Dear Margaret: On Our Blogging Birthdays (+ 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.

Dear Margaret,

2013 is a banner year for me. In just under 5 months I will turn 40. Hello, overnight occurrences of strangely oversized chin hair, indeterminate body aches, and an unhealthy addiction to Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” Hello, mid-life crisis.

“So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore.”

I recently watched the comedy “This is 40” and while I have no illusions that a Hollywood film will “get me” and portray a reality that I know, I walked away feeling somewhat fortunate (or was it superior?) in that while my 40th may be A LOT flabbier and is not heralded forward with a full-service catered tent party in an expensive and dully landscaped flush suburban backyard, a decade’s worth of therapy has prepared me so that it is (at least I think) a lot less CRAYZZEE.

Anyways, just last month, my Internet website, “celebrated” its 13th webiversary. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been writing here about gardening in some form for 13 years. Did you say recently that you’ve been writing about gardening for 25 years? I never expected to be doing this for such a long time, but then again, I didn’t start off with many expectations period, so its all a bit of a surprise. 13 years later and I have changed careers, written books I didn’t know were in me, and experienced a host of wonderful, frightening, and sometimes surreal things… all because I wanted to create a love letter to plants and meet likeminded people. Life is funny.

What’s harder to believe and somewhat ironic is that I’m stepping into gardening’s most popularly targeted age demographic the year that my website becomes a teenager. Oh, and it is a teenager all right. My website is full of angst. It’s a bit of a mess these days, busting with energy, but full of doubt and uncertainty; we both are. We fight sometimes and then it goes upstairs and slams its bedroom door and yells, “I hate you! I wish I’d never been born!” Other days we hang out, brush each other’s hair, tell stories, and enjoy each other’s company. What can I say? It’s a confusing time for both of us.

So I’ve been thinking about this a lot – this turning 40 the year that my website turns 13. I started the site when I was in my 20s and in many ways we have grown up together. Back then, full of youthful outrage and enthusiasm, I railed against the way that garden media seemed to be so focused on a singular demographic: white, 40+, and with a healthy disposable income. I think that a lot of my perception back then came from the way this focus informed who I thought I was supposed to be as a lover of plants (I would not become comfortable with the word gardener for many years), and who my friends — who could not relate to this interest, this obsession — thought it would lead me to become. Anytime I deigned to look at a garden magazine, what stared back at me was so fundamentally different from my own experiences that it read like a personal message, “You don’t belong here girly. Move along.

As time passed and I met lots of people who shared a similar perspective, all of that lost its meaning and I focused on what inspired me and creating my own definition.

Later still, when my first book was published and I began traveling and meeting more people in person, I came to see with clarity that age has nothing to do with it. And while class matters, even it is somewhat irrelevant and does not have to inform how the gardener gardens, or how the gardener experiences the garden. The demographic is a hopeful prediction and a fiction of sorts. It is a flawed generalization and an attempt to identify and target a market that particular parties want to exist. It’s not who we are: these indefinable lovers of plants. These mad people who do not garden to improve the value of their properties or create Fabulous Curbside Appeal! Our gardens are not a weekend hobby, a flight of fancy, or a delightful diversion. They ask, “Well then, why do you put so much into gardening? What is the point?” And we don’t know (although we also do). It’s because we just have to.

My work as a garden writer has taken lots of twists and turns over the last 13 years, but the only real difference now is that I know a lot more, have dropped the youthful arrogance and realized that I still know almost nothing. I have also, with time and experience, come to set down real, definable expectations around this thing I’ve created that consumes so much of my days. As a gardener, things have changed but much is still fundamentally the same. I have not taken ill overnight with some kind of mysterious, age-acquired illness that has transformed me into a Hollywood caricature of a gardener and while I have developed an interest in certain plants that have raised some doubt about what I perceived to be an impeccable sense of taste, I do not see myself falling into the chasm of banality that early 90s magazines once had me believe was the inevitable fate of the 40+ crowd.

I am still gardening on a budget. I am still making the most of rented spaces with the looming threat of it all coming out from under me at any moment. Yet more than ever, I put everything into it and hold almost nothing back. I did not have that kind of courage 13 years ago (to be so vulnerable) and when I look at my fellow 40+ gardening friends, I see that this is a common thread that connects us. Wherever we garden and whatever our resources; plunging our hands into the soil and making something come up from it is a requirement for living. Our gardens build up our strengths and they reveal our vulnerabilities. We need to do it. We have to do it. And we will only stop when our bodies have given up breathing air.

