If You Give A Gardener A Book, She’ll Wonder About A Swale

It’s really amazing how quickly a week can slip by with barely a post written. It’s not that there isn’t anything to write about. Au contraire. There is so much to write about, I don’t even know where to start.

Let’s start with my shoulders. Cause, damn, they are sore. I’m no stranger to a good stretch of garden work but the digging, shoveling, raking, hauling, moving, schlepping and scraping I’ve been doing this past week or so has left the area right between my shoulder blades and my neck weary.

It must be spring, season of overly ambitious projects!

It started out innocently enough. I never actually intended to overhaul half my yard by the sweat of my brow and, uh, other parts.

If You Give A Gardener...

But you see, I was given this basic permaculture how-to book.

And if you give a gardener an easy to understand permaculture book, she’ll probably wonder about a swale.

And if she wonders about a swale, she might decide to dig a pond.

And if she decides to dig a pond, she’s going to want to get some ducks.

And if she gets some ducks, she’d better plan to recapture their manure and pond water as a high-nutrient fertilizer.

And if she plans to recapture their manure and pond water as a high-nutrient fertilizer, she’s going to need a suburban food forest.

And if she needs a suburban food forest, she’s got to expand the edge of the south-facing garden.

Of course, to expand the edge of the south-facing garden, she’ll dig up and move a bunch of sod from one side of the garden to the other.

And after she digs up and moves a bunch of sod from one side of the garden to the other, she will want to sheet mulch the new planting area.

And if she wants to sheet mulch, she’s going to need a lot of cardboard.

And if she needs a lot of cardboard, she might ask if she can have some from the nice man at the cafe that makes very good chocolate chip cookies.

And if she gets a bunch of cardboard (and a cookie) from the nice man at the cafe, she’s going to have to lay it out.

And when she lays out the cardboard, she will realize she needs something to cover it with.

And when she realizes she needs something to cover the cardboard, she will have to clean out the chicken coop to get at the composted litter.

And as long as she’s cleaning out the chicken coop of deep litter, she might as well freshen the sand-bed under the roosting poles, too.

Which means she needs to drive to the store to get some sand.

And when she has the sand, she can haul all the deep-litter to the food forest area.

But before she moves the coop litter to the food forest area, she’s going to need to transplant three full grown spireas and a mass of winter-blooming heathers.

And if she transplants three full-grown spireas and a mass of winter-blooming heathers, she might as well re-landscape the front entrance to the house.

And if she re-landscapes the front entrance to the house, she’s going to have to tidy up the side path as well.

And while she’s tidying up the side path, she may notice the bucket full of water that’s been left outside all winter. And that will remind her…

Of a pond.

And if you give a gardener a pond, she’s going to want some ducks.


  1. Kristen says

    Love it Erica! We are huge Laura Numeroff fans. I never put the book theme together with my gardening urges, but my husband sure did. Keep up the good work!

  2. says

    Whatever you do DO NOT READ “Thomas’s snowsuit” to your son. He then would have these troubles on your days……Love your real life, So much like mine . Thank the garden gnomes my kids have grown.

  3. says

    Haha! I loved this — kind of like the gardener version of the old woman who swallowed a fly. A lot of my projects are like this too. I am familiar with the achy shoulders thing, and my hands and knees as well, from weeding.

  4. greg says

    What ever u do don’t give the ducks any pancakes or you will end up spending next week building a tree fort! You think your shoulders hurt now? Keep us posted on how ducks work in a small space BTW the farmer we get our CSA from says they are 10 xs messier than chickens!

  5. says

    Wonderful gardener nursery rhyme…but beware of ducks in cute clothing. I have a feeling we will be reading later this year about the mess and smell they create. I have seen several posts from FB friends over the years offering free ducks!

  6. Sanj says

    Ah, so glad I dodged that permaculture book! :)

    However, as a former kindergarten teacher, I do have a lot of experience with giving a mouse a cookie, or a moose a muffin, etc. Love your take on the “If You Give…” book series!

    And yes, as you wrote, it really does work that way. Cascading projects link up by the slightest of associations, whether raising a book-hungry preschooler or adding on to the homestead.

    Or, in my case, being a grandmother deciding whether it is feasible and wise to build a treehouse-shaped reading loft in the tall living room. Why not? If I build a tree-trunk-shaped ladder and branch-shaped railings, the platform will feel like a tree house. If I take the screens off the windows and put potted flowers under the skylight, maybe a bird or a bee might visit. If the birds and bees visit, maybe I’ll have more grandchildren to read to in the reading loft. ;)
    And of course, if all that happens, I’ll read them a story about… your duck pond! Have fun creating!

  7. says

    Ah, the joys of ever expanding projects.

    I am new to ducks since last fall. They don’t have to have a pond, just so you know. Mine will be getting a small stock tank when the weather warms up a bit (much easier to clean than a pond), but for now are happy with their water bowls. They are MUCH messier than the chickens are. But yesterday I got my first 3 duck eggs and I’m thinking about making pasta (I had one scrambled for lunch yesterday). And one of the goats kidded last Wednesday (triplet boys) so soon there will be fresh milk added back to my diet. Yay!

  8. Robin says

    loved the way you inserted a cookie into the story.

    thanks for brightening my unexpectedly bright morning!

  9. Tanaya Ropp says

    Put some visuals and instruction captions and you have an outstanding, easy to read, entertaining, children and adult friendly book. It also reminds me of this is the House Jack Built.

