Unusually Clever People

Five cool things about Michele Owens’ new book


1. It’s called Grow the Good Life: Why a Vegetable Garden Will Make You Happy, Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise (Rodale). Note the statement—GROW the good life. Not “Here’s how to grow the good life.” As Michele says in the first chapter, “The problem is that many how-tos refuse to admit the contingency of their own advice. Many of them spend so much time trying to cover every eventuality and anticipating every possible problem that a beginner might reasonably conclude that growing food is nothing but a series of problems.”


2. Like Michele, the book is forthright and opinionated. And funny. I couldn’t agree more when she says, “Seed starting is babysitting, babysitting somebody else’s peevish and ungrateful children. I hate it.” (But, of course, she does it, when there’s no other way to get the varieties she wants.)

3. It talks about the concept of beauty in the garden. It’s strange, but too few gardening books do, and hardly any vegetable gardening books. Books talk about good design and color combinations but they don’t often get into all the strange and wonderful places where beauty can be found—whether in the glossy black of an eggplant or in a misty view of empty plantings beds against an old barn.

4. Grow the Good Life does what no other gardening book has ever done—it makes me hungry. There aren’t recipes, exactly, but in a chapter called Flavor, Michele talks about the difference in flavor between just-picked and just-purchased vegetables, as well as the possibility of some things improving over time—like parsnips: “Finger-sized slices of parsnip roasted in olive oil and salt, with the sugars caramelizing on the outside, is one of the finest dishes known to man. And parsnips … are even sweeter when they’ve sat on my cellar stairs a few months.”

5. I’m giving it away. Please respond in comments and I will choose a winner (randomly) by 2 p.m. EST tomorrow.

I love this book. It’s intelligent, passionate, self-assured, and—most of all—beautifully written. Congratulations, Michele!

Posted by on February 15, 2011 at 6:05 am, in the category Unusually Clever People.
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110 responses to “Five cool things about Michele Owens’ new book”

  1. Graham Rice says:

    I reviewed Grow The Good Life on my blog today – http://bit.ly/ehtcUR An inspiring garden book with no pictures – that doesn’t need pictures.

  2. adela says:

    As an aspirational vegetable gardener and a fan or Michelle Owens’ writing, I would love to have this book!!!!!!

  3. John says:

    I’ve been looking for this book at my local book store – when will it hit the shelves? It sounds like she is making the point that I often make when giving a talk about my garden. That certain flavors can only be experienced if you grow the plants yourself. It’s not another lecture about fresh being better for you – it’s about flavor.

    I wish I had thigh high nasturtiums in my yard.

  4. susan harris says:

    Even a noncook and newbie veg-grower like myself loved this book. Love-love-love.

    What we don’t need is more how-to writing. What we DO need is passionate, inspiring writing like Michele’s.

    Also? I love the jewelry and lipstick!

  5. Maureen Dissinger says:

    I never thought of growing parsnips. I need to be inspired to grow beyond what I’ve grown before.

  6. Li'l Ned says:

    I would probably buy, or at least read, this book, just because I love the photo of the author. First of all, look at her clothes. I’m not saying she actually GARDENS in a cute little t-shirt, tight jeans (with belt) and a necklace …… but she looks like she could. She is wearing what look like proper wellies, too. Mainly, it’s the necklace thing. I remember reading an article about the Queen Mother, back in the day, and the accompanying photo showed her fly fishing in one of those long pearl necklaces from the Gilded Age. Undoubtedly worth zillions of pounds sterling. I don’t know that she gardened — seems doubtful — but I bet she bossed her head gardener, named something like Hamish McDougall, around wearing that same necklace.

    V. Sackville West used to garden wearing riding jodhpurs and pearls. Sometimes in a skirt, too, and one of those dear little ’30’s cloches. Does anyone garden wearing skirts these days, other than Mennonites, Amish and home-schoolers?

    Anyway, kudos to Michele Owen for wearing a RED! necklace. Most of all, though, I love her sassy, hip-cocked stance and twinkle-eyed grin. Doesn’t she look like she knows something she doesn’t know? And the book sounds great too. I’ll bite.