Happy webiversary to you, too!



Margaret’s corresponding “Dear Gayla” letter for this week can be seen here and the archive of my letters to her are located here.

Thanks to Davin Risk for drawing the pretty banner for me last night at the eleventh hour and with a headache. I couldn’t have kept at this site for the last 13 years without his incredible help and support.

If you’d like to take a little stroll down memory lane, the Internet Archive has versions of this site dating back to May 2000. There were earlier versions, but I hand coded the site and completely changed the homepage design seasonally. By May of the first year I had transitioned from changing the design radically — I’m not sure if that’s why the previous versions don’t exist.


Since this is a celebration of my work here so far, I thought I’d giveaway a prize that reflects the last 13 years.

Grand Prize: One randomly chosen winner will receive one copy of each of my published books: You Grow Girl, Grow Great Grub, Easy Growing: Organic Herbs and Edible Flowers from Small Spaces, and Drinking the Summer Garden.

Other Prizes: Four randomly chosen winners will receive one ebook bundle of Drinking the Summer Garden.

Please note that the grand prize portion is open to residents of Canada and the continental US ONLY (I can’t imagine the shipping cost elsewhere). If you live elsewhere you can still enter to win the ebook bundle.

All you have to do to enter is tell us in 1-5 words what gardening means to you. And of course, you can always just type in “count me in,” and that will count as an entry, too.

Winners will be drawn randomly after entries close at midnight on Tuesday, March 12, and informed by email.

My thanks to you all for the last 13 years!

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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260 thoughts on “Dear Margaret: On Our Blogging Birthdays (+ Giveaway)

  1. Congratulations on 13 years, Gayla. I found you at the beginning of my gardening journey, before I even had a scrap of earth to plant in, and you’ve inspired me all along! Gardening for me is a meditation, a ritual reminder that we are animals that depend on, and participate in the natural world, for better or worse.

  2. My new yard: big plans!

    Thanks for the giveaway! And congrats on your anniversary and birthday!

  3. Escape, happiness, experimentation and fulfillment. Congrats on your 13th anniversary and your upcoming 40th year! And thank you for creating such a beautiful and unique gardening blog and books.

  4. Oh Birthdays! Happy Happy Birthdays!! This while i sit out yet another winter storm mentally planning my spring and summer gardens. Hooray for a snowy winter to help with the Earth’s moisture. Cheers!

  5. Gardening for me is my connection to the earth. It’s my stress reliever. It’s my excuse to wander away from work in my office and get in the sunshine. It’s never ending experimentation and wonder. It’s a reminder of what I’m made of. :-) Plus the produce makes my meals darn tootin awesome!

  6. Gardening feeds the body and the spirit (but can be a trial to both!) It’s a respite and a meditation, a way to have contact with the world of green that often becomes merely wallpaper to our existence. It can also be a sweaty mess but it’s almost always worth it.

    ps. I WISH there were more people like you and your commenters, Gayla! “Gardener”, we in the industry are told, has become almost a dirty word and the next gens aren’t into it. Independent garden centers are in dire straits and need to figure out how we are going to reach the younger generations while still competing with box stores, grocery stores, and seasonal pop-up plant sellers. It’s a totally different game than when you first started 13 years ago.

  7. Gardening to me is a way to relax and reconnect with nature. To center myself. To be me. But more than that, it is a way to take control of my own life, what I am consuming and keep a good perspective on life. Love your blog, congrats on 13 years, WOW!

  8. It is DELICIOUS! (And challenging).

    Happy 13th year anniversary! Hooray! You are what got me into gardening in the first place. Thanks for many years of delicious fruits and vegetables. (And if it means anything, I never would have guessed you are turning forty).

  9. five words that I think and ponder and worry about every year and the answer always seems to be “no” until suddenly it is an overwhelming “yes”:
    Did I plant enough Basil?

