As part of this month’s featured book giveaway, I’m thrilled to share with y’all this virtual interview with Andrew Keys, one of my favorite garden writers/thinkers and author of a fabulous new book, Why Grow That When You Can Grow This? . I hope you’ll read it, enjoy it, and then run off to register for the book.
Great title and concept, Andrew! What prompted you to write the book?
Thanks! Well, for years, I found myself wishing I could grow plants that would never thrive where I lived–Mediterranean plants in the South, southern plants in the Northeast. One day, I got fed up and decided I was going to look for plants that did similar things to those I’d wanted to grow so badly, as well as be happy in my yard and my climate.
Most non-fiction authors–garden writers included–discover when writing that they can still learn something new about their chosen topic. What discoveries did you make while writing your own book? Did you find any new favorite plants in the process of your research?
Oh, I learned a ton. My mission was to offer enough diversity in alternatives to the “problem plants” in the book that at least one alternative would be suited to most every climate across North America. It was a VERY tall order, and I’m lucky enough to have friends all over I could ask for advice. More than that, writing the book forced me to articulate why we so want to grow these “problem plants” we often can’t.
I found more new favorite plants than you can shake a stick at. One I bet you’d like is the ‘Peggy Martin’ rose, which I offer as an alternative to conventional climbing roses. Not only is this one relatively pest- and disease-free, it survived under 20 feet of saltwater in the Louisiana garden of its namesake after Hurricane Katrina. That’s one tough plant!
Having read reactions elsewhere to both the book and your discussion of it, it’s been interesting to see how many people feel the need to confess their own “plant vices,” or plants that give them fits but they keep trying to grow. Why do you think we gardeners have such strong feelings or “shoulds” about certain plants? Is it cultural?
It’s cultural in the sense that many have been grown for generations, so gardeners find themselves sentimental for these plants their parents or grandparents grew. The tough part is that in those intervening generations, gardening on the whole has changed from a tradition in which people fussed over plants, and all kinds of unsustainable practices were commonplace, to one where we people are more environmentally conscious and expect to have to invest SOME effort, but also want to spend their time outside enjoying a garden of plants that can fend for themselves, in large part, and do great things over a longer season. And these plants exist, so why not?
One of my favorite blog posts by you is on the topic of “plantcestry.” How does that idea fit into this book, if at all?
It’s funny you say that, because plantcestry is part of what inspired the book! I really feel that plants touch us all somehow, and I wanted to chronicle the plants that affected me early on in life. These were the plants I’d been pining for, and attempting to grow here in the Northeast, where most aren’t hardy. That got me thinking about how and why we’re sentimental about plants, what motivates that sentiment, and whether there were plants that WOULD thrive here that gave me that same spark of recognition.
What’s the over-arching “take away” that you want for the book’s readers?
My hope is that this book will give readers the tools to choose plants that will thrive for them AND scratch that sentimental itch. This book is just a jumping-off point, and I hope it gets the gears turning in readers’ minds about how to choose plants wisely without settling for something they love any less.
Thanks, Andrew! And, everyone else, please go register for a chance to win your very own copy of Why Grow That When You Can Grow This?.