giveaway: dickey’s tale of a middle-aged garden

OUR GARDENS COULDN’T BE MORE DIFFERENT, yet Page Dickey and I find ourselves in the same moment of their lives: when it’s time to make some tough changes. I heard Page speak not long ago on a program featuring us both, and kept thinking, “She’s talking about my garden,” and yet the slides on the screen said no. Now, reading her new book “Embroidered Ground: Revisiting the Garden,” I have that feeling again: Is she telling my tale? More on that, and a chance to win copies of Page’s new book, out February 15, and my about-to-be one, due the 23d:

There was nothing growing there garden-wise when Page arrived 30 years ago at her place, except some very old lilacs (here, too, 25 years back in time).  Now there is too much of many things, too many things over all—and many of those have simply grown too big.

“Suddenly,” she writes in the preface, “in a middle-aged garden, we reach a point where we have to take stock, stand back, think about renewal, renovation, hacking back, shrinking, adapting.”

“Embroidered Ground” is the story of one garden—Duck Hill, 60 miles north of New York City—but also the story of all gardens.

NO, I DON’T KNOW, or grow, roses with Page’s expertise or flourish; I have no formal herb garden, and no flowering meadow in the making (and no dogs!). Maybe you don’t, either. But the me-too connection I felt to Duck Hill is not some surface-level thing. It’s bigger, the way this garden things always tends to be.

And differences aside, there were many startling little matching details—besides our trees and shrubs embarrassingly, inconveniently now grown into pathways. Things like these:

Page still wishes she could grow Santolina; we apparently both tried heroically way back when to get the textural gray beauty to survive (forget thrive) in our climate. She describes it as being coral-like, and yes, it is that exquisitely sculptural. Exactly.

She knows that, seductive as it is, you can have too much variegation in a garden (another friend calls the variegated things “clown plants;” a lot of them quickly form a circus). Go easy, she warns. (Must I?, I want to answer back.)

Page confesses that even good gardeners kill things. We hungrily bring home or order too many plants, then neglect them with too little water and too-late transplanting—bringing about their death. Yes, I have done this. Page’s husband, Bosco, cannot abide such behavior, however. “Tsk, tsk,” I can hear him saying as he rescues one after another. (Can Bosco stop up here occasionally in late spring when he has finished seeing to Page’s needy cases?)

So “Embroidered Ground” is the story of a marriage growing within a garden, too—Page’s remarriage to Bosco, a keen gardener himself, after being the sole gardener in her household for decades, and having her way.

Though I garden alone, those might be my favorite sections of “Embroidered Ground”—the candid, tender ones about how they sort it all out. Though the marital dynamic is quite different, I am reminded of one of my favorite garden books ever: Margery Fish’s 1956 “We Made a Garden.” Order that from your bookseller, too, when you call in for your copy of “Embroidered Ground.”

How to Win the Books

TO ENTER TO WIN THE SET OF BOOKS–Paige’s “Embroidered Ground” and my “And I Shall Have Some Peace There”–comment here by answering this question: How old is your garden, and is it having any growing pains or facing some moment of needed change? Regulars to my blog know that I understand some of you are shy and just prefer to say “Count me in,” or “I want to win,” but if you feel like sharing a detail about your garden, please do; all the better.

Entries close at midnight Sunday, February 13, with the winner to be drawn at random (using the tool at random [dot] org) and announced the next day. Good luck!

Categorieswoo woo
  1. Becky says:

    My gardens are nine years old and constantly evolving. At first I thought I was doomed to struggle with a garden in the shade as my husband and I are both tree-huggers living in the woods, but our tiered retaining wall offered the perfect spot for full sun. At first, I was grateful to start a friendship garden with donations from acquaintances, but I found that some varieties will not flourish and some will never meet my expectations. Now I wish I had been more choosey on the plant varieties to make visual statements of plantings en mass, but certainly I would not want to be particular about the friends! My vegetable garden was coming along nicely until I decided to take a full-time job and realized how much it needed that daily watering. So I will be amending the soil heavily this spring.

  2. Dianne says:

    My garden is twelve years old. When I moved here I had only grown annuals, and my husband said you better get the kind that come back every year because this is a big space. I have a lot of old trees that need to come down. Black walnut, old dogwood, and pin oaks. I have a lot of shade, but have been able to make it work for me. The most recent addition is a greenhouse made from old windows, and a potager. My goal for this year is to make everything I have in place look better rather than expand any gardens. I vermicompost in the winter, cold compost in the summer. My most recent challenge has been a healthy fruit fly population in my compost tubs. I think I have that problem licked now, but the whole family complained and said the tubs have to go, LOL. I do want to add a fairy garden for my grandaughter in a spot where we have ano old outbuilding that is missing the roof. Lots to do, lots of fun.

  3. Rosanne Veilson says:

    I have spent the last 5 years working on my garden. The house and garden had been here for 47 years when I moved in and the only way I can describe it is…it was “unloved”.