    Thank you for being such a gardening inspiration. Because of you I grow gardens in containers no matter where I live :)

  10. I remember at 30, I was the youngest person at the plant society meetings I attended (now more than 20 years ago). The average age of members was easily 60, and the older folks would kindly take me under there wings and inform me I must grow this and that. I remember thinking how inspiring it was to be around all these older men and women who were still excited by plants, still wanting to try to grow something new, and so willing to share their wealth of knowledge. It exemplified the spirit of a gardener. The message I received: Plants and gardening are a healthy addiction which you can grow old with, and all the while keeping you young.

  11. Gardening, gardening is so fine.
    It relaxes body, soul, & mind.

    Dirty nails, but many tales
    compost, beauty, food, & treats.

  12. Happy Webday and as someone who crossed over to 40 last year, it will be just fine, but maybe a touch harder to stand up after too much power gardening.

    Gardening feeds my soul and my tummy and the tummy of my hens and friends. It gives my bees food and It is the best thing I have ever done.

  13. Dirty, painful, tiring, and incredibly addictive despite these things.

    I also do not live in USA or Canada, but the UK, and would happily pay for postage.

  14. Gardening provides a sense of accomplishment and an opportunity to be outside every day for me.

  15. Gardening endlessly absorbing. Even in the depths of winter I can get lost for hours reading my garden journal from the year before. I love Kelly’s comments about basil above- so true and I’m sure there is a metaphor for life in there somewhere!

    Congrats on thirteen years and turning 40. Thanks for making gardening accessible for all of us.

  16. Sigh. Gardening. My happy place!

    As promised on instagram, I just had to come and find your site! Can’t wait to read your content and get to know you!

  17. Being part and party to life.

    (I know that’s six words. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog off and on for about nine or ten years, so maybe you can forgive me.)

  18. Gardening means anticipation to me – it is one of the only things left in this world that forces you to be patient; watching seedlings grow and the seasons unfold provides a sense of wonder.

  19. Firstly, please don’t count me in the drawing!
    I already own all of your books, so it would be better left for another hopeful to get the plentiful knowledge that is your writing!
    [I know I wholeheartedly recommend them, and I've given most of my family members your books as gifts! ?]

    But I just wanted to say CONGRATS!!! 13 is a lucky number for me, and I hope you too! :D

  20. Happy Birthday – and congrats and THANK YOU oh so very much for inspiring me to just “go for it” whenever I doubt a gardening choice.

    Gardening to me is (in no particular order) therapy, life, nourishment for body ad soul, an escape, a connection to Mother Earth , and last but not least my happy place.

    And this year I get to share it with my darling little girl for the first time! I cannot wait!

  21. Have just found you! Came here from Margaret’s. I have the latest two books already (now need to find book number one) and love them–but how could I have missed the blog!!!!

    I work in a greenhouse (in Maine) March thru December. The winter is my furlough and I am so anxious to get back to work. I have started onion seeds at home (using your potting soil mix recipe) and now plan to get some pea shoots going for clipping and eating. Congratulations on your years of blogging. I’ll be catching up with my reading as the weeks go by.

  22. I found You Grow Girl just before I moved to Toronto 5 years ago, and my sister bought me the YGG book to help me feel more at home in my new city/ apartment. Now I have a back yard and I still read your blog for awesome gardening links and all manner of gardening inspiration!

  23. To me, gardening is new life, new beginnings, and growth. It is amazing to me at the end of summer to eat tomatoes out of my garden that started out as small as a dot on a piece of paper! Now I need to get planting some seeds for this year!

  24. I’m truly happy in my garden. I think and dream of growing things and I love to plant with my little boy. Like my mom taught me.

  25. Gardening is my link to my past, because of my grandmother, and my gift to the future, my children.

  26. Congratulations Gayla on both you birthday and website anniversary. May you have many many more of both. I’m 73 and have been gardening for many years and I plan to garden many more.Gardening keeps me young and healthy.

    • Thanks Anne! I love to hear from people who have been gardening for years. And everyone says the same thing — it keeps you young. I was born in 73! I think it’s a good number.

  27. What an awesome giveaway! Thank you. :)

    Gardening to me is bliss. It’s getting in touch with our deepest roots. It’s getting in touch with mother earth. It’s connecting, thriving, and having fun(even though sometimes it can be a pain!). I love gardening.

  28. Felicitations, bonne fête! I “discovered” You Grow Girl back when I was first learning about the complexities of the food system, and the reality that it was possible to garden without lots of chemicals (as a sophomore in university). You Grow Girl was a key balance, a bit of irreverent Truth, in comparison to the glossy garden magazines and more dry text of Master Gardener classes and sustainable food courses.

