Dear Margaret: a Letter to a Gardening Friend (+ Giveaway)

Dear Margaret: Those two words are how each “letter” in this new series will begin, whenever I write here to my friend Margaret Roach of A Way to Garden. Installments will include a letter from each of us, unplanned and posted simultaneously to our websites. It will be interesting to see how our correspondence develops and what similarities and differences occur between our two gardens: one urban and the other rural.

The first instalment coincides with the launch of Margaret’s new book — giveaway details can be found at the end of this post.

Margaret’s corresponding “Dear Gayla” letter for this week can be seen here.


Dear Margaret,

Attached to my home is a south-facing, unheated porch that I use as a cold greenhouse of sorts. In the winter I store many potted half-hardy plants there with the most tender of the bunch huddled together against the brick of the house where they can benefit from a bit of passive heat. I long to line the windows along the east side in bubble wrap for added insulation, but the porch faces the street and there are already so many off-kilter things about us that sully our reputation locally as-is. Covering the windows in packaging materials may be one step too far. When it comes to the neighborhood sensibility, I generally try to keep my outward appearance on the side of eccentric, avoiding the line that crosses into street weirdo. Our previous neighborhood was full of freaks and weirdoes so we blended in easily.

The other morning I stepped into the greenhouse (I need to find another name for this space as it is not a “real” greenhouse) to check up on my plants and was horrified to discover that winter had well and truly arrived. It was my own fault; I have a bad tendency to push things further than they should go. I’d been half-bragging for months about how well even the most tender Pelargoniums (scented geraniums) were doing out there in the cold. They were flourishing and some were even blooming. I got cocky. Truth be told, we haven’t had a proper, true north winter in years and I was starting to believe that those days were over. I’d become too bold. I didn’t protect things as I should have, telling myself it wasn’t worth the bother. And then I woke up one day to find dozens of potted plants frozen.


So there I was, a frantic octopus person, scurrying about, filling my arms with pots in an attempt to get them out of their frozen world and onto any empty surface I could find. The hallway, dining room, and living room quickly turning into a temporary, albeit light-less, plant nursery. In these moments I move too quickly and dangerously as if the seconds I have shaved off will make any difference at all. They won’t. What’s dead is already dead.

The funny thing is that in the midst of those crazy, frenetic, freak out minutes I had a clear and quiet thought, “Water. Winter. This is water in winter.

The relationship between water and winter has been spinning in my mind since I sat down to read the first chapter [entitled "Water (Winter)"] of your new book ["The Backyard Parables: Lessons on Gardening, and Life”]. I had only recently read your words and now here they were, perfectly, aptly demonstrated. We are all made of water. My plants’ cells are full of this vital element and it was this water, now frozen and expanding their cells, that had put them in harms way. Or, err, the cause of their trouble was in fact because I (their keeper) had left them — these tender plants that have not devised some special adaptation to having the water inside their cells frozen — in an unheated room in the middle of winter when the possibility of freezing was always imminent.

Of course, as long as I have been gardening I have known this. Plants are full of water; some more than others. Some are adapted to being frozen and thawed and frozen and thawed, over and over again. Others aren’t. Some plants like the hardy cacti that defy our expectations from this family of fleshy, water-filled plants, survive outside year-round by shrivelling up for the winter, letting go of some of that water in order to survive the freeze (I only suspect this is why they do that as I have never looked it up to be sure). Come to think of it, a lot about gardening seems to revolve around observing water. What happens when there is too much and it sticks around for too long? What happens when it is heated? When there is not enough? The answers to these questions depend on the plant and we plan our gardens accordingly.

This brings to mind another connection between winter and water. I was thinking about these last few nonwinters that we have had in the north and the many times the two of us have groaned and moaned via email and Skype about the resulting lack of water. How a lack of snow leads to a lack of spring showers, leads to a drought so severe in summer that we have both come to reconsider some of the perennial plant choices we have made. Out with anything that needs babying and moisture and in with anything rough and tough that can tolerate long, dry spells! These thoughts — these connections between the seasons and the garden — do make at least a little headway in helping me to appreciate the nuisance of winter (freezing outside; dry inside), even if like you say, our species isn’t well adapted to it. Like the pelargoniums, I seem to be less adapted than most.

I know all of this about water, but it’s always in these small moments where I mess up that some old understanding comes alive and clicks in a new way. All because I read your words and then the winter kicked me in the ass and let me know who is in charge here.

