Expanding the Gardening Season Beyond Spring and Summer

A closer look at A Way to Garden, by Margaret Roach.


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Roach has toiled for 25 years in her Columbia County garden.

PHOTOS BY MARGARET ROACH

Former Martha Stewart Living garden editor Margaret Roach has updated her popular gardening tome, enhancing the “horticultural how-to and woo-woo” that made it a success 20 years ago. Her unique take on gardening expands the landscape to 365 days a year, encouraging readers to plan garden viewscapes outside their windows and not to ignore the particular beauty of a barren winter.

Roach — who’s lovingly cared for her 2.3-acre Columbia County garden for more than 25 years — graciously shared her thoughts with us in the middle of a busy spring.

 

Can you explain what you mean by “horticultural how-to and woo-woo”?

Yes, you need to know how deep to plant a tulip bulb, or when to start tomato seeds. But there’s a richer harvest to be had if you let the garden be more than a mere hobby, and more a life practice, a window into larger questions of existence and an ever-inspiring companion. To become a gardener lets us see the entire life cycle at work, and asks that we cultivate patience, and come to grips with issues of surrender, of letting go and facing that we are simply not in control. Powerful stuff.

 

What do you like the most about gardening in the Hudson Valley?

I am a native New Yorker; I cannot imagine living anywhere that didn’t have four distinct seasons. I try to celebrate every season by creating good views out the window 365 days a year, and a habitat that invites birds year-round, too.

 


A frog ‘whispers’ to a statue in Roach’s garden.

 

What are some challenges?

Wind in the Hudson Valley can be a big factor, and destructive, and lately we seem to be having even more “wind events” as the climate changes.

 

You talk about “growing bugs” in a yard. How would the average gardener plan for bugs to attract birds and other good creatures?

Having a diversity of flowering plants, especially native ones and ones chosen to provide the longest possible sequence of bloom, offers enticement to a long season of beneficial insects. So, for example, from the earliest pussy willows of February–March to the last aster and goldenrod of late October–November would be the goal. These insects, in turn, are food for birds...and they may also pollinate certain plants that then produce fruit and seeds that birds feast upon, too.

 


A Way to Garden is a guide as well as a pleasurable read.

Is there a minimum size yard you would recommend for someone to start gardening?

I’d actually recommend starting as small as possible, perhaps staging a grouping of big pots near the house or making a single bed. One of the most common reasons for failure is going too far too fast, and not being able to keep up with weeds, watering, and such. Note: Even adopting a few houseplants counts (but beware, because it often proves the gateway to full-on gardening).

 

What other advice would you like to share?

I often say by becoming a gardener I landed in a fusion of Buddhist retreat and science lab. Let both of these provocative factors — and, of course, the enjoyment of the beauty you create — spur you onward.

 

320 pages, Timber Press, $30 (hrd)

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