Book Giveaway and a Little Insight Into the Roach Sisters

MargaretIN THE BEGINNING, there wasn’t a thing Margaret owned, a phrase she spoke, or a gesture she tossed off that I did not want as my own. But smooth-haired, blue-eyed, skim-milk-skinned, even visually she presented all that I could never be, her calm to my storm of unleashed red curls, speckled hazel eyes and haphazardly freckled skin.

Until long into our twenties, I honestly believed she was the most beautiful creature on earth, and while my response to the visual that is Margaret arced and changed over those years, the fact of her beauty never did.

From our beginnings, our physical differences also extended to what we did with our bodies. She sat in the shade and she read. Throwing myself off docks, diving boards and tree limbs, I knocked out teeth, bruised my shins and stubbed the top off my toe as regularly as most people eat breakfast, always really meaning to come to the table clean, or at the very least, unbloodied.

Emotionally, nothing was gained in the comparison. She could be still; she listened, she learned. Were she a kitchen utensil, it’s a measuring cup; I am handsful of flour tossed into a bowl.

The real separation came when our mother’s mind went to battle with something and lost. At 51 years old, and diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, our mother and her illness produced different responses in her different daughters. Margaret moved home and moved in to help. I moved out. Margaret took up gardening, a pursuit I judged to be frivolous and decorative. I started writing about our mother, a pursuit Margaret judged to be an invasion into our privacy and not all that helpful.

Each time I visited, there was another dwarf specimen tree; the tall hedge behind which our now unhappy home stood was sheared down to 6-inches. Peonies flaunted their party-dress splendor. What was the use, I wondered?

I researched and typed and fought with the government. What was the use, she wondered?

We had a lot to learn about the other.

In time, Margaret learned the crucial lesson that not all custodial care – tending, cultivating, and nurturing – has to be for something that only loses more ground every day. And I learned to respect that. As I started seeing my work as that of memoir, she started to respect that. The resulting admiration is no mere graft, but rather the flourishing regrowth that only a hard prune can provide.

Between the two of us we’ve now written seven books, the most recent being hers, a marvelous look from her own backyard. She knows something about what can be learned at home. I would know.

Join me in celebrating her new work, The Backyard Parables. It’s her best book yet.

To Enter the Giveaway

TO ENTER TO WIN ONE OF FIVE BOOKS, comment here,noting in both places the name of another memoir or gardening book that you identified with. Tell us why, too, if you wish. I understand some of you are shy and just prefer to say “Count me in,” or “I want to win,” but if you feel like sharing an inspirational book title and a sense of the “why” behind your choice instead, please do; all the better.

Entries close at midnight Sunday, February 3, 2013, with winners to be drawn at random (using the tool at random [dot] org) and announced the next day.

Once you post your entry here, go visit Margaret and tell her I get it now, and that I love what she does.




  1. Donna says

    I love In Search of The Medicine Buddha by David Crow. Meeting David at Tibet House years ago changed my life. Reading about his spiritual and medicinal and aromatic journey was a treat and makes me appreciate my friend and mentor more and more.

  2. says

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful snippet of your shared life, in all its tussy-mussy glory.

    I relate closely to Donna Johnson’s HOLY GHOST GIRL. I’ve only read one chapter, but it rings true and deep, and resonates with me because of our shared experiences and perspectives. (I will savor it, start to finish, when I’ve reached The End of my own book, CAN I GET A WITNESS? Memoir of a Tent Preacher’s Daughter)

  3. Deb Stenberg says

    Count me in, Marion – and it’s so fitting to discover there’s a yin to Margaret’s yang. Now I have two Roach women to inspire me!