- Gayla

p.s. Your writing in this book is beautiful. And there is more truth than I can begin to address here.

Margaret’s corresponding “Dear Gayla” letter for this week can be seen here.

Margaret – thought you would like this squash!


I’m giving away THREE COPIES of Margaret Roach’s newly published gardening memoir, “The Backyard Parables: Lessons on Gardening, and Life.”

There are 2 ways to win: 1. Comment below telling me, a lesson about water that you learned through gardening. As always, the words, “Count me in!” will work as an entry as well.

2. Sign up for the email newsletter (it’s free). If you’re already on the list, you’re already entered!

For this contest we are able to ship to Canada, USA, and the UK!

On Friday, February 8, 2013 at midnight EST I will use random [dot] org to draw two winners from the comments (below) and one winner from the newsletter list (sign up here).

Winners will be informed by email and I will post a follow-up once they are confirmed.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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175 thoughts on “Dear Margaret: a Letter to a Gardening Friend (+ Giveaway)

  1. Gardening in suburban Phoenix.. its that time of year that you feel blessed to live here. Oranges, grapefruits, lemons and beautiful salad greens. But then before you know it, its August and your watermelons have literally exploded due to the heat. Water is the one thing that makes life in the summer possible. Its always a careful balance, and a challenge to get it right. I’ve learned how deep watering of pomegrante trees in their early years is so important to get them through the dry and hot summer. Count me in!

  2. Oh, water. I’ve learned that it is heavy. Several seasons of hoisting cans full down dusty rows in my community garden (no hoses allowed) – that lesson will never leave me.

    Looking forward to these letters – a lovely idea!

  3. I’m hoping to learn a lot about water in the coming growing season; we recently moved into a building that has a big beautiful rooftop deck, perfect for a container veggie garden, but with no existing water hookup! I’m thinking of getting a barrel to collect rainwater, and beyond that, hoping my neighbor with the hose on his balcony is willing to share. :)

    • If you have an eaves that you can hook a rainbarrel up to (and it is safe to have that weight) then you must, must, must. You will be so glad that you did. I never had one on my roof and always wished we had because it would have made SUCH a big difference.

  4. I so look forward to reading this book! But, water. I’m going to echo another commenter, and say that water is HEAVY.

    Living in an apartment, we garden in containers on our 10′x10′ terrace. While I think I inherited quite the green thumb from my grandma, the boyfriend is the true gardener in the household–with an insane green thumb–and he keeps it so lush and over-run with plants. In the beginning I couldn’t believe how much water it required. Especially during the Florida summers.

    With no hose or running water, you realize just how much water is required. Save for a drenching rain, (and oh, how we LOVE those days!) water comes from the bathtub, carried out 5 gallons at a time. The amount of gallons required for our relatively small container garden continually surprises me.

    We recently acquired a 10 gallon rain barrel, but still, the boy mostly keeps it full via the bathtub haul. It’s handy because I can scoop water out into the cans to water, without having to carry or pour from the 5 gallon jug myself.

    Obviously, we long for the day we’ll have a backyard to garden in, complete with irrigation. Actually, he longs for a full-on farm, while I’d be absolutely giddy with a garden like yours. ;)

    • This sounds very familiar. I gardened on the roof of my former apartment building for about 15 years with no outdoor tap… Slogging several heavy, sloshing buckets through the living room and outside on the hottest days of the summer when it was too hot for life but I had to keep my plants alive… now that I have a hose again I still water by hand but it’s a whole lot easier than that ever was! Hang in there! It was hard work but worth it.

  5. I’ve learned that water is both miraculous and highly destructive. Nothing like a good summer rain to perk up the garden (especially after drought), but on the prairie that can all too quickly turn to hail and suddenly all your hard work is shredded/flattened in minutes. Such is life…

  6. Water is a heat sink. I have learned to fill plastic milk jugs with water and put them around my tomatoes plants in my passive solar greenhouse. During the day sunlight heats up the water in the jugs, at night, when the temperature cools down, the water radiates the heat back to the plants, keeping them warm.
    You could use this idea Gayla, in your south facing, pseudo greenhouse. Plastic milk jugs or some other big container filled with water wouldn’t be visible from the street. The neighbours would not be able to confirm their notion that you are a weirdo :)

  7. The summer monsoons in Vegas are a mixed blessing. Mostly, they bring a blessed relief to the oppressive heat (at least if you prefer hot and humid to hellish and dry), but sometimes the rain falls so fast and hard that it washes everything away. I certainly lost a few things last summer. If you find a little pot with a dragon fruit looking lost out there in the desert, it’s probably mine. Anyhow, please count me in.

