Experiments in Garden Design with Rochelle Greayer

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Let's See If This Works


Rochelle GreayerRochelle Greayer is a gardening author, magazine visionary and passionate gardener.  Her philosophy of “Let’s See If This Works” helps her discover where true gardening inspiration comes from.

Rochelle lives on top of a gorgeous hillside near Harvard Massachusetts and enjoys a 3 acre garden.  That’s right!  Her garden is the size of many city parks.  How does she do it?


In This Episode You Will Discover:

  • why making mistakes is a HUGE part of gardening
  • Rodent Combat Defence – what to do when they breach the perimeter!
  • the brilliance of using a personal blog as a landscape design organizational tool
  • how to deal with a non-gardening spouse – the secrets to compromise
  • what she loves most about being a garden writer
  • what a BIG garden looks like!




Margaret Roach’s blog – A Way To Garden

This is the book Rochelle mentioned on the show!


Royal Horticultural Society – A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants


Interview Links

Rochelle Greayer on Twitter: @rgreayer
Rochelle’s Blog – StudioGBlog
Rochelle’s Gardening Magazine – Pith & Vigor
Rochelle’s NEW Book – Cultivating Garden Style


Watch the podcast here:



Interview Transcript:

Dave: Well good morning, good afternoon, or good evening depending on where in the world you are when you listen to this.  I’m Dave Ledoux, and welcome to another edition of Back To My Garden.  Today, I’m so excited.  We have a lady who is an author, a designer, a magazine visionary.  She’s a book writer and she knows a thing or two about gardening.  She lives in Harvard, Massachusetts, and I want to welcome to the show, the visionary behind Pith + Vigor, the Studio G blog, we’ll talk about all her properties in a second.  Please welcome Rochelle Greayer.  Rochelle, welcome to the show.

Rochelle: Thank you.

Dave:  Let me ask you a question.  Are you ready to dig in?

Rochelle: I am!

Dave: There is so much to cover today.  But I want to introduce you to our listeners.  Can you just take a minute and share with everybody a little bit about yourself.

Rochelle: I’m a garden designer.  I’ve been designing gardens professionally for 12 years I think now.  Before that I had a completely different career.  I also do a lot of writing.  I’ve helped write a number of books, and now I have the first book of my own coming out this fall.  And I do a lot of other projects like making magazines, with the new one and old one Leaf Magazine and Pith + Vigor.  Lots of projects all the time.

Dave: Beautiful. You have a book coming, you’re the driving force behind a gardening magazine.  But let’s go back for our listeners.  How did you discover gardening?

Rochelle: My parents were gardeners, and their parents were farmers and ranchers, so since I was a kid we grew our own vegetables, we had meat and things that came from my grandparents’ ranch and farm communities.  It’s just kind of something that, as far as growing food, has been something that I never really knew anything different.  And, as far as gardening for more aesthetic reasons, again my mom was president of her garden club when I was a kid, and my parents are still very enthusiastic gardeners.  In fact, they’re just dipping their toe into hydroponics, which I think is so cool.  My dad’s an engineer and he’s rigging up all these systems in their house.  It’s very fun to watch them play around with it.

Dave: I just picture your poor mom with gadgets all over the house with his projects.

Rochelle:  It’s not that bad.  He actually builds stuff she wants.  LOL

Dave: So you grew up gardening.  Did you find the transition into adulthood into gardening seamless.  I was resistant to it, because I was forced to work in the garden as a kid.

