See Book Giveaway with a Way to Garden Margaret Roach

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If memory serves (the older I get, the less accurate it is), I met Margaret Roach online three years ago when she sent me an e-Mail to introduce myself and her new blog, A Way to Garden (at the time). Of course, I immediately recognized her as the editor-in-chief of Martha Stewart Living Magazine (and then the head of several departments). Like many gardeners, I rarely looked at the magazine, but I was often forced to cancel special issues of Spring Garden during Margaret’s years as editor-in-chief.

I must admit that I was surprised to hear from her at first, and even more surprised to see how charming, warm, funny, intelligent, sincere, nerdy and down-to-earth she is. The reason I was surprised is the result of poor judgment and ridiculous class-based bias on my part. If you’ve ever read Margaret’s first book, “a path to the garden,” you’ll already know these things about her. She totally convinced me from the very beginning. So many things about our lives (and our lives) are very different, and yet we have a lot in common.

The most surprising thing I learned about Margaret and the detail that tickles me the most is that she is 100% all-in-one. Oh yes, maybe not the best word – and I hope she continues to talk about it with me-but even now, a few years and several meandering emails afterwards, when I think of Margaret, “rebellious” is the first word that comes to mind. There is a lot of courage in giving up a well-paid and “successful” career and going to the countryside alone to pursue a personal passion. Margaret does not swing, does not follow the rules or does not step on the blows of others. No more. She changed a radical life, continues to live it and captured the very personal details of the first year of this experience in her recently published “leave memoirs”: “and I will have a little peace there: trade on the fast lane for my own dirt road.”I’m not going to reveal anything, but the story is compelling and interesting. Margaret does not hold back in difficult places and does not immerse her in unrealistic icing. She tells it with all her heart, including a cast of unexpected characters (Jack, the demon cat and the frog boys, to name just a few), beautiful prose and a lot of cheesy humor that makes her so charming.

Margaret and I recently decided to interview each other and give away our respective books on our websites. This is my interview with Margaret. You can read her interview with me on her website. Below there are instructions for entering one of the four sets of books up for grabs.

How long have you been gardening for?

Although from my maternal grandmother, Marion (whose name for me is synonymous with zinnias, standard chrysanthemums formed in a single flower on tall stems, wisteria pergolas and floral arrangements of the Garden Club Lady version), gardening requires Terra Enterprise, or at least a place for pots.

I went to the University of Manhattan – I lived there from the age of 17 and never had my own “free space” until about the age of 30, except for a distance when I returned home to help my widowed mother, who was about to turn 50, but who returned with early Alzheimer’s ailment. I cut down the overgrown foundation plantations of my parents’ house and started again, armed with a few books and without any other knowledge. My first “plant combinations” were things like Kniphofia with Sempervirens (torch or Red Poker with chickens and chicks) planted on a checkerboard grid by others – Do you have the image? Hey!). I was probably 25 years old and the “occupational therapy” aspect of gardening was stuck in this difficult place in my life. I’m looking for my own piece of land – the place where I live now.

I enrolled in classes at the New York Botanical Garden, attended lectures non-stop and also “studied” by interviewing weekly experts on the chronicle, which I did as a journalist on an not-known topic: through research and interviews. What a gift, The opportunity to call (or visit) masters of so many disciplines, from the main rosary to the leader of a large group of organic vegetable gardens, including the curator of begonias in the botanical garden. And of course, I’m reading.

How many gardens have you done so far?

I don’t think you can count Dabblings like my revolting chessboard of burning Pokers, chickens and chicks, or occasional pots and so on here and there in the city rental places that I had during my working years, so I think this place is: one.

Although I am not a professional photographer like you, Gayla, I love the camera as a gardening tool and I have a lot of slideshows to look at. [Oh, please. Your photos are always beautiful. I sometimes post photos taken with my phone, so it doesn’t matter. – Gayla]
Then there is always my “favorite” page – a kind of summary of what people seem to like the most. Maybe not a bad start.

Do you think that you have a “specialty”, something that you know the most, that you like the most, etc.?
I don’t really do that unless you consider either my Woo-Woo propensity to view gardening as a spiritual practice, or maybe my love of foliage as a specialty.

The only tangible thing that all my horticultural activities seem to bear is that I am more attracted to the leaves than to the flowers, whether for their surface (matte, shiny, whatever) or their texture, their circumference or their color.
Hmmm, I just thought of something else that is some kind of definition, or a bit of a “specialty”, or at least a bias that I take things:

I have a very “why is this true?”Mentality. I always want to know the science behind things that seem strange, like how certain plants (species, peonies, bleeding hearts, Twinleaf or Jeffersonia, each exported in grapes, sapphire or cauliflower) grow from the ground in purple or pink tones, or other colors that are not green every spring rather than early green leaves. (I searched: it’s probably a Co-evolutionary strategy to say: “”I’m not Green, don’t eat me!”to the hungry herbivores, and also to a “come here and pollinate!”Shout out to the awakened insects that respond to more floral hues.) So, I think I like and am trying to dig deeper into the spiritual, visual and scientific aspects of gardening.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about you?

I’m always surprised when people come to a book event, a workshop or a gardening fair and meet me, and then, as they often do, they say, “Wow, you’re so funny and so regular,” as if I was a little stiff or fancy pants. I think it’s a remnant of my Martha Stewart years, provided I’m more formal and my life is big enough just because we made such beautiful magazines with ambitious images. Sometimes it hurts my feelings, because people assume that I would be inaccessible or distant – or, more importantly, that I would be chic. Just ask the postmaster at my small post office about the arrangements I face when I collect my mail, or notice episodes that push the mower here twice a week for a few hours each time. [As mentioned above, I have the same very bad bad head defect. – Gayla]

What would you describe as your greatest gardening success?

I guess it was because I had been there for 25 years to see that the places where I put those first beds and the boundaries all those years ago – when I really knew next to nothing- were a good choice. Instinct is so important in gardening; it is not the intellect, but the sense of a place to observe where the light passes when and where the best views of the different seasons and times of the day are.
Subconsciously, I place my flower beds in the view of the places that I look at from the inside-my favorite winter chair, from the kitchen window, where I cook a lot, etc.

Most of the real gardeners I know don’t sit outside and watch their work – when they’re outside, they’re working. Maybe you are sitting on a Terrace and you see this place as a visitor, but you only see the rest when you are working on it, so it is the view from the inside that visually holds a vegetable garden together. A selfish but true approach (unless you are doing a public garden). I think I knew how to get through a window all along.

And I have always been a patient person. This is the other important skill in horticulture; everything takes a long time, so if you are in a hurry, you will hate this garden life.

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