Category Archives: Gardening is Sexy

Please Don’t Piss on the Petunias—a Memoir



My memoir is coming out this month!

Yes, I know. I announced that it was coming out “soon” in JUNE (over six months ago). This baby is late, very late. As some of you know, I’m a self-taught publisher. Over the last eight years, I’ve published six issues of Greenwoman, a YA novel (Zera and the Green Man), a book of short stories (Fifty Shades of Green), a few e-books, and many articles and posts. I’ve had the honor and pleasure of working with many talented writers of fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry. I’d published so many things, but I’d never published a memoir—so here, once again, was another huge learning curve.

I thought I had all the material, all the stories I’d written over the years, and it could be easily put together. Oh, ha ha—wishful thinking! Luckily, my daughters (thank the heavens for them, always bringing me back to reality and keeping the bar set high) told me that the first draft was too incomplete and too inconsistent.

Those were not words I was hoping to hear.

My daughters urged me to rewrite several of the stories in past tense. A significant undertaking.

Then I discovered that the book, about our menagerie of pets over the years (among other things), really needed a story about our dog Chancho.

More importantly, the book needed an “origin” story.

That story took another month of writing, but first I had to time-travel back twenty-five years. (And let me tell you, time-travel is not easy!) The process was difficult emotionally, reliving those days, the tough times back in the early days, before all the fun started with raising kids, chickens, and a garden. Andy and I were just starting out in business and in parenthood, paying student loans and the mortgage on two houses for an entire year, living paycheck to paycheck (having to borrow money at times from his brother Danny to keep the utilities on), as Andy worked seven days a week to fix up a beautiful yet humble home with (finally) a space to garden . . . Oh, and did I mention I was pregnant with Lily and we had no health insurance?

I wrote the origin story. We went over the manuscript, again. And then again, reading it aloud this time and making over 600 more editing changes.

Two days ago I received what I hope will be the final proof. One more fine-tooth comb reading and a only a few (I hope!) minor edits.

I was reminded: Anything worthwhile takes time and thought and care. More than you imagine!

But today, finally, a sneak peek! Here she is. Almost born!

(Consider this an invitation to the baby shower.)


Now for the backstory on the title, because some of you might remember that it was going to be titled The Chicken Chronicles. A good friend alerted me (thank you, V. G.!) that there was already a memoir with that title, by the illustrious Alice Walker (the Pulitzer-prize winning author of The Color Purple). Her book was also about chickens. So . . . I had to think of another title. Not easy, as that was my “working title” for years.

For a while I was stuck on Mother Hen . . .  but no one seemed thrilled about that one, and the only male beta reader (hello, Geno!) gave it a thumbs’ down in appeal to male readers. A clever friend (again, G. V.) , suggested a few alternatives. Her favorite was Chicken Scratches, which had its charms, but as I always prided myself on good penpersonship, it didn’t connect with me the way it needed to.

Sidenote: Wow, while writing this, I just thought of another title . . . Clucked Up. Ha ha! Maybe that will be the title of the sequel! Goodness knows there have been many more challenges and harrowing adventures this last decade— and especially these last two years!

Anyway, back to the subject at hand: One day I was rattling off title suggestions to Lily, including “Please Don’t Piss on the Penstemons,” the original title of one of the stories about our dog, Broonzy, and his destructive puppyhood. The back story on that title is that it’s a play on the old book/movie title Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, a work I’d never read, but I remembered vividly from childhood.

Lily said, “I like that one.”

Image result for please don't eat the daisies

I said, “I do too, especially the alliteration, but . . . I don’t know. It has a swear word. And I think there are a lot of people who don’t even know what penstemons are!”

Lily said that readers could look up penstemons—and that it wasn’t a big deal about “piss.”

I still thought it could be a dangerous move, a title with both “penstemons” and “piss,” so I decided to change penstemons to another “p” flower. What would sound best? We asked friends their preference: poppies, pansies, petunias or peonies?

“Petunias” won.

Now, to take a look at “piss” (ha). I researched: “book titles with swear words.” It seems that it can actually help sell a book these days!  Who knew? I brought it up to a media-savvy friend (hello, Mary Ellen!) a decade older than I am. She was, to my surprise, very enthusiastic. She said, “Our book club chose to read The Badass Librarians of Timbuktu  because of the title. Do it, Sandy!”

Still searching for a bit more reassurance (this was a big move!), I brought up the subject of swear words in book titles in Facebook-land. My mother immediately commented that she would never have a book with a swear word in the title on her coffee table! (Protecting the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, you see. I didn’t even disclose what the colorful word would be, but she was against it.)

So “Piss” it was!

The book is very sweet (and only slightly pissy). More than anything, it is a love letter to our home and garden, our family, and Nature.

