music for garden-making, from my collection

I WANT TO SHARE a secret about how to make a garden, and also a secret about myself, I guess. The secret is music. More than 25 years ago, when I first bought my then-weekend place, there was no garden here. Every Friday, I’d arrive full of youthful energy to do battle with multiflora rose, wild raspberries, barberry and spiny thistles. Besides my loppers and saw, I’d grab one of my best garden-making tools from the glove-box of the car: Al Green.

Motivational music (and a boom box) were critical garden-making tools. Both Green and Brown helped me make my garden. As in: Al and James. I mean: Who can sit still when James Brown is screaming and strutting–and besides, what’s a garden besides a giant living James Brown “Sex Machine” full of pollen and pollinators galore?

In the years since, music has intertwined with my garden passion in a different way. Noticing how many songs in so many genres speak to the seasons, storms, sunshine, birds, roses, trees, wildflowers…I’ve amassed a kind of giant “mix tape” of what I call “garden music.” (All the music-for-gardeners shows are at this link, if you want more.)

how my ‘garden music’ collection got started

ABOUT A DECADE AGO, when I co-hosted a weekly two-hour garden call-in show on Martha Stewart’s Sirius radio channel with my friend Andrew Beckman, the connection between music and gardening resurfaced. Before and after each commercial break, we’d play a snippet of a song whose lyrics spoke to themes of nature and even the garden itself.

Over the years we did that show, I amassed a crazy stash of them, and I want to play you a few (you can hear them using the audio player below, from one January 2014 episode of my public-radio show and podcast, when I played five favorites from among the many hundreds, including one dedicated to my dear departed cat, Jack).

Tell me in the comments box at the very bottom of the page whether music plays a role in your garden-making.


my music for gardeners

featured songs (and a bit of a lyric from each)

“The Pine Tree” (Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash)

I lean my back against you thinkin’ you were an oak
I knew the wind could bend you but I can’t believe you broke

…The willow tree is fickle and it weeps in the morning dew
My love is a pine tree cause that’s the only tree that’s true

“Heaven Right Here” (c. Jeb Loy Nichols)

Come on over to my yard
Sit around and let your troubles all disappear
Come on over to my yard
‘Cause right now heaven’s right here

“Two Birds” (c. G. Love & Special Sauce)

we’ll be like two birds singing in the moonlight
two fireflys lightin up the sky
two stars shining through the clouds
two clouds floating in the sky

“Wintertime Blues” (c. John Hiatt)

Three hours of day light
And all of them gray
The suicide prevention group has all run away
I’m running out of groceries
I ain’t got no rubber shoes
Bring the bacon baby
I got the wintertime blues

“Sunshine” (Johnny Cash)

(You all know this one, but the version I played on the show, recorded late in Cash’s life at his cabin in Arkansas, is the best of the best. This is the one I dedicated to my dear Jack.)

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away

your turn

SO TELL ME NOW: Any songs to garden by, either motivational or actually outdoorsy-themed? I’d love to hear, and see if they are in my collection. Hope you’ll listen to the whole podcast…since I can’t really do it justice here, without all the tunes!

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. You can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here). (All the music-for-gardeners shows are at this link.)

(Thumbnail image of Johnny and June Carter Cash displayed on homepage, by Joel Baldwin from Wikipedia.)

  1. Teri Chace says:

    We awake this morning to the news of Pete Seeger’s passing, and I realized with a start that yesterday none of us mentioned “inch by inch, row by row, we’re gonna make this garden grow, all it takes is a rake and a hoe and a piece of fertile ground.” RIP, Pete, godspeed.

  2. Mary Kowalski says:

    Peter Mayer paints amazing images in his songs – and this one has nature weaving through it. I recommend listening to him sing on YouTube or iTunes. He performed at our UU church and was amazing in person.