Rochelle:  I wonder, because I have my own kids and they seem fairly resistant to helping me in the garden now.  I didn’t really do much gardening or anything when I was in college or anything like that, but it was really when we bought our first house, it’s like the mothering instinct or something, it just kicked in.  All of a sudden I was building raised beds and all of it.  My husband, I would say he’s one of my challenges with gardening, because when we met he owned a house and I didn’t.  I lived in an apartment.  He wanted nothing more than to get rid of the house, because he didn’t want to have to deal with the garden.  And so, when we were married and we bought a new house, his primary goal was to have no yard work, he didn’t want any yard work, and I saw it as something that I was looking forward to.  Over time he’s come to appreciate it a bit more, but we have this sort of difference of opinions.  He loves what I make and grow and build and all of that.  He’s enthusiastic because he knows that often it will turn out great, but it’s hard work, so he can want to sometimes put that on the backburner and do something that’s more fun in his book.  

Dave:  I can totally relate.  I was more on the eating side of the equation for the first 10 years.  Eating what my wife prepared out of the garden.

Rochelle:  I started with some friends, here in my town, a farmer’s market.  Not to sell my own garden stuffs, which my kids do, but really to support a local eating and local growing community.  I would say, of all the things I’ve done related to gardens and gardening, my family is most proud of my involvement in the farmer’s market and getting that started.  They adore that, they adore going there, and sitting there, and being there, and the whole scene of it is right up their alley.  It’s great fun.

Share the bounty
Dave:  You know, a lot of our listeners are notice gardeners Rochelle, and they look at you as an experienced gardener and it might be a little intimidating.  But I want you to share, go back to your early, early days of gardening.  What was the biggest obstacle that you had to overcome as you became a gardener.

Rochelle:  There definitely was, as I mentioned, my husband not really wanting to be involved.  You know, when you’re a kid and doing stuff with your parents, it’s not like you’re the mastermind by any means, you’re just kind of like the little helper and maybe you get the fun of picking the big zucchini squash, but you don’t necessarily have to spread the mulch and pull the weeds and all of that.  Learning what goes on to get to that prize thing at the end and doing all of that and making all of these mistakes.  A lot of it is live and learn, that was probably the biggest challenge.  And I still don’t think that I’m an expert really, I don’t know that I ever will to be honest.  It’s always an experiment as far as I’m concerned … let’s see if this works, maybe it will, maybe it won’t.  That’s part of the fun.

Dave:  Would you be willing to share a humorous story of a catastrophic gardening mistake you made?

Rochelle:  Well, I have an ongoing issue with a woodchuck.  And I almost don’t want to go into this, because by saying it I may turn the tide against myself again.  But I’ve tried everything.  I’ve literally almost burnt down our barn trying to exterminate these woodchucks.  I have 2 families of them, I’ve gotten rid of one, but the other one still persists.  But I have successfully locked him out of my garden, because without doing that he just annihilates everything, I mean it’s just gone.  That said though, I got him out of the garden, but I have a bunny now, that yesterday, I discovered how the bunny is getting in.  There’s a few holes in my chicken wire.  I think the bunny actually chewed through my chicken wire.  Because they’re literally, like chewed holes, which who knew that a bunny could chew through chicken wire.  There’s actually be 3 holes that could only have come from an animal working their way through.  But anyways, I’m currently re-seeding my entire vegetable garden except for the tomatoes and potatoes and the nightshade stuff that bunnies don’t seem to want to eat.  Because he’s pretty much eaten everything else this year.  LOL



Dave:  This is where I really got a sense of your writing talent, Rochelle, on your blog you discuss the warfare with the woodchuck.  And I want all the dear listeners to make sure you head over to www.studioGblog.com   Read about the battle, you’ll relate.  Everybody has rodents in their garden of some description.  How long have you been writing that wonderful blog?

Rochelle:  I think it’s been about 6 years.

Dave:  Congratulations.  How has your writing style about gardening changed in those 6 years?