I hope you’ll make a note to buy a copy this month. I’ll let you know when she is born!

With much love and appreciation to all who have helped bring yet another dream to fruition,

— Sandy


Filed under DIY, Garden Writers We Love, garden writing, Gardening is Sexy, Love, Mother Nature, Pets, Wisdom

Strawberries Half-Drown’d in Cream


Portrait of a Woman Revealing Her Breasts, Jacopo Tintoretto, c. 1570; via Wikimedia Commons.


Because it is May and the flowers are stirring, because I am in a celebratory mood today, because I am naughty, because this was one of my favorite poems (though we didn’t go over it in class) as an English major at CU back in the day, because Robert “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may” was so cool, because there is so much botanical imagery in this poem!

Enjoy – and I hope you all have some sexy plans to celebrate the merry month of May.


Upon the Nipples of Julia’s Breast

HAVE ye beheld (with much delight)
A red rose peeping through a white ?
Or else a cherry, double grac’d,
Within a lily centre plac’d ?
Or ever mark’d the pretty beam
A strawberry shows half-drown’d in cream ?
Or seen rich rubies blushing through
A pure smooth pearl and orient too ?
So like to this, nay all the rest,
Is each neat niplet of her breast.

—Robert Herrick

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Gardening Just Got Dirtier: Fifty Shades of Green FREE on Amazon Sept 1-5!


Bus copy

FREE download September 1-5!


Hi everyone,

Today through Sept. 5th I’m offering a giveaway for, if I do say so myself, an excellent collection of garden erotica!

Who knew there was such a thing as garden erotica? I didn’t, but I had always thought the idea was an intriguing one, so a couple of years ago I sort of . . .  invented a new genre. I decided to publish a book – a collection of sexy (and sometimes very humorous) stories that take place in the garden (you know, that paradise on Earth where some believe original “sin”occurred?). Of course I wanted it to have a feminist slant, and the title shows that I also wanted to poke a little fun at Fifty Shades of Grey. I sent out a call for submissions, and Fifty Shades of Green was the result.

You can read the story about how it all came about here.

And here’s a radio interview you might enjoy.

You can download the book FREE, today through Monday, by going here.

PLEASE tell your gardening friends about this naughty offer, and consider buying some early holiday gifts for your favorite dirty gardeners! I guarantee that this will help them get through the winter.

—Sandra Knauf


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To All the Lusty Gardeners: Fifty Shades of Green Interview with Publisher Sandra Knauf

Photo by Lily Knauf.

Photo by Lily Knauf.

Well, here I am, interviewing myself for a press release I put together for Fifty Shades of Green last fall. (When you hear self-publishers wear a lot of hats, that is the truth!) I was going to share this interview back with you then, but other things came up and it got stuck in the Drafts folder here on WordPress. Since the film of the other Fifty Shades book is out, I thought now might be a good time.

If you haven’t bought a copy of my book yet, you’re in luck. We have a special going on now – retail price is $15.95, sale price is $12.95 (and it looks like Amazon has taken another dollar off from there). Don’t delay; the savings will not get better than this! Here’s the link!

—Sandra Knauf

And Now . . . the Interview

What brought this book about? It started as a joke. I read Fifty Shades of Grey and was shocked. Not by the BDSM sex, but by the inequality in the relationship. I thought: This is what women find sexy? The story had no basis in reality and the heroine was the “submissive”—in bed, in experience, and economically and socially. What’s sexy about that?

I talked to friends and saw most had the same reaction. At first I thought it would be funny to do a parody, a novel with a female protagonist who was older and a billionaire, someone who had all the power in society, and in the bedroom, who would mete out discipline to a virginal, college-aged male love interest. But after exploring that idea, I found it didn’t hold my interest. So the idea changed to a collection of stories.

Where did the gardening theme come from? Gardening had to be a theme. It’s my personal passion and it’s the subject of all my publishing work. Plus, the garden is the perfect setting for sexual encounters. Non-gardeners may not know this, but the garden is a sexy, fruitful, lustful place. And besides, women and gardens have shared an intimate relationship since the beginning; starting, one could say, with Eve.

Can you tell us about the writers? I fell in love with all the writers. Most are seasoned erotica writers and avid gardeners, so they know what they’re writing about in both departments. Several are men, and it was wonderful to have that perspective; two of the writers are from Britain, and I found that thrilling as the British are known for their mad gardening skills. Another writer’s the editor for a regional gardening magazine, and one graduated from Harvard Law School. There’s an exciting diversity in styles and backgrounds.

