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Eat Your Trash

Posted by on July 3, 2008 in Garden

For years, people in the gardening industry — seed
companies, plant growers, owners of garden centers — have complained that
gardening is on the decline. People don’t have time to garden anymore, they
said. This younger generation just
doesn’t want to spend the weekend in the backyard. Or if they do, they don’t consider the time they spend out there
to be "gardening." They see
it as "outdoor living." Outdoor living, according to the experts, seems to involve throw pillows
and tiki torches, not manure and pruning shears.

A friend of
mine just returned from the California Pack Trials, a strangely named annual
exhibition of new plants being rolled out by California’s nursery
industry. He actually heard
horticultural consultants tell garden center owners that they should not refer
to their customers as "gardeners" at all anymore. This new generation of customers would be
insulted by such a term, as they consider a gardener to be someone who gets
paid to work in a garden, and apparently, according to this consultant, that’s
not a good thing. In other words, a
gardener is a member of the staff, and the lady of the house would be insulted
to be mistaken for a member of the staff. She sees herself as a decorator, and
it is the job of a garden center to sell her plant-shaped decorations.

exhibitor even posted a series of banners with a single-line caption on each
banner. The first three showed a picture of a woman, and the last one had a
picture of a man. The captions went
like this: “She Looks. She Shops. She Buys. He Pays.”

is all enough to make me want to dig a hole in the bottom of my compost pile
and crawl into it.

Just throw a little cottonseed meal on top of me and turn me over with a pitchfork in the fall. It is horrifying to imagine that anyone gets paid to dispense such boorish and condescending advice, and that anyone takes them seriously.  All the more reason to buy locally grown plants at the farmers market and at independent garden centers. Anything to starve the corporate beast.

But wait!  Now everything’s changed! The economy is in the tank, fuel and food prices are going up, and backyard vegetable gardens are back in.  Seed sales have doubled at Burpee, and the Seed Savers Exchange has seen a run on seed potatoes, tomato and pepper starts, and vegetable seeds of all kinds.  So much for tiki torches and throw pillows! Apparently the lady of the house is not just shopping and buying, she’s getting her hands in the dirt, too.  This must be terribly confusing for the consultants, but I’m sure they’ll catch up.

Meanwhile, a very cool new book takes a novel approach to growing your own food, and although it’s based on an old idea (and is in fact a re-issue of a book that was published 25 years ago), it could not be more timely. Don’t Throw It, Grow It by Deborah Patterson and Millicent Selsam is a clever little collection of ideas for growing plants on the windowsill from kitchen scraps. If you’ve ever sprouted an avocado pit and a glass of water, you know what I’m talking about–but this book goes way beyond avocados.  There’s hardly a scrap of produce on your cutting board that can’t be given a second life, according to the authors.
Carrot tops, garbanzo beans, peanuts, jicama, lemongrass, ginger– they can all be made to grow again.  Spices and nuts can be sprouted as seeds, fruits and vegetables will grow from cuttings, and beans and peas will turn into climbing vines in a jiffy.

You’ll also find out what to expect in terms of a harvest. A mango might be fun to grow in a windowsill, but don’t expect fruit right away.

I try not to worry too much about the economy—I’m not stockpiling bags of rice just yet–but I gotta say, this thrifty and retro book offers up a nice little backup plan. If things get really bad, I can just eat my trash! 
Now all I need to know is how to start chocolate bars from the crumbs left in the foil wrappers, and how to sprout a fifth of gin from a bottle cap.  If the consultants can figure that out, I’ll start listening to them again.


  1. This world of titles is going mad, I am not a decorator I am a gardener and proud to be be one, when I look out into the garden and know that almost everything I see is a result of my hands and work I am proud, these horticultural consultants (Ha Ha), are idiots who are more interested in pampering egos including their own by the title that offering genuine help when asked, most people who garden call themselves gardeners only the deluded, insecure handful do not. Wake up and smell the garden.

  2. An interesting post Amy.
    Even a Landscaper attaches the same stigma to the title of gardener.
    Ironically, I wrote only today about this (on my Landscape Juice Network blog
    However, I think that things are changing and it will be hip to be called a gardener in the next couple of years.

  3. Amy
    I love your boldness and your spoof on our cliches’ of society, i.e. “She Looks. She Shops. She Buys. He Pays.” In my life and in my thoughts, to be a gardener is to be happy.

  4. I must really be on the outer limits as far as the industry consultants are concerned. When I take off what used to be a white T-shirt, the skin looks as if it were a new T-shirt. I’m way past being a red neck let alone a landscaper or a gardener, so much for appearances or class distinctions.

  5. “This is all enough to make me want to dig a hole in the bottom of my compost pile and crawl into it.” I think you should grab a pile of that compost and lob it at those signs.
    That’s not new. That is circa 1950!

  6. I am the child of two master gardeners, and damn proud to be a gardener myself. If we’re not supposed to be “gardeners” anymore, what are we? “Urban Produce Facilitators,” perhaps?
    If you’ve not read Richard Langer’s wonderful and long out-of-print THE AFTERDINNER GARDENER, snap it up immediately: . It dates from a time when kiwi fruit was daringly exotic and fallen coconuts could be smuggled out of Hawaii.

  7. Geez, I’m with you. A great post. I find it perverse that horticulture marketers are thinking that gardening (or being gardeners) is somehow just an extension of life style, etc. I LOVE being outdoors, poking around in my vegetables, watching bees, sowing seeds, enjoying bird songs, and generally being a gardener. And, I’m a (relatively staid) academic botanist by training and now garden educator. Cheers to gardeners!

  8. Download all you need from

  9. gardens rock! my kids and i lost weight and feel so wonderful from eating our own organic food for the last two years. i’ll never stop now. i found really cute garden furniture with the money we saved. now we eat outside when it’s nice. outdoor life is so much better than tv. i don’t care who says what about it!