Rochelle:  I think in general, I don’t know if I’ve ever considered myself a writer, ever really.  I helped write a couple of books right after I finished design school, years ago.  It was kind of this novelty to me.   When I started blogging, more than anything, I saw it as a really fantastic organizational system.  As a landscape designer, companies used to send you so much stuff like catalogues, and samples, and just stuff.  And I just found it overwhelming.  So I saw a blog, in the beginning, as a way to get rid of some of the stuff by organizing and just going on the website and telling myself what this company was about and then filing it away in this nicely structured blog format.  So, in the beginning it was more like notes to myself.  Then it sort of really grew, a lot of readers, it’s one of the bigger garden design websites out there.  That sort of changed because I started to talking to other people rather than myself so much.  But, I still love to write a lot of how-tos.  I like to visit with people and their things excite me and they’re interesting … it’s more of a genuine expression, I find I write how I talk and I actually struggle when I can’t write how I talk, to write any other way.  

Dave:  You’ve got this wonderful blog that you’ve been building for 6 years, and now you have this incredible new project called Pith + Vigor.  I’d like to hear about how you came up with the brilliant name and what is it like putting together a garden newspaper and digital magazine?

Rochelle:  Well, I have a lot of experience.  A few years ago, I launched with a business partner, a digital magazine that was extremely well received, called Leaf Magazine.  We published 5 issues of it over almost 2 years.  And we had millions of readers, we were shocked how popular it became.  But it was completely free and we made no money on it, we lost money.  But it was amazing to me how hungry people were for such a nice magazine.  So that definitely fed into it, because anybody who’s familiar with the garden media landscape is probably well aware that it’s not a big landscape.  There’s not a lot out there, and there definitely isn’t anything new out there.  So as a designer, I’m always looking for other new and interesting things in other industries, and I’ve seen a lot of magazines and periodicals that are really interesting from Lucky Peach in the food realm, to the Edible publications, again in the food realm.  Simple Things, it’s a UK magazine, and Modern Farmer, talking about agriculture, all these are really very smart and very kind of different takes on their subjects, from what would be the standard of those industries.  And so, I felt that in coming up with a new publication, that maybe we need a new format.  So it’s a newspaper and there will be versions of it across the country that are all completely localized with syndicated content across all of them.  Beautifully designed, full-colour, so they’re not going to look like the newspaper that you might have gotten Sunday morning.  They’ll be really design-forward, and kind of telling stories.  There’ll be some how-to and projects and stuff, but the writing is going to be a lot more literary, we’re looking for satire and humour, and presenting things in kind of a different more creative way using a lot of illustration as well as beautiful photography, that kind of thing.  The name is so cool.  I finished my book last fall, and I started working on this shortly thereafter.  I knew I wanted to create a newspaper after we shut down Leaf.  But I needed to finish the book first.  I spent all of Christmas at my parents’ house, and I was just making lists and lists or words, because I had this magazine called Leaf and I was kind of thinking maybe it was a similar play on words like I had with that.  I had all these lists of words and I wasn’t falling in love with any singular word, and I suddenly started thinking maybe I could put multiple words together and I just started playing with these lists of cool gardening-related words and I had the words Pith and Vigor on it, and I just liked the way they sounded together.  And the more I listened to myself say it, the more I thought it sounded great.  You’ve got to check to make sure it’s not something somebody else has, and nobody was using it and, in fact, except in word history websites where people who studies etymology of words, the history or words and phrases, thought that the term Pith and Vigor was the source of the saying Piss and Vinegar.   I loved that, I didn’t even know it was a term, just two words that I put together.  But here it was as the source of Pith and Vigor.  The way they described their theories that you take Pith, pith being the central core of a flowering stem, and that is what gives you vitality and vigor and helps the plant to grow.  And the idea is that the original term was alluding to having vigor without the pith.  So it was like having all this life force and vitality without the backbone, kind of meant to mean going without a fear of failure, like nothing can stop you.  So I thought, okay, this is destiny.  I’m meant to write this.  That’s such a great history to a term I thought I’d just made up.  LOL  But obvious, I didn’t.  But it was from that that this piss and vinegar evolved.  I thought it was wonderful, and I just kind of accidentally found it.

