a favorite poem to mark passings in the garden

heart-of-stone-by-kit-lathamI DIDN’T PROPERLY MARK THE PASSING of the great gardener Geoffrey Charlesworth in the spring of 2008, who in the late 1980s wrote a book I particularly treasure called “The Opinionated Gardener,” (No, it’s not a biography of me; Charlesworth, to his great credit, was even more so, and vastly more expert.)

His garden was not so far away from where I live, and were he here to welcome spring this year, I suspect that he, too, would be hoping for the best while poking about in the dirt as he cleaned up the beds.

Every spring since then, in memory of Geoffrey Charlesworth, and of all the garden’s great creatures who haven’t made it to the newest season, I make a tradition of sharing a poem of his: “Why Did My Plant Die?”

Why Did My Plant Die?

Geoffrey B. Charlesworth
You walked too close. You trod on it.
You dropped a piece of sod on it.
You hoed it down. You weeded it.
You planted it the wrong way up.
You grew it in a yogurt cup
But you forgot to make a hole;
The soggy compost took its toll.
September storm. November drought.
It heaved in March, the roots popped out.
You watered it with herbicide.
You scattered bonemeal far and wide.
Attracting local omnivores,
Who ate your plant and stayed for more.
You left it baking in the sun
While you departed at a run
To find a spade, perhaps a trowel,
Meanwhile the plant threw in the towel.
You planted it with crown too high;
The soil washed off, that explains why.
Too high pH. It hated lime.
Alas it needs a gentler clime.
You left the root ball wrapped in plastic.
You broke the roots. They’re not elastic.
You walked too close. You trod on it.
You dropped a piece of sod on it.
You splashed the plant with mower oil.
You should do something to your soil.
Too rich. Too poor. Such wretched tilth.
Your soil is clay. Your soil is filth.
Your plant was eaten by a slug.
The growing point contained a bug.
These aphids are controlled by ants,
Who milk the juice, it kills the plants.
In early spring your garden’s mud.
You walked around! That’s not much good.
With heat and light you hurried it.
You worried it. You buried it.
The poor plant missed the mountain air:
No heat, no summer muggs up there.
You overfed it 10-10-10.
Forgot to water it again.
You hit it sharply with the hose.
You used a can without a rose.
Perhaps you sprinkled from above.
You should have talked to it with love.
The nursery mailed it without roots.
You killed it with those gardening boots.
You walked too close. You trod on it.
You dropped a piece of sod on it.

more about geoffrey charlesworth

‘WHY DID MY PLANT DIE?’ is just one piece of the wisdom in Geoffrey Charlesworth’s book “The Opinionated Gardener: Random Offshoots From an Alpine Garden,” a collectible must for every gardener’s bookshelf.

charlesworth-by-pam-johnson-from-nargsA professor of mathematics educated at Cambridge, after a youth in Yorkshire, England, Charlesworth was a mainstay of the North American Rock Garden Society.  With his life partner of nearly 60 years, the late Norman Singer; they founded the local Berkshire (Massachusetts) Chapter of NARGS. They met in England, during World War II, while each in their respective nation’s military, and later chose Norman’s homeland as their own. I was honored to have had the chance to meet them both a time or two, and to visit the garden that they made together. I think of Charlesworth’s poem each spring as I have for 20 years or so, and particularly after a hard winter Thank you, Geoffrey Charlesworth, for all the good teachings left behind.

(Photograph of Geoffrey Charlesworth by Pam Johnson, from the NARGS website. Top photo by Kit Latham, from my book “A Way to Garden.”)


Categorieswoo woo
  1. Thanks for this, Margaret! Ironically, I was just looking at The Opinionated Gardener (also one of my favorites) this morning. I didn’t realize Geoffrey Charlesworth had died. Thank God his words–including this delightful poem!–live on! What’s become of his garden?

  2. margaret says:

    Welcome, our friend Ben. I asked one friend who knew him well about the garden, but I don’t have an answer…I will keep inquiring. Glad to “meet” another fan of Charlesworth’s. Do come again soon.

    @Country Gardener: Yes, did meet him a few times with a good friend of mine who knew him and Norman forever.

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Town Mouse. Yes, now you know…it was probably one or all of the things in Geoffrey Charlesworth’s poem at work. :) Nice to see you, and do stop in again soon.

  3. martha says:

    Brings to mind another great poet no longer with us:

    Sick by Shel Silverstein

    ‘I cannot go to school today, ‘
    Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
    ‘I have the measles and the mumps,
    A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
    My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
    I’m going blind in my right eye.
    My tonsils are as big as rocks,
    I’ve counted sixteen chicken pox
    And there’s one more-that’s seventeen,
    And don’t you think my face looks green?
    My leg is cut-my eyes are blue-
    It might be instamatic flu.
    I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke,
    I’m sure that my left leg is broke-
    My hip hurts when I move my chin,
    My belly button’s caving in,
    My back is wrenched, my ankle’s sprained,
    My ‘pendix pains each time it rains.
    My nose is cold, my toes are numb.
    I have a sliver in my thumb.
    My neck is stiff, my voice is weak,
    I hardly whisper when I speak.
    My tongue is filling up my mouth,
    I think my hair is falling out.
    My elbow’s bent, my spine ain’t straight,
    My temperature is one-o-eight.
    My brain is shrunk, I cannot hear,
    There is a hole inside my ear.
    I have a hangnail, and my heart is-what?
    What’s that? What’s that you say?
    You say today is…Saturday?
    G’bye, I’m going out to play! ‘

    Shel Silverstein

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Martha. In spring we gardeners wish every day were Saturday. Maybe change the last lines to:

      What’s that? What’s that, I beg your pardon?
      You say today is…Saturday?
      G’bye, I’m going out to garden! ‘

      Thanks for your visit and the new poem. Come see us again soon.

