the welcome mat is out

welcome-matWE’VE GOT THE WELCOME MAT OUT this week at A Way to Garden and our Urgent Garden Question Forums next door, and everybody in the family here is doing his or her part. Even a species of frog I’ve never seen before, which I take as a good omen. An even better omen: Anne Raver’s generous piece in The New York Times today. Bet you want to read the back story on this one.

The saying “Be careful what you wish for,” came to mind more than once in the three weeks since the email from Anne, with whom I started my garden-writing career when we worked at Newsday newspaper in Long Island nearly 20 years ago. The journey from that email to today’s Times article has been something like a season of “Survivor,” particularly the photo-shoot day.

When I heard from Anne, I’d been busy getting ready for June 14, my first Garden Conservancy Open Day of the year, with a large reception for the Conservancy scheduled here that same evening. But she suggested coming 10 days earlier…only 4 or 5 days after her email…way ahead of the day we’d targeted to have it “all together” (if a garden can ever be “all together”), and way too soon for me to get it done without extra hands. The to-do list (see photo, bottom of page) was just too long: 18 size-XL lilacs had just gone by and needed deadheading, to name just one task. Friends Kelly and Christy pitched in to help me and Susan, who works here part of every week, to edge and mow and mulch in frenzied fashion. The day before Anne’s visit they even brought bagels and cream cheese, to get us motivated.

Cream cheese is apparently what got the Gray Tree Frog all interested in us, instead of hiding camouflaged on the bark of trees like he’s supposed to do. He actually hopped into our workforce breakfast gathering, sat on the platter of bagels and trimmings awhile, then proceeded to observe (not help in the cleanup, mind you) from a vantage point on the doormat. Jack the Demon Cat did not help much, either: too hot, he said, too humid.

no-help-to-youAnyhow, interview day with Anne was pleasant and relaxed…but a few days later, when photographer Stewart Cairns arrived, near-record early heat and humidity had set in, with one violent storm down and apparently many to go. The plants, and Miss Margaret, were pretty far gone, more prostrate than upright. So much for all that garden-grooming a few days prior.

Just ten minutes after he pulled in the driveway with his photo gear, big surprise: A Biblical storm came upon us. Any sense of order, botanical or personal, was quickly lost. Hair and clothing plastered to face and body, makeup running downhill (along with rivulets of water and mulch from beds into lawns). Where was Martha’s amazing wizard stylist Eva Scrivo when I needed her?

There have been many other chapters in these last wild weeks, such as:

Finding out I needed to get a new server that could survive possible traffic such as the New York Times is inclined to send one’s way, for instance, and the subsequent migration and debugging;

Three more violent electrical storms (meaning no computer, and no phone for all or part of various days…hard to do said migration and debugging without electricity, fyi);

Crackling, arc-ing electricity emanating from one very expensive (turned-off) surge protector in my living room as I sat stranded on the night of my birthday last Tuesday, in lieu of the more traditional candles on a cake;

Three total driveway washouts (the last time I just left it piled up downhill, and it may stay that way forever more);

Oh, yeah, and the craziest storm of all started precisely 7 minutes into the Garden Conservancy reception last Saturday night. Into my tiny “guest house” about 80 of us quickly huddled, bringing new meaning to the line “shelter from the storm.” As if on cue, the roof started leaking…lights flickered several times (but stayed on!)…but who cared: I had enough food and booze to last us several days, and so eat and drink we did.

I expect welcoming all of you new faces will be something like that evening: We’ll be crowded, and I may prove a little slower in serving you than the kind of hostess I like to be. But hopefully you feel happy here, despite the inevitable loose ends The Times can cause with all its influence, all its readers.

However this last segment in “Survivor: A Way to Garden” goes, thanks for visiting today, when I hope the forecast is for fairer weather in all our corners of the garden world. Enjoy your time with us, and be sure to come back soon. Many good days lie ahead (and probably a few more bumpy ones, truth be told).

The good and the bad, the blossoms and the blights: gardening at its essential best.


  1. margaret says:

    Welcome, Dean, to A Way to Garden. I like the part about “exquisitely personal,” and just shouted that out the window to the frog boys, who belched happily in reply. See you soon again, I hope.

  2. Elaine says:

    Margaret, what a lovely way to wake up this morning – to your blog and the most lovely tribute to you. So very inspiring.

    I agree – this is a very ‘Ta-da’ week!

  3. Dean Riddle says:

    The first thing I do on Thursday mornings, after a quick ramble through my garden, is to sit down at the computer, second cup of coffee in hand, and check the New York Times to see if the incomparable Anne Raver has done a piece on gardening. Today: BINGO!!! A delicious piece on you and your garden! It made me very happy to read about one of my favorite gardeners, written about by America’s best garden writer.