  10. says

    Good review THANKYOU Erica, and another great book to add to my library. I get it about the postage cost, they are very high from the US; but it’d be kinda fun to be included sometimes- maybe offer the options that overseas givewaway winners could cover thier own postage? Anyway, it doesn’t dissuade me, I love the look of this book and THANKYOU very much for the direct link to buy from the author – I have ordered my own copy and can’t wait for the joy of bite sized projects to entice me back outside next spring. If your thinking of ducks, consider Muscovies- they are not noisey, a consideration with neighbors, need less water than some other ducks, have lovely tame natures and wonderful individual personalities – great meat and seasonal eggs. If your strictly after egg layers, Indian runners are very suburban garden friendly critters and can cope with confinement. After the seventeen breeds of heritage chooks I have now got four breeds of ducks and two of geese. Then out of the blue, turkey’s arrived last week, and we’re just going into autumn……..so it’s definitely ‘if you give a girl ‘at my place too. Just as well there’s 300 acres to do it all in…..

  11. Sara says

    Hahaha.. I have had a very similar day out on my allotments, I know exactly the state your poor body is, after a couple of session with a heavy grass trimmer the back muscles say “oh yes, the trimmer, we remember how to deal with this”, but the first time.. is a different matter!

    And I agree, both Muscovies and Indian Runners Ducks are very charming avian folk.

    For all of your garden fans I recommend a wonderful NON DRUG remedy for achy bodies and arthritic hands, damp soil is not kind to gardeners’ hands. the product is Nigella Sativa aka Black Cumin Seed Oil, rubbed into your knees, hips and finger joints on a regular basis, it is nothing short of miraculous. I buy mine VERY cheaply at a Middle Eastern food market, it is also sold in Turkish Food shops.
    Spring has sprung in London, my allotments are 1/2 a mile from the Botanical Gardens @ Kew, I wish all of you a happy and productive growing season with lots of “quacking”. Sara.

  12. Janet says

    Epsom salts in hot bath water. No lights. One candle if you must. Soft music. Been there, done it all, except no ducks, but a mystery goose interloper for a few years which we provided with a kiddie wading pool. Now chickens contained in a coop are much cleaner with the dogs running around outside. I still like the idea of a swale though…

  13. Mary Ann says

    Very enjoyable post, thank you!

    We had two ducks as pets — Peeps (Cacky Campbell) and Who (Pekin). Both were incredibly friendly and loved spending time with me in the garden. They made quick work of the snails, slugs, and grubs, but I had to hide the earthworms as I was digging to keep them working for my soil.

    I had a very small pond with water plants. This is not a good idea with ducks. I eventually had to put a cage over the pond to keep them out since they would dig into the soil of the potted plants. Instead, we got them a kids plastic wading pool that was easy to dump out and refill to keep them in clean(ish) water every day. They did anywhere the soil gets wet, too, so the yard can become a mess with holes and poop (everywhere!).

    I’d love to have ducks again, but as wonderful as they are (I could hold mine like babies), they are just too messy and too much work.

    Now I have an Eastern Fox squirrel as a pet (10 years now) — talk about mess, destruction, and work!

  14. Elizabeth Sorby says

    Love, love, love, love, love! Anytime you combine gardening and children’s “literature” I am all in! Great piece!

  15. says

    What a wonderful post!! I WISH I had a week to dedicate outside…
    Love the twist & turns & I’m very much with you on once you start….and then…and then…
    Happy gardening!

  16. says

    LOL! But ehh….this is the time of year when people East of the Cascades start suffering from climate envy. Our air is relatively balmy, but a lot of snow has to melt before we can do anything except start a few seedlings. And the poor saps in the East are still getting clobbered.

  17. Michelle Marie says

    Based on your review and a peek at his website, I ordered the book! I have a few other books and have perused websites trying to better understand how to implement permaculture concepts on my level, but it all seemed so complicated. I think this book will help a lot. :-)
    I hope you have a wonderful day!

  18. nancy sutton says

    LOL! Finally lanting the carrot seeds pre-glued to paper napkin grids required the wet burlap sacks which were covering the dug-up laurel, requiring the planting of the laurel, etc, etc…. gardening is always an adventure :)

    BTW, I hope you get the ducks. If anyone can figure out the easiest, most efficient way to have them in the burbs, it is you ;) Wasn’t a Seattle gal highlighted in the same book you were in… Backyard Roots… who’s specialty was ducks. She must have some of the kinks worked out. Looking forward to your report :) (I had some ducklings many, many years ago who didn’t survive the raccoons.)

  19. says

    You make me smile to much Erica, your posts are such a pleasure with my morning coffee.
    I’m SO intrigued by that book I will definitely have to pick it up.
    We haven’t ventured to pond land yet.. only sheet mulching, herb spirals and hugelkultur for now. Luckily our backyard is a sweet ‘zone 3′ wild food forest full of berries, hazelnuts, wild ginger, nettles… and well trees. I’ve been observing it for 4 years now and it’s truly amazing. We get huge ponds every spring from the mountain snow run off, no ducks though..We only have chickens, but now that you mention all of this.. oh ducks would be FUN!

  20. MB says

    OMG! You are awesome. And I mean AWESOME! Here is the definition of awesome according to someGooglesitesomewhere: “inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear; causing or inducing awe.” I bow down and put my palms together, possibly due to the “fear” part because I’m sure that a hand dug pond is in my future. (Yay!) Thank you for the boooooooooook!!!!

  21. Lynn says

    There is no end to it, is there!?? I got the ducks (and a kiddy pool) who proceeded to eat the broccoli and poop on the porch. Gave away two and kept the little Moscovy who flies in and out of the garden and seems to not do the damage the other two whites do. One of them is even laying eggs to ingratiate itself to me again. For beyond the book there is a FREE on-line permaculture course with my favorite Larry Korn. http://www.permaculturedesigntraining.com/ You may already know but I only just found out about it and am loving it. Swales, plant guilds, patterns…!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>