  4. Maureen Newman says

    I have loved reading countless gardening books over the years, but the personal gardening stories of Mirabel Osler “A Breath From Elsewhere”, and of Elsa Bakalar “A Garden of One’s Own” speak to me about a shared deep love of gardening and a connection to nature and humanity by digging in the soil and appreciating all the beauty around us…about living in the moment, immersing yourself in the myriad of colors, shapes, scents, contrasts and similarities of gardens. These authors touched a chord in me that plays the same symphony of pleasure we as gardeners share. It’s easier to understand the world in a garden. Life in all it’s glory, death, with winter and also the unexpected deaths when you’ve done everything right and a prized plant just croaks. Struggles for space and attention, thugs and wallflowers, introverts and extroverts…are all there. I have followed your sister’s blog for quite awhile now, and feel she is a kindred spirit, and would love to win one of her books.

  5. Anne Larson says

    My inspiring book would be Seedfolk by Paul Fleishman. Not a memoir as such, the book recounts the growth of a miracle on a trashy inner city block that brings people of diverse ages, backgrounds and ethnicities together as they find a way to make green things grow in the harshest of environments. RE: yin and yang–YES!

  6. jill says

    Thanks for a vulnerable story.
    I love Lasagna Gardening, as it got me growing everything and got me over the resistance of having to double dig. I dug nothing – the lasagna composting method and the beloved earthworms did all the work for me. Yay!
    My garden is as big as a tennis court.

    Universe – I would love to win this book – thank you…..

  7. Joyce Gallivan says

    My Mom had altzeimers, and being the sister that lived next door, I was the one that looked out for her.. I have always enjoyed having a garden, and through thick or thin it was there for me, to enjoy, nuture and dig through my frustrations. Would enjoy reading how the Roach sisters did it.

  8. says

    I know Margaret well, love her dearly, and yet learned more about her in this beautiful story. Don’t need to be entered in the contest (I’ve already read and am singing the praises of The Backyard Parables and have used Marion’s terrific book in my own memoir writing classesO. I just wanted to say, hooray for you both, and thank you for sharing your stories.

  9. Patricia Shinaberger says

    The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden William Alexander

    The author’s father was gardener, my mother was a gardener. We both inherited the gardening gene. I laughed with recognition all through this very well written book. I never want to tally up the real costs of the food and flowers I grow. If an accountant ever required such a task from me, I would put all that effort and money into my basic needs to sustain life column.
    Life without being covered frequently with good soil or being soaked by ill-placed hoses or, being sweaty and sunburned in the pursuit of growing and vegetables and flowers would be a very sad life for me. I even enjoy complaining about varmints. This book will remain on my shelves for a long time.

    Marion, I would love to win a copy of your sister’s book….and look forward to anything you publish in the future. I refer often to your slender volume The Memoir Project and your blog prompts refresh my muse on my way to writing my story.

  10. Lori Joyal says

    I love the essays by the late Henry Mitchell – he is insighful and very down to earth (no pun intended). I also loved The $64 Tomato by William Alexandar, a hilarious account of his attempt to start an organic vegetable garden; From the Ground Up by Amy Stewart, her recollection of her first garden in CA which I read one very cold New England February and immediately started ordering seeds; and and Beds I Have Known by Martha Smith which I picked up because the title cracked me up and it ended up being a very funny book of garden essays. I have been dying to read The Backyard Parables!!!

  11. says

    Sent here by the lovely Katrina Kenison. I have such a complicated relationship with my sister, and as the younger sibling, I could relate so much to your early years, watching her and admiring every move. Beautifully written! I will be back!

  12. nancy j says

    A keen eyed and lovely sisterly tribute.
    Atop An Underwood by Jack Kerouac. A collection of early short stories and other writings is a favorite.

  13. Carol Hegeman says

    I would love to win a book for the North Chatham Free Library! I am in one of two memoir writing classes going on now at this cute and cool place. I see a link for me: memoir writing about the garden. So many of the perennials, houseplants and even vegetables I grow could be the focus of stories about people/places/events they make me remember.

  14. John Morgan says

    Mike Feder’s collection of nonfiction essays: A New York Son moved me as did Homer Hickam’s Rocket Boys and Joe Brainard’s I Remember (a totally different type of memoir).

