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Everyone's A Garden Coach

Earlier today I started to write an entry on a strange encounter I had but abandoned it after 8 paragraphs because I was dancing around an issue and language to keep my little urban gardening blog family friendly.

I live and garden in Chicago, IL and living in a big city has advantages and drawbacks. It just so happens one of the drawbacks of living in a big city I deal with is living off of a very busy road. From time to time some women (lets call them "temporary companions") will provide companionship to men who are driving down this busy road I live off of. Are you following me?


I spent the day in the garden pulling up the last of my tender bulbs and moving around a couple of perennials. Being disorganized I had to go in and out of the house several times to find a shovel, gloves, plant markers and other things. During one of my trips inside the house I saw that the latest "temporary companion" in the neighborhood was walking down my block. I decided I would get my cell phone and call the police but in the process I lost track of her and figured I'd wait and call them later.

As I got down into the garden I spotted her near the fence and I must have startled her because she jumped and yelled "I was only taking a couple of flowers!" In her hand she had a bouquet of the nasturtiums that I grew along the fence line so people (kids mostly) would pull those instead of reaching inside the fence and pulling a flower I really liked. She kept putting them to her nose to sniff and the image was funny to me because one of the names for nasturtiums is "nose-twister."

She asked me what kind of flower she was holding in her hand and I explained to her that they were nasturtiums and that both the flower and leaves were edible and people ate them in salads and soups. I thought once she saw that I wasn't angry with her plucking a flower or two she would be on her way and I could continue with the work that need to be finished in the garden. What I thought was the end of our interaction she took as her segue to launch into a rant about my garden and what I needed to do to improve it. Apparently providing companionship yards away from my garden all summer long had given her ample time to ponder the shortcomings of my garden.

A synopsis of my garden coaching session:

My garden "is a disaster."
I have the best flowers on the block but I need to "work on the design."
My garden could be improved "by reading a couple of gardening books."
I obviously love plants I just need "the help of a landscaper."
I should get some "plants that don't die."
All of those "dead-looking plants need to be cut down."
If I placed black plastic bags around my plants when I plant them I could cut down on the weeds.
My garden looks "too masculine" it wouldn't kill me to buy a few bags of red lava mulch.

It is hard enough having a conversation about gardening with someone who doesn't know much about plants it is even harder when the person is drinking from a brown paper bag and has a hard time stringing a complete sentence together. Part of me wanted to get my camera and record her gardening advice and post it to YouTube. I bet there isn't a video there of a "temporary companion" giving unsolicited gardening advice.

Truth be told she's right about a number of things. My garden was "a disaster" but there usually aren't large holes and mounds of dirt everywhere. A type of black plastic is used as a weed barrier and in a pinch trash bags can be used for soil solarization or as a weed blocker. I should do a better job of planing where to plant the annuals and perennials in my garden but I'm not that organized. Then there is the fact that I have a small urban garden barely larger than a postage stamp and plants are grown where there is room not where they'll look better. I also happen to like weeds in my garden because many are host plants to beneficial insects in the garden (click the word bugs in my label cloud) and I consider them to be "free plants." The dead-looking plants she wanted me to cut back were actually Purple Coneflowers and they'll stay that way until the birds finish eating the seed heads I left behind for them. I don't think my garden is too masculine if anything I think I have too much pink in my garden's pallet and I won't be using red lava rocks as mulch unless I move to the base of a volcano.

It sure was an interesting day for me in the garden and I'll have to add "a 'temporary companion' is your garden coach" to my list of "You know you're an urban gardener when..."


  1. Isn't that what's usually nice about gardening? When you are out in your front garden, neighbors will stop by to say Hi and comment on what you are doing.

    But everyone's a critic, everyone has a better way, even the "temporary companion" aka "temporary garden coach".

    Too funny!
    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

  2. LOL ! One nice thing about city gardening, you never know what or "who" you will find in your garden.

    Back at my old home in the hood, I found a homeless person sleeping in my garden, which wouldn't have been so bad except when I 'woke him up' he proceeded to change his clothes.

    Life always has unexpected surprises awaiting under the next bush ... :)

  3. This is very possibly your best post ever. They should make a movie and show it every Arbor Day. Even if it wasn't funny at the time, it'll be fun to tell people about in a year or two, I bet.

    Being in the temporary companion business, you probably don't get a lot of opportunities to think about garden aesthetics. So you'd have to take the chances where you can get them. It's at least nice that someone was paying attention, even if it was only a sort of addled, drunken, hostile attention, no?

