Book Review & Giveaway: The Backyard Parables


The Backyard Parables

Parable is one of those Old — no, make that Ancient World words.  Just saying it conjures up an image of a toga-ed philosopher sitting on the steps of the Parthenon, eager and inquisitive students kneeling and sitting and catching each one of his words.

That’s kind of how I felt as I read Margaret Roach’s newest book, The Backyard Parables.  Okay, it wasn’t a toga party, but I could certainly imagine gardeners arriving from far and wide to her rural New York State garden — gathering about her as she shares the wit and wisdom of her words.   (Note to self: find out Margaret’s Open Garden Day schedule.)

The book is divided into four chapters, each one devoted to a season and an element, making the book not only a year in the life of a garden, but also a year in the life of the gardener experiencing her garden.  With strong prose and a sensitive style, Margaret brings her garden to life, as well as her interaction with it — including all of the drama (rescuing her frogs during an icy, snowy winter storm) and comedy (rescuing her frogs from an icy, snowy winter storm) that comes with gardening.

There is no doubt that Margaret is a gifted writer, but it’s her voice that welcomes readers into her world.  A blend of insightfulness and humor and imperfection, she is immediately relatable.  A particular favorite incident occurs on a blistering hot summer day when the author, who has never worn shorts in 30 years of gardening, caves in and cuts up a pair of old denim.  Her legs see sun for the first time:

“. . . after several decades under wraps, they have adopted a cast that could very well be counted on to glow in the dark; they are light-deprived white asparagus or Belgian endive of lower limbs.”

Ever the teacher, Margaret weaves educational bits of information (like the concept of geosmin) throughout the narrative.  It’s amazing what she knows — and not just about gardening.  There are literary and scientific references throughout, and the tone is never condescending.  Instead, the information is offered as a gift, something that makes the reader as rich as the writing.  The practice, I believe, comes from one of Margaret’s core principles: learn something new each day.

The Backyard Parables

To further punctuate this point, there are several garden-specific sidebars throughout the book, covering everything from Margaret’s philosophy on seed purchases (which now has me second-guessing my seed order) and saving and planting tropicals (a personal favorite).   The sidebars are a detour off the garden path, and it’s always exciting to discover something that otherwise would never have been noticed.

On a personal note — Margaret, if you’re reading this — I wanted to thank you for Chapter 4.  As I read the words dedicated to autumn and wind, I felt as if one minute I was reading about your garden and the next I was contemplating my own autumn.  Fifty is around the corner, and the spring in my step has less bounce — and how will my garden and me change over time, and should I start prepping for my winter now?

I know, I know.  That’s all very dramatic and morose, but it’s a lesson worth learning.  And in the end, that’s what a parable is supposed to do, to provide an opportunity to contemplate and grow spiritually — and what better place to do that than in the wonders of a garden . . .

. . . or a gardening book.

The Backyard Parables

The Giveaway

And now, here’s a chance for all of you to experience some growth — either spiritually or in your book collection.

To receive your copy of The Backyard Parables, I turn to a question that Margaret Roach revisits in much of her writing:

Why do you garden?

You can leave your answer here to be part of the drawing.  I’ll also post the same question on my Facebook page.  Answer in both places, and that’s two chances to win.

Entries must be received by 9:00 am on Saturday, February 2.

May the luckiest gardener win.

38 thoughts on “Book Review & Giveaway: The Backyard Parables

  1. I garden because digging in the dirt and watching things grow heightens my senses, allows me to escape from the busy world –and doing so feeds my family and my soul.

  2. Gardening, for me, is a learning experience. I plant, care for, and wait patiently for the results. Sometimes the results are better than my expectations. Other times, I learn that method did not work.

  3. Because I can’t help myself! There are so many reasons that I could never list them all. I’m just a happier, better person when I can spend time in my garden.

    • I love this response! There’s something so compelling about gardening, trying to explain it in a logical way just doesn’t seem possible. For me too, I’m just a happier girl whenever I’m in my garden.

  4. I garden for the connection…to the earth, yes, but also…
    …to my father, gone now almost twenty years, and the memories of the first little garden he helped us plant. I can see him, still cutting the furrow in with the hoe, and letting us – tiny children – measure with our hands to space the dried peas and beans, then helping us to cover them over and tamp down the earth…
    …to my mother, who would accept our meager bowls of berries or beans and figure a way to incorporate the little bit we hadn’t already eaten fresh into a dish for the whole family…
    …to my children who, when I realized children benefited from watching things grow, caused me to abandon my plans to “never step foot in a garden as an adult”, and helped me to know that we all benefit from getting our hands in the earth…
    …to other gardeners everywhere who, I find, are related to me through our connection to growing things, whether we have another single thing in common or not…
    …and not only presently, but through time, for I can relate to Henry David Thoreau or E.B.White or Celia Thaxter when they speak of their gardens, as if they were sitting here with me today…
    For all of this, I garden.