Do you have a background in the erotica genre? No, and I honestly didn’t know a lot about the genre before I started this project. But I learned, and I read some of the best work out there, and the more I learned the greater my respect for the genre grew. This is my feeling on the subject: sexuality is one of the most important, powerful, and certainly one of the most beautiful aspects of our existence and the way it’s treated is sad. We have a culture where sex=porn and that is just not so. There needs to be a return to honoring sexuality and lovemaking. Placing sexuality in a dark, forbidden place breeds a lot of society’s ills.

How do you feel erotica fits into today’s literature and why is it becoming so popular? I feel that readers are looking for deeper connections, and when you have access to a character’s sexuality, you see the whole person. I think this is the reason TV shows have become more sexual—not for the titillation, though that can be a part of it, but because we want fully-developed characters. In a big way, A Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert validated this book project for me. Here was a story, from a respected author, about a virginal woman in the 1800s obsessed with studying, of all things, mosses. There’s a lot about horticulture and history and becoming a fully-realized human being, but Gilbert also explored her protagonist’s sexuality. It was enthralling, reading about this character’s sexual awakening and her desires.

What surprised you most about the stories you received? The imagination, and the heart. Eros is the god of love and where the word erotica originates, and there is a joy and a depth in these stories that goes far beyond the sex act. In pornography there is no heart; it’s only about the stimulation. I found myself moved by some of the stories, such as “Pulse of the Earth,” a healing love story between two men. “Love Lies Bleeding” is so beautifully written it took my breath away, and “Phallus Impudicus” is high comedy. “The Judgment of Eric” is a riddle. There are a couple of stories where love potions figure in and that’s always fun, both from an adult “fairy tale” perspective and from a psychological standpoint. The collection is a mix of many aspects of the sexual psyche.

Did you have a favorite? Yes and no. I hand-picked them all, and I love them all, but there are a few that are special to me. I won’t name my favorites, but what’s funny is they changed during the editorial process. One story I read aloud recently and just went, “Wow. I think this is my favorite.” I also find it interesting that there’s no consensus among those who’ve read the book. This tells me there’s something for everyone.

Do you garden? (And do you think gardening’s sexy?) Can I scream, “Oh YESSSS!”? I have been an obsessed gardener for over two decades, when we first bought a home that had a yard. I went through master gardener training twice, the second time as a refresher course. I remember the first cottage garden I saw. I was 19 and my soon-to-be husband and I were house-sitting for his brother and his wife. Victoria and Danny had little money but they had an amazing garden: chickens and flowers, a vegetable garden, fruit trees in barrels, a tiered strawberry bed. This was in Colorado in the 1980s and enjoying this humble yet wildly productive and beautiful garden I thought, “This is paradise. I want to do this one day.” And I did.

As far as sex and the garden go, there is no place sexier. Flowers are the sex organs of plants, you know. They are beautiful and many emit intoxicating perfumes. If you have a flower garden and a vegetable garden, you have an orgy going on during the spring and summer, right in your backyard! The bees and butterflies are pollinating, the flowers are cross-pollinating. It’s amazing. You’re surrounded by sex.                                                                                                                                                                                         

P. S. I thought you might find it amusing that the pose and setting for my press kit photo was inspired by one of my favorite garden writers—that true champion of organic growing, Ruth Stout! I love her so! It I wrote about her life last year in a mini-bio that you can read either in Greenwoman #5 or in the Kindle publication, The Whole Ruth: A Biography of Ruth Stout.

Thank you, Ruth. Your sexy good humor was just what I was looking for.

My sultry and sensual garden mentor, Ruth Stout. Did you know she enjoyed gardening in the nude?

I imagine Ruth Stout thought this photo funny and suggestive of a “roll in the hay” with the author of books on straw mulch gardening!
(Did you know she enjoyed gardening in the nude?)

And, once more, the link to buy yourself (or your lusty gardening pal/s) a copy. You know they make great gifts, too!

Poppy FInal June 17 copy

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Fifty Shades of Green

Poppy FInal June 17 copy



Some of you know about the adults-only publishing adventure I’ve been on this spring and summer, Fifty Shades of Green.  It’s a book project that started out as a feminist answer to the famous/notorious novel Fifty Shades of Grey, but then turned into a one-of-a-kind collection of erotic and literary gardening stories. (With a feminist bent, of course.)

I wanted to announce today that while we’re still a week or so from having the paperback book available, Zora and I have managed to get five individual stories available on Kindle as of today. I am also offering a FREE sample story, “Phallus Impudicus,” for those who sign up for the Fifty Shades of Green newsletter. (Look to the top right of this blog to sign up or go to the Garden Shorts website.)

For those of you with full in-boxes, I’m offering, temporarily, this link to read the story on the Garden Shorts webpage. It’s a hidden page so it doesn’t show up on the site. You’ll only be able to access it through this special link, here.

