happy birthday to me: a musical garden party

60RITES OF PASSAGE can be tricky, and when things get tricky: Turn up the music! In June 2014, I turned 60 years old, a fact I find utterly shocking. I threw myself an on-air birthday party, acting as DJ with technical help from Marshall Miles of nearby Robin Hood Radio, who was in the next studio “spinning” the songs.  This is one weekly radio segment and podcast that is probably best listened to more than simply read–and you can hear all the songs that way using the player below, and skip the YouTube ads.

Read along as you listen to the June 9, 2014 edition of my public-radio show and podcast using the player below. You can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).

Side note: The photo above came from another neighboring business, Crossroads Food Shop, where I order my work-fueling takeout breakfast on gardening days. When I opened Friday’s meal in birthday week (short stack, egg over easy, syrup), inside was a message from owner David Wurth—and a candle. I am so lucky to live here, with such dear, wacky friends nearby. Make my birthday cake pancakes anytime.

the garden birthday music show



EVERY YEAR at my birthday, the late peonies and roses are blooming, and this year is no exception. A birthday party needs flowers, so let’s start with bouquets of roses.

Now, I don’t grow a lot of roses, but based on the several that I do have, I’d say it’s been a good year for the roses in 2014—even though many readers told me of losses, or at least that they needed to do major cutbacks after the hard winter, which I did, too. But now: many blooms.

From my giant collection of garden-ish songs (more on how that collection got started is at the bottom of the page) I could play you “I Beg Your Pardon…I Never Promised You a Rose Garden,” the early 70s country crossover hit from Lynn Anderson. Or I could select one of dozens of other rose songs in my collection. I decided on the first one I ever heard, or at least paid attention to, almost 50 years ago: “Misty Roses,” by Tim Hardin, who died at age 39 in 1980 (and also wrote “If I Were a Carpenter,” among many much-covered hits). “Misty Roses” is still one of the very best.

“You look to me like misty roses
Too soft to touch but too lovely to leave alone.”

Backstory: My best friend Vivien’s older brother, Stephen, was a Tim Hardin fan, and on sleepover nights Vivien and I would often sneak a listen to Stephen’s records. That’s how I learned about Tim Hardin, and many other great singer-songwriters, all those years ago. Vivid memories still.

Like I said, it’s been a “Good Year for the Roses”–and my favorite version of the country classic by that title comes from a very special album of duets called “The Bradley Barn Sessions” that George Jones released in 1994, when he sang it with Alan Jackson. Jones’s original version had been a giant hit more than 40 years ago. Here, the Jones-Jackson one:

“The lawn could stand another mowing…
Funny, I don’t even care.”

Ain’t that right?

Maybe it surprises you that I’m giant fan of the late George Jones…but so is Elvis Costello, another musician I’ve admired for decades, and Costello even covered “Good Year for the Roses” on a British LP that actually bore a warning on its label that it contained country songs…perish the thought! It became a hit for Costello, anyhow. I find George Jones the ideal singalong material for long drives…or even just around here with the car windows open. (Just ask my neighbors.)

Moving on: and speaking of other artists whose music I have kept company with for what seems like ever: Tom Waits is next.

I know, he’s not exactly a melodious crooner like Jones, but oh, how I always love what he says–and frankly also how he says it. He has that quality I admire most: He’s one of a kind.

A couple of years ago Waits produced an album with a song called “Last Leaf,” and I realize now that it speaks to a phenomenon in nature that you have probably witnessed, but maybe not known the proper scientific term for: when a tree or shrub holds onto some or all of its leaves (or other parts) even well after they’re dried and brown, the way some oaks do all winter, for example. The word for that is marcescent–it’s a great word, right?–and I guess Waits’s song “Last Leaf” speaks to that concept. It also speaks to feeling old, which some days I do admit to thinking about lately.

Who knows why those marcescent trees do it–hold on to old useless baggage–but I think of it as a reminder that even though generally it’s probably best not to clutch at unnecessary old stuff, sometimes you just can’t help yourself, right? Let go if you can, but also forgive yourself when you can’t let go.

On a lighter note, who doesn’t love a love song? The next one I played on this week’s show (listen now) is a 1940s vintage Duke Ellington tune–yes, from even before I was born, believe it or not–but I like Carmen McRae’s take best. You’ll have to stream the show to hear the first minute or two of “Tulip or Turnip”–which asks a botanical multiple choice question: Who would you like to be in the eyes of your “dream face?”

