When we first started installing the 52 raised beds that would become the Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Garden a curious neighbor stopped by and asked if we were putting in a cemetery. Rather than leading to our demise, the garden saved us. It recalibrated our lives so that we were more in-tune with the present. What we came to call “seasonal living”.

There are so many lessons to learn from the garden, which is why we were so thrilled when our friend, Margaret Roach, decided to go back to her roots for her latest book.  She’s provided us with an excerpt that will have you aching to get your hands dirty.

from The Backyard Parables

Once upon a time, a faithless twenty-five-year-old got down on her knees and fashioned her first garden. It was a sorry thing, but also a matter of great pride, this perennial checkerboard imprinted on a sloping bit of ground outside her family’s kitchen door.

As if pricking through a preprinted canvas pattern of counted cross-stitch, she populated the tiny strip of inadequately cultivated soil with an equal number of two kinds of perennials. Half were low-growing, succulent rosettes called Sempervivum, or hens and chicks, houseleeks, or live-forever—since as she tucked these first roots in, she unwittingly entered a world where all the characters masquerade behind multiple nicknames, and where art and science collide so that there’s no straight answer to any- thing (which miraculously somehow makes everything perfectly clear). The others were Kniphofia (a.k.a., red-hot pokers, torch lilies, or tritomas) a tall thing with vaguely obscene wand-like flowers striped in hot sunset shades.

She did not leave proper space between, nor note the light conditions either plant required. But for that moment, there was peace on earth, and trust in her heart.

In the practice of blind devotion to living things called gardening, that is where I got started: assuming a posture of supplication and gridding out an alternating arrangement of plants that should never be combined, but what did I know? Just one thing, really:

I knew that the postage-stamp-sized color photos on their plastic nursery labels had made lust rise up in me. Over all the other choices at the garden center where I had innocently wandered that morning, seeking a distraction from things at home, I wanted these beauties for myself.

This is how it begins: with the deadly sin of lust. Then you kneel a lot, and when you finally get up again, you’re not meek or humble quite yet but filled with the germ of another transgression—that of pride, which is said to be the worst of all and often the root of the others. Like the knees of your trousers, you will never quite recover.


What has your time in the garden taught you?  Please tell us in the comment section below


You can purchase the book by clicking here

And learn more than you ever thought you could about gardening by visiting Margaret’s website, A Way to Garden

by Josh and Brent

Reader Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Diana Jones

That no matter how I try to make the garden do what I want it to…….it somehow has a way of doing what it wants to, and looking so good to all who come by and I get the credit! Sorry garden but I do accept the praise of your hard work….


I spent six weeks in Jos, Nigeria a few years ago. I was fortunate to be there at the the onset of the rainy season. Vegetable gardens sprang up everywhere, seemingly overnight. Every spare inch of land suddenly became a home garden. The excitement was palpable; the smell of human waste being applied as fertilizer was thick. These people require their gardens to survive. I play with my home garden. I love digging in the soil-the texture, the scents, the excitement of seeing seedlings pop out. The entire process is a joy, but, I’ve never had to rely on it to live and I’m not sure I want to. We are so very spoiled and more fortunate than I ever realized.
Be happy, be healthy, enjoy whatever type gardening you do.

kym denes

Two years ago my 26 year old son nearly died of H1N1. He had always teased me about gardening. When he recovered he had very limited strengh. I took him to the local nursery and told him to pick out a tree. It would be planted as a new beginning. He took home his lemon tree, planted it, care for it. As the tree grew stronger so did he. Today, he has a garden of many trees each of them like he is now.

Lara Brown

My garden has taught me that the “perfect” garden I dream about in spring will look nothing like the end result.
The garden in my mind in March and April is perfect, and paparazzi will lean over my fence and take pictures.The garden in my backyard in May is full of hope and burdened with the tomato cages and bean poles towering above my tiny sprouts. The plants in my garden in August are raging wild things that have thrown off their cages and wound themselves up the garage walls daring me to try to take ripe items.
Spring is full of quiet dreams of dainty, well planned gardens, and yet I laugh more in the summer, and feel more kinship with my ungainly army of vegetables and flowers. My garden has taught me to ignore other people’s definition of perfect and relish my own nurturing chaos.
(This year I am going to keep the beans off the garage it scares the neighbors to see me wobbling around that far off the ground.)


Parables… you have inspired me to get my own copy of this book (from our locally owned cooperative bookstore, of course). I can get my hands in the book… until I can get my hands in the dirt.


I never realized how much I needed my garden until I went without one for the last two years while our property has been entrenched in a crazy remodel project. But it was a great reprieve, in which I was allowed to spend my time reading about gardening, sourcing new seeds, learning new things from all of you amazing gardeners out there – especially Kingsolver’s book (which resonated deeply inside of me) and while I didn’t get to garden, I decided to do what I could to reconnect and began making all of our own breads, tortillas, mustards, dressings…anything I could make from scratch – I did. And I started gleaning people’s gardens and canning and putting up wonderful jams and jellies and salsas and sauces. So, while my garden limbo was initially a bit heartbreaking, I am so in love with the break I took and the things I learned. And while the final garden cannot go in this summer, I warned out crew that come spring, temporary raised beds were going in and there would be hell to pay if anyone stomped on anything or dropped concrete or nails anywhere near them! Anyhoo, thanks for the continued inspiration and for another wonderful source of gardening wisdom.