  8. I am too far away (Tasmania, Australia) for the book draw but LOVE the correspondence between 2 garden loving eccentrics and adore the interplay of your words. Love it, and will be avidly reading your letters as long as you are willing to share them :).

  9. As a bedding plant grower I’ve learned something about the water frozen in plant cells. I think the damage is actually done in the process of thawing. If I goof up and don’t cover plants that I have growing outside on some late spring night,
    I find that if I can thaw them out with water before the sun hits them, very often damage can be avoided. The trick often is in finding a nearby hose that isn’t frozen as well!

    • This makes sense. Similar to the damage that is done to terracotta pots that are left outside and frozen. It’s in the heaving and not necessarily the freezing… which incidentally is only destructive when the pot (and soil inside it) is wet.

  10. Count me in for the give away.
    Water … what have I learned about it … it very often goes where you don’t want it to go, so don’t plant there, unless you want the plants super saturated or drowned.

  11. About water – that in winter, I sprinkle a bit into plants that I think are dormant in the cold (as in my unheated garage). I left an azalea in a pot in the garage and thought it was dead until I noticed it’s setting buds. I just started giving it a bit of water along with the tulips I potted up for my front porch.

  12. My biggest lesson about water through gardening came through my few years of seed starting experiences. I used to start seeds in milled peat. After a few weeks in, this peat would often become hydrophobic–not accept water anymore. But there would always be a greenish layer of moss on top too, making it look like the peat was holding water just fine. I’d come home to dead, dried up little seedlings in wet-looking peat, vexed by not knowing what was wrong. I read up on it, learned what was wrong, and simultaneously, a friend gave me my first package of coconut coir mix. Lesson learned: coir is far more forgiving, rehydrates well, and it’s sustainable too! I’m hard-coir now!

  13. I learned that even garlic and potatoes need to be watered when it rains less than an inch in a month. We had a very dry June last year. I’m hoping the rains are a bit steadier this year.

  14. Moving from a yard that had sandy soil to a yard with heavy clay I have learned that you have to water for your soil type. The drip emitters I had on all my drip irrigation for my garden in the sand turned my clay soil into a puddle mess.

    • Yes! And I am dealing with sand for the first time and have learned that soaker hoses do not work as it all flows straight down rather than out like a wick.

  15. I’ve learned that some of my houseplants plants tell me when they need water by going slightly limp, then 2 hours later start perking up after being quenched. No one a week routine for them.

  16. Count me in! I love to garden and would love to have this book not really for myself but, for my DH who is learning to garden.
    Water…. find yourself some cheap barrels and start collecting rain water. Best thing we ever did for our one acre (more or, less) garden.

  17. Will have to think about lessons from water. I do really enjoy hand watering most days. I find it very relaxing. Only occasionally will I set up a sprinkler if it is very dry or I am very busy.

  18. I’ve learned that stashing my Meyer lemon and fig tree in the garage and then forgetting to water them for way too long, is a very good way to kill them. Drat!

  19. Neither my husband nor I are really gardeners, although I’ve always wanted to try and and grow things. We’re slowly but surely trying a few new things every year. What I learned about water last summer is that mulching really helps to retain water and curb weeds. I knew that was true before, but I put it into practice last summer, and sure enough…

    I’m terrible at remembering to water the garden, and after reading Gaia’s Garden, I’d really like to try to incorporate some permaculture principles in my gardening so that water gets retained without having to put a lot of tap water into the garden. It would be nice to be able to go away for a couple of weeks without worrying about everything being scorched and dead when we come back!

    Thanks for a great blog (and your books)! And Margaret’s book sounds great too – I’ll be reading it whether I win it in your contest or not. :)

  20. Seedlings need water, and lots of it, but not too much. The balance is the real thing that I have learned. And of course that balance changes with every type of seedling.

  21. I’ve learned that water coming from the tap in Regina isn’t exactly friendly to plants. Must let it sit for a day before using it. Poor plants.

  22. My grandmother often had colorful coleus rooting in water on her windowsill. I know she sometimes started them from seed too, as I remember how tiny the seeds were. The thing about placing a cutting in water that I find fascinating is how long a plant will thrive with nothing more added; simply water. I love that we learn not only from our own experiences, but shared information, often passed along from Grandma. Thanks for sharing.

