015-Life Lessons on Gardening and Design with Margaret Roach

| Care, Podcast

Over my long career in horticulture and gardening media, I’ve had the privilege of meeting pretty much all my heroes – the people that really walk their talk and that I truly respect and admire. In my short list of standouts is Margaret Roach.


Margaret Roach in her garden

Margaret Roach has been cultivating her garden by hand for over 30 years.


Our kindred spirits have united us as good friends. Her candid willingness to allow us into her life as a gardener, seeker, lover of nature, and human being has given anyone willing an easy lens into her life. And that is what initially drew me in as well.


GGWTV crew with Margaret Roach

Co-Executive Producer, Theresa Loe setting up the interview conversation with Margaret, while Director of Photography, Carl Pennington checks lighting.


Over time, my television crew for Growing a Greener World and I had the good opportunity to visit with Margaret in her garden over several days. In back-to-back years, Margaret allowed us to feature her in her garden – perhaps the only access I’m aware of to really being able to see her garden in such an intimate way. With Margaret as our gracious host, she guided us through just a sample of her experience and wisdom gleaned from decades of cultivating this sacred ground.

For many years, beginning in her 20’s, Margaret worked in the heart of NYC, primarily as a journalist, eventually working her way up to being the high-powered corporate Executive Vice President and Editorial Director of Martha Stewart Living.

Eventually, yet while still very young, she traded in her high heels for garden boots and created an exit strategy, finally leaving her corporate life for a more simple, rural life as a writer and gardener.

These days, Margaret generously shares with us the landscape she has created as well as life lessons she picks up along the way while being quick to remind us that we must garden with both our head and heart or as she expresses it, with “horticultural how-to and woo-woo.”

While Margaret has many lessons we can all apply to our gardening and design principles, three of her favorite mentioned in this podcast include the following:


Margaret Roach view out window

One of Margaret’s go-to tips is to design your garden from the inside out, such as in this shot, looking out from her bedroom window. Photo by Margaret Roach.


Start by designing your garden from the inside out

As busy gardeners, we rarely sit still long enough outside to really get the sense of taking it all in. Yet from the inside, when we’re not gardening, we are given a quieter, more contemplative perspective from where we spend the rest of our time.

From the inside looking out – from our kitchen window as we prepare our meals, or from the bathroom as we brush our teeth, or when reading a book from a cozy chair, those perspectives to the outside world can provide the starting place from which to create those initial designs.

Margaret planned many of her gardens on axis from her window views. And why not? It’s likely the places we look upon our gardens most and provide the perfect starting point from which to expand our designs.


Gold foliage pulls and draws the eye across the landscape

Another tip frequently used by Margaret is to use bold foliage colors (gold is her favorite) to draw the eye across and through the property – especially by adding layers of similar colors. Photo by Margaret Roach.


Draw the eye across your landscape and front to back with repetition of bold colors

A well-known garden design technique is to use repeating patterns of bold colors to draw the eye across the landscape. Also, design with similar color pallets but in multiple layers. In such a way, not only can you draw the eye across the landscape, but you can pull it from front to back and create greater unity by working in layers with similar, bold colors.


Margaret Roach's deep olive paint color to ground the house to the landscape

One of Margaret’s first orders of business was painting her house from white to a dark olive, grounding it to the landscape. Photo by Margaret Roach.


Ground your house to your landscape and garden using complementary colors

Your house and out buildings can stand out, sometimes starkly, or they can blend seamlessly into the surrounding landscape and garden.

Such is the case with Margaret’s house. When she bought it, the house was stark white and appeared to float in a sea of open fields. Margaret’s initial goal was to give roots to her house, by painting it a dark olive green, and trimmed in a complementary orange-red. And she did the same with her outbuildings.

Now, her house and sheds appear more to be a part of the garden and overall design rather than a glaring monument that screams for attention. The effect is a masterful blending of structure, form, and texture that works so beautifully to tie it all together in a non-distracting and complimentary way.


