The No-Work Garden Book

Occasionally one of the GPs will blog about a book that’s particulary good – or not.  I was given a copy of Ruth Stout’s No-Work Garden Book a few years ago and frankly hadn’t given much more than a passing glance.  But last week I thumbed through it and was immediately struck by the quality of science this self-taught gardener brought to her writing.

Much of Ruth’s gardening practices included the use of organic mulch on vegetable gardens, and she regularly wrote to scientists to ask for their interpretation of “expert” advice.  Here’s an excerpt from a letter written 50 years ago by Dr. Arthur Pratt from Cornell:

“Yes, leaves, hay, straw, etc. that are not decayed or that are only partially decayed will rob the soil of nitrogen if they are mixed into the soil. But when used on top the way you use them, I have never seen a nitrogen shortage as a result of the mulch.”

So, we’ve known for at least 50 years that organic mulches don’t cause nitrogen deficiencies.  Why does this misconception persist, especially for woody mulches?

Ruth also challenged the use of plastic mulches, then relatively new to the garden product market.  She understood the benefits of a no-till approach to maintaining healthy soils.  She has a whole chapter entitled “Make Mine More Mulch.”

So here’s to Ruth Stout, the original “Mulch Queen.”

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Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and an Associate Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - www.facebook.com/TheGardenProfessors "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - www.facebook.com/groups/GardenProfessors Books: http://www.sustainablelandscapesandgardens.com

5 thoughts on “The No-Work Garden Book”

  1. Don’t forget she manured and cultivated for more than 10 years before going into no-till/mulch gardening. (I don’t remember which book, but she says so.)

  2. I visited with Ruth Stout in the 1970’s and she was still very sharp.

    Here is a story she shared with me.

    People may not know that she enjoyed gardening in the natural (undressed) condition.

    One day she came inside and her husband asked her if she was gardening in the nude again.

    She said: “Yes, why do you ask?”

    He replied: “No reason, its just that I could hear the cars stopping and slowing down!”

    It was a joy to meet her and to read her books!

  3. What were you – twelve? I wish I could have met her. I had heard of her “all natural” approach to gardening – what a riot!

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