  7. Li'l Ned says:

    well, obviously I meant ‘doesn’t she look like she knows something YOU don’t know?’ 🙂

  8. Eileen says:

    Although I tend to be the overseer of the flowers in our garden, my husband, the vegetable guy, would love this book. And if the book is as good as you say it is, maybe it will inspire me to step out into that veggie patch as well!

  9. Tara Dillard says:

    THANK YOU for #1.

    Gardening/landscaping is treated as a ‘problem, or, ‘work’ in the public realm.

    Garden/landscape radio shows & most TV , are about PROBLEMS.

    Why? So they can SELL something.

    Particularly offensive are garden/landscape monthly to-do listings. Odd, my sweet garden/landscape requires little ‘to-do’.

    Want a vegetable garden? Make it a POTAGER. Create lovely patterns, add flowers, shrubs, groundcovers, paths, edging. Easy to plant/harvest, GORGEOUS ALL YEAR. A centuries old idea.

    Love the ATTITUDE of Grow The Good Life !

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  10. Joan says:

    I have many how-to books but the inspirational ones are the real treasures. This sounds like one of them and I would love to win it.

  11. CindyP says:

    Oh this book is just making February seem that much longer and colder! I just ordered my seeds from Fedco last week and I can’t wait to get them in the mail so I can start growing again. I just the line in this book about seeds being someone’s ungrateful children! This book will go on my Must Buy list.

  12. Cathy Robson says:

    Sounds like a wonderful book to read while waiting for the ground to warm up. And since my other gardening books are 25 plus years old, this one would be a welcome addition.

  13. Val says:

    I’ve been thinking of expanding my small veggie patch to experiment beyond tomatoes and zucchinis. A little inspiration’s just what I need! Looking forward to this book. Thanks Michele.

  14. Donna B. says:

    I’ve been waiting for this book to come out, and I’m more than happy to have been able to read a mini-review on it! Her views on a vegetable garden is how I want mine ultimately to be like – a space of beauty and peace that also has the upside of feeding me! [only on year two of my major garden, still have lots of things to improve on!]
    Spring, where are you?! Get rid of this ice/snow on the ground and let me plant my radishes!

  15. Terry says:

    Sounds like a wonderful book. We can always use more inspiration!

  16. Hahaha… “seedstarting is babysitting” (love it!) I just ordered a heat mat and grow light yesterday from Amazon. 🙂 I am planning on being more successful this year… last year was “practice.” I can’t wait to have unique varieties of plants growing happily in the back yard! ♥

  17. Ann says:

    Just reading the description makes me want to chisel away at my frozen garden beds–as if it could make spring come any faster. This sounds like wonderful book.

  18. Jeff Ball says:

    I’ve written 8 gardening books and read very few as they come out. This one, however, is already on order from Amazon. Thanks Michelle

  19. jackie says:

    Sounds like a great book, I would love ideas how to grow my veggie garden in a more attractive way.

  20. Ken Sutton says:

    I woulld love to own this book. Sounds right up my alley. Was just inroduced to your blog. It sounds right up my alley too!

  21. Regina Bunning says:

    I don’t plant alot of veggies but have started adding them to my flower beds because they offer a little “OH…” when we walk the yard in the evening. It also allows me to add new veggies without increasing the size of my vegetable garden. Reading your review of Michele’s book makes me want to read it also and plant more vegetables. I would LOVE a copy of the book!

  22. Cheryl (and the cats) says:

    This sounds like a perfect book to occupy my hands to keep me from trying to start my seeds too early. And I love babysitting the sensitive little ingrates. (of course, I like cats, too, so I’m a glutton for it.)

  23. Sarah Flood says:

    What can I say……….if I don’t win it I’ll buy it anyway. Michele is a great writer.

  24. Laura says:

    Thanks for the recommendation. I hope I win!

  25. cheryl says:

    Just started some artichoke seeds, and I am a proud mama. Love the lipstick and skinny jeans in the bean patch.

  26. Susan says:

    Michele is so right about the beauty of vegetables, and that few publications of any kind address that aspect of vegetable growing. I visited a Canadian friend’s garden last September, and she had (of all things) Brussels sprouts growing in among her very manicured flower beds! They’re such an architectural plant, and they added a completely new dimension to the beds. I’m going to try it myself this year – kudos, Michele!

