My first reaction upon opening Grow the Good Life: Why a Vegetable Garden Will Make You Happy, Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise by Michele Owens was, “Ah, a gardening book without pictures.” I am more of an essay person myself, and it seems like it has been a long time since I have found a newly published collection of garden essays to read. But while any of the chapters in this book could function as a stand-alone essay, they are even better as parts of a whole.
The Secret Is Out
Michele gives away the secret: gardening isn’t as complicated as it’s been made out to be. Or perhaps I should say, gardening can be as complicated as you want to make it–or as simple. In her chapter on Money, I was reminded of similar parallels between new gardeners and new parents. For both, the industry wants to sell you a plethora of “essential” equipment, when in reality there are few essentials and the rest may or may not make life more convenient for you. And there are as many methods or styles of gardening as there are gardeners. There’s no one right way to garden.
There’s plenty in this book that I’d wish I’d known when I started out, but figured out for myself eventually. Facts such as, every year, some vegetables will do better than others, due to factors beyond your control, namely, the weather. And that most of gardening is learned on the job, by trying something and seeing if it works. And that double-digging and rototilling are not the best ways to condition your soil. I found myself nodding my head in agreement numerous times. This is exactly what I’d tell anyone just getting started, backed up with more research than I’d be able to muster. (Some soil bacteria are mood lifters? Who knew? Yet veteran gardeners would not be surprised.)
It’s Not Quite The Same For Me
But there are ways in which my gardening experience has differed from Michele’s. I’ve yet to mulch my entire garden the way she has, though I’m sure it would save time and improve the soil. Why don’t I? Part of it is a failure to find suitable inexpensive mulch materials in sufficient quantity. Maybe that is a lack of imagination, or perhaps a lack of social skills. Or maybe I’m just scared that once I have that big pile of whatever sitting in the driveway, I won’t have the time or energy to get it distributed over the garden, and the whole family will be mad at me, and I’ll look like a fool.
And frankly, gardening hasn’t had the same slimming effect for me as it obviously has had for Michele. I certainly agree that gardening is good exercise, but for me, even at the height of the gardening season, it needs to be supplemented with additional exercise if I’m going to see a downward trend on the scale. Maybe that’s my metabolism, or maybe I don’t work as hard as Michele. I just want to point out that gardening may not be the total solution for your weight problem, even if it is the most soul-satisfying one.
Michele’s children seem uniformly gung-ho about gardening, but some of my kids are more enthusiastic than others. Some make it clear that the only contribution they want to make is eating. A few want to indulge their spring fever by helping to dig on the first mild day; after that, forget it. And a few others, the diehards, want the whole enchilada: to plant, to weed, to water, to harvest. But all of them, regardless of their level of involvement, know where their food comes from, and they all know that store-bought produce doesn’t taste nearly as good as homegrown.
Finally, arugula is one of Michele’s must-grow crops, but my arugula is just too bitter. What am I doing wrong?
Gardening Is As Varied As Humans Are
But really, all those differences just prove Michele’s point: that gardening is a human activity, and is as endlessly variable as humans themselves. If you’ve tried gardening and were disappointed by the weeds or the skimpy harvest, read Grow the Good Life. I bet you’ll be inspired to try again. And if you’ve thought about growing your own food, but just weren’t sure, I think Michele will persuade you to overcome your hesitation. Just remember: start small, feed the soil, and grow what you like to eat.
Rodale Press sent me Michele’s book to review not knowing whether I would or not. I thought it was worth sharing with you. And I suppose I should confess that my husband, the Gentleman Farmer, is the vegetable grower in the family. I pretty much stick to the inedible ornamentals, though I cook what he grows.