• {Updated with Winner!} Margaret Roach: The Backyard Parables interview and giveaway!

    by  • January 24, 2013 • Books


    UPDATE: Thank you so much to everyone who entered! I LOVED reading about what your garden has taught you — I’m considering collecting some of my favorites into a post later this week.

    The lucky winner is commenter #87, Helen, who said: “I’ve learned to do things in pieces or steps, that I can’t do everything I want to do in a day, and that’s OK!”

    I have recently cut back the number of garden blogs I read. Not because they aren’t good, or interesting, or worthwhile, but simply because time is limited, and I have a tendency to lose track of it. Something had to go, and a majority of my blog subscriptions went.

    There were a handful of subscriptions I couldn’t let go of. Gayla’s. Friends and work pals. And Margaret’s.

    It says something that no matter how busy life gets, when I see a post from Margaret pop up in my reader, I grab a cup of something warm and settle in for a good read. I learn SO much from her, and feel, with each post, that in many ways we are kindred spirits. I’ve gotten to know Margaret a little via Twitter and email, and she is an inspiration in so many ways. The woman writes in a way that would make me green with envy if I didn’t like her so much. And she obsesses over plants and seeds with a curiosity that just draws you in and keeps you there. And she loves her cat. That’s all I need to know.

    When she asked me to be part of the blog tour for her new book, The Backyard Parables, I was honored and excited. Getting my hands on another of Margaret’s books (if you recall, I absolutely adored her previous book, and I shall have some peace there) was cause for celebration. But getting to interview one of my garden writer crushes? Priceless.

    Before we get to the interview portion of our program, I need to say this: when you read Margaret’s writing, whether on her blog or in her books, you feel like you really KNOW her. She is genuine, and honest, and she doesn’t sugarcoat anything. When she finds something difficult, she tells you about it. When something doesn’t work (as it often doesn’t in this garden-obsessed life) she unflinchingly looks at why. What I may love most about her is the fact that she doesn’t inflate her own importance. For example, in writing about her  rare  Japanese umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata, for the geeks among us) she confesses that she did not know what she was doing when she transported it in a bushel basket from New York City and plopped it into the ground in her garden. She confesses to being surprised that it has survived this long, and is just thankful to the plant for being its regal self for the past 25 years.

    I love this. 

    In this day and age, when everyone is trumpeting their “expert” or “guru” status, here is an accomplished gardener and garden writer who is freely admitting that, as she puts it:

    “Blind faith apparently has it hands-down over expertise in some aspects of horticulture.”


    “I never did anything, really, except to give it a decent home with the basics, and then delight in it. Maybe that’s the best approach.”

    That is the magic of gardening. We don’t REALLY know how something will turn out. We can read, and take classes, and think we know…but we don’t. Anything can happen once seed meets soil. All we can do is our best, give a plant what we think it needs. And, in time, it will tell us whether we were right or wrong.

    And the entire book is filled with stories like this, little bits of wisdom sprinkled throughout like seeds strewn on a garden bed. This is a must-read, and has earned a place of honor on my bookshelf.


    The Interview

    The Backyard Parables revised coverNow, onto the interview! I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to ask Margaret about her creative process. Here’s how it went:

    1. I adored your previous book, and I shall have some peace there.  What can fans of that book look forward to in the backyard parables?

    I sometimes think this book is the sequel, and I love that the publisher designed the new one so that it feels like a companion to the first, too.

    In “Peace” I arrived in the garden; in “Parables” I have really landed here for real and forever. The garden is my life partner, my guide, and my constant source of entertainment and learning, as it was in the first book (and has been for 25-plus years!). But it’s like the difference between newlyweds and lifers, from one book to the next: I am not so unfamiliar with its sounds and peculiarities and wild goings-on–nor so afraid of things (snakes, storms) as I was in “Peace,” which chronicled my first fulltime year here.

    The birds, frogs, plants, weather—all characters in the first book—and of course Jack the Demon Cat are all present and accounted for again.

    I think the new book is a lot about a journey, as “Peace” was, and about taking your cues from the natural world’s rhythms, and about having a sense of humor and hopefully humility in facing the fact that—oops!—we have no control whatsoever over most things. Both books are about being quiet, quiet enough to see all the things I spent much of my life missing out on, because I was moving far too fast.


    2. In the intro to the book, you talk about how accepting the assignment to write a book about your garden heightens your “crisis of confidence” that you might be a fraud who just doesn’t have what it takes. I am there every single time I write a blog post, not to mention books and articles. You’ve been gardening a bit longer than I have. I find it depressing that it looks like there won’t be a break from my own crisis of confidence. How do you deal with it and move forward, and write anyway? Are there ways in which your garden pats you on the head and says “there, there. You’re a good gardener!”? (I ask because my own writing/gardening symbiotic relationship is a series of highs and lows.)

    Well, I could give you the phone number of my long-time shrink! Kidding aside, this really is the $64,000 question for so many of us, isn’t it: Are we really who we hope we are, are we “good enough”? (And this twist on that question: How come everybody but us thinks we are? How’d we fool them?)

    I know a lot of things about gardening, and nature, and so on—but I don’t know everything, or even most (many?) things. For a Type AAA person like myself who’s also so inquisitive and also likes to “get things right,” that’s tough to accept.

    And this is precisely why gardening is so good for me—or at least one reason why: Because every day out there, with every lost plant or other disaster, I am reminded that I am not omnipotent, or even marginally in charge. As I say in the book: I’m just another creature in the food chain of life, looking for her way through.


    3. Can you tell us a bit about your writing process for the book? Did the organization come first (the idea of structuring the book around the four seasons of water, earth, fire, and wind) or did you write, and find that the things you wrote naturally seemed to fit into this structure? What is the hardest part, for you, of writing a book? Is it the decision to do so in the first place? The writing? The taming it into something readable? All of the above?

     I had no idea I’d ever write another garden book until my editor asked me to.

    Then the parables thought came first, in reaction, because my editor said, “We want a garden book, but it has to be a memoir.” Hmmmm, now what? And then I thought of my slogan on A Way to Garden [dot] com: “Horticultural how-to and ‘woo-woo.’” And I thought: two levels, that’s what I am always about when writing about gardening: the practical and philosophical, science and spirit. Ah!

    And then from there I ricocheted to the fact that “parables” are often spiritual (as the garden is for me) and also metaphorical—having two levels of meaning (again like the garden). So I started reading up madly about parables—in Islam, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, ancient Greece, among other unexpected places, and of course in the Bible. And guess what: All those teaching stories, those parables, were often about mankind’s interaction with the elements of nature.

    So that’s where the idea to structure it elementally came from.

    And now you know just how oddly my brain works. Tee hee.

    As for my process: I love to write, but I never write a word until I am really ready to write the whole thing. So for me the fidgety, uncomfortable part is beforehand, when I am ruminating and pondering, as I call it. Once I have my concept (in this case, the parables and then the elements), whoosh! Out it comes pretty fast.

    Thank you so much for your time, Margaret! And, lucky readers — Margaret’s publisher, Grand Central Publishing, is giving away one copy of Margaret’s book here on In the Garden Online. To enter, just leave a comment telling us what you’ve learned from your garden! 

    I’ll accept comments through midnight Sunday, January 27th, and will pick a winner via random number generator on Monday morning. We can only ship books to U.S. residents. Thanks for reading!

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