  27. She’s got seed starting spot on…this sounds like a much-needed unique touch to garden books.

  28. Bridget says:

    Sounds like an interesting read. I’d love to check it out!

  29. Matt says:

    Sounds interesting!

  30. Please put my name into the hat, Elizabeth. I have been a huge fan of Michele’s writing ever since discovering Sign Of The Shovel several years ago.

  31. Love the title, love the photo! Go Michele!

  32. I was able to get a copy of Michele’s book over a month ago (to review for my upcoming Greenwoman Magazine) and during the entire time I read it (I could not put it down) I was thrilled beyond words. Michele covers every single topic I have fretted over and mused upon since getting into gardening over a decade ago: the beauty and soulfulness of connecting with nature, the wholesome, productive exercise that gardening is (which does not require a gym membership), the glorious DIRT that that keeps us all alive and well, and the importance of all of this to our children. Her writing is exquisite and she has a wonderful sense of humor. Let me be among the first to write–this book is exactly what we need at this time, it will inspire tens of thousands of new gardeners. It will be a best seller and a gardening classic for years to come. Congratulations, Michele!

  33. Erika says:

    I would love this!!! I have actually have a veggie patch (yet) but my sister does (and chickens too) and I would love to give it to her. She is experienced but had some difficulties with her veg last year after moving to a new house. She has a wicked sense of humor, is a killer cook and would love the tips shared on a lighter note!

  34. David says:

    It looks like a great book- I look forward to reading it!

  35. Vicki Townsend says:

    Right out of the chicken barn I couldn’t agree more. Most how to books from how to raise a goldfish to how to put new shelf liner in your cupboards give you a great big unconfident pause. They all need to start out with a huge ‘You can do this’ and ‘even if you don’t reach perfection, it is still a great journey’. I would love, love, love to have this book.

  36. Michele says:

    Keeping my fingers crossed!

  37. Laura Bell says:

    I’ve found, too, that far too many potential gardeners are overwhelmed by the caveats & contingencies from experts when looking to plant their own plot. My advice to adults & children alike has always been to “just do it”. Seasons go by far too quickly to wait until all is planned for. Don’t let all of the warnings keep you from jumping in with both feet.

    Can’t wait to read the book, Michele !

  38. Jennifer says:

    Michele looks so stylish in the photo and the nasturtiums look Amazing! Can’t wait to check out the book.

  39. MikeH says:

    Sounds like a good book. I hope I win.

  40. I’ve been feeling the pull of the veggie garden gravity, but I’ve been hesitant to take out any flower beds to convert them to veggie beds. Now it seems I’ll have to take the plunge. Great looking book! Looking forward to reading it.

  41. Cindy S. says:

    I’m starving for a good gardening book right now.
    I’m also babysitting seedlings. I’m feeling better about the chore after reading #2.

  42. Dee says:

    I got lucky and won a copy of Margaret Roach’s “A Way to Garden.” I hope I get lucky and win this one, too. I don’t think there is such as thing as too many garden books. If I win, I’ll review it on my blog.

  43. ES says:

    pick me! pick me! I’m creating a front yard vegetable garden for someone and this book sounds like a perfect companion

  44. Michelle D says:

    I concur, starting your plants by seed is like babysitting a peevish ungrateful child, especially when one direct sows the seed outdoors insitu. It’s me and the thousands of poppy seeds against a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. My vision of seeing great swaths of bright colored poppies across the garden has been pecked away by fat little tweeting birds. They even ate my entire potager of lettuce too. It’s war. How do you think the book would fair in a sling shot ?
    … after I read it of course.

  45. Abby says:

    Your review has me completely convinced: if I don’t win this book, I’m going to have to buy it. 🙂

  46. DrJohn and Bruno says:

    Although my bookcase is packed full of vegetable gardening books, Michele’s book sounds like a must read.

  47. jennifer says:

    i *just* started reading this blog… how great to start off with a contest!

  48. Robin says:

    I’ve some how not heard of this book until now. It’s on my list of reads for the rest of the winter. My mission this year is to bring beauty into the garden.