  4. Okay! This is urban gardening in the extreme, Mr Brown Thumb! What, no pictures? LOL

  5. If you would have caught that on video for YouTube, you would have gone viral and had a million hits within a week and would probably have been offered a TV gig on HGTV to compete with the "Gardener Guy", or maybe a Bravo show concentrating on how to garden when one only has a postage stamp to work on. Or maybe not. LOL. Anyway, your post was hilarious!

  6. I'm so disappointed that you didn't go for the camera, although I probably would have laughed until I couldn't breathe, because I very nearly did when reading this. Too funny!!

    I had an interesting encounter with a man behind me in line at Lowe's a couple of weeks ago. I was buying two bags of bulb fertilizer and he proceeded to tell me I was buying too much of it. Now mind you, he had NO IDEA how many bulbs I was planting and/or fertilizing. Yes, I know it goes far. No I do not want to run out as I have in the past. And besides, it's cheap.

  7. you should have given her a hoe and put her to work ;)

    i think it's priceless that you had a full on gardening conversation with this person!

  8. Excellent story. You're a good man Mr Brownthumb.

  9. Oh, crap that was hilarious! I am jealous of such a weird garden story. I'm positively boring in comparison!

    Yay for the beneficial "weeds" left. I have studied that in more depth since this summer when I attended a dept. of conservation program promoting native species of plants including "weeds".

  10. What a hoot! It must have been quite humbling getting advice from such an 'expert' - (not!)

  11. Well, you know what they say about "horticulture" ...

  12. Hi everyone,

    Thanks for commenting and glad you all found this as humorous as I did.

  13. oh my. between your post and the comments, I woke my longsuffering spouse up laughing. Then I was forced to read the post and the comments to him. He laughed too. Very, very funny, all of it.

  14. hehehe! I actually had a similar experience this spring when a half drunk woman on the bus told me how to cut down my roses. She was right too.

  15. Hilarous and touching at the same time Mr Brown Thumb... it kind of confirms what I've always suspected about the kind of people who would put red lava rock in gardens.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  16. Oh, Annie, what must you think of me??? A long time ago, we used both black and red lava rock in our landscaping. (Kept the colors separate.)

    Of course, we rue the day we made THAT decision. We weren't gardeners then and it was all the rage. We ended up giving it away to a neighbor three doors down who still has it, all these years later.

    Every once in awhile, we'll dig up some of it. You know what it's great for? Putting in the bottoms of pots for drainage. It weighs nothing so you can use lots of it in big pots and it won't weight the pot down by much.

  17. Kylee - maybe my views are skewed by the amount of lava rock I've had to remove from previous gardens ;-]
    Also, back in the eighties when our kids were young some homeowners near us covered their entire front yard with lava rock - apparently so their dogs' droppings would blend in and they wouldn't have to pick it up -did that place stink!

    I'd better shut up or someone will find out about the stuff I did as a new gardener!


  18. Annie,

    It's funny that you mention the red lava rock because I've always associated it with the Hoosier State (sorry Carol) and in particular the suburbs. As a kid we would visit friends of the family in Indiana and on the drive there I was always amazed at how much lava rock there was. It wasn't until I was older that I learned that lava rock didn't actually come from Mars as I had suspected for years. Sometimes on those trips to Indiana I'd fill my pockets with the stuff because I thought it was so unusual.
    I left out a big chunk of what I wanted to write in the post for the sake of brevity and to keep it on topic but this experience has sort of changed a little about me.

    She's around my age (I'll be 30 on the 20th)and I learned that her favorite flower is a petunia, she apparently reads some kind of home & garden magazine and last Christmas she saved her money to buy her mom a pond for her garden. Her mom's nickname for her as a kid was 'Mother Nature' because she liked plants.

    Watching her talk about plants and a pond she saw recently there was a dramatic transformation in her. She smiled and her eyes would light up.

    It took an interaction related to plants for me to see her as human. Before yesterday I'd sooner call the cops on her than look at her to even acknowledge her presence. I don't know what the point of me mentioning this is it is just something that has been weighing on me and had to get it out.

  19. I had a great laugh with this post. My street is very quiet (and rather dull). I do have a snoopy neighbour but she doesn't drink from a paper bag or offer 'temporary companionship' to anyone cruising through the neighbourhood - at least not that I know of...LOL... She does always put her two cents worth of opinion in every neighbour's garden, even though she doesn't do any plant care personally; her husband does all the gardening...

    Great story!