“Tulip or turnip, rosebud or rhubarb
Fillet or plain beef stew
Tell me, tell me, tell me, dream face
What am I to you?”

June birthdays like mine are not just times of roses here, but also the cusp of summer. My music archive includes multiple songs on the subject, and I added a newish version of the one I have the most covers of, the Gershwin tune that’s almost 80 years old, “Summertime,” from Porgy and Bess. This haunting version is by Angelique Kidjo.

but what tune to end the party with?

RITES OF PASSAGE-WISE, we had some other biggies in 2014 in my tiny family, including the high school graduation of my one and only niece the other day. (That’s the four of us below, sister, brother-in-law and niece and me, at the blessed event; photo by our extended family member, Erica Berger).

copyright erica bergerLast time I did a music-sampler show like this, to close it, I played Johnny Cash with “You Are My Sunshine”– I have many versions of that song, too. When my niece was a littler girl, she used to sing it (though she pronounced it “YAMA Sunshine” at the time).

In primary school she also sang a pretty mean cover of “Blue Skies,” an Irving Berlin composition from 1926, humming the portion where the tempo and lyrics get tricky as her teacher taught the class to.

In honor of her auspicious life moment, then, and my own, and looking ahead to what’s next for the two of us, I chose Willie Nelson’s “Blue Skies” to finish up. Happy birthday to me, and my thanks to you for being here to help celebrate.

send a gift to robin hood radio

IF YOU WANT TO SEND A GIFT, make it a tax-deductible thank you for four-plus years of having me on their air, to Robin Hood Radio, the NPR affiliate from which the live show and the podcast version come. Thanks to them for making the show possible.

roots of my garden music collection

IN JANUARY 2014, you may remember that I confessed on my radio program to a love of music and to the role it had in making my garden. I spoke about how motivational it was, almost 30 years back, when I first came to my piece of land as a weekender, and hauled my boombox outside to get me going, clearing decades of pricker bushes and Canada thistles, hauling away the brush, making my first beds.

Years later, I did a garden call-in program for Martha Stewart’s Sirius channel, and played snippets of garden-ish music before and after every commercial break. In that process I collected hundreds of songs featuring words like “summer” and “winter” and “wind” and “sunshine” and “rose” and “tree” and…well, you get the idea. Not the same motivational music I’d made my garden by listening to–that was mostly Motown–but fun. Listen to that earlier music segment, from January.

prefer the podcast version of the show?

MY WEEKLY public-radio show, rated a “top-5 garden podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper in the UK, began its seventh year in March 2016. In 2016, the show won three silver medals for excellence from the Garden Writers Association. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station in the nation. Listen locally in the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Eastern, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play the June 9, 2014 show right here. You can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).

  1. karen erickson says:

    Margaret! Happy, happy Birthday!
    You are such a giving, kind person and this website has been heaven to dip into and learn so much. Thank you.
    I never comment, but just had to tonight.
    I’m 74 and 1/2 and I’ve had a reprieve–the past year of challenges is over.
    Your blog was such a comfort to read during many difficult days.
    I’m planning to get to your garden and meet you this summer.
    What you do is so important. You diminish all the crazy of the world.
    This is a wondrous gift you are offering.
    I can’t wait to meet you and your garden.
    Karen Erickson

  2. Gena tenney says:

    Happy Birthday Margaret!

    Recently discovered your website… My garden is richer as am I !

    Here’s a ultra clever germanely garden lyrics from a different genre from genius Alan Jay Lerner from “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever”
    Download for your continuing inspiration… A joyful, delightful melody to sing along with by Fredric Lowe .


    Hey…. buds below up is where to grow
    Up with which below can’t compare with,
    Hurry … It’s lovely up here!
    Life down an hole takes an awful toll
    What with not a soul there to share with
    Hurry …it’s lovely up here
    Wake up, bestir yourself, it’s time that you disinter yourself
    You’ve hot a spot to fill… a Pot to fill
    And what a gift package of showers, sun and love
    You’ll be met above everywhere with,
    Fondled and sniffed by millions who drift by,
    Life here is rosy if your a posy
    Hurry…it’s lovely up here!
    Climb up geranium , it can’t be fun subterran-um
    On the exterior, it’s cheerier
    RSVP peonies , pollinate the breeze,
    Make the queen of bees hot as brandy
    Come give at least a preview of Easter
    Come up and see the good we’re giving
    Come up and see the grounds for living
    Come poke your head out,
    Open up and spread out,
    Hurry it’s lovely up here!