    Congratulations, Margaret! I hope you’re glowingly full of yourself this morning! Your lovely garden, which I’ve had the pleasure of visiting at least a half dozen times, is a real treasure. It has to be one of the most exquisitely personal, lovingly tended landscapes anywhere.


  4. margaret says:

    Welcome, Shirley, to A Way to Garden. Am glad to be of service! Come again soon, and be sure to tell us what’s up in your steamy corner of the green world.

  5. High Valley Farmgirl says:

    There goes the neighborhood! And I mean that in the BEST possible way. Bravo on that great article!

  6. Shirley VanClay says:

    Every Thursday morning I dive into the NYT house and garden section first thing. This morning, before finishing my tea or the paper, I went straight to the computer after reading Ann Raver’s article.

    A transplanted midwesterner (and an octogenarian), the heat and humidity in North Carolina has made me less active in the garden than I would like to be. Your wonderful website gives a needed boost.

    I’ll be back for daily visits — when I’m not out in my own garden.

  7. margaret says:

    Welcome, Cori! I am interested on how the garden has evolved, too…very much on my mind the huge changes. As I always say, if you stay somewhere long enough and keep digging holes, look what happens! ;-)

  8. margaret says:

    Welcome, Pam, to A Way to Garden. I am glad you are here, an old fan from my favorite Martha days, when I had the world’s VERY best job. Come back soon and say hello.

  9. gina says:

    Hi Margaret – just popping in to say that I really enjoyed the NYT article and this blog post is a nice compliment to show us what really went down.

    kudos, margaret!

  10. Cori says:

    This is so great. I have collected snippets of photos of your home and gardens over the year and love your eye. Book, please, on the transformation of your garden over the years, with lots of photos for those of us who cannot get to one of your open days. I am so often disappointed in the NYT HG section. Not this morning!

  11. Pam Smith says:

    Happy belated birthday! I, too, turn 54 this month. My start in gardening (and birdwatching) came a lot later than yours. Although I had always been a nature lover and grown a few annuals and veggies, it wasn’t until I was in my early 40’s that two mentors, one near and one far, launched me into the gardening world. The first was my friend Kathy who shared all sorts of botanical knowledge and baby plants with me. The second was YOU when you were garden editor at Martha Stewart Living. What an inspiration the articles and photos were!

    You have always come across as a warm, friendly neighbor, and now with your blog, you won’t seem quite so far away.

  12. Kathy from Cold Climate Gardening says:

    Well, while you were getting all those dramatic storms, my part of upstate NY was getting–nada. We have since gotten enough rain to revive the lawn, but are still behind our usual amount for the growing season.

    For someone living out in the middle of nowhere, you manage to live an exciting life. Congratulations on such well-deserved attention.

  13. katlia says:

    I’m new here, directed to your blog through that NYT article, and if you don’t mind, I’ll just stay a while. Or permanently! Lovely garden, lovely blog. I’m settling right in with a sigh of pleasure.

  14. margaret says:

    Welcome, Bernard. It is nice of you to come say hello, and recall the days we “gardened together” before. Hope to see you again soon here.

  15. Bernard Burlew says:

    The other day, feeling a little depressed here in NYC, no real gardening space to speak of, I thought back on your book and how it had inspired me to take up gardening in the first place.In those days I had a yard, and through reading ‘A Way to Garden’ and Martha Stewart Living, I learned how to transform an overgrown, weed choked, severely slanted lot into my own little paradise, complete with a deck.
    Now,on the upper east side, I have to make due with a tiny, little, way too bright, roof deck-but your new blog will make it all a little more bearable.

  16. Kassie says:

    What a lovely thrill to see Anne Raver’s article all about my new fave blog, and a garden I’ve visited twice on “open” days…I’ve been your fan since Newsday, and so glad you’re back to gardenwriting! Love the frog!

  17. margaret says:

    @Elaine, Jane, HighValley, Teaorwine, Andrew, Kathy, Gina, Karen, Kassie: We are having a day, aren’t we? Glad to be surrounded by your familiar faces.
    @Garden Guy Kenn: I like shmucks. Welcome home.

  18. GardenGuyKenn says:

    Hi Margaret.. I feel like a shmuck.. I’ve not visited as much in recent weeks. I have missed this wonderful place that you share with us. An excellent article in the NYT. Loved it.

  19. Ken Smith says:

    Cool. Interesting reading the fine article and the person described. Your life and values seem to evolve. And with your energy, have you deposited yourself in a place of challenge and service? Most of us boomers, and I at 53 am in the mix, tend to know what charges up our battery…and we have more freedom to express ourselves in art, gardening, tastes, etc. But I find that the simple test I ask myself of challenge and service is edging me towards a spiritual side of man and community that is keen to my liking…and needs more consideration. The 50’s…it is a fine place.

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