  49. Jackie N says:

    This book is going on my must read list. The fact it covers that the flavor between just-picked and just-purchased vegetable are different is amazing. My husband never knew that a tomato had taste until I grew them. I know I won’t be the only one reading this.

  50. Wow! I’d love this book. I hope it sells very well and urges mmany more people to start growing their own good life.

  51. I’m so excited about this book. Love the quote about babysitting. It’s so true.

  52. Ellen Eltgroth says:

    I absolutely love this blog and the book sounds wonderful! I just dug a trench in one of my square raised beds, laid down the super broody poops that I’ve been collecting for a while now and covered it up with soil and topped it off with a cloche made of corrugated plastic I had leftover from a chicken run roof I made. I had to warm it first by covering hardware cloth hoops with some plastic. Anyway, I hope to plant peas in just a few days. I’ve already got a tomato plant started which I’ll put under a Wall o’ Water
    to get tomatoes nice and early. Temps in the 60’s yesterday and 50’s today make it feel like spring! I also agree with you all that “low-maintenance gardening” is ridiculous. I grow what I like in what I call a Potager:flowers, veggies, herbs, all together!
    Ellen in Havre de Grace, MD

  53. Diane says:

    I just came across your blog from a link via Pam Penick’s Digging blog. It’s awesome. I love your attitude 🙂

    I’d love to get my hands on a copy of that book. Sounds like a terrific read. I’ll be back too!

  54. Merry Jo says:

    Sounds interesting. I have been starting my seeds for the last few years and learning from my dad (One of the original organic gardeners). More info is good. Thanks for the chance

  55. Jackie Mitchell says:

    I love to garden and would love to win this book.

  56. fern says:

    I am a dedicated vegetable gardener, but a lazy one. I need inspiration!

  57. I can’t wait to read this book…i am doing more gardens with veggies and taking a class on organic vegetable gardens..so I can make sure I design successful gardens for my newbie gardeners! Thanks for Sharing your insight and wisdom.

  58. Maggie Roberts says:

    I have been growing my own food for more than 30 years, and have been working on the “beauty” part of that endeavor for the past 10. I don’t own a lot of garden books – fewer than I have fingers – But this sounds like it would be a nice one to own. Sort of like “water cooler” talk with another gardner.

  59. Julie Sawtelle says:

    1. Love the cover and the title – Helen and Scott Nearing (“The Good Life”) would’ve approved !!
    2. Love the positive “jump right in” approach to gardening !
    3. Love the change to the idea of beauty in the garden being where you find it.
    4. Love the thought of winning this book, reading, then donating it to my local library to be shared in our growing gardening community !
    5. Love oven-roasted parsnips!

  60. Enter me to win! I’d love to have it. ;+)

  61. lauren scheuer says:

    How exciting! If I don’t win it, I’m buying it! 🙂

  62. Kate says:

    Ooooo I want it!

    Bit too early to be starting seeds in VT without a greenhouse, but starting to feel the itch….

  63. weeder1 says:

    Me too! Me too! I would love to add this book to my collection!!

  64. Alison says:

    This looks like a great book, I’d love to have it!

  65. Dwhite2762 says:

    I love the comment about baby-sitting the seedlings. It really is a love/hate thing. Last year I drove home at lunch to move my seedling pots to the cold frame and then fretted that they would get too hot, too dry, spindly. But in the end they produced a ton of beautiful tomatoes that I put in jars and I remembered why I did it. I’m anxious to read the book to see if she has some more insights (and helpful hints).

  66. Kat says:

    Just from the bits you included, I can tell that this is my kind of book! Hope I win!

  67. shira says:

    seed starting is babysitting – ain’t that the truth!

    those nasturtiums are crazy!

  68. kate says:

    Yeah, for a book on the philosophy of gardening! I’m eager to read it and review it. PS that’s one hell of a sexy and joyous photo too! Love it.

  69. Lyn Rosenberg says:

    I laughed my head off at your seed starting analogy…Thank you! I’m moving from the city to an old Church on 1 acre in country NSW, Australia with a desire to get “Happy & Healthy”. With no real idea how to start or plan a 1 acre Church Garden, I could sure use your book..it’d be a GODSEND …(pun intended) lol,lol,lol.