But, I’d encourage you to sign up for the newsletter. There won’t be a lot of “mail” and through the newsletter you’ll learn more about the project, its authors, have access to discounts and special offers, etc.

We may have the entire book available on Kindle as a digital download as early as today. For those of you who don’t have a Kindle device, you don’t need one; you can download a reader-app from Amazon and read it right off of your computer. It’s easy-peasy!

If you choose to indulge in any of these stories, please let me know what you’ve sampled and what you think! (And it would be great if you told your friends about it, too.)

The second part of this post is about our story covers. While I hope to connect with gardeners and aspiring gardeners through this project we realize there’s a huge erotica market out there and those readers might be  interested in this book.

With that in mind, Zora thought we should create some “sexy lady” covers. My idea was having covers that feature some kind of provocative-looking fruit, veggie, or flower, like the poppy bud on the book’s cover. We talked it over and I sided with the fresh vision of youth; we’d try the sexy ladies. And I realized that this produce/floral idea might only catch on with gardeners.

So, among other things, we spent all week making covers and formatting individual stories and the book.

You’ll can see three of the covers—and stories—on Amazon if you type in “Fifty Shades of Green.”

For the additional two stories: “The Education of a French Gardener” is here. “First, Take Off the Hoodie” is here.

I have no idea why these two don’t come up through the author or editor’s name. Yet another glitch to fix!  There are many in self-publishing. It is anything but easy-peasy.

Now for my cover story. This week I made the cover for “The Judgment of Eric.” It’s a story about a gardener who gets the attention of two Greek Gods, Apollo and Dionysus. They appear in his garden and compel him to participate in a contest—a contest in which Eric will decide which god is the better lover! It’s sexy, wildly imaginative, and homoerotic. (We have three homoerotic stories in the twelve story collection.)

I tried to think of a good image and finally came up with this one. It’s from an ancient Greek amphora (jar).


I thought it was art, Amazon thinks it's pornographic.

I thought it was art. Amazon thinks it’s pornographic.


Last night I was notified this cover was rejected as pornographic. I disagree, but I adapted it. (And then we all had a good laugh.) Now I don’t know if this one will be rejected, too, but to me it’s  more suggestive. Such is the nature of censorship.



I don't know, is this "better"?

I don’t know, is this “better”?


I hope you’ll take a peek!

—Sandra Knauf


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Fifty Shades of Green

The cover is a take on the Fifty Shades of Gray title, with the hose signifying . . . well, you'll just have to use your imagination there.

Our mock-up for the cover is a take on the Fifty Shades of Grey cover, with the hose signifying    . . . well, whatever your imagination wants it to signify.


It started last year after reading a Facebook post. Someone shared an article about how Fifty Shades of Grey author E. L. James made more money that year than any author on the planet.

Yes, the planet.

That was hard for me to believe. So I read the article. It was true. Then I thought, well, damn, I guess I have to read the book now. See what the fuss is about.

I think everyone’s heard of it. It’s a book that features a lot of sex between a handsome (but psychologically damaged) billionaire and a plucky and pretty college student. The title comes from his declaration, “I’m fifty shades of f**ed up, Ana.” And from the fact that his surname’s Grey.  The 21-year-old college student starts the story, and the relationship, as a virgin. Their names are swooningly romantic, the prince-and-princess-like Christian and Anastasia. 

So I downloaded the book from the library, read most of it, and realized two things. One, contrary to popular opinion among writers, the writing’s not bad. The prose is not dazzling, nor original, but it’s solid, and the protagonist is believable.

My problems with the story were the single theme (a troubled romance), and that there were no other plot lines. I also didn’t find Christian compelling or interesting (poor suffering, handsome billionaire just doesn’t resonate with me).

The second thing I noticed was that the sensationalism came from the abundant and explicit kinky sex that Christian persuades Ana to participate in. By kinky, I mean light BDSM, which I learned stood for bondage/discipline, submission/dominance, and sadism/masochism. Ana has mixed feelings about all this, but overall she enjoys it. She sets some sensible boundaries, so nothing is that dangerous or demeaning—in her opinion, anyway.

50shadesofgrey (2)

So there you go! Oh yes, it’s also a fan fiction from another disturbing (to me, anyway) 21st century relationship story written for teens, Twilight.

What was funny to me was the stories I’d hear about Fifty Shades. One seventy-year-old friend told me her book group read it and the ladies, all around her age, loved it. Diane, no prude, refused to read it. (Good for you, I thought.) My daughter Zora, who was in Ireland in school last year said the book was very popular on campus. Many students were talking about it, and someone told of a monk they knew who was seen reading it on the bus; even his curiosity got the better of him!