    Back then, I couldn’t really relate to gardening on rooftops and in containers. I lived in rural areas and small cities with lots of space (in Montana) my whole life, and herbs never did well in pots.

    More recently, though, I moved to Quebec City, and suddenly, Toronto didn’t seem like such a foreign universe. I realize that, depending on who’s talking, both Quebec and Toronto are in the ROC, but they’re more alike than different to this small town gal from out West.

    I have been recommending your site and books to friends and students for ages, and still personally appreciate the content you share.

    Merci beaucoup for all your energy and the good vibes you cultivate!


    P.S. Gardening is my true North.

    • Thanks so much! Great story. I think our growing seasons are quite similar — it’s the Montreal winter that differentiates the two cities in terms of gardening/weather. I love Montreal for so many reasons, but that winter is too difficult for a winter wimp like me.

  29. Thank you for your inspiration Gayla! For me, gardening is what keeps me going… Asking questions, learning, looking forward to the next day it’s always changing, hopefully for the better!

  30. I can compost my mistakes, where else in life can you compost mistakes? Without being thrown in jail for hiding evidence…

    Congrats on everything!, I turn 40 this year too…ack…happy happy.

    One of my favorite posts of yours was about the dude with the guitar at the community garden (?) and vodka…tell that one again.

  31. I often find my self spending more time tending my garden then I do taking care of my house in the summer. I get way more satisfaction out of a weed free veggie bed than I do out of making the one I sleep in or bothering to dust.

  32. Gardening keeps me young and at 70 plus I need all the help I can get. Been at it since I was preteen and bought seeds with babysitting money. Was hooked when those seeds germinated.

  33. Congratulations on 13 years! I just started my own garden blog this year and while doing so, I’ve found so many others including yours and Margaret’s. Reading Margaret’s latest two books now so when I’m done, I’ll have to get yours! Gardening is so much more to me than I ever thought it would be.


    P.S. Also hitting the 4-0 this year. Bring it on!

  34. Congratulations! I’ve all 3 of your gardening books. All worth getting! Live your blog/website! I’d love to win a copy of Drinking the Summer Garden.

    “Gardening is my dad.”

  35. Gardening is my granted life experiment in my own little earth lab. It is full of predictions, contradictions, miraculous surprises, mojo magic, courage, adventure, healing powers, wonder, strange concoctions, strange connections, setbacks, funding challenges, data recording, old and new discoveries … all of it my life’s work and all of it totally worth it.

  36. Oh, I was going to comment before I realized there was a giveaway!

    You helped me to start gardening when I was 31; I received You Grow Girl for my birthday that year, and I spent happy hours outside with my plants in pots. I didn’t grow very much, but I did manage to grow one tomato plant and two Nasturtiums – randomly chosen at the time that I planted them, not realizing that they were a good match. :)

    I turn 38 next month, and I’m dreading it, after enjoying turning 37. I’m hoping the good attitude catches up with me in time for my birthday. I had a mid-life crisis at 35/36 (!), which started towards the end of my 34th year, so I’ll be annoyed if I get smacked with another one. I wanted to enjoy my thirties.

  37. I forgot to answer the question: gardening helped me to keep my sanity last year. I was out there replanting things, moving them around, until I couldn’t do that anymore, if I wanted them to actually produce food. My skills have increased over the past four years, and I’m hoping to help ease the food budget.

  38. Gardening makes me feel connected to the earth. It has made me notice the little things around me. It has made me happy that birds come so close when I am turning up the earth because they are getting a buffet meal. It makes me get up before sunrise to watch my first rose mallow finally bloom.

  39. Don’t enter me in the giveaway, as I already have all your books, because I’m just stopping by to say Happy Anniversary. I’m glad you went through whatever you went through 13 years ago that resulted in this blog because you’ve been a big inspiration to me.

  40. Gardening is my bliss.

    Happy Anniversary, Gayla & Congratulations on thirteen creative and courageous years. Just saw your tweet an hour ago so thought I sneak in just under the deadline.

  41. Gardening is something that can be enjoyed at every age. I’ve taught toddler to plant bulbs who went home and taught mom.

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