  23. Count me in … my first real (experiential) lesson about water was the day I inadvertantly learned mulching helps stop evaporation and keeps water in the ground longer … learned it on the fly my first year … tired and happy I posted on a yougrowgirl forum that I’d just put the last of my little tomato plantlets in the ground … phew … then someone asked if I had mulched … google google … back to the garden I went with a carload of newsprint (and bags of compost to cover newsprint so my plot still looked like a garden and not some sort of dump) and I glad I did because where I didn’t mulch that summer, I had to spend extra time watering! A little more work at the onset saved time & water!

    Agreed – water is heavy AND now when it rains – I am really happy!

  24. What I’ve learned over and over again is what my grandfather always said: water always wins–respect it and treat it like the precious, limited resource it is. I have learned to NEVER curse a rainy day–what’s rotten for tomates is great for lettuce :)

  25. Count me in please! I don’t have any water stories, I just wanted to say you’d be a cool neighbour to have. Go ahead and use the bubble wrap.

  26. Love Margaret and would love this book! I don’t have any revelations about WATERING, but am happy to give it some thought.

  27. Count me in! My lazy watering practices have to change. This year I plan to write on the calendar when to do it so it just gets done.

  28. Count me in! I always knew that water played an essential role in the success of a garden, but over the years I’ve learned first hand that you can’t control what falls from the sky and too much is almost worse than not enough! Because of that lesson I now understand why it’s important to have a raised bed for the veggies!

  29. Count me in!
    I learned that when I brought plants inside for the winter I was killing them by over-watering. Less sunshine means less water necessary too. Makes sense right? I have a hibiscus tree that has been indoor/outdoor for 4 years so far so I think I’ve finally got it.
    I’ve just come back with all sorts of seeds from the Guelph Organic Conference and i am so in the mood for planning! (looked for the Mennonite Orange tomato to no avail. Chose the Kellogg’s Breakfast one instead. Fingers crossed.)

  30. Count me in!
    I am excited to head the garden at my preschool and childcare center where we are going to learn how water is for play and growing!

  31. We usually have more than enough water here in the Pacific Northwest so raised beds are beneficial for drainage. In the spring we place soaker hoses in the many beds -both perennial and annual. Makes watering so much easier. The three rain barrels are also helpful. Tomatoes are planted in large pots under the eaves so risk of blight is lessened. Water in moderation is good!

  32. Gardening in the country has given me an appreciation of how precious water is. In the city, if I needed to, I could rescue every plant by watering like crazy; I’d have a big water bill at the end of the season but that was about it. There were rarely water restrictions, and even when restricted you were still allowed to fill a watering can from the tap and water plants, just no hose. Water was a bit like electricity: flick a switch, turn on the tap, and poof – an unlimited supply!

    Now that I have a well, the supply is somewhat limited. I’m grateful for the approximately two hours per day I can use the hose to water; writing this makes it sound like a lot of water, and it is, but trying to keep 6000 square feet of edibles alive and thriving during six weeks of drought is a challenge, even with two hours/day. I have always been conservation minded, but the potential scarcity of water and its impact on food production has made me even more conscious about saving water around the house.

  33. I learned that you actually have to water plants, especially newly planted ones, in order for th to stay alive (I’m in Colorado so it’s exacerbated). This looks like an extremely interesting book, so count me in! Thanks for doing this, by the way!


  34. The biggest (okay, the only) lesson I’ve learned is that some plants just need to be left alone – especially local varieties. Most green things are simply not as thirsty as I am. Sadly, many plants have died a sad, soggy death just to teach me this one thing.

  35. Count me in, please! The book sounds very interesting, and I’m looking forward to reading your correspondence.

  36. I learned about Rain Gardens and that some plants better tolerate periodic flooding for a day or two, in addition to dry periods. Around here, that includes the Coneflower, Black Eyed Susan, Wild Iris and Blue Flag Iris. Cheers!

  37. I’ve been collecting water from my rain gutters for years, every since my well pump seized up 20+ years ago. I’m a wannabe gardener, unlike both my father who was a fabulous vegetable gardener and my mother who is a fabulous landscape artist by habit, and I have followed Margaret for a few years now. I have learned over the years that my rhubarb loves water, and that rain is not nearly enough to satisfy my ever growing patch. I love to water it, though the rhubarb doesn’t produce thick stocks like my friends.

  38. Oh, and I have just subscribed and I am looking forward to more inspiration for my wannabe habit. I live in Fairbanks, AK, a challenge with short summers though with an abundance of sunlight.