    An excerpt of the lyrics to Holy Now :

    This morning, outside I stood
    And saw a little red-winged bird
    Shining like a burning bush
    Singing like a scripture verse
    It made me want to bow my head
    I remember when church let out
    How things have changed since then
    Everything is holy now
    It used to be a world half-there
    Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down
    But I walk it with a reverent air
    ‘Cause everything is holy now

    (These are Holy Now lyrics on lyricsmania [dot] com)

  3. Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern says:

    I don’t really listen to music gardening. I much prefer the increasingly very rare moment of silence and the songs of the birds, buzzing of bees, rustling leaves, wind chimes – but I do talk to myself like crazy. Maybe music would help. I recommend Farm Fresh Onions by Robert Earl Keen. When I was working at our local co-op I always thought it would be fun to make a “sound track” of vegetable related songs.

  4. Minnie says:

    Pete Seeger, may he rest in peace, wrote a lot of songs that connected directly or metaphorically to the earth – Garden Song, Where Have All the Flowers Gone – and he sang others that came out of a time when many more people lived closer to the land.

  5. Jane says:

    My garden music includes WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD – the Louis Armstrong version. More snow on it’s way today but a hellebore is blooming!

  6. Donna in Delaware says:

    I must have music when I work in the garden. I take out an old radio, plug it in to an extension cord, and move it to wherever I am whilst working in the garden. I usually listen to Neil Diamond’s September Morn and Sinatra for the old tunes about love and lost in autumn. Edith Piaf in spring, songs from the sixties for summer, War’s Summertime, Lena Horne’s Summertime, Bananarama’s Cruel Summer, Martha and the Vandella’s Dancing in the Street, and other tunes. Yes, sometimes they are specific songs for the season, at other times, anything goes. I work and reminisce at the same time. Recalling days of long ago, working in my spring and summer garden in Westchester, NY, and the bounty it produced. Watching the season change from one to the other, bringing happiness and sadness and childhood memories growing up in the south. So, yes Margaret, I understand the need for music whilst working in the garden. It makes time go by so much faster and it’s nicer combined with the sounds of nature!

  7. Julia Luther says:

    Perhaps you’d like Nick Cave’s “Down in the Limetree Arbour.”

    The lyrics are with the Youtube version here.

    As for those footprints: you never know. I’ve been reading Mary Oliver’s “Dog Songs,” and one of them is”The First Time Percy Every Came Back.”

    Yes, we grieve for the other creatures who share our lives far more than we grieve for some of our own species.

  8. I love having music in the garden…but so often forgo it for the hassle. I am wondering, practically, how do you bring the music outside? I have tried (and hated) earphones – too sweaty, I hate things in or on my ears and I can’t hear the other noises in the garden that I would like to also enjoy. Simply too isolating. I have an ipod speaker that I have hauled outside (ok hauled is in exaggeration – I can easily carry it in one hand) but I find that too is a pain in the butt (running cords, moving it around, etc)…I really just want it to sit where it normally sits – inside – and I don’t want to have to move it. I have this idea of installing speakers inspired by those in old M*A*S*H shows….that look like vintage horns up high on the telephone pole at the end of my driveway. Blasting it out (all vintage-like) but powered stealthily with my Ipod from somewhere indoors – but I haven’t figured out how to make that happen yet. So I am just curious — what do you use?

  9. Jess Latham says:

    Music and gardening, two of my favorite topics! I always have my mp3 player plugged into my ears while I’m working out in the garden. I have a Gardening playlist with fun gardening themed songs that I’ve collected over the years:

    Minnie Riperton – Come To My Garden
    Suzanne Vega – Rosemary
    Patrick Wolf – Magpie
    Stevie Wonder – The Secret Life Of Plants
    The Ocean Blue – Marigold
    The Free Design – Ivy On A Windy Day
    Lorrie Morgan – Diamonds From A Willow Tree
    Pulp – The Trees
    Tony Joe White – Polk Salad Annie
    Bobbie Gentry – Bugs

  10. Michelle says:

    Guy Clark’s Homegrown Tomatoes , “only two things money can’t buy and that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes”

    Of course, no one can listen to 1 song all day long so it’s the Black Crowes that really keep me moving.