  20. Anonymous4:51 PM

    A garden hoe - OH MY

    I came here half expecting to be disappointed - boy was I wrong

    Thanks for a good story

  21. Wow, this is quite a story!

    The most I've really had to deal with is litter in my front garden, but our street is pretty quiet and we live a ways from where the "temporary companions" tend to convene (though actually not as far as you'd think).

  22. Anonymous9:02 PM

    That is pretty much the funniest post I've read since County Clerk had his conversation about his art with his neighbors! It takes all kinds and a brown paper bag can make the world look better to some! Still LOL!

  23. I am literally LMAO--but only because, unlike you, I didn't have to deal with the annoyance. I just get the read the funny retelling. :)

    These two things are probably something that people in my neighborhood think about my garden, btw:

    "I should get some "plants that don't die."
    All of those "dead-looking plants need to be cut down.""

    teehee...teehee... Red Lava Rock!!! *GRIN*

    On a more serious note, I just read the addendum you had in your comments. I think that it's beautiful (albeit in a sad way) that your garden helped facilitate an epiphany in you... and by extension, to me and I'm sure others who read your post as well... at the same time that it was obviously serving to spark a light for her. I'm sure those moments for her are few and far between.

    (Unrelated, and I'm not even sure why I'm mentioning it... but I'm 31 so we're about the same age. The way you write, I had assumed you were a good 20 years older than wiser than I. Apparently only the latter is true!)

  24. Anonymous7:34 AM

    Hi Mr. Brown Thumb,

    Reading your post made me smile, but at the same time feel sad. I'm glad you added your additional thoughts. Don't let them weigh you down too heavily.


  25. Wonderful story, MBT. Sad isn't it that the young woman makes her living that way.

    You certainly meet all sorts in the city. I couldn't keep a nice frontyard before because dog walkers would allow their pets to destroy all my flowers.

    One day an old man allowed his German shepherd off the lease and he ran into my just bloomed tulips and mowed them all down. I asked the owner very politely to not allow his dog in my yard. " I don't care, " he shouted, "I've got cancer and don't have much time left, " he yelled .Then he instructed the dog to "get me " and I had to run inside. I shouted out the window " If you don't get out of here right now I'm gonna shorten your sentence by about six months. That's when I got a fence !

  26. Oh my, what a hilarious and touching post! "Garden hoe" indeed! I actually used to work with "temporary companions" in an adult bookstore (I only operated the cash register and got a real education on the underbelly of my Indiana hometown) experience with them was bizarre, amusing, and frankly as heart-wrenching as my subsequent career in medicine. These girls are not only somebody's daughter/sister/mother, but children of God as well, sometimes with amazingly warm and generous hearts. It's very enriching what you can learn from other people when you refuse to judge them.

  27. I had to laugh...and feel sad at the same time.

    I can't imagine anyone stealing something as simple as a nasturtium flower.

    Who would have guessed what an essential community service you were providing, cheering the days of others who passed by your garden?

    And aren't you a sweetie for listening.. to er...a bit of garden commentary LOL.

  28. This was too good! I'm so glad I discovered your blog. :)

  29. That! Has got to be the most entertaining thing I've read in a very long time! I will certainly have to keep an eye on your posts Mr. Brown Thumb.

  30. Anonymous4:34 PM

    I loved it! Someone sent me the link to this and I'll post it to the Garden Coaching Blog. Having a hooker for a coach is... special.

  31. Anonymous11:07 PM

    Oh, how I wish you *had* video'd that and put it up on YouTube! I, too, garden in the 'hood.

  32. Anonymous5:30 PM

    I just came back to revisit this classic blog post and saw Xris' comment about my comment. My response is "HUH??"

  33. There was a previous comment which has since been deleted.

  34. Anonymous7:49 AM

    Your blog was very amusing and I hope 'tongue in cheek' to a certain extent. Being a garden coach is something many of us are very proud of being, take very seriously and try to make a living providing this service to our clients.

    If you would really like to take advantage of a 'good' garden coach then please let me know and I can help you find one. I am a Garden Coach in the Western Suburbs and would hope to definitely change your experience. Most Garden Coaches are at the very least a master gardener and can help you choose the correct plant material for your yard, help you id your plants, take you on a personal shopping trip so that you can select healthy and appropriate plant material for your garden.

    If you need help with design - most good garden coaches can also provide that service and most have a crew(s) of some sort that you can hire to do the work if you choose not to do it yourself.

    I hope you give it another try and if I can help you please let me know. My email address is



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