Margaret Roach with Joe Lamp'l

About the only piece of mechanical equipment, Margaret uses on her property is her small Kubota tractor to mow the pathways and lawns over her two-acre property.


I urge you to visit the links to the episodes below. Watch our videos with Margaret. Read her books, and absorb her wonderful wisdom of decades of gardening in harmony with nature. This is indeed a gardener who gets it. One who understands we share this earth, not from a position to dominate, but as stewards, and as responsible gardeners, we play an important role in respecting and fostering that.


Happy frog at one of Margaret's many water gardens

One of many happy frogs that live in and around several water gardens that Margaret provides for them, along with an occasional serving of invasive earthworms.


I hope you enjoyed this episode as much as I did.

Resources & Links

Episode 020: Gardening for the Birds with Margaret Roach

Episode 065: Tips For Reducing Garden Overwhelm, With Margaret Roach

GGW Episode 418: In the Garden with Margaret Roach. This is our first of two Growing a Greener World episodes with Margaret. This is a wonderful, must see episode to visually connect what you heard to today and more

GGW Episode 526: Blooms and Birds with Margaret Roach. This is our second episode with Margaret in her beautiful garden. This time the focus in on her passion for backyard birding. Tips for attracting, protecting and welcoming them to your garden. We also partner with Cornell Ornithology lab for a deeper dive into online resources available lately for those interested in learning more about birding.

A Way to Garden – Margaret’s website

A Way to Garden Podcast – Margaret’s excellent weekly podcast

The Backyard Parables: Lessons on Gardening and Life by Margaret Roach (2013)

And I Shall Have Some Peace There: Trading in the Fast Lane for my Own Dirt Road by Margaret Roach (2012)

And thanks, today to our episode sponsor and brand partner of joe gardener®, Corona Tools, where it’s easy to become Corona Confident, season after season. Enter code joegardener20 for 20% off + free shipping

Book links are affiliate links

About Joe Lamp'l

Joe Lamp’l is the creator and “joe” behind joe gardener®. His lifetime passion and devotion to all things horticulture has led him to a long-time career as one of the country’s most recognized and trusted personalities in organic gardening and sustainability. That is most evident in his role as host and creator of Emmy Award-winning Growing a Greener World®, a national green-living lifestyle series on PBS currently broadcasting in its tenth season. When he’s not working in his large, raised bed vegetable garden, he’s likely planting or digging something up, or spending time with his family on their organic farm just north of Atlanta, GA.

2 Responses to “015-Life Lessons on Gardening and Design with Margaret Roach”

  • jlotz says:

    Joe, I’m listening as I type this. I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying this conversation. I feel like I’m sitting around the kitchen table with the two of you, enjoying a cup of coffee.
    I’m loving these podcast episodes. So full of good information, but informal, relaxed, not rushed; as a gardening podcast should be. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

  • jlotz says:

    Joe, I’m listening as I type this. I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying this conversation. I feel like I’m sitting around the kitchen table with the two of you, enjoying a cup of coffee.
    I’m loving these podcast episodes. So full of good information, but informal, relaxed, not rushed; as a gardening podcast should be. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

  • Joe Lamp'l says:

    Love this comment! It’s exactly what I was hoping anyone listening would feel from this conversation. Thank you for confirming that here. Makes me very happy!

  • amyinnh says:

    New house, before it was finished, Scarlett Tanager came right at the patio door, last second a 90 degree turn straight up – full glory of the black and red color, hooked on birds ever since.
    It’s been brutal getting an acre to recover from builder bulldozer terrain change. Sandy, full sun, all the harder.
    But birds have helped, by reseeding natives.
    Still, when I watch Plant This instruction, I find little to plant in full sun sand/rock. So far, native trees, US prairie and Mediterranean perennial seem best at surviving. The only interest by the birds seem to be the evergreens for winter cover, and liatris seedheads in fall/winter by Gold Finches.

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