With a tag line of “why a vegetable garden will make you happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise,” Grow the Good Life by Michele Owens promised to pack quite a punch of garden inspiration when I pulled it from the library shelves. So I added it to our library bag (which I should really consider switching out for a garden cart or something similar as the library bag is usually stuffed until the seams are popping and it’s really quite heavy) and went to check out.
I had never heard of Michele Owens before, but the book cover looked interesting. Sometimes I find rare gems by grabbing random books by authors I’ve never heard of before and giving them a try, and sometimes I find that there is a good reason I’ve never heard of the author. So I generally find I have little to lose and plenty to gain by giving new-to-me authors a whirl.
In Michele’s case, she is a founding partner of the website/blog, Garden Rant, which is an eclectic gardening blog with multiple contributors. And bonus, she has worked extensively as a speechwriter for high-level folks, so we have that in common.
I like to read before I fall asleep for several reasons. It’s quiet when the kids are asleep and I don’t have to keep rereading things because I was interrupted. It helps me fall asleep, except for the times I get absorbed and end up staying awake until 2:00am reading. And, hey, maybe if I’m reading something fun maybe I will have fun dreams.
So I grabbed this little gem late one night and settled in to begin reading and immediately I liked Michele, both for her dry wit and passion for all things green and edible.
I really want to meet her and pick her gardener brain, and her tomatoes or whatever else she has in season too!
And because I want to meet her, I’m going to pretend I have and break that little grammar rule that says I should reference her by her last name for this blog post, because I can.
Why Americans Don’t Garden
Michele begins the book with a frank discussion on why Americans don’t garden and I agree with her thoughts. She argues that we don’t grow our own food simply because our parents and grandparents didn’t. How right she is!
We, as a culture, don’t grow our own food because we weren’t taught to and we don’t see it as a viable possibility. Sure we landscape our oversized homes and keep the lawn neat and tidy, but we would rather buy flowering annuals each spring than think putting about basil, tomatoes, and cantaloupe in our landscapes.
Michele devotes an entire chapter to a discussion on the flavor of homegrown food. Just as anyone who has ever grown their own food, Michele raves about the superiority of the flavor of homegrown foods. She describes the flavor of homegrown fruits and vegetables as transcendently wonderful. And of course, she’s absolutely correct.
She goes on to give several tips and recommendations for varieties that she loves. And she raves so much about arugula and parsnips that I’ve added them both to my seed order list for this year.
Next, there is a frank discussion about the health benefits of the physical work of gardening. True to Michele’s style, she compares her feelings of gratification about working in her garden versus working out in a gym with true candor…”when I’m done cleaning out a flower bed, I’ll sit back and admire my work. If I’ve done 30 minutes on a treadmill, I don’t stand there admiring the treadmill.”
In a delightful chapter about garden soil (isn’t it funny what we gardeners can get excited about!) Michele digs deep into soil quality. She gives a frank discussion on the importance of adding everything from manures and mulches to worm castings, increasing microorganism biodiversity, and all such things that help us have wonderful soil. And what gardener doesn’t want better soil? After all, better soil yields better quality produce and that’s our #1 goal. It’s in this chapter that she hits home with my absolute favorite quote from the book…
Whatever you do, just don’t leave your soil naked. At this point in life, I actually cringe now when I see unmulched soil. It’s like seeing a child outside in the wintertime without a coat.
The book ends with chapters on survival, education, and happiness.
What a wonderful topic to close out a book on gardening, because after all our gardens, whether they have a hard year or we get a bumper crop, bring us delight and happiness from the hours spent outdoors in the sunshine and the unrivaled taste of homegrown foods.
So if you’re looking for a little garden inspiration and an honest account of the benefits of gardening along with a delightful touch of humor and wit, I don’t think you can go wrong with Grow the Good Life by Michele Owens!
And because I’m always looking forward to my next read, what good gardening book have you read lately?
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