Such are fads.

I did have one connection with the book before I read it. I was in the store last Valentine’s Day when I spotted the cookbook parody Fifty Shades of Chicken. I looked through it, found it hilarious (it has recipes for Mustard-Spanked Chicken and Dripping Thighs) and bought it for my husband. If you haven’t seen the steamy trailer for that, feast your eyes here. And you’ll get a good idea of the prose in Fifty Shades of Grey.

What ultimately bothered me about Fifty Shades of Grey were the stereotypes: pure-hearted girl, smart and brave but dirt-poor financially in comparison to her love interest, mooning and swooning over her societal “better.”

She is in a powerless position in comparison to him, yet the overall message is that her love will save him!

There’s not even a twist with the whole BDSM thing . . . she’s, get this, the “submissive” in the relationship! Excuse me while I throw up. This is how far we’ve gotten? I mean, I know biology is biology, and love is love, but still . . . is there no progress?

I bitched about the book to a friend, saying something along the lines of, “I would like to write a parody of this book where the tables are turned. Where it’s an older woman who is the powerful billionaire and the guy’s the virginal college student, and she gets to tie him up and spank him! But I also want a gardening theme. Hmm. Okay, I’ve got it. She’s this powerful woman who is helping save the environment through her scientific work, yet she likes to do naughty stuff in her garden.”

My dear friend, whose imagination knows no bounds but is acquainted with bondage, immediately came up with some ideas for my new story. This is from a letter she wrote:

“Now you have my sick imagination working with your wicked theme. . . .The plethora of garden implements and tools certainly adds to the spice. ‘I remember a particularly effective lover who made me pick out my own switch from the garden bushes for my spanking.’ Yes, there is a lot of S&M potential in the garden but we could camp it up and add liberal dashes of sarcasm. Forcing a lover to wear stilettos when she was turning the compost. Creative uses for garden hoses. Making the lover into a ‘weeding slave’ who must stay on his hands and knees for hours doing your dirty work (now I might really advertise for that one!)”

Of course I was beyond delighted with Rebekah’s ideas. This idea could be fun! Yet, the more I thought about it, the more limiting I realized a parody of the book would be. Having no personal experience in . . . whatever that acronym is, I read up on the subject. Let me say I have no qualms with those who are into this kind of lifestyle, but it’s not for me. In fact, The Story of O left me cold. I find no thrills in pain (though, yes, I know about the role endorphins play, I get it). I find no swoons in that kind of vulnerability. Perhaps I have slavery in my genetic background as the thought of being handcuffed and under someone else’s mercy, even a lover . . . just . . . no. I wondered, is it just me or do privileged white people get into this stuff more?  (I just looked it up. Yes, indeed, that seems to be the case, but again, it’s “complicated.” I skimmed this scholarly article on the subject, if you’re interested.)

What does intrigue about the Fifty Shades phenomenon is the playful aspect. Readers testing boundaries. Readers liking to experiment with their literature.

I started to think of my idea for a book. I loved the idea of getting down (however you may interpret that) in the garden. Now that is sexy. And the garden as a place for lovemaking, really, it’s so perfect. Isn’t that where it all started?

But then, one story wouldn’t be enough. And why limit love to bondage, or one couple in particular?

I began to think about an anthology.

This was something I knew would be fun, but at the same time, I was reluctant to take on another project. The magazine and my young adult novel, both of which I cared deeply about, were taking all of my time. How could I add something else? On the other hand, I desperately needed a diversion. Something more frivolous and fun (and sexy!) where I’d get to work with other writers. This could be perfect. I had been wanting to work on another fiction book for two years, with two other writers, but hadn’t had the time to devote to it. This project could fill that need.

But would anyone connect to the idea?

Some of you may be thinking—are you kidding? All I can say to that is when you’re an author and publisher you are filled with self-doubt on a daily basis.

I asked some friends and they all thought the idea was hilarious.

I continued with the plan and in early April got a website up and a call for submissions listed on Duotrope. The incomparable Elisabeth Kinsey agreed to be editor. (If you don’t know Elisabeth’s work, you are missing out. She’s written six brilliant “Sex in the Garden” essays for Greenwoman Magazine. She is perfect for this project.) I wrote a few other friends who are writers and asked them to spread the word. Several of them (all extraordinary writers) said they wanted to participate!

As we talked, a few of us even thought of pseudonyms we might use. Rebekah said she’d always wanted to use a name she’d heard on an episode of Will & Grace, when Megan Mullally (who plays Karen) blurts out a fake name during a bowling outing with strangers.

Anastasia Beaverhouse.

I will leave you time for laughing before I tell you the one I came up with.

Mimsey Quimblossom. I liked the “mmm” sounds.

