"Grow the Good Life", or, "My Life with Vegetables"

I’ve been a bad garden blogger. I haven’t posted in weeks. I’ve been too busy planning garden events, seeking funds for garden events or doing actual paying work—and blogging got WAY down on the list of things to do. I’m finally coming up from under now though.

One thing that is long overdue is commenting on Saratoga Springs resident Michele Owens’ book, Grow the Good Life, Why a Vegetable Garden Will Make You Happy, Healthy, Wealthy and Wise available at quality booksellers near you. Or online, here.

I read the book in six unfettered hours flying to Greece a few weeks ago. I fell asleep reading it twice. That’s not a bad thing—it means I didn’t want to put it down despite being completely exhausted.

Here’s the author, in my back yard, noshing on a Lexington
Coop lunch, with other garden bloggers visiting last summer.
Left to right:
Pat (Common Weeder), Michele (Garden Rant),
Bonnie (Vintage Garden Gal) & Xris (Flatbush Gardener).

What kept ME interested was when I read, early on, “Wander past the rat traps and cockroach killers in Lowes or Home Depot towards the gardening aisle—these merchants always assume that vermin and gardening are related subjects—and the experience is not unlike that of watching Fox News. You will instantly be riled up into a state of paranoia by people that think that’s the best way to keep you interested.” This is the kind of book on gardening I could get into, and relate to.

Oh, and on the subject of soil, “Non-gardeners are like Victorian brides advised to lie back and think of England on their wedding nights: They assume that the contact is something that has to be endured for the sake of the greater good.

The book is divided into Michele’s reasons for gardening, which amassed over the years of her multiple vegetable gardens—Money, Flavor, Health, The Soil, Beauty, The Kids, The Never-Ending Education, Survival, and Happiness.

Each chapter is a mash-up of personal insight from years of gardening, other family member’s interaction with gardening (from her parents to her kids), and actual, verifiable data from reports and studies.

If there’s one take-away I’ll be using this year, it is NOT tilling and turning my vegetable garden soil this year and instead adding mulch. Michele insists that is the secret (that isn’t a secret) to a great vegetable garden—not destroying the structure & microbial base of the soil that worms and decaying plant materials have worked so hard to create. Just add to it. Let the worms till for you, all the while enriching with castings.

My favorite chapter to read was “Flavor.” Like much of Peter Mayle’s, A Year in Provence, it’s a hunger-inducing collection of pages including humerus anecdotes, brother Elliot, chemistry lessons, sharing a garden with a seven-year-old, fruit-stealing drunks, and tossed-off food-descriptions like “Finger-sized slices of parsnips roasted in olive oil and salt with the sugars caramelizing on the outside is one of the finest dishes known to man.” I loved A Year in Provence because it was a mix-up of real life, funny characters, stories well-told, self-deprecation, and descriptions of sumptuous, but simple foods. I like Michele’s book for the same reasons.

Though, having a kid, I could relate to many passages in “The Kids” chapter.

I do have a criticism though. I’ve read reviews of her book on other garden blogs, and most politely say that it is refreshing to read a gardening novel with no photos, diagrams or illustrations. I missed photos! I’m a visual person (aren’t all men?). I’ve seen photos of Michele’s country garden, which is kickass, you know, for a vegetable garden and would have made for great photos. I wanted photos as luscious as her words. Besides, isn’t there some research data that proves a picture is worth a thousand words? Writers wouldn’t have to work so hard if they used pictures. If I were a writer, I’d do only picture books.

And I’d have like to have read more about her kids Milo, Georgia and Grace. Especially Grace. I believe I have my own version of Grace here, one that can also eat her own weight in Mac & Cheese each day. Maybe the next book will be Grow the Good Kid.

I’ve really enjoyed reading Michele’s writings & rantings over at Garden Rant for years now. She is a great writer that happens to choose to write about vegetable gardening. In real life, she’s a political speech writer and freelance journalist.

Michele’s been out here a couple times for Garden Walk Buffalo and is a big fan of the Walk and of Buffalo. Rumor has it she’ll be here in May, at Urban Roots, to do a book show & tell and signing. I’ll have to keep you posted.

And if none of the above works for the back cover of her next book, here’s more:
“A master of the genre!”
“A page-turner!”
“Other books will be compared to this forever!”
“She’s outdone even herself!”
“Every gardener should own this book!”
“She’s pretty hot for a fifty-year-old gardener.”

I have a long-time garden blog, a popular garden on America's largest garden tour, and have co-written a book on garden design titled, "Buffalo-Style Gardens: Create a Quirky, One-of-a-Kind Private Garden with Eye-Catching Designs" When I'm not doing all that, I am an advertising designer always out looking to design things to promote your business. Look me up at #jcharlier.

0 comments on “"Grow the Good Life", or, "My Life with Vegetables"

  1. Sounds like a good book, will have to look for a copy


  2. Anonymous

    I enjoyed your review. I hope to meet Michele at some point, she sounds like a really fun person, judging by her writing on Rant and what you quoted here.


  3. Cottage Touch,I did enjoy the book. It was especially good to have met the author a few times and be able to read it in her “voice.”gardenwalkgardentalk,You can be sure when Michele comes to town for a public outing, I'll be promoting it. She's smart, funny and a great writer. Why, she's one of the top four writers on GardenRant.com!


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