  15. says

    I closely identify with Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I’m Dying as it captures so astutely how what happened to our relatives in another country and another time influences who we are.

  16. Lizzie says

    I love Diane Ackerman’s “Cultivating Delight: a Natural History of My Garden.” I first read it before I had a garden myself, then again after I had a yard and garden. She is such a beautiful writer, and, while I often feel a bit jealous of her larger space and bigger projects than I am able to do, it is also really fun and inspiring to read about what other people are doing to make their garden dreams a reality. :)

  17. says

    I’m just beginning my own battle with my sister over my mother’s care. Thank you for sharing your story.

    As for gardening memoir books, there are so many. One that resonated with me recently was The Orchard. I read it just after I finished Margaret’s last book. It was an interesting contrast.

    I’m looking forward to reading the Backyard Parables as well.

  18. says

    I loved this post. I am one of three sisters. We’ve survived our own “hard prunes.” We are growing more conscious daily our parents’ vulnerability and each other’s strengths. This post strengthen’s my faith that we will survive what is to come. I have never read a gardening memoir but I have read and loved Joan Didion’s “Year of Magical Thinking” and have spent hours with my hands in the dirt with my friend Sue, author of, and with my son who, so far, has not written a book but has taught me much about planting, cultivating, and resisting the urge to over-nurture. I am looking forward to reading, “Backyard Parables.”

    • Judith says

      Jeff – I love that you love that book! My dog-eared (ha), marker highlighted, red lined copy has been sitting on my coffee table for years. I have recommended it to more people than I can count. – Judith

  19. theotherlibrarian says

    I have a soft spot for Square Foot Gardening, which I bought for $.25 at a garage sale. I lent it to my boyfriend, who could not be parted with it, so I bought him the updated/revised new edition for his birthday. Of course, some of the information was contradictory, and he enjoyed comparing the two, and so, I never got my book back. Please send me some new gardening books…

  20. Theta says

    May I tell you about my sister, Gwyn? She and I have cared for my mother for the past six years or so….. half of the year she is with my husband and me in the South and half of the year she is in the North with Gwyn and her husband. Mom is 93, and just so very sweet and dearly loved by all in the family.

    Four years ago, Gwyn’s mother-in-law had a stroke and Gwyn and her husband welcomed her into their home. For four years she pampered and honored her as her health declined. During this time she would not allow me to keep mother longer, which would have lessened her load. She gave up her freedom and personal life to lavish her love and care on the two moms, in addition to the rest of her family. It mattered to her that her mother in law’s final years were as good as they possibly could have been, given her battles with two more strokes. When the experts told Gwyn she wouldn’t be able to handle all that needed to be done, she just said, “Let me try.” And she excelled! Right after Thanksgiving, God took her mother in law home. What an example of unlimited love Gwyn has been for all to witness. She is my hero.

  21. Ellen O. Bender says

    I was enamored of Gene Stratton-Porters nature books and her attempts in the Limberlost woodlands to become a recognized woman author and naturalist…

  22. Barb says

    Not sure what book to write about, mostly I read novels and snippits of informational books but think that I would like to read Margaret’s book.

  23. says

    Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World by Mary Pipher. She tends to her soul with as much care and attention as a traditional gardener in love with the earth. It resonated with me from the very beginning when Pipher shares the basic questions she reflected on with every page of this memoir. “What did I inherit from my ancestors? What did I learn from my surroundings? Was I loved? Was I good? Did I matter?”

    Beautifully written piece, Marion. Thanks so much for sharing it. I’m looking forward to reading Margaret’s new book one way or another.

  24. Karen says

    I loved the book The Earth Moved. All about earth worms! I compost everything and love the worms and want to make them happy, so they will give me lots of castings! I love your books and look forward to reading this one. Thanks!

  25. Emma Dickson says

    I would love to read Margaret’s book. Have enjoyed many “gardening” books over the years, especially Ruth Stout’s No Work gardening books, Square Foot Gardening, permaculture (can’t think of the names). So many wonderful books!