(And it got worse from there.)

So there has already been frivolity and the submissions are pouring in! The first two were from dear Rebekah, and they are astonishing. One is sweet, one is the funniest story I have read about sex. In the last few weeks I have received stories from people I didn’t know—well written, intelligent, captivating, lusty, garden-y stories. The project is well underway. I am really looking forward to sharing this book with you!

I wanted to tell you about it today as some of you may be writers and you may wish to delve into this subject matter. Isn’t it a well-known issue with writers that some have trouble writing about sex? Well, now’s your chance! It’s about a month before the submission deadline, June 15th. The book will be published in July on Amazon Createspace. It will also be available as a digital download.

If you’re interested in submitting a story, get the details here on the website.

So mark your calendars and tell your friends. This book will be this summer’s must-read.




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Spring Dreaming With Amanda Thomsen

Illustration by Laura Chilson

Illustration by Laura Chilson

I was surprised a few days ago to learn that not one, but two, friends were starting tomato seeds. Could it be possible? Yes, indeed, it’s that time again. Time for gardens to begin sprouting in our winter consciousnessif not on our kitchen windowsills. These days, I’m fighting that impulse as I’m buried (almost literally, you should see my office) in paperwork. But it matters not. The seed beckon. Soon I’ll be happy to jump in, too. I’ll buy some more seeds, as a girl can never have too many seeds, and I have had my eye on a very nifty soil block maker.

Today, though, I thought I’d share an interview I did last summer with Amanda Thomsen, author of one of the best books out there for brand new gardeners (I’ll tell you about it in a moment and Dan Murphy shares his review at the end of the post). These days Amanda is busier than ever with work, her daughter Hazel (one of the most entertaining and adorable toddlers in the land), and, of course, a multitude of other projects. In fact, she just told me this morning that her garden was to be a part of the soon-to-be-published book by Niki Jabbour, Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 Plans That Will Change the Way You Grow Your Garden. The book looks great and Amanda is one of the 73 “superstar gardeners” featured. (Amy Stewart, Barbara Pleasant, Dave Dewitt, and Jessi Bloom are also included.) You can check it out here, and pre-order!

Now to the interview! Originally Published in Greenwoman Magazine Issue #5 this summer.

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Gardeners in the know, know Amanda Thomsen.

She’s the lady with the cool blog, Kiss My Aster!, who also blogged for Horticulture, who now blogs and writes articles for Fine Gardening. and who has published her very first book on gardening named, you guessed it, Kiss My Aster, (subtitled: A Graphic Guide to Creating a Fantastic Yard Totally Tailored to You). Her Facebook page has thousands of “likes,” and she’s the one behind those sexy-fun Ryan Gosling gardening memes (one of my recent favorites: “Hey girl, I think we should start composting with worms . . . but only if you’re into it . . .”)

Thomsen is retro-chic-zany-slightly naughty-witty-brainy. Think Lucille Ball meets Dorothy Parker.


With her star on the rise, it’s not a surprise to learn she just left a large Chicago landscape architecture firm. She attributes that to possible “mid-life crisis,” but I’m thinking garden celebrity/writing career trajectory. This summer she’s in much-needed chill-out mode, hanging out in the home garden with beautiful just-turned-two cherub Hazel and her dapper and supportive husband Dan, figuring out what’s next. She says she’ll definitely be writing and entertaining and she may start a business.  As she puts it, “I just need some time to decompress from the last few years of crazy. . . But I might take on a few small gigs.”

Greenwoman: My first question is how in the heck have you been able to balance all of thiswriting, gardening, toddler, marriage?!?

AT: This balancing act has been tough. I literally got the okay on the book the same day I peed on a stick and found out that I was going to have a Hazelnut. From there it’s been a race. At the job I just left, the hours were incredibly long and unpredictable. Seventy hours a week was not uncommon. And then it just never left my mind; it was just landscaping, but it was one of those always “on call” situations. 2013 has been pretty intense with speaking gigs, interviews, and whatever else that has come my wayDan has been great at taking care of Hazel while I’ve been distracted, and it’s brought them close together. Hazel goes to daycare and that’s hard. But I went to daycare and look at me now. HA. I know that glorifying busy isn’t a great thing, but being busy is my default setting. It actually brings me tremendous peace to always be moving forward.

Greenwoman: Let’s backtrack. Who or what inspired you to become a gardener?  A writer?

 AT: When I was little I wanted to do three things when I grew up, 1. Be a writer, 2. recycle and 3. wear red lipstick. Happily, I have achieved these three goals. Although I always wanted to be a writer, I did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to make that happen, growing up. No one pointed me in the right direction. I’ve taken a few writing classes but overall, nothing that was memorable. I have always been super creative and have just looked for ways to demonstrate that!