    Maya Angelou loved her sixties, seventies, and praised her eighties as “The Best”
    With great music and mulch may we all follow in her style!

    Gratefully Yours!


    1. margaret says:

      Thank you Gena, for the good wishes and the verse! So nice of you to say hello today. Glad you found me at A Way to Garden.

  3. JCB says:

    Happy Birthday. And thank you for all the wonderful gifts you have given your followers in the way of writing, photos, music, recipes and garden and life wisdom. May you have many more. At 80 and still gardening, 60 seems like a long time ago for me.

  4. dash says:

    Happy birthday, Margaret….it’s all good!

    P.S. We enjoyed your garden this past Saturday; had only previously seen it in the rain the day after the storm two years ago; lovely then and most lovely now.

  5. Elaine L. says:

    Happy Birthday! Hope you can take a break from working so hard on your gardens to enjoy your special day with friends and family.
    Seeing the different phases of your garden continues to inspire me to keep working on my 3 acre yard.
    As usual, I could not pass up selecting a few plants from Broken Arrow Nursery to add to my ever growing gardens.
    Carol Gracie’s lecture was so enlightening about pollination of plants and the way the bees, ants, moths go about their job. I will take more time to follow the process of pollination.
    Hope to visit your garden again in September. EL

  6. Maryann says:

    Happy Birthday! It is my sister’s birthday today as well, but I am the one who turned
    60 this year! It’s just a number, but you make a mental note that you are on the top third of your life, and to try to live a little more deliberately. It seems to me that you already do this!

    Have a great day!
    Your fan,

    1. margaret says:

      Love the way you expressed that, Maryann: “you are on the top third of your life, and to try to live a little more deliberately.” Thank you.

  7. Kendra Jean says:

    Happy Birthday to you, May your skies all be blue, May you always be happy, Happy Birthday to you.
    Thank you for the joy you share with us.

    1. margaret says:

      I have such fun doing the website, Kendra, so it is truly my pleasure. Thanks for your very kind words today.

  8. Gina B. says:

    Happy Birthday, Margaret! . While I am a few years older than you, you continue to inspire me, and fill my life with wonderful quotes. I also love the” top third of our lives, and to live more deliberately”….thank you! You are the great little sister a lot of us did not have.

  9. Sheila says:

    Happy Birthday from another June 10 baby! I’m downloading your podcast and look forward to listening on my walk to work today. Thank you for sharing your thoughts of gardens and music.

  10. Patti McGee says:

    Sending many good wishes…..and thanks for your great blog….from a fan in South Carolina…..( and also a fan of Laura Palmer …the open day program and the garden conservancy …)…..have a GREAT DAY…the best is yet to come!!

  11. Saiisha says:

    Happy Birthday Margaret!!
    I love getting older… and I hope to live as rich and rewarding a life as you do when I’m 60!

    Angelique Kidjo’s summertime is truly, hauntingly beautiful… thank you for sharing :)

  12. Tina Knezevic says:

    Dear Margaret,

    Wishing you a fabulous Happy Birthday! 60 is the new 50. Age is only a number and what’s important is how young you feel inside and how happy, healthy and kind you are. Enjoy your very special day!



  13. Brunella says:


    Happy 60th Birthday.
    I celebrated my 68th a few days ago.
    Thanks for the joy that the life you’ve chosen for yourself brings to me and many others through your garden, website, and newsletters.

  14. Debra says:


    My very best to you on your special day! I so enjoy your newsletter and your web site – truly inspirational. Thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge so freely.

    Garden on from a Canadian fan! I hope to attend one of your garden days in the future and meet you.

  15. Beth says:

    Happy Birthday Margaret! Your blog is one of my happy places where I escape to on stressful days! Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to visit your garden.

  16. Michele says:

    Very Happy Birthday Margaret!!! As a long time follower of your writings and wisdom I want to thank you for sharing all that you do. To have such knowledge only comes with time and experience and that is a blessing. I wish you cake, champagne and laughter today! (and remember that while the number sounds big, it isn’t really)

  17. Betsey says:

    Happy Birthday, Margaret!

    Just returned from my 40th college reunion.

    The happy ones are those who do something they love.

  18. Tom Jack says:

    Happy Birrthday, Margaret!

    Great track with George and Alan; I think I had a beer with that song at some bordello back in the 90’s, but don’t hold my memory to that.

    Tom Jack

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