    Basically all I had were some old yews, lots of red oak and pin oaks, a few overgrown spruces and fir trees, weeds/poison ivy, scraggly forsythia, some nice rhodadendrons…and lots of pachysandra! I spent the first year dealing with the hardscaping….replacing the patio around the pool and removing the scraggly, dying trees and shrubs….then I started amending the soil and doing some regrading to stop the erosion whenever it rained…this took up the next 2 years!

    My fourth year here I was ready and raring to go with planting – so I planned and dug out where I wanted to have my garden beds and put in some perennials and hostas (I am a hosta lover!!). I had to make due with annuals/perennials from seed and cuttings and divisions from friends as I am on a tight budget. I was so happy when I was able to seed for a lawn last summer….which did quite nicely until the mole arrived. He is gone now…and so is my lawn. Oh well, I will start over this spring and hope for the best! I have had time to really get to know this yard/garden and all its quirks. Little by little, it is coming together…but I don’t really care how long it takes….because it’s really about the journey not the destination, isn’t it?

    PS. I am envious of your tractor!

  4. Sandy Otton says:

    I inherited the garden here at our house when we moved in 2005. The previous owners had some great ideas. However some of the plantings were overgrown or planted too close to each other and/or the house. Some of the colors were not really my taste.At the time I was reading and learning a lot about gardening with native plants. For a few years I felt very indecisive and at times frozen in my tracks about what to do and was moving things around and trying to work with a new plant palette in using natives. I finally realized gardening with natives does not have to be a religion for me. I can have some rugosa roses and plant for artistry and fragrance or simply for sentimental reasons like having a Viburnum carlesii because the memory of it’s sweet perfume wafting in the air in May reminds me of my childhood. It is all good. I already ordered your book-if I should win I will donate the copy to the local library.

  5. barbara says:

    The house? 100 years old. The garden? Only five…we installed when we bought this old house. Still learning what works and what doesn’t!

  6. My garden is only about 6 years old, and it still has lots of area to work with. There were no beds, no borders, not a single leafy shrub in this garden when I moved here, only 5 (!?!) Silver Maples desperately in need of some pruning on 1/3 of a weedy acre. This was our first home and we didn’t even have a wheelbarrow when we moved in–my first move was to dig up the dirt in strip between house and walkway and replace it with good soil and beautiful boxwoods. I had to move the dirt with a tarp.

    Every year though, I move things, add things, change things, add more structure and (try to) invest more in quality stone and brick in the garden. Being a plant geek, I want one of everything.

  7. Margaret says:

    Our garden was pretty bare bones when we moved in 14 years ago. A few boring shrubs stuck in all the wrong places. But there was a lovely enclosed backyard shade garden that had great potential, some wonderful mature trees and room to make more garden spaces. Gardening on a tight budget for awhile has meant buying plants a few at a time, wintersowing to get some cheap seedlings and getting goodies from other gardening friends. What’s been changing recently is that I’m really trying to rethink and redesign the established gardens so they are a bit less haphazard and more lush and pleasing to the eye. I’m also discovering the wonderful world of container gardening and trying to integrate them more and more into my gardens. All of this revamping will probably take some time because my body is feeling it’s age more and more as others have shared. I’m eagerly awaiting the spring because my head is bursting with new ideas that keep me awake at night planning! Thanks for the opportunity to check out these wonderful books. I”m in!

  8. Jean says:

    Inherited my garden 10 yrs ago. Could tell it was created & tended by one with a good eye and a love of the earth. But sadly, she had passed on long before I came, so have been undertaking those “tough love” decisions now that time has made it’s mark. Hopefully the new honors the old.

  9. Peggy says:

    I just found your site through a reader’s comments on Get Rich Slowly. Due to work, we’ve lived overseas for more than 30 years. Gardening is my spare-time passion.

    Our current garden is two and a half years old as we begin again every time we move. We’ve another year and a half here before moving on somewhere else. I’ve bookmarked your site and will be a daily reader. :)

  10. Charlene (Charlie) says:

    So where do I begin? At the end. My amazing son-in-law passed away Saturday, February 5. My husband and I as I write this, are driving to Virginia from Denver, Colorado after his memorial service. My daughter and two grandchildren left behind in Denver to begin again their own lives… I headed east, to our 5th home in 9 years, 5th time planning yet another garden and landscape. Optimistically hoping THIS garden will be beautiful.

    Gardeners are ever optimists, aren’t we? Because gardening really, in it’s most raw definition, is the hope of tomorrow. So I hope for a better tomorrow, a warm Spring day. With my children and grandchildren. Picking flowers and eating fresh tomatoes.

  11. Susan Nichiolson says:

    My garden is ever changing. I realized just how much it has changed when I saw a video of my children playing in the yard when they where preschoolers. My children are now in high school and college. Back then there where no garden beds. The trees were so much smaller. No hedgerow around my property. My garden is about to make an even bigger change. I have decided to go native by switching to all native plants.