My parents were the prototypes for yuppies. For some reason, and I think it was my Dad’s Indiana upbringing, they were SUPER into Crockett’s Victory Garden on PBS and did, literally, everything he did. We have a 30’ x 50’ Victory garden each summer and I just grew up in it. They had a greenhouse added to the house, canned up everything from applesauce to giardiniera. It was a delicious way to grow up and I didn’t realize that EVERYBODY didn’t have that until I was, like, 20. Maybe older. I didn’t realize there were jobs in gardening and horticulture.

Greenwoman: I love your style (and I’m not just talkin’ about the plants). Who are your style icons? Not only in gardening, but fashion, writing, film, whatever comes to mind.

A.T. : I’m obsessed with Betsey Johnson, Elsa Schiaparelli, old movies (preferably with Edith Head as the costumer), John Waters, David Lynch, Francesca Lia Block, Hello Kitty, Amy Sedaris, Pearl Fryar, 90s Riot Grrrls  and Frida Kahlo.

Greenwoman: You have this funny, sassy, sexy, free-spirited, curse-word-strewn, delightfully naughty blog for a few years (also titled “Kiss My Aster!”), and you’re a landscaper, and suddenly you’re blogging for Horticulture magazine’s website (which lasted for several years) and now you blog for Fine Gardening (and write articles). I don’t want to disrespect these fine publications, but, well, they can be at times just a bit, shall we say, dry. How did you get together with them?

A.T.: Horticulture asked me to join this contest they were having for a blogger. I did and I won. It was hard on me to blog exclusively for them and not on my personal blog at all, not even about personal stuff (I was pregnant and had shit to SAY) but that was the deal. Fine Gardening has been a great, laid back home for my more horty things to say. I leave the eff-bombs at the door and get my freak on over there and I’ve loved it. AND they’ve given me a chance to write articles, which is seriously one of my happiest achievements in life. Like, “Hi. I’m not all fluff and Ryan Gosling. I can talk to you about biennials like a badass.”

All these magazines KNOW that if they are going to survive, they have to get new, younger readers and I’m happy as a salami at a mustard party to help do that for them.

Greenwoman: I got to read your book, Kiss My Aster: A Graphic Guide to Creating a Fantastic Yard Totally Tailored to You, before I sent it to Dan Murphy, who reviews it in this issue. I found it charming, witty, and a great primer for the beginner gardener who wants to dive in to creating their own landscape but who needs a helping hand. How did the idea for a book come about?

A.T.: I was dreaming about how to make books more interactive when I thought of the idea. Originally it was going to be SO comprehensive that I thought I’d need help writing it. You know, a backyard bible of sorts. Then I got this wack-a-doo idea of having this hipster gardening book that was illustrated with, you know those terrible IKEA instructions with no words and very vague symbolism? I wanted to do it like that. Carleen Madigan at Storey literally found me in a dumpster and asked me if I had ideas for books, we met up in Boston while I was there speaking and I just LOVED her.  She was totally the midwife of this book (to which she would reply that that is disgusting).  I literally wrote the whole book for her and if I could make her laugh then I was golden. I wrote the whole book and then they found the illustrators, which completely adds everything. The illustrations are WAY better than the writing!

Greenwoman: What was the most fun part of writing your first book?

A.T.: Hands down, the funniest part was the timing. I had a year to write the book and 10 months to make and give birth to a baby. Simultaneously. I can say, with confidence, that even those closest to me didn’t think I could do it.  TAKE THAT, HATERS!

Greenwoman: What was the least fun?

A.T.: For the most part, the book was a breeeeeeeeeeeze to write. I just talked out loud to myself about what I’d say to someone asking the questions and wrote it down. People ask, “Oh, isn’t it hard to write a book?” Ah, not this one.

But when it came to researching the height and widths of trees and shrubs for the whole country and not just my area? I remember having to dye my hair pink to just have a diversion. It was tedious stuff, and I hate tedious!

 Greenwoman: Another thing I am highly impressed with is your treasure trove of kitschy-fab garden imagery (See Kiss My Aster’s Facebook photo hoard). You have well over a thousand highly share-able, comment-able visuals from zombie gnomes (also gnome tattoos and murdered gnomes) to vintage garden cheesecake images, and everything in-between. Could you talk a little about your love of imagery and vintage?

A. T. : I remember the year we got cable TV; I was going into 7th grade. My sister and I were OBSESSED with TCM and watched old movies (with an emphasis on Esther Williams!) all summer instead of playing outside.  That was the start of a lot of my hoarding, both images and stuff. I love glamour, I love fun. I love to keep it light. My house is an amazing shrine to me, filled with beautiful vintage tschotske next to a Darth Vader helmet, next to an inflatable Hello Kitty. Plus, I wear vintage just about every day.