  11. Becki says:

    “Water Your Garden” by Luscious Jackson for the title, but their song “Electric” for this lyric: “Kiss the ground, run my fingers through the earth / yes it feels so good to be alive.”

  12. Melissa Thompson says:

    For the seasons of the garden, and in Texas we can enjoy that almost 12 months each year, I often turn to Vivaldi’s amazing and honest The Four Seasons. The energy of Spring, the mellow ease of Summer, the hint of melancholy in Fall, and the season of loss and waiting that is Winter.

      1. Melissa Thompson says:

        Thank you for the welcome. I’ve found so many wonderful things and ideas in the short time I’ve known about your website. I thank Old Bulbs Gazette for promoting you. It was a fortutious “click” for me.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi Janet — and yes, its a beauty. Johnny Cash’s version is a beloved one of mine for sure, and I have this Willie N. one, too!

  13. Stephanie says:

    It wasn’t on my gardening music list, but I remember so clearly my first year gardening in high summer 18 years ago listening to my neighbor play (over and over and over…) The Macarena while I tried my best to dig and plant in the heavy clay soil with the sun beating beating beating…

  14. Olivia says:

    I am a music lover too but in the garden, I allow my soul to slow down and often I just listen to the quietness and the wind.

    I have an old radio on my wrap around porch and when I take a break, it is tuned to classical FM.

    But you all have some of my favorites … Johnny Cash, Barry White, Teddy Pendergrass, Otis Redding, Roberta Flack, Linkin Park, Katy Perry … The list goes on but I must also add the sweet sound of the steel pan!

  15. Tom Dunnock says:

    Seeds of tarragon, basil, cilantro, parsley, fennel, romanesco broccoli, and brussels sprouts were started today while playing and replaying Don Mclean’s “Vincent”. Simply, a beautiful song.

    Looks like the groundhog’s forecast of long winter was right with the prediction of more snow tomorrow here in south central Pa.

  16. Jay Banks says:

    Oh yes, Johnny Cash! One of my favourite songs for gardening/any work are the Sultans Of Swing by Dire Straits, these are perfect to help you start working on a pale, cold spring day. Or The Wall by Pink Floyd, those are two hours of pure concentration for me!

  17. Jules says:

    Where can I find Heaven Right Here? What format do you have? I just love it – thanks for the introduction to it, but I can’t find it anywhere. iTunes still doesn’t have everything! :)

  18. Janet says:

    I remember my mother singing “Bebop-A-Rebop Rhubarb Pie” from the Prairie Home Companion show. Truly a happy boppy song for late Winter/early Spring when you need to dance about to keep warm outside!

  19. Carol (McPheeters) says:

    Love your blog; have been reading it for a long time. So interesting about your musical gardening; I thought I was the only one! I splurged on outdoor speakers so I can hear music all over the garden, and hope the neighbors enjoy it; no one has complained so far. For years have played Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Aretha Franklin (RESPECT), and classical, with a couple others for variety. Sometimes songbirds, trickling water and a windchime are enough. Its all good.

  20. Deana Chavis Baker says:

    Everyone should listen to your Podcasts and Garden music selections and peruse your website–as they are ALL so inspiring! I always learn something and feel energized to work on anything garden related. I can relate to how you began your garden. And, I can also relate to your wonderful selection of Johnny and June Cash’s music. Thank you for making this music/videos and A WAY TO GARDEN so enjoyable, educational, and accessible!

  21. Suzanne Delaney says:

    Nature’s music – for morning, house finches, chickadees,the far-off drumming of a woodpecker, for evening a hermit thrush or barred owl, for warm summer nights katydids, crickets and cicadas. Wind in the pine trees. Robins settling down in those pines for the night. Everywhere we are constantly deluged with noise. Johnny Cash is fine, but please, not in my garden.

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