  5. This is the same question I had posted a while back, so many answers and thoughts, YOU can’t just have one… I really reached within inside and tried to dig for what could be the right or comforted thought… But I have no answer, unless gardening really is to challenge myself.. I think a lot of non-gardening people think that to work a garden is to be a hard worker and time consuming, although that may be correct for it could come easy to some, but what if the gardener feels the power of being nurturing, and competitive all rolled up at the same time… Make that seedling function no matter how many seeds it takes, and each time you become more understanding and educated and wiser… I’m not sure how The question, “Why do you garden?” is so important. But it just is… There is no better question than to ask yourself each and every season, Right?

  6. I like gardening because it’s so sensual. Sights, sounds and scents, touch and taste….I feel like I’m part of this beautiful earth and I’m participating in something important.
    Elaine

  7. I feel at peace when I garden. Touch the earth, smell the earth, sift the compost. How DID that little seed produce 8 pounds of cherry tomatoes…..

  8. I garden for many reasons. Sometimes it’s just to feel the sun warming my skin. I love the smell of the plants and the rich soil. I love that it’s something just for me and at the same time it’s something for those who come to visit.

  9. I garden to make sure that the flowers (tulips, daffodils, dahlias etc) I planted so long ago know that they do not need to work so hard to come back and visit me each spring and summer and even into the fall.

  10. I garden for many reasons, and the reasons have changed throughout my life. At first, it was for a creative outlet. Then, to grow some food. Later, it became something to do with myself and my free time. At one point in my life, it became a solitary place in which I could grieve. Now, I find peace there – as well as joy, beauty, wonder, and awe.

  11. Well to say it brings me peace to garden is a no brainer maybe. LOL! But I think it is more for me in that to see beauty come from such a small seed is always amazing to me somehow. I also like to create beauty from a patch of dirt and space and the joy of mixing colors and patterns in the garden just like my own personal quilt. Every gardeners flowerbeds are a reflection of them and their personalities or should be.
    The book sounds like a very good read Kevin.

  12. I garden for peace and pleasure. I garden to stay young (at least in my mind) and active. I garden because I loved growing up in gardens in England. I garden to grow food. I garden to increase the wildlife by incorporating native plants and food sources for those who share my garden. I garden to remind me of patience. By gardening and joining a few garden organizations, I am able to meet the wonderful, crazy, generous, and knowledgeable gardeners who become my friends.

  13. Ah, what a beautiful blog you have. Your photographs are truly breathtaking. I garden because I can. I garden to create. I garden to eat. I garden to create natural habitat in a very large city. I garden to meet neighbors. I garden to be me. i horto, et ergo sum.

  14. So great to see everyone’s responses! Here’s mine: My foremost objective for gardening is to make the world a more beautiful place. Yes, I get caught up in plant collecting, and I enjoy eating vegetables from my own garden, but it all comes back to art and design. I’m enthralled with creative expression and leaving something beautiful behind– a vegetative relic if you will.

  15. Hi Kevin,

    What a lovely review! You gave such a deliciously, tasty teaser of what the book is about!

    When I am out in my garden, my thoughts are more like ramblings of happiness. I love digging in the dirt with my bare hands – I really don’t think there is anything better. I really do love it all, even weeding which is at the bottom of the list of my favorite garden chores.

    I wish I had a more definitive reason on why I garden, I just know that I am happiest with my hands full of soil, it just feels right.

    ~Kelly

    PS I loved your last post when you interviewed Margret (I often imagine that we are on a first name basis).

  16. I garden to get closer to the things I love: my husband who gardens with me, my grandparents whose delicious garden vegetables are the stuff of some of my most cherished memories, and living things in all their varied wonder.

  17. I garden because I love to be outdoors…because the early morning sun and quiet in my rose garden brings me peace…because there is nothing like home-grown veggies…because I can…thank you God!

  18. I garden because I can. I garden because it makes me feel powerful and in control and in the next second powerless and humbled with absolutely no control. I garden because I love to create and no matter how big or small a garden it is never static and so there are endless possibilities….

  19. Pingback: The Giveaway Goes To . . . « Nitty Gritty Dirt Man

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