  70. Megan says:

    Just tore up more lawn to install veg beds last weekend. Feeling wiser already!

  71. Jessica says:

    Already on my Amazon wishlist, but getting it for free would be even better !

  72. chandler says:

    I can’t wait to read about all that garden beauty:)

  73. Mary says:

    this really got me hungry for some parsnips right about now!

  74. Diane says:

    I’m ready to buy this book too…but I’ll first wait and see if I win it :). I love the photo and the author’s down-to-earth attitude. I am an American now living in rural Italy where everyone has a vegetable garden–and freely shares the excess. Nothing beats a freshly picked salad, or cherry tomatoes which make a pasta sauce while the pasta is boiling.

  75. Marcy Crum says:

    I don’t actually own any garden books. After flipping through I usually get intimidated with the technical details. I do garden but just kind of wing it. This book looks fun and inspiring!

  76. Steve Asbell says:

    I especially like reason #5. I actually saw this at the bookstore today and was tempted to give it a look!

  77. “I want, I want. I need, I need.” (Bill Murray in “What About Bob?”)

  78. Evelyn Johansen says:

    Can’t wait to read it!

  79. Sebette says:

    Love to start seeds and grow my “babies”. This looks like a good read.

  80. Cyndia says:

    I’m so looking forward to reading this book! I have a bunch of typical gardening books, but would rather read something with humor and personality! Sounds like this is the ticket!

  81. Mary says:

    I dig a chick who gardens wearing red lipstick. This is my kind of gardening book.

  82. Jade says:

    Yes! Yes! I’m thrilled to see a book which chooses to address the “why” and “whatfor” of vegetable gardening. Can’t wait to read it and share it!

  83. Jenny C says:

    It fun to read a book about gardening with humor.

  84. Stacey says:

    I’ve just started seeds for the first time – broccoli – they sprouted! Now what do I do?!

  85. Betsey says:

    Just ordered my kale seeds…

  86. Amy Hanridge says:

    I want this book! And getting it free would be even better!

  87. Susan says:

    this looks like it should be my next book purchase….unless I win! Can’t start seeds until after an upcoming trip because I know my hapless family members will not tend them. grrr…but maybe the ground will be visible when I get back!

  88. Gail Carriveau says:

    The only how to advice I had when I started gardening was my dad. He had not one vegetable garden, but then expanded to another. While he doesn’t garden anymore when he comes to visit he will help out in my garden. His tomato cages still live on in my garden made of field fence and over 30 years old and going strong.

  89. Debra Davis says:

    This book sounds just lovely. Thanks for letting us know.

  90. Dave says:

    Roses are red,
    Violets are blue,
    If I could read,
    I would be healthy, wealthy and wise too.

    Roses are red,
    Violets are black,
    If I win this book,
    I might have a heart attack.

  91. Alison says:

    I can’t wait to read it, win or no win.

  92. Patti Borneman says:

    If I could tear myself away from seed catalogs, unread but deserving gardening books, composting responsibilities, my under-walked dog, and my darling two-year old granddaughter, I would LOVE to read this book. As if I need more inspiration to garden, but of course, it’s always nice to be reminded that it’s okay to garden for the pure joy of it.

  93. Delphinium says:

    I’m a proud community gardener growing vegetables and herbs in San Francisco. I would love to read this book!

  94. Jo Ann says:

    Introduction of Grow the Good life

    What I’ve Hauled Out of the Garden:

    “The other thing I didn’t know when I began was how seamlessly my garden would fit into the normal insanity of modern life. From the time I made my first garden, I not only worked like mad at various jobs, I had three babies, sold my house and bought two others, acquired various cats, dogs, hens, and goldfish-and yet became so slick and efficient as a backyard farmer that every year I produced more food in less time. ”

    I just want to say thank-you for those words, as of late I have been feeling stuck in a rut that all my life is work and more work and no time for anything else. You have gave me hope that I too can fit gardening into my insane life. This will be my first year at veggie gardening and at this time I am ‘babysitting’ my seedlings and loving every moment of it.