  4. Hey! A gardening book That I actually dont have!?
    Thanks for sharing! Up here in Wisconsin we still have snow on the ground, This poem reminded me to be careful of the soil which I am chomping at the bit to get out there and get started working on!
    Happy ehrr Spring?



  5. Marnie Andrews says:

    I just finished a poetry reading of my recent work in Woodstock this week. This is a lovely tribute. Also, since the Ulster Garden Day when you spoke with such humor, I’ve enjoyed your posts. I was finally building a cold frame from recycled wood this week, and had lost the one Martha Stewart book I have, (Gardening 101) that had a design for one. I did find it, after we built the cold frame. Though I have trained twice as a Master Gardener (CA and NY) I keep that book as one of my three or four basic gardening manuals. You and your staff did a great job with it. So glad I can now get posts from you directly! Marnie

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Marnie; thanks for the kind words. Glad you found the book…simple, with lots of good tips. Agree. I let my coldframe go to ruin and it’s about time I built another…recycled wood, here I come. See you soon!

  6. Paula says:

    Greetings from Zone 6 & where the daffodils are making headway!

    Appreciate your hard work & passion, Margaret! I really enjoyed Geoffrey’s poem & will be adding it to my Spring checklist. It reminded me of the of the below:
    The kiss of the sun for pardon,
    The song of the birds for mirth,
    One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
    Than anywhere else on earth.
    Dorothy Frances Gurney, “Garden Thoughts”

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Paula. Nice, thank you. Geoffrey was astonishing; I take his books down off the shelf for sampling pretty regularly all these years later. Glad to share, and hope to see you again soon.

  7. Cheryl Jones says:

    Wonderful garden poems. Thank you so much for sharing. I submitted the below with my entry for Margaret’s book competition. Appropriate for our zone this time of year. It’s from Robert Frost, “Two Tramps in Mud Time”:

    The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
    You know how it is with an April day
    When the sun is out and the wind is still,
    You’re one month on in the middle of May.
    But if you so much as dare to speak,
    A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
    A wind comes off a frozen peak,
    And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

  8. DebbieCZ says:

    Great poems all…the perfect diversion for a zone 5 Illinois gardener in January. The last poem, from Robert Frost, brings me back to growing up in Massachusetts – similiar to Illinois in so many ways. If one even allows the thought of SPRING a snow storm will slap you back into place! Thank you all for allowing me to forget the icy driveway, the salt encrusted car and dream of blue skies & fragrant earth.

  9. Charlie benedick says:

    OMG! l am laughing out loud at that delightful poem… makes me wonder if Geoffrey was secretly stalking ME as I garden. How else would he know about the mower oil?

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Charlie. He was a genius, an beautiful writer, a gardener without parallel, a gentleman. And yes, I often think he was talking about ME TOO. :)

  10. Patricia Reeves says:

    Hello Margaret from Des Moines, IA.
    The Garden Conservancy Open Day during August at your garden is now on my “Bucket List.”

    But, I would also like to invite you to Des Moines, home of the best State Fair. There are several opportunities to promote your books in our fair state. One would be through AVID, a program of visiting authors coordinated through the Des Moines Public Library.

    Another opportunity is through the Iowa Arboretum. We recently had the opportunity for a lecture by Debra Baldwin.

    And then there is our Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden which is now under rennovation. Most recently we had author Debra Prinzing, Slow Flowers: Four Seasons of Locally Grown Bouquets from the Garden, Meadow and Farm for a book signing and luncheon.

    That brings me to the retirement of Elvin McDonald, Wednesday, June 12. He certainly knows of you and directed me to your book, “And I shall have some peace there,” which is in our Botanical Garden on-your-honor lending library, which he helped to establish. We are so lucky to have him at the Botanical Garden and in Des Moines and he will remain on the Botanical Garden board after his retirement. He came to us through Meredith’s Traditional Home, (a Des Moines- based publication, which might be another avenue to visiting Des Moines).

    If you would like to send Elvin an email I can send you his email address. I know he would love it,

    I am a Polk County Master Gardener and recently retired, so I spend my time working on my garden of 3 years, the Botanical Garden Gardeners Show House (an inspiration of Elvin McDonald), the herb garden at the Demonstration Garden, and getting those Iowa State Fair floriculture entries ready.

    Please let me know if I can do anthing to further entice you to visit Iowa.

    I greatly enjoy your newsletter.

    Thank you,
    Patricia Reeves

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.