  39. Was just transplanted from CA to SC and looking forward to growing in the South. Just signed up for your newsletter having learned about you on Margaret’s site. You both have a way with words – much looking forward to reading and learning more.

  40. Water has my respect. There is no controlling its appearance or its disappearance. Water always finds a way and will go where it wants to go. Like clean air and good soil water is a most valuable resource.

  41. I’ve learned that unlike most plants which can be reveved after lack of water, rosemary and jasmine CANNOT!!!
    Please count me in!

  42. I’ve learned my well cant handle watering my garden. Life is tough during a drought. Love your books! Enjoying my nasturtium blossom vinegar! What a color!

  43. Last year I learned that just because a plant can survive longer-than-suggested periods without water, doesn’t mean it will do so without effecting the food quality.

    Duh. But it was very well illustrated. I got tomatoes, but tiny, very dry tomatoes.

  44. Water is a must when germinating seed, I am still learning the hard way to find the right balance as it’s either too much and too little. :(

  45. I have lots to learn about water, I’m trying to figure out the magic amount for all the plants in my garden to thrive.

  46. I’ve learned not to love irrigation systems. Automatic watering, gives my garden clients a false sense of security; they are lulled into thinking they don’t have to be concerned with how much water their gardens are getting (too much or too little.) Irrigation systems often waste water, and aren’t the best subsitute for a vigilant, participatory gardener. Roots become shallower(especially trees) and many bulbs do NOT like the summer wet that irrigation imposes on them. Ah, well, some clients aren’t prepared for the vigilance, so an irrigation system is the best solution, but still….. if I could convience them otherwise, I would…. There’s also something to be said for planting what can tough it out, only to be watered in the droughtiest of droughts….

  47. My trial with water is learning to remember it, that is, learning to remember to check on my house plants each day to see if they need water rather than just once a week.

  48. Water…….we are about 10″ below what we should have had this past season, and things are not looking good for spring. Drought or too much rain is always a problem and we never know what Mother Nature is going to do. I am praying for a normal rain fall this year….please.

  49. I learned about the slope of my backyard, which is barely noticeable, but when water pools in heavy rains it runs and settles in specific areas. I lost a lovely collection of hyacinth bulbs because i was not paying attention to where the lowest spot was. Bulbs rotted because they had no way to dry out. I am paying attention now, believe me.

  50. I learned that as much as water sustains and is necessary for plants (and all living things), it can also lead to rot if left in stagnant air – as I sadly learned from my first orchid.

  51. In my Shangri-La garden I do not have irrigation so I have to manually water my plants, grass, herbs, fruits and vegetables. It takes a lot of time and work but it is very necessary to make sure everything in my garden thrives. This year I plan to install irrigation throughout to give myself more time planting new items!!

  52. Water in the form of rain, which used to be plentiful in SE Tennessee during the summer, is becoming precious. I’ve come to resent that I now have to water my garden on most days through July and August. Perhaps what I really need to learn about water is how to build a drip irrigation system, so I can water the garden simply by turning on the hose.

    Anyway, count me in!! ;)

  53. I have learned the hard way that you can never water enough in a hot summer in Kansas! The last few summers we have had weather consistently in the 100 degree F area, and it’s just awful. So everything dies since I’m usually a water conscious person. However, this summer will not be the same – I will water as much as my little plants need!

  54. Conservation! I’ve learned that during our summer heat waves, water is best saved for my raised beds and that a crispy brown lawn is no big deal.

  55. I’ve learned it is silly to pay for water when it is so easy to capture rainwater with rain barrels connected to the gutter system.

  56. I start everything from seed and all the longer season and less hardy seeds I start inside……I have a little attached greenhouse as part of my tiny house, a great heavy metal shelving unit with growlights…and a couple of heat pads.

  57. We’ve been in our new house for about a year now, and I’m slowly getting familiar with the wet and dry zones in our yard. I hope to one day landscape everything with these areas in mind.

  58. Count me in! The most valuable lesson I’ve learned about water is to make sure to pick your tomatoes BEFORE a heavy rain, even if they could use another day to ripen. Otherwise you have many split cherry tomatoes!

  59. Water is the closest thing to meditation I manage in the garden, and infinitely soothing. I drag the hoses around and feel like a good mother to all of my babies outside the reach of the irrigation system. It is also deeply satisfying to see the rain fall on the parched earth in August. Could have used a LOT more of that last year.