  26. Linden says

    Marion, my favorite other gardening book is Margaret’s first book! The Roach sisters both have a gift with words, and bring pleasure to all of us who read them. I would love to win a copy of Margaret’s second book….

  27. Trish Frazier says

    My sister and I still struggle to embrace how different we are without making the other wrong. I long to have an honest relationship with her. It fills me with hope that you two have found a way to honor each other. My favorite memoir of this year Wild by Cheryl Strayed has absolutely nothing to do with gardening but I found it hard to put down. After that reading I wanted to get on the Pacific Crest trail and hike. After reading $64 Tomato I wanted to garden so who knows what will happen if I get a copy of Margaret’s book.

  28. Carol says

    I inhale anything written about Celia Thaxter’s garden, and artist’s colony, on the Isle of Shoals so long ago. Please count me in for your giveaway of Margaret’s book. I’d love a copy. And thanks for your verbal portrait of both of you!

  29. Veronica says

    My Favorite Plant; Writers and Gardeners on the Plants They Love— edited by Jamaica Kincaid. Lovely little gem of a book

  30. says

    Wow! What a great list of memoir recommendations. As a musician and spiritual seeker, I loved The Music Room by Namita Devidayal. One of the best books I’ve ever read.

  31. melodie says

    As a garden designer, I have to say the most inspiring book I’ve read recently is 40 Years of Chez Panisse by Alice Waters. While vegetable gardening and dreams of opening a cafe someday have overtaken my mind, it is so inspiring! An idea to grow, or to buy local seasonal produce and feed your friends is a beautiful idea.

  32. S.K. says

    I read several books by David Mas Masumoto and enjoyed each and every one. As a farmers daughter I find his books comforting and sometimes a certain passage will cause me great emotion.

  33. says

    Marion, my grandfather’s sister was a Marion spelled with an “o” and his third daughter is named Marion. I like your word “realia” for “writing what you know” as a way to approach memoir writing.

    Your essay above about how you and Margaret were (and are) the same yet different and your “hook” that led me to her love of bird feeding and watching in her backyard reminds me of how much I miss gardening and birding after my husband and I moved to our condo building.

    Dominque Browning’s Around the House and in the Garden has been one of my favorite books about gardening. Ms. Browning was in magazine editing when her husband announced he was leaving.

  34. Suellen says

    Quite honestly, I love your first book! I just recently re-read it! And of course, the Lake Isle of Innisfree, your title inspiration, is my favorite poem. So of course I want your new book!
    Love the blog post!

  35. BooksInGarden says

    Gardening book that are also memoirs: “Gardening for a Lifetime: How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older” by Sydney Eddison, “And I Shall Have Some Peace There” by Margaret Roach, and “Into the Garden with Charles: A Memoir”
    by Clyde Phillip Wachsberger. Each of these books is a peaceful walk in the garden written by a fellow enthusiast, who has a way with words, gardening knowledge and a joyful appreciation of gardening and life.

  36. Marie says

    In 1997 I came across a wonderful book by a very wonderful woman – “12 Lessons on Life I learned from My Garden” by Vivian Elisabeth Glyck. My life was about to explode and this book, and my garden, allowed me to understand that pruning and transplanting and rooting and making sure the conditions were right also pertained to my life. I interviewed the author for a review I was writing and we had a delightful lunch if I recall. Anyway, I love this book and I re-read it often. Looking forward to reading Margaret’s book.

  37. says

    I can’t think right now of a memoir that really moved me. When I think of a book that moved me, I think of the book “Born Under a Million Shadows” by Andrea Busfield. This book was inspired by a young Afghan boy named Fawad who sells maps on Chicken Street in Kabul (Andrea got to know him when she lived there), and that same boy is now nominated for an Oscar this year for his part in a short foreign film. He is a remarkable boy, and the story he inspired moved me as much as he moved the author.