    1. Margaret says:

      ENTRIES ARE NOW CLOSED. I will select the random winners and alert them by email.

      Thank you all for your amazing comments, including so many newcomers. Usually I welcome first-time commenters individually…but I think you have overwhelmed me this time wiht your numbers! :)

      More soon…and the newest giveaway is here (week of Feb. 13, 2011).

  12. June Millette Fisher says:

    My garden is 17 years old. It began as a field that sprouted a colonial house, seemingly overnight, a foundation one day, and then big trucks with 4 huge “boxes” that formed a house.
    The beginnings of the garden were transplanted from our previous home. Peonies moved several times from my childhood home, Goulden Ridge, a poultry farm in Vermont. My mother moved them from place to place and when we sold my parent’s home, we moved them to my 1st house and then here to Chickadee Meadows in Fairlee, VT.
    Along with the peonies came some bearded iris and old June roses given to my husband after a fire,by a grateful home owner, thanking him for saving her house. The roses were brought from Poland with her as a young bride in the 1930’s. Three varieties of lilacs, came with us as well, our favorite french lilacs, deep purple that show best with their pink and white relatives combined in a bouquet in the same ironstone pitcher every spring.
    Chickadee Meadows has grown from a “sea of mud” after we moved in the winter of 1995 after an early snow in December and then a January thaw that left us surrounded by sink holes in the newly worked earth. Now, two acres of shrubs, perennials, a small pond, benches, meaningful statuary, Ron’s vegetable garden and a meadow in the rear overlooking NH mountains
    I recently dug and planted a white garden around 3 trees: an oak, white birch and poplar that I call the trilogy. The spot filled with broken glass, barbed wire and poison ivy now has gooseneck veronica, white speckled ground cover, other plants from a yard sale that remain unnamed and hosta with varying amounts of white veining. I’ve left some of the stone along a path through the center. A metal trellis for 4 o’clocks, a statue of St. Francis and a few cement bunnies finish the area which is not flat but filled with tree roots where poison ivy still thrives among the a natural topography I tried not to disturb made by the trees. This garden was made in honor of my beloved rabbit, Clover, who died some years ago.
    Now as we reach a point in our lives where gardening is harder for our bodies, we reconsider some of plantings in favor of shrubs that take less care and weeding.
    Every year though, another piece of lawn turns into a garden of sorts, last year with a wise woman stone as a center, hydrangeas appeared flanking her, backed with an asymmetrical fence made from old boards – a peaceful spot to honor gardening, women and stone, timeless in its simple beauty.

  13. Larry says:

    My garden is only three years old, but expanding at an alarming rate. My plant selection is based on what is given to me and what I can afford, what a hodge podge, but still it is beautiful to me. Everything is up for change, nothing set in stone, I hope I live to see it evolve into more mature garden with some type of form and plan.

  14. Joyce Gallivan says:

    We have lived in our house for 45 years in central New England. Having lived next door to my parents all these years,my garden provided me some peace as the relationship was at times rocky, their older daughter not being the person they thought I should be. Many times I looked for peace and solace while digging and planning. This summer we had a 60 ft oak taken down, it was only about 12 feet when we built here, but was gradually dying, with mushrooms growing at its base, and we feared it would come down on the neighbors property. I enjoyed watching the birds flying to the top and leaves that I would shred and used for mulch, however, itsAnd also the gap that As many have noted the garden teaches us about the seasons of life, and this has been my experience as well. This year the weeds took hold as I didn’t mulch and pull early enough.This leaves me with a goal for next year. And also the gap from the missing oak needs to be filled, but for now its providing more sunlight for our pear tree. Our garden is a constantly evolving process.

  15. Marybeth says:

    I don’t garden anymore -I EDIT! That seems to be all I do when I go out. Trim hedges, prune everything, fill up barrels!
    My garden is 14 years old (some areas). Every year we did a new area so I can’t keep track!
    One area comes to mind for this comment.
    My Bradfors pear came down last year in the freak October snow storm where all leaves still on the trees wreaked some havoc in my area.(new jersey). We knew it was a tree that broke easily-we were warned but planted it anyway for fast privacy. Well this forced editing was sad at first BUT I rediscovered plants I had put in 10 years before that we’re languishing under the shade! It turned out to be the best looking area of that large bed this year!!
    Thanks mother nature I wouldn’t have done that myself!

  16. MaryPat Acquaviva says:

    My garden in 24 years old and has been in many different places…helped me survive my husbands illnes and death in 2004 and will be a part of me till I am part of the soil!

  17. Shari Sprong says:

    The gardens on either side of our front door are about 18 years old and definitely in need of renewal. We had a new walkway put in last year, so part on the garden on one side was quickly removed to make way for the path. This year we just had a new “garden window” installed and I had to remove any plants that I didn’t want trampled by the workmen. This means I now have quite a bit of open space, since I haven’t put anything back in that I removed. I think I will tak the opportunity to amend the soil (long ignored) and just add some mulch until spring. Who knows what will happen then?

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.