  60. I’m not a big fan of “winter water” ….snow….when I have to get to work and hate navigating the scary roads. BUT, I do love to have deep layers of it several times during winter. The garden seems better after a nice cozy nap under a snow blanket.

  61. Currently trying to diagnose some houseplants with yellowing leaves – is it too much water? Not enough? Not the right amount in relation to the extra sun of winter? I often second guess myself when watering.

  62. pls count me in.
    living in the pacific northwest 40 mins by ferry north of vancouver bc my challenge with water is having plants & bulbs rot off from our annual winter rainfall. potted plants i put against fences & under eves to lesson the impact of the constant wetness.

  63. It is really hard to have a garden without an outdoor spigot or a water hose but it can be done.

    Count me in please.

  64. I’ve learned a lot about water just reading this page and comments. I’ve also learned to be very careful with water. It’s is so precious. Thanks.

  65. I just ordered and received your new book last week “Easy Growing” which I have been enjoying reading and looking at the great pictures which make me forget that its snowing outside here in London, ON. I have been community gardening for quite a few years but have a lot to learn I just signed up for a 10 week gardening series with the Master Gardeners. I would love to win the book you are offering in this newsletter.

  66. Every year we learn more about water…too much, too little…how long my rainbarrels will last before empty and waiting for the next rain….
    I think I need one more at least to make it between rains.

  67. By growing everything from bromeliads to gingko in indoor pots, I have learned that there is no such thing as “water once a week”. It all depends on humidity, sunlight, plastic vs. clay pot, soil type, and genus. Talk about a learning curve!

  68. This year I was given two phalaenopsis orchids as gifts. Now I am learning very new things about water and humidity. So far they have done well–at least I think they are doing well!–but my apartment is very dry. I was just in Brazil and the way orchids grow in Amazonas and the way they grow orchids in Sao Paulo were revelations. I wonder if I can recreate the humidity in my bathroom with a grow light? Can they last until summer when I can hang them outside? The crazy things we do for our plants and their need for unique growing conditions!

  69. I moved to a new property in April 2012… A very sandy property. I left a property with clay, I knew how to deal with that, but sand? Yikes! It was a dry summer, but we managed with frequent but light waterings and we didn’t lose a thing. Water is precious, especially when you are on a well.

  70. When I was quite young, my mother taught me that the best time to sow seeds or transplant outdoor plants or plant anything in the outdoor garden is when it is raining or had just stopped raining. Something about the quality of fresh rainwater made for a successful acclimation and future flourishing!

  71. Last year, I learned that despite being labelled as “drought-tolerant”, some plants didn’t do too well because they could’ve used at least a watering or two during the dry spell we had last summer.

  72. Count me in!
    Gardening has taught me, the once you have sown the land, it’s something you crave to do each year.

  73. My partner and I bought our first home last spring and since it is an old house, one of the first fixer upper chores we did was to disconnect the gutter downspouts from the collapsed drain to the sewer system and set up rain barrels to collect the water instead. We were pretty stoked about being so handy and excited to use that saved water in our brand new veggie garden beds too (tore out the front lawn when the lead service water pipe was replaced). What I learned though was that I had no idea how much water falls from the sky… It doesnt eem like so much when it is sprinkling and disappears underground. But last summer we had a lot of heavy thunder showers, and in the first storm those two rain barrels were full in minutes, and water overflowing out of them all over the porch and sluicing down the front walk. We rushed back to the hardware store and got another huge barrel. Next storm too proved that we had seriously underestimated. We now have 5 200 litre barrels connects in series, and in a big storm they still overflow. It’s amazing! So this year I am going to dig a swale in the back yard to catch the overflow and try planting it with water loving swamp plants (cranberry bushes!) It is nice to know that if there is a drought we have 1000 litres of stored water to use, but like you, I think we may be getting a bit of reputation as the street weirdos in our neighbourhood!

    • Before loading up on cranberry bushes, check on the prevalence of viburnum leaf beetles in your area. V. trilobum (the American cranberry bush) is highly suspectible to them.

  74. One thing I’ve learned about water is how its presence (or lack thereof) can change the taste of what I grow within a 12-24 hour period. I’ve learned what to harvest first thing in the morning (when overnight dews have freshened the plants) vs. at the end of a hot day. For instance, all greens I gather in the am; berries I pick in the pm if I’m serving them immediately, all to maximize the taste.

  75. I have lost a few of my beautiful clay planters by carelessly leaving them outside all winter. Rookie mistake, and I immediately knew why they broke- water in winter!