Both my husband and I first started our small garden about 4 years ago. Now we have property Upstate New York and have Wild Blueberries on the property. We have planted more fruit trees and different varies of blueberries. Our next project is enclosing at least an acre so we can start a chemical free garden for herbs, vegetables and fruits. I miss kneeling in the garden, smelling the morning air and listening to nature awake from her evenings dreams.


My three decades of gardening have taught me so many connections and yearly I learn new lessons on weathering adversity, respecting limits, nurturing the vulnerable and enjoying the bounty. Hopefully your readers all know that Margaret Roach will be at the Arts Center of the Capital Region Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. As if the creator of A Way to Garden was not enough reason to spend $8 for members or $10 for non-members, Katrina Kenison also shares the stage.


Thank you for this beautiful piece and recommendation! Whenever I am in a garden I reflect on the beauty of life and death… Even bringing a little piece of garden inside our home makes my heart sing and dance! 🙂 <3 Thank you very much also for all your wonderful gardening tips and stories, Josh & Brent!


My Dad is an avid gardener and while I don’t possess his green thumb (yet) I am working on it. We live on the same street so frequently “check out” each others gardens. Sometimes my plants are doing better and I have a bit of satisfaction that my thumb is finally turning green. My Dad turns 80 this May. Sharing his love of gardening keeps us close and provides memories I will treasure forever.


The garden teaches: there is only so much that I can control… and it’s not much 🙂 But the outcome may be better than I intended or imagined.

Christie Hufstedler Boyd

My family home was destroyed by the April ’11 tornadoes in Alabama. Then on Ash Wednesday last year, a tornado hit our home in Rome, Georgia. The plaster is cracked, there was some other damage to the house but the devastating thing was the loss of 112 trees. Our house was named Twin Magnolias. Now we have a single magnolia grandi flora left and it is huge. It is one of the largest magnolias in the state of Georgia.

Among all the wreckage, I found peace in planting my flower beds for the year toward the end of March. It was beautiful this summer. Our beautiful yard, the most beautiful yard in our neighborhood breaks my heart and many of our neighbors whenever we go outside or come home. It will never be as majestic in our lifetime as it was. But, my flower beds brings a smile to my face, joy in my heart, and peace to my soul.


Patience….when I first planted flower bulbs I would go out and dig the dirt to see if they were coming up yet. Also that you have to try, and maybe fail, but you will learn from it….my brussel sprouts were the size of small pearls. But it was still fun to try!


I’m planning on planting my very first garden this spring. I’ve got my seed catalog and my dreams–for the moment. (And lots of volunteers to help eat whatever I manage to coax from the earth.)

James Ellis

I wish I were going to be there when summer comes to see your smile! I do remember my first garden.. when the three daughters were toddlers.. we put ducklings in the garden to grow with the veggies.. those three little girls continue to love..no LOVE gardening like their 70 year old Dad!.. Soon it will be spring again.. and we will all four plant beautiful nourishing gardens for our families.. wonderful to be among you all right here as well! Thanks J, B and Farmer John for the delight you bring us all.

Chris Lindstrom

Time in the garden is a thrill for me! The delicious anticipation as the weather warms and the day finally arrives to plant the seedlings. Hauling buckets of water up the hill is like presenting a sacrifice for good harvest. The pure joy that comes from picking, cooking, eating and sharing the bounty is almost spiritual in nature. Bring on spring!

Amy Wexler

I never put a seed in the ground until I turned 40 and retired from service. That was three years ago. It has been everything she said and more…


In my garden I feel complete as I watch the seed begin in the earth and grow into something we can eat for dinner. I am amazed every day as I watch the plants grow, bloom and produce. I love to plant the flowers that bring on the bees and the insects that help my plants to be healthy and productive. Every single day in my garden I am astounded at the beauty of growing things and am grateful for my ability to help them in their endeavor to provide us with their fruit.

sue t.

It has taught me to try try again. It has taught me to believe in what I’m a doing and most of all, it has taught me that a single seed can bring great joy. sue t.

Vitta Fernandez

Gardening has taught me patience and satisfaction. I start everything from seed…so, I need a LOT of patience sometimes and it is so gratifying to finally eat that tomato or pepper or that perfect head of Pak Choy that you decided to finally use in that stir fry you attempted. Somehow, eating something that you have grown yourself is utterly delicious. I am NOT an expert gardener, by any means, but this year i, at least, will become a bit better than just a novice. Every year, it gets a little better and I learn a bit more. And, this year, will be the first time that I have decided to keep a detailed journal, with pictures and seed packets…so that next year I will be even better!

The first few paragraphs are intriguing and as soon as I post this I will order the book. The writing is wonderful!


Her writing is absolutely beautiful. I really enjoyed when she was the editor of Martha Stewart Living. She brought such a passion to the magazine.