  38. Courtney B. says

    My favorite memoir has been “Glass Castle.” I didn’t really identify with it personally, but I found it delightful and hilarious. I want to win!

  39. josette says

    Count me in….would love to win…reading one of your sister’s books right now (courtesy of my local library)

  40. Jennifer says

    I adored A CountryWomans Year by Rosemary Verey. I found this little gem while on a trip to Maine and devoured it I think gardening is a gateway to the soul and I’d love read Margaret’s take.

  41. says

    Growing up in Florida where everything is “gardened” for one, it was only as an adult with my loving Boston aunt and her community gardens that I discovered my own love for it. And reading Wendell Berry in graduate school only fueled the fire. So Marion, I know you in person, your sister by reputation and following her blog eagerly….and, of course, I have my own 2 younger sisters and so can relate on that level. Congratulations to you both and I’m eagerly looking forward to more from the Roach sisters (and musically, I’m a big fan of the Roche sisters!)…

  42. Sharon says

    Many memoirs engage me, Katherine White’s ‘Onward and Upward in the Garden.’Josephine Nuese’s ‘The Country Garden’, ‘An Island Garden’ by Celia Thaxter, on and on. Would love a copy of your amazing sister’s book!

  43. says

    It is good to know that differently gifted sisters can achieve mutual respect.

    I will name five books certainly worth owning:
    1. Fidelity by Wendell Berry – It’s a short story collection. The title story is profound. It sits on my shelf next to Wendell Berry’s brilliant classic The Unsettling of America which every gardener would do well to read.
    2. Away to Garden by Margaret Roach, a beautiful book which almost made me become a gardener….but deer have prevailed.
    3. Writing What You Know: Realia by Marion Roach Smith, on a shelf near Strunk & White.

  44. Mel says

    Roach sisters!? Now that’s a pleasant discovery. Margaret is my gardening hero and I’d love to read this book. I am not big on memoirs, and can’t recall the last I read (can’t really count that James Frey, can we?) but I clearly need to pay more attention to the genre. Thanks for the opportunity!

  45. says

    Three Dog Life anything by Rick Bragg and and the beautifully touching story in the Memoir Project about “walking our dogs around the perimeters of our lives.”

  46. Janis says

    I love anything written by Des Kennedy here in Canada. Because he gardens in the same zone I can relate to his humour regarding successes and failures.

  47. says

    I have discovered the two amazing Roach sisters on the same day. What luck. I would love to win this book, though I can see that all seven of your (combined) volumes are going on my books-to-read list ASAP.

    I have read many of the books mentioned here by previous commenters, though not all. I must say the book that sticks with me, and which have I re-read several times since childhood is ‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I discovered it at quite a young age after seeing the Shirley Temple movie version of her book ‘The Little Princess.’

    Although it is a children’s book, I love the magical, inspiring story, and yes, the sentimental view of a garden and childhood. The spiritual element rings true for me in my relationship with my own garden. I also adore the charming illustrations by the wonderful Tasha Tudor.

  48. Andrea says

    I just read The Gardener’s Year by Karel Capek whose humorous insights showed me that gardeners everywhere share the same enthusiasms and frustrations, even in 1938 Prague. I cared for my mother after a traumatic brain injury at age 58 that led to seizures and consequent memory loss and personality changes not unlike Alzheimer’s, so I have much sympathy for you both.

  49. Autumn says

    Nature’s Second Chance: Restoring the Ecology of Stone Prairie Farm by Steven Apfelbaum. Spoke to me so deeply that I wanted to pack up my things and move out to Wisconsin to be ready to take over for him when/if he ever gets too old for it.

  50. Kathleen Szoke says

    Some books that come to mind: A Three Dog Life, Let’s Take the Long Way Home, and Michael Pollan’s Second Nature.

  51. Louise says

    Love your sis’s gardening site!

    Also love the book, “Legacy”, by Linda Spence…it’s a beautiful companion when writing about your life.