Greenwoman: I’m wondering if there’s a serious gardener out there who has not seen one of your Ryan Gosling “Hey, Girl” gardening memes. I know I’ve shared a few! How did that get started?

AT: Oh man! I was at work, driving down Old Elm in Lake Forest, Illinois and the idea just hit me. I pulled over and took notes in my phone. When I got home, I begged Dan to watch Hazel while I made the first crop of them. I posted them and then immediately went on a totally extravagant, totally unlike me and unaffordable, girls’ weekend with my bestie in New Orleans. My phone was going bazoinkers the whole time I was there! It was very cool.

I clearly did not drink enough while I was there if I remember all that. A certain unnamed bestie DID drink enough to not remember it, though.

Greenwoman: Finally, what’s germinating for you now? Do you have another book in the works?

I’m in love with a new book idea that’s in my head right now, I hope they’ll let me do it. It’s the kind of book I’d shit myself over if I saw it for sale and that’s what I aim for! Mainly, I’m taking 2013 to trick out some rad new gardens at my new house.

 Greenwoman: I’d love to pry for details on the book idea but I won’t—I’ll eagerly await the surprise instead! Thanks so much, Amanda, for having a chat with us today!  

* * *

Now, here’s Dan Murphy’s review:

Kiss My Aster

by Amanda Thomsen

Storey Publishing, LLC (December 2012)

The title alone should clue you in pretty quickly that this is not your typical book about gardening and landscaping. Indeed, Amanda Thomsen’s Kiss My Aster: A Graphic Guide to Creating a Fantastic Yard Totally Tailored by You is a novel approach to landscaping 101. Most of the information is not necessarily new, but the presentation is quite unique, making it appealing for those that are looking for a book about gardening that is different, fun, and also informative.

Kiss My Aster is a graphic novel as well as a choose-your-own-adventure book. Each page features illustrations by Am I Collective that accompany her writing, and at the end of each section, the reader is presented with the option to skip ahead or back in the book depending on what they would like to learn. A common option is to skip to the section entitled, “Hire a Guy,” for any readers who may be feeling overwhelmed at any point in the process.

The scope of this book is broad, briefly covering all aspects of designing, constructing, and maintaining a landscape. The titles of each section are as amusing as the title of the book, including “Not Your Stepping Stone” which is about creating a stone pathway in your garden, “Drip It Good” concerning drip irrigation, “To B&B or Not to B&B” discussing the various ways that trees can be purchased, and “Soil, Yourself” which explains the inorganic components of soil. Games like bingo, word find, and mad libs appear throughout the book in order to keep the wandering minds of readers entertained.

While the artwork is fun and the information is useful, the humor can be a bit distracting and over the top at times. Still, this book is meant to be useful while simultaneously entertaining, and it accomplishes both well. After all, where else are you going to find illustrations of pink unicorns and tips for warding off vampires while also learning about how to keep your lawn green without the use of synthetic chemicals?

Dan Murphy

* * *

Okay, I couldn’t help myself. Ending on a (at least to me!) highly inspiring note. One of my favorite Kiss My Aster-Ryan Gosling memes:

If this doesn't get you excited about spring planting, I don't know what will!

(Now, if this doesn’t get you excited about spring planting, I don’t know what will!)

Sandra Knauf

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Burnin’ Love . . . and a “Friday Free” (Greenwoman Magazine) Offer!

The Scoville Heat Index of You

by D’Arcy Fallon

(Wilbur Scoville developed a scale in 1912 to measure the heat in chilies.)

All I want is peppers. Poblanos that dial up
endorphins, serranos that scald the heart,
smoldering jalapenos to surf on, past
the breakwater of no return.
The heat is in the veins
and also in the seeds.
My tongue tingles.
Biting you,
I burn.

The amazing D’Arcy Fallon is an award-winning journalist who has been a staff writer for such publications as the Long Beach Press-Telegram, the San Francisco Examiner, and the Colorado Springs Gazette. She is the author of a memoir, So Late, So Soon, about living in a religious commune in the early 70s. She teaches journalism and creative writing at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. She has a thing for garlic, border collies, and peonies.
(This poem appeared in Greenwoman Magazine issue #1 in June 2011.)

Friday Free Offer

“Like” this post on Facebook, send me an e-mail with your e-mail address (see “Contact” at Greenwoman Magazine’s website) and I will send you a FREE PDF of Greenwoman Magazine Issue #1 (retail value $5.95).

Offer expires at midnight, 9/15/2012.

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Filed under Garden Writers We Love, Gardening is Sexy