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. Linda smith says:

    Happy,Happy,Happy Birthday and many more. Thankful for you and open garden days. What a change in your beloved garden from May to June. Cannot wait to see it in August. Love the pink Rodie….Welcome to the 60 yr olds. ( I am 63) . So blessed to live in the foothills of the Berkshire so I can visit. Have to hold back the tears…Thank you Margaret Roach!

  2. Judith Flynn says:

    HAPPY, HAPPY 60th! Love the podcast party.
    Thank you for the sunshine you bring to all of us. Your garden was glorious last Saturday!
    In July, I will best you by 10 years. My garden is flourishing with inspiration from you as I try hard to keep up with all that I take away from my visit.

  3. Amy Harris says:

    Happy Birthday Margaret!! The gardens looked more beautiful than ever on Saturday and all the hard work has clearly kept you fit and young.

  4. Debby West says:

    “Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.” ~Henry David Thoreau

    Happy Birthday Margaret! May all the days in this new year be filled with blue skies!
    Happy Gardening, Debby

  5. Mary Sue says:

    Perhaps you should live every day as though it was your birthday, then you could loose track of the count and it would not matter the year! Love your podcasts and hope it was a lovely day for you under blue skies – provided the plants did not need the rain…
    Mary Sue

  6. Tracy says:

    Happy birthday, Margaret!

    I turned 63 just last week and understand the how has this happened feeling.

    Have enjoyed and shared your words and photographs and books for years now. Hope your day and year are happy and productive. And that a new cat finds you

    Thanks so much for the cookbook! It arrived on my birthday.


  7. Brigitte says:

    Hi Margret
    Happy Birthday and many more to come from across the globe. Germany is not such a large country (fortunatly ,maybe, considering what it might have done to the world ) as the States and thus we don’t tend to think in climate zones, but considering what is in season at your garden and over here, we are on the same level….and not just concerning the climate zones but considering other attitudes as well as trying to do without plastic and having reached the ‘with my shades only’ photo age …though I will only be celebrating the last das of my 55th year soon ( see how afraid I am of that next decade :) ) …seems that with age there often comes a bit of a blues season as well, and I actually want to thank you for your web side, because, besides all the gardening advise, the recipes and pot casts it always helps me to get grounded and thus lift my spirit up again,

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks for your nice note, Brigitte. I’m glad the website it useful (and spirit-lifting!). Hope to see you here again soon.

  8. Mary says:

    Happy Birthday Margaret! I will join you this October in the “60’s” club. I find myself taking an inventory of my life up to this point…wow! Much reflecting as well. My love of gardening, flowers ,painting and music is what fuels me. Oh & my kayak:) I want to thank you for reconnecting me with Tim Hardens “Misty Roses” . It brought a smile to my heart.
    I am grateful for people like you in this world. Peace.

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.