  76. Count me in! The only thing I have to say about watering is how much more I enjoy it after buying a WaterRight coiled hose, thanks to Margaret’s advice.

  77. I found you from Away to Garden and I love your blog! I just moved into a new house 3 days before New Year’s, and now have a nice little garden to get outside, experiment with vege’s and nurture myself and the earth. Last year I lost my husband to a heart attack, he was only 54 and I had a hard time. So, the garden is a big part of my moving forward, but I have a lot to learn about gardening. Anyway, about your water question… I live in LA, and January had uncommonly cold nights with frost warnings. I was really surprised to find out that well watered soil can help protect plants.

  78. Here in California where it doesn’t rain enough I’ve learned that water is precious! When it does rain I put out buckets and bowls and old yogurt containers to catch every drop, then use that saved water a few weeks later to give my potted plants a drink. Love your blog and Margaret’s!

  79. I’ve learned how powerful water can be. It’s currently pushing out a retaining wall that the previous owners built here some decades ago, because a buried drainage pipe is broken somewhere up the hill from it. I’ve resisted my husband’s dire warnings about needing to dig up the pipe, because it means taking out two big old viburnums and a very happily situated Therese Bugnet rose. But now if we don’t act, I’ll lose much more.

  80. When I first started gardening. I gave to much of a good thing. Water is essential, but too much can kill just like too little. Just found this site and looks wonderful!

  81. My most recent lesson happened just last week when I noticed my toddler had turned on the outside tap. I thought I had closed off the water for the winter, but alas, I found the window well is now a HUGE solid hunk of ice – a bit worried about it coming inside and not quite sure how to get it out, but next autumn, I will be checking that tap regularly so see that my little gardening helper has not been playing with the water tap again!

  82. Winter in Texas has been very mild. This winter was no exception. I did learn that we should water before a freeze and it could help my garden. I watered my garden as normal. My loofah vines were no exception. The next morning, my loofah vines were black:( I guess I learned not to water the leaves.

  83. Count me in, please!

    I learned too much and too little water are both detrimental to new seedlings :( I am trying a new approach this year.

  84. Water is precious! After the drought we experienced in 2011, my husband has rigged up a rainwater collection system. We collect rainfall off our rooftop into a plastic water tote that is mounted onto a modified boat trailer. With the use of a pump, he can haul it to the orchard & water the fruit trees as needed. Genius!

  85. Count me in, please! And…watering in our hot, humid summers in Baltimore is kind of like a New Year’s resolution that is rarely kept. The thought of watering everything is so intimidating – I’ve learned to choose three special containers that I can commit to watering daily. And last year I tried assigning one pot to each of my three children as their responsibility to water daily. It mostly worked.

  86. Several years ago I learned a very valuable lesson about water when I left my favorite concrete planters out for the winter. They were large planters and could withstand the odd spring summer or autumn rainfall without too much trouble. But being as they had no drainage they did not take too well to the winter rain and I learned that rain (water) expands enough to break large concrete planters in half when it freezes!! Sad to lose both planters!!

  87. I was raised with a grandmother who loved to garden. She gardened flowers for pleasure and vegetables for pleasure and food. Sadly, she’s no longer with us. However, she really instilled in me a love for flowers and fresh veggies. For a few years now, I have been trying to get things started. Hopefully, this book would really help. Something I’ve learned the hard way is how easy it is to overwater. I’ve drowned a few poor plants.

  88. I’ve learned to be happy and look forward to the time when I water whether I am lugging it myself or relying on the hose or sprinkler. I water myself when I water the garden usually with, ironically, a dry gin martini. A cup of great coffee works well mornings (no, I don’t drink martinis for breakfast). It is there in those watering zen moments, I deeply appreciate the garden among many other things. Hummingbirds are always attracted to the sprinkler. Lots of little bugs like water drops. I just got a deal on a beautiful galvanized watering can. I can’t wait to use it. I can’t wait to read Margaret’s new book.

  89. I’ve learned with water that every plant is different. Some are more thirsty than others, while others aren’t. I’ve over watered and under watered plants. I’m still learning.

    BTW, count me in!

  90. Xeriscape gardening is the lesson I hope to demonstrate to visiters of a school garden I volunteer at. Plant selection is all about low maintenance supplemental water. However, I also love to see my little frog friend hanging out on the lip of my rainbarrel at home – I love love love the rain I joyfully use from that 10 yr old barrel!

