dear old: sorry my ‘new’ book made you cry!

(FOR CONTEXT: Read my friend Katrina Kenison’s letter to me first, if you haven’t already, at this link. She that she’d received an early copy of my new edition of  “A Way to Garden,” and had quite unexpectedly started to cry when she opened it. This is my reply. Note: I call her “Old” and I am “Older” since I am 5 years her senior; we’ve written “Dear Old, Love Older” letters to each other in the past.)


I am sorry I made you cry.

My intention in re-doing my first book, “A Way to Garden,” for a sort of 21st-anniversary rebirth was not to bring you to tears, my friend, but more a matter of closure, of unfinished business. The garden depicted in that version was just at its beginning of life. The gardener, too, had far less knowledge, fewer years in the ground. Plus: my, how times have changed (as I say at the start of the latest edition).

Who knew from “pollinator plants” then, or who had access at the local nursery to as many native plants as today? Who knew then, either, that lots of the “it” plants of that era would turn out to be invasives, and no longer offered for sale (or of they are still sold some places, I don’t think they should be)? Tastes, technology, and even the climate we face as gardeners has changed.

The book needed to change, too.

And there was this other niggling impetus, like a dripping faucet: All these 21 years, people have brought their original editions with them to the garden, on Open Days, for me to sign, and I have felt like I had so much more to share with them than was in those often-tattered old pages. And now: voila.

Since you shared your emotional reaction to the arrival of that early copy of my new-old book, I’ll tell you mine:

A few weeks ago, I got a padded envelope delivered here, too—from Timber Press, the publisher. I knew what would be inside: the first copy! A day or two prior, my editor and the publicity director had told me it was on its way.

I poked a little hole in the packaging, and saw that the contents was not huddled bare inside, but wrapped in brown paper. Phew! I tore a bigger opening, and slid it out.

Unwrap it? Oh, no. It sat here, still disguised and hidden, beside me—for weeks.

I couldn’t look. I just couldn’t.

“What did you think?” my friends at Timber emailed enthusiastically once they got the delivery confirmation notice, wanting to hear my shared excitement. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

And so I had to explain why I was afraid to look.

The repeated emails continued: “Have you looked yet?”

Nope. Nope. Um, nope.

And then as I was getting ready to leave the other morning for Seedy Saturday, a fundraising event I co-host at my neighbors’ place called Turtle Tree Seed “across town” at Camphill Village in Copake, I stuffed the still-wrapped book into my bag. An impulse.

As I welcomed the audience, introducing the day’s programs, I held it up.

“And now for a moment of shameless self-promotion,” I said, package aloft. I proceeded to explain to a room of mostly strangers that I just hadn’t been able to look, sitting home alone, at the new baby that had been delivered. It just didn’t seem very festive—and maybe more important: What if I’d seen a mistake, or even just a typo? I knew I would have latched on to that, fixating, and it would have spoiled everything. I am generally a solitary soul, but sometimes an old girl needs an audience to help her across the threshold, when she is nervous.

I tore off the paper, standing there, and held the contents up, and everyone applauded. (I don’t think anyone cried, though I got choked up.)

I still have not looked inside the pages, but we are making progress. The baby is out of its swaddling, at least; I have seen the cover.

In your letter you recall your first visit here to the garden, and I do remember that day too, one fall, and how I madly stuffed apples from my big old trees into boxes and then into the back of your car—the stuff of future applesauce for your freezer. The apple trees, certainly more than a century old and perhaps past 125 already, know something about taking the long view, and about what happens when you stay in one place a very long time, well-rooted.

When I landed here on these acres 32ish years ago, the massive old apples (like the one in the photo up top) were each almost invisible within a tangle of vines—Oriental bittersweet, wild grape, and even multiflora rose and more.

“Cut them down and plant semi-dwarf trees that are easier to manage,” the books (and some in-person advisers) said. But I detangled and gradually revealed, pruning off decades of water sprouts and suckers and general chaos, giving them a do-over instead.

I have missed our letters back and forth—and speaking of which, did you get to page 264 in the new-old book yet, one of the chapter-opening essays that might just sound familiar? It derived from my half of one back-and-forth, call-and-response we’d written to each other years ago (this one).

Idea: Can we have a do-over on the letter-writing part of our relationship, please? I love our texts and Skypes, but this is even better. I promise to do my best to avoid making anybody cry.



pre-order special: buy a book,

get a free webinar or lecture ticket!

PRE-ORDER A BOOK and get a ticket for a free webinar with me on April 2 or 4, or for an in-person lecture on May 11, when my garden in Copake Falls, NY, is also open to visitors. All about the special here.

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  1. Erin says:

    If one has no hope of making it to Cupcake Falls, or really anywhere you are any time soon, is there some magical way one could get their hands on a signed copy? It would be a most meaningful addition to my gardening library.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Erin. Once I know when I will have actual copies in hand I will post a page about signed copies, promise. I didn’t want to take $ from people before I had the books to send right out! But next month sometime, probably late April.

  2. Molly says:

    What a lovely friendship. I am looking forward to reading your letters while I wait for the new book which sounds wonderful (I know it will be). Thanking you in advance for lots of reading and learning pleasure.

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