  52. Julia Hofley says

    I am a lover of books, like many…it’s hard to pick, but:
    1. Crockett’s Indoor Garden in 1978 inspired me to start my 30 year love affair with my indoor garden in apartments.
    2. My first outdoor gardening book I ever read was “Dirt” by Diane Benson. I was in the fashion field at the time, and she wrote of leaving that field, and rebuilding her life in the garden with her husband. It was one of the funniest books I’ve ever read and extremely informative.
    I am still quoting her from this book. I also went into the gardening field and I think she inspired me to think outside the dept. store.
    3. “Planthropology” by Ken Druse, was a real page turner. It was filled with stories, history, interesting quotes and lots of information about plants. One of my all-time favorite books about gardening and gardeners and why we are the way we are. This is my favorite gardening book to give other gardeners.

  53. Karen R. says

    LOVED her first book and am looking forward to The Backyard Parables!!
    Counting the days till gardening begins again.
    Please count me in. Thank you.

  54. eileen o'dea roach says

    Just finished Richard Russo’s “Elsewhere” on his relationship with his mother – talk about co-dependence but alas, like me, and countless others, he managed not only to live through it but thrive as a result of it.

    So enjoyed Margaret’s “And I Shall Have Some Peace There” and look forward to Backyard Parables.

    Count me in please :)

  55. Sharon says

    My favorite gardening book is my first read: Dirt by Dianne Benson. Dianne brought the joy of gardening to life for me with her easy and humorous writing style. Her writing was so accessible and descriptive that I could visualize her entire garden in my mind’s eye.

    The black-and-white illustrations and photographs are lovely and add so much to the tone of this book. There is a photo of herself interpreting Vita Sackville-West’s gardening attire that makes me laugh out loud every time I see it.

    Thank you for reminding me to pull this book from my bookshelf again!

  56. Lynn Rabin Bauer says

    Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton, which reveals her complex inner life and the joy she finds in her garden.

  57. says

    Marion, You had me at the end of the first paragraph! You drew me in with your contrasting sisters story and moved me. Two sisters and I are dealing with the mental and physical decline of our beloved eldest sister who is merely 71 so my heart resonated with your words and feelings. I’ve been a follower of your blog for a short while and Margaret’s much longer. I am fond of both the Roach sisters who tend to words so longingly and manage to bring their worlds to light for us peeking inside.
    I’ve been toying with a couple ideas for memoirs, one of my favorite genres, and I was encouraged to see your extended services for editing. I’ve tucked away that information.
    I’m reading Margaret’s newest book now and remain a fan. If I should win, I know exactly who would appreciate the gift.
    You’ve inspired me to keep at it with my story. Thank you, Marion.

  58. says

    Marion, you write hard diamonds of sentences, always. They jar my mind, phrases like (she’s) ‘a measuring cup and I’m handfuls of flour thrown into a bowl…’
    I’ve never forgotten the novel, ‘The Last Temptation of Christ,’ by Nikos Katzanzakis. I read it at age 20 while an Army draftee serving as an English language instructor to ‘jibaro’ recruits in the mountains of Puerto Rico. It cracked open my mind like a coconut. Not technically a memoir, but delivered the same light.

  59. says

    Hi, Marion.
    I love Sarah Susanka’s Not So Big House architectural books, and she wrote a companion volume with Julie Moir Messervy called “Outside the Not So Big House.” In addition, my best friend gifted me a book called “Spiritual Gardening: Creating Sacred Space Outdoors” by Peg Streep, whose pictures and text I daydream over. My own blog has ended up being about gardening as metaphor–surprise!–for creating a meditative life. Cheers to you and your sister both!

  60. says

    Hi, all:
    Many thanks for the splendid replies. I came away with a wonderful reading list full of inspiring work. Thank you.
    The book giveaway is now closed. I will announce the winner by the end of the week.
    Stay tuned.

  61. says

    I love Martha Beck’s “Expecting Adam” as I have a special son of my own. While he doesn’t have Down Syndrome (he has several rare and complex heart defects), he has taught me much about life.

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