Myths, Lies, and All The Latest Dirt

That has been the title of a talk about garden myths that I’ve been presenting since 2004. When St. Lynn’s Press expressed a desire to have me do a book about this topic, my response was, “I’d love to, especially if I can make the book as much fun as the talk.”

My feeling is that many of garden myths continue to live on because they are quirky and often kind of fun. It’s amusing to think we might reach into our kitchen cupboard and come out with an easy solution to a garden problem. Some of this lore is about using objects and products that we’re already familiar with in a new way, and that too makes them memorable. So I knew that my mission when writing this book was to make the debunking funny, or tie it to something we’ve been previously comfortable with.

Coffee for Roses

Coffee for Roses became the final title for the book and I included a total of 71 myths about plants and gardening. One of the things that made the writing of this book so enjoyable was the research. I looked to see which of these myths had their roots in the truth, and when they started to be propagated. Especially enjoyable was my discovery of the Library of Congress site, Chronicling America.

This website allows you to search on specific terms and see which newspapers those words have appeared in during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I was able to track gardening practices and advice given in the press to find which myths were being shared during that time. Since you see the entire newspaper, ads and all, the most difficult aspect of this research was not getting side tracked by reading the entire paper. Anyone with an interest in history will find Chronicling America a fascinating resource.

Occasionally what I found when researching these myths was surprising. Looking at the belief that ants help peonies to open, for example, I found that gardeners and garden writers have pooh-poohed this notion forever. Those who know plants and gardening realize the ants are merely there to eat the sweet sap that peony buds exude. But I found that the idea that the ants are helping the flowers to unfurl was repeated in sermons, daily inspirational guides and other metaphor rich writings.

Finally, I discovered that many of these myths seemed to flourish in the middle of the 20th century. Was this because they were spread more quickly or because people became more entranced with the quick fix? After the Second World War this country plunged into becoming a fast food, instant coffee culture where ease is often prized above all else. Is this the reason that some of these myths germinated and thrived?

Whatever the reason, I am pleased that others have reported that they have found this book readable and even laugh-out-loud funny. You can listen to the interview Linda Wertheimer did with me about the book on the Weekend Edition Website, and I look forward to hearing what other myths you’ve heard that I didn’t include. And that’s the latest dirt!

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