December 12th, 2009
Down to Earth: Practical Thoughts for Passionate Gardeners

Down to Earth: Practical Thoughts for Passionate Gardeners
Margot Rochester
Garden columnist 20 years. Lugoff, South Carolina.

People have told me that I should write a book. After reading Margot Rochester’s Down to Earth, I don’t feel the need to. I turned page after page and thought, “Hey, that’s exactly what I’m always saying.” I knew I’d found a true kindred spirit. And she’s written my book for me.

Of course, the title clued me in. I’m both passionate and practical, a combination which confuses those who think every choice is an either/or choice.

From the first line in her preface, “Ruth, Henry, and Allen…My Gardening Gurus” Ms. Rochester had me hooked. Ruth Stout. Henry Mitchell. Allen Lacy. They were among the first garden writers I read and are still among my favorites. (I’d add Elizabeth Lawrence.)

Down to Earth is a book of short essays. Like Mitchell, Lacy, and Lawrence, the essays are part informational and part philosophical, all written from personal observation. They could easily have been blog posts. Although arranged by topic and season, the essays can be read in any order whenever you have a moment. Then you can think about the couple of pages you’ve just read as you spend the rest of the day in your own garden. There’s an index. This is not specifically a how-to book although there is a lot of how-to information.

There are no glossy photographs in this book. There are no pictures at all. The focus is on the writing. And on the gardening. I appreciate this more and more. I grow so weary of books and blogs which are nothing but pretty photographs. Eye-candy is very sweet but you can’t survive on a diet of sugar. I need some meaty thoughts. I need substance. I needed to get Down to Earth. Here are some tidbits.

“A garden is not a matter of space. It is a matter of pleasing yourself with plants that speak to you. Fill your garden with color and texture and mass and, most of all, with memories of people who have given you plants and shared your passion.” p 49 Top Tens

“As your old wood bloomers finish up, make a note to yourself when this happens so you can compare flowering times from one year to the next. With your old-and-new-wood bloomers, make notes to yourself about when they bloomed so that you can think about them over the winter. I am shamefully hit and miss with my own record keeping, but it is a habit that I mean to develop.” p. 62 Queen of the Climbers (clematis)

“When a plan is more trouble than it is worth, get rid of it.” p 141 Knowin’ When to Fold Em

“I know I should think about design before purchasing plants, but that is not my nature. I do not have a design. I have earth to be filled with plants that speak to me.” p 166 Container Gardening (filling in and moving plants around…an intuitive approach to design).

“Ten invasive plants were listed…and six of them are in my garden, invited there by me. An invasive plant, by definition, spreads aggressively and is especially problematic when it spreads into a new habitat and overwhelm the native plants growing there.” p. 180 “Thugs in the Neighborhood

“…I have to be honest. I am a loose gardener.
When I am asked to make suggestions about other people’s gardens, I recommend that we go inside the house an look out from the kitchen sink, the dining areas, the home office, the family room…the places they lie and look out windows. Doing this not only allows us to design pleasant views, but it ties the garden to the house.” p 201 Intimate Spaces

I originally checked this book out of from the library. I fell in love with it and bought my own copy.


In looking for more information about Margot Rochester on the web, I came across this tribute. She died in October, 2008..

by M Sinclair Stevens

8 Responses to post “Down to Earth: Practical Thoughts for Passionate Gardeners”

  1. From Joseph Tychonievich:

    Wow! What great quotes. I’m heading over to amazon and buying myself a little Christmas present as soon as I finish thanking you for posting this!

  2. From Laura, south Austin:

    I think it’s wonderful when you find gardening books (not the how-to books or region-specific books) that appeal to the soul. This book looks like one of those. Thanks for taking the time to share it. I’ll probably add it to my bookshelf.

    In regard to garden writers, while more in the how-to genre and not particularly philosophical, I enjoyed the garden books written by Cassandra Danz. Some reviewers said she was “over the top,” but I always found her humor refreshing and unpretentious. She’s also passed away (of ovarian cancer).

    Thanks for the suggestion. I hadn’t heard of Cassandra Danz. I’ll be on the lookout now. Although I have plenty of how-to gardening books and my share of pretty picture books, my favorites will always be the personal essays–the people who, while talking about specific plants and design issues, bring another more significant dimension. Soul. They are people I feel I know from their writing and that I would love to know. — mss

  3. From Carol, May Dreams Gardens:

    Sounds like a good book I would like! I have an order pending at Amazon, and this would fit right in…

  4. From Annie in Austin:

    Your post about Margot Rochester has made me want to read this book, MSS – you had me at Allen Lacy & Henry Mitchell. She sounds like a wonderful person, as well as a good writer, and in the photos that show up on google she even looks a little like Miss Lawrence.

    Maybe the reason why “Down To Earth” is short essays is because like Allen, Henry & Miss Lawrence, Margot Rochester wrote a garden column for a newspaper?

    Thanks for the link to Helen’s tribute- how cool that she got to meet Margot Rochester and how sad there will be no more columns and no more books.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Yes. Like Henry Mitchell, the essays obviously stem from her newspaper writing…although unlike Mitchell, I don’t think they’re reprints of her columns. I’ll be happy to lend you my copy the next time I see you. I think it is sad that she died before this book (her second) came out. I was hoping to find her online and tell her how much I enjoyed it. –mss

  5. From jodi (bloomingwriter), Nova Scotia:

    Sounds like my kind of writer, and my kind of book. Funnily, I’ve been doing a garden column for one of my clients for about ten years now, and call it Down to Earth. Thanks for recommending this, MSS–I’ll be on the lookout for it, too.

  6. From Cindy, MCOK:

    This sounds like one I must read … I’ll see if my library has a copy. I tend to check them out first and then decide if there’s room for them on my shelves. They have to earn their place!

  7. From Jenny Austin:

    The passages from the book make me think that this is a book I would like to read. I often read gardening books and hear myself saying the same thing; that’s me, I think that too, but I could never put the thoughts into words. I only see it when I see someone else write it. Writing is a gift. I’m sure you could write a book MSS.

  8. From angelina:

    She sounds very promising to me. I don’t read a lot of gardening books because either they’re too sweet and floaty or they’re too arrogant in their assumption that there’s only one way to prune an apple tree. I like the wonder that a garden provides but it’s still a place full of bugs and dirt and die-off. I should check to see if they have this one in my library.