of summer. It’s just the way nature works! We keep getting in trouble at our urban farm because we are leaving the grass high enough for the clover to bloom and attract pollinators. Of course other neighbors want the greenery to have a crew cut. If they want to come mow it, they can, for now I am enjoying feeding the clover to my rabbits!

  11. You are so right to take the long perspective–good years, bad years, and everything in between. No 2 years are the same ever, in my opinion! That’s what keeps it all so interesting.

  12. Yes, just like the cobblers children have no shoes, very often the gardener (or garden writer) has the messiest yard in the neighborhood. I’ve been thinning my irises out front for more tban two months now. It looks like a mini bomb site just outside the door. The neighbors are beginning to wonder what is taking so long. I’ll just hand them your list now. And add on the over-enthusiastic spade that took out the irrigation line, thus spurring a full renovation of said line.

  13. All I can say, is I’m so glad I’m not the only one! Life always seems to get in the way of my hobbies..

  14. You give such pleasure to us in our neighborhood with your flowers etc. So when your busy you get behind and your garden gets messy. That’s life messy some of the time for busy people. You inspire the rest of us with your gardening and give us a break when your not perfect.

  15. I should feel some empathy for you but I don’t. My garden after four years and everything I have planted is still in the conceptual phase. It is a mess from the moment things push through the ground and turn green in May to the big messy crescendo it is right now waiting for the killing frosts.

    My garden approaches one acre and my assistant gardener duties make my garden close to three acres. All in the wilderness mind you. You have a teeny tiny city lot for heaven’s sake. There was a time when chilrens had a list of chores not busy schedules. Give them a pitchfork and a wheelbarrow and have those wood chips moved this weekend.

    I’m to busy vacillating between exasperation and awe to be ashamed of my garden. I’m drowning in an ocean of blue and white asters at the moment. It’s causing the traffic to slow or come to a stop again. I’m still not used to be a roadside attraction. What are all those people thinking?

  16. I retired from 35 years of teaching at the end of May and anticipated having the “best” garden ever. It wasn’t a bad year, but nature gave me some grief in the early part of the summer. Who heard of rain in June in California?!

    The best thing about gardening is each year is a learning experience and next year provides a new set of challenges. I admire your willingness to give up the country garden and try for the city space–something I would be hard-pressed to even consider.

    I enjoyed reading about the new city space, and get inspiration from your blog pictures and your book, “Grow the Good Life”–my garden certainly makes me happy, and healthy, but maybe not wealthy and wise. Keep up the good work, Michele and don’t worry about hair and nails.

  17. I’ve been a Cubs fan my entire life, so the phrase “There’s always next year” isn’t just a phrase, it’s a philosophy!!

    Next year, I’ll get the front yard reworked, and mulch and weed and….maybe the Cubs will win the pennant!!

  18. You are right “There are bad years in the garden, and there are spectacular years, just as there are in life. Next year, I am convinced, will be a better year.” I try to manage peoples expectation when we design and install gardens for them. Gardens are dynamic and here in Houston we have had the worst drought in our history and the plants suffered. A month of low humidity and no rain with temps hovering around 106 just cremated many plants. Clients get upset…and have tell them gardeners, people that actually love to go outside and play with dirt and plants are always replanting and reinventing their gardens. It is the cycle of life! Thank you for being humble enough to share the worst. I wish you the best next year!!!

  19. “There are bad years in the garden, and there are spectacular years, just as there are in life. Next year, I am convinced, will be a better year.” – I need to put that in my garden; maybe paint it on a rock in my garden.

  20. You birthed a beautiful and important new book and have that newborn to deal with. You started a brand-new city garden. You have kids, a dog, a full life. Don’t you dare be ashamed of anything. Or even use that word. You can strive for the perfect garden, whatever the hell that is, when you’re an old lady, which I hope you will never be.

  21. lovely, honest, illuminating post. wish you all had a ”like” button for all those times i have nothing to add but applause.

  22. It’s beautiful, a garden, things grow, not always where and how we expect. We nurture, dig, sweat, plan and then the garden just grows. I figure it’s My garden, some spots just shine, some, more then ragged, but it will Always be a work in progress, Thank you for sharing, made me smile, think I’ll take the picture of your garden out into mine, “Look, you have a twin”, I Know it would nod, smiling.

  23. We have to live, too. Being a gardener is much work, let’s stop pretending it isn’t.

    My tomato garden took more attention than I had bargained for but we all loved the tomatoes so that’s my excuse for the ratty look everywhere else, plus the deer just moved through and ate all the Hostas in sight.

    Good you spoke up for all of us, Michele.

  24. What’s that quote: “A garden is never so good as it will be next year”? 🙂 Thomas Cooper, I think. Gardens are constantly changing in the mind of the gardener, though in life it seems that they are constantly reverting to entropy. But if plants were fixed, there’d be no fun in it. Look forward to next spring and don’t sweat the overgrowth!

  25. It has been a wondrful year for the perinials – too wonderful. Everything has grown like I lived on the Equator. So I am digging and thinning and pitching and fostering plants off on unsuspecting new gardeners. I can relate to the comment about craters from thining the iris. Doing that right now. Actualy my flower beds look like a herd of pygmy elephants ran amuck in them.

  26. Ain’t it the truth! Some years in the garden should just be flushed – but I have had a great year on the beach with Wally, the Pembroke Welsh corgi!

  27. I soooo feel you on this – between deadlines, speaking at garden clubs, and appearances at other local gardem events – who has time to garden?! Well, this year in DC, when I finally had the time (July) we had a drought and so all my “gardening time” was spent watering just to keep what I had alive and then August arrived with nonstop rains, so too soggy to walk on and compact our clay soils. And now, perfect gardening weather, but garden writing, speaking, etc. have me chained indoors again. Such is life.

  28. This post actually makes me feel much, much better. Just last week, I posted a rant of my own about having no time:

    I still don’t have any time (and have barely begun getting caught up on my blog reading) but I am feeling more accepting of it this week — maybe because I managed to winterize my potato bed yesterday and actually got some weeding in.

  29. Whatever ups and downs the garden has, there is often NO better time than when a garden gone to the wild is cleaned up and brought back to life. Sometimes I think it just needs to flourish on its own whims for a while. That’s my excuse anyways.

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