    New books are not in my budget at the moment so I will see if my library has a copy I am eager to read the rest of your book.

  95. Sally Ayres says:

    It’s that time of year when the seed and perennial catalogs make the best reading . . . and a book like this . . .I’ll gobble up in a day and then order more fun for the garden. Who ever knew gardening could evoke such passion?

  96. Julie says:

    This is one of the few books I want to physically have. Anything but gardening stuff goes onto the Kindle, but I page back-and-forth through gardening books all the time. (to the chagrin of my husband…)

  97. gardengeri says:

    Did you see that the Utah state legislature has passed a “Basic Right To Garden” bill? http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/home/51254167-76/basic-bill-committee-family.html.csp

    Grow the Good Life looks to be a great book for beginners.

  98. SRG says:

    Love the idea of this book! Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!

  99. MiSchelle says:

    I love that quote “babysitting somebody else’s peevish and ungrateful children.” For that alone I will buy this book – if I don’t win it, of course.

  100. Rochelle Hutter says:

    Rats! I wanted to run out and buy this book today but it is “out of stock” at every Border’s book with in an hour of my home! I can’t wait to read it, but I guess I’ll have to!

  101. Susanne Spence Wilkins says:

    I need this book…a few years ago I was distracted by “landscaping” and have an great desire to get back to gardening and especially vegetable gardening in a big patch looking out onto Lake Erie in Ontario, Canada. Thanks for the review.

  102. Laurel says:

    Rock on sista gardener…i keep reading Amy’s books as i wait for the snow to melt…i know, i know, everything has a season but i’m ready to plant! Sounds like a great book will add it to my list…

  103. Laine says:

    Today is the day my copy arrives from Amazon–I ordered it when you first wrote about it. Had frost last night but I am near Seattle so no frozen ground. I love, love, love starting seedlings and have started lettuce, greens, spinach and arugula in the greenhouse in containers and four kinds of peas to plant outside in a few weeks. Lots easier than babysitting. I don’t have to entertain the seedlings or deal with their parents.

  104. Bettina says:

    2011: What I want is a vegetable garden, my very first. So this year will be the maiden voyage…
    I want to be happy.
    I want to be healthy.
    I want to be wealthy.
    I want to be wise.
    I want a beautiful garden.
    I want my garden to look like Michele Owens’s garden.
    But if gardening is the secret to Michele’s undeniably happy, clearly healthy, obviously wealthy, unmistakably wise and beautiful looks, well, then what I really really want is this book!!!

  105. Josephine Faith Gibbs says:

    I think this book would help me get inspired this spring. I worked so hard last year, expanding my garden and using my newly built greenhouse, and I just didn’t get the return in edibles and beauty I was hoping for, Not that it wasn’t very worth it anyway. It was. That is why I feel the need for something to stir me up and inpire me so I’ll get out there and start my seeds – soon.

    Thanks for running this giveaway. Thanks more for your blog.

  106. Nancy Merrill says:

    The beauty of the garden. Hmph. I am usually so stessed about water, birds, bugs, blight and weeds that I don’t think of the beauty of the thing. This summer I will lie on my stomach on the grass once a week, look at the garden, and think “that place ten feet from me looks damn beautiful”.

  107. B3BFree says:

    This sounds perfect for inspiration mid-February in Iowa. And my sons and I will have our first veg garden this spring! We’d love to read this as we get ready to dig some dirt.

  108. Donald says:

    I started all my seeds indoors with new heating mat, tray, and four foot lighting system- can’t wait! I’d really love to win a copy of your book too. Will it be available on the Kindle?

  109. I might be late for getting the book.I have planted papaya trees and vegetables many times but vegetable plants always dry up after some time.I came to your blog to end up with my garden plants.can you give me any free book that will help to grow vegetables all the time.

  110. Chris Maciel says:

    Yes, I could use some garden inspiration right about now.
    With spring in sight now that the days are longer I’m starting to plan the larger veg garden we hope to make this year. So far only grow tomatoes, basil & thyme. Would like to grow more.
    Books sounds just right to me, gardening forever but vegetable gardening only 3 or 4 years I still consider myself new at this thing, but of course, Totally Committed to It!