  91. Count me in! Thank you so much. After years of following you and then losing you somehow for a few more, I thought about you and your site recently. Got back on and realized you were doing a new newsletter and am thrilled! So glad to share. :)

    I live in Las Vegas where it is hot, hot, hot during the summer and really dry! Watering is difficult and every year, we have to try and then rethink our strategy. It’s always changing. We’ve also found that since it is so dry and our plants aren’t used to it, we have to be careful when we get those massive downpours. They tend to flood away our plants and the plants that do stay rooted in the garden tend to get mildewy/moldy. I have a huge respect and appreciation for water, especially as a gardener in the desert. Despite the labor that goes into planning and installing a drip system, I feel they are worth it! I hope to have one this coming summer.

  92. Count me in! I learned thafrosty here is a frost and you run out and water the plants quickly before the sun touches them, you can still save them (even if they look completely frozen).

  93. Lessons learned while gardening. Number one…things want to grow. More often than not all I have to do is get out of their way.
    I have to add, I’ve been reading your blog for ages and discovered Margarets about a year ago. I love the idea of a public correspondence between the two of you. Makes me feel like we are all sitting around over tea, coffee and maybe some nice herbal scones.

  94. Water can give life or take it. Living on the coast in Miami I am reminded of that statement every year. Count me in :)

  95. Watering is a learned art– and it is an art. Many people feel that it is a chore, but I love to water plants, inside and out. It is soothing and relaxing and I know that I am giving the plant just what it needs.
    P.S. Count me in!

  96. Don’t ever plant something unless you have a detailed plan (or better yet implemented plan) for keeping it watered. Telling yourself you’ll water it without spending the time to figure out how, how often and if that will actually work for your schedule in the middle of the summer is, well, a most grevious error.
    Count me in!

  97. A Lesson in Water – Standing Water Kills
    I read your books, obsessively almost…
    Most of the content/layout of your first I know by memory.
    I’ve read the trio at least five times now. But I still make the one silly stupid beginner’s mistake…

    drainage holes.

    When will I learn? Maybe when I lose yet another poor soul to the horrible world of over-watering, or ice melt that won’t go away… This year, I can smell it… my Hens-n-Chick’s are going to bid adieu… unless I can remember to tilt their container to let the water drain out. Poor things. ?

    [Also, I'm TOTALLY subscribing! I love newsletters~]

  98. Such wonderful comments and great advice already! Since I live in a state considering hydrofracking, might I offer thoughts about the quality of water? We would never consider drinking water that has been contaminated with chemicals, or untreated direct for a river downstream from an industrial discharge site. Nor would we water our plants with such. One oxygen and two hydrogen atoms falling from the sky into my rain barrels. That’s what my plants depend on.

  99. I’m about to try gardening for the first time, so I’ve no doubt I’ll learn many things about water in the coming season. Thanks for the thoughtful post, and count me in!

  100. I’ve learned that what falls from the sky is rarely ever enough except for those few occasions when it is far too much.

  101. Moving to a house with lots of places to grow (and building a 10×4′ raised bed) means lots of watering… Pretty much year round in California (but year round growing too, not complaining!!). We have returned to the water-saving lessons of summer camp and remember “yellow is mellow” and “brown flush it down.” At about 3gallons per flush, we save a minimum of 15 gallons a DAY (more on weekends when we’re home) that I happily spend on the garden instead!

  102. I have learned (and am learning) that water and watering takes a constant presence…a constant eye on wind and rain and sun…I can sometimes take the (incorrect!) position that water ‘lasts’ and excuses/relieves this continuing attention. Not so! One of my goals this year is to pay more consistent attention, and act accordingly.

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  103. Count me in. We are having a mild winter here in central OK. Just as well as I’m stuck inside after having spinal “back” fusion surgery. Probably will have to do container plantings this year.

  104. If the leaves of my avocado plant (which I started from a grocery store avocado 4 years ago) are droopy it means that the plants in the house all need to be watered. Best watering reminder ever!

  105. I’m relatively new to gardening, and it’s amazes me how the right amount of water can make a garden flourish, but too much can destroy it all.

  106. From the garden I have learned the only water we will ever have (on this earth) is what we have right now.

  107. i pump water up the hill from Pigeon Lake about 135 ft away…and i d love to win margaret s new book.

  108. It is my delight to have found your site and I have subscribed to your newsletter. Please put my name in for the giveaway of Margaret’s new book.

  109. Count me in! I carry lots of water, but have learned that you should only water your tomato plants every other day, if it does not rain. They don’t need as much water as I thought .

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