Dave:  I was telling my wife over breakfast this morning, I said, I’m interviewing the founder of Pith + Vigor magazine, and she looked at me and she said, ‘that’s a good name’.  And she has an advertising background.  The website, for the listeners, write this down.   www.pithandvigor.com.  I’m going to put a link in the show notes, so come back to BacktoMyGarden.com and find Rochelle’s page and there’ll be a link to her blog and her magazine.

You mentioned your book, we have to talk about your book, because I’m very excited about this.  You have a book coming out in Amazon, correct?

Rochelle:  Yes.  It’s being published by Timber Press, it’ll be out somewhere around the third week of September of this year.

Dave:  And It’s all about gardening?


tropical garden


Rochelle:  It is.  Basically, the idea behind it is kind of the way I have always tried to work as a designer.  When you go into somebody’s home to begin to get to know them and what they might want from a garden project when you’re working as a garden designer.  One of the first things you do is you get a sense of what are they wearing, what does their house look like, what’s their style?  You’re trying to figure this out, what they might like and it’s kind of an extension of that because, honestly I think that people feel very overwhelmed by designing their garden and they start to get really hung up on things like foundation plants and this and that.  I feel like you approach it in a way that you might approach designing your kitchen or your living room … where you have a look in mind, maybe you’ve seen pictures on Pinterest or wherever.  You like this part of that picture, and that part of another picture, and you’re bringing this together into your own style.  There’s a really good way to step into designing a garden as well, so the whole concept of the book is around 23 different styles that I think are kind of current and modern, but all or most them are based on styles we’ve always known.  Like a cottage style or a zen style garden or all these different things.  But all of them have a modern feel about them, and basically each chapter introduces that style and talks about makes that style and how you might bring that into your own home project.  It has a lot of ideas for putting together the pieces, whether it’s furniture, or cushions, or light fixtures or whatever; to the plants, maybe it’s a tropical garden, the thing about tropical gardens is they tend to have these really hot, light, bright vibrant colours and big leaves and you don’t necessarily have to live in the tropics to grow plants with that big leaf feeling, and it will feel quite tropical even though you’re in Harvard Massachusetts.  It has this whole section at the end of each chapter that’s just full of very practical advice for building a garden, so there’s things about choosing plants, online shopping for plants, building stone walls, kind of the basics.  With a stone wall, maybe you’re not going to build it yourself, but you want to be able to at least talk to the guy who’s going to build it for you, in an intelligent way so you get what you think you would want.  It’s meant to be reference, particularly for people who maybe have never done it before, but and easy way to sort of step into gardening, in a way that it fully will help people create gardens that are really reflective of their own personal tastes and styles.

Dave:  Fantastic.  Can’t wait to read it.  I want to shift gears on you and talk about you right now.  What is your garden like today?

Rochelle:  My garden is kind of on the big side.  We live on top of a hill and we have 6 acres, but I garden roughly close to 3 of them.  And it’s been 10 years since we bought this house, and I would say the first 5 or 6 were completely filled with removing the overgrown and dead pine trees, it was kind of a forest, but not an old forest, just kind of not a very pretty one.  We did a lot clearing, and that took years.  Now it’s more like a country garden.  We have a big vegetable patch, but kind of lots of curving lines and there’s a barn that was here that we’ve incorporated.  For me, I’m always looking for big bushes that will fill a lot of space.  I like things that I can pick, I like to do a lot of flower arranging and we have some classes every once in a while related to that.  I like to be just able to wander the garden for materials.  So it’s just a big rambling country garden basically.

Dave:  Beautiful.  For those of you listening who are visual learners, head over to Rochelle’s blog at www.studiogblog.com to see how extraordinary, how 3 acres actually looks like.  Rochelle, you’ve got to imagine a lot of our listeners, they’re container growers on their patio and apartments.  3 acres is like a city park, it’s just extraordinary.


container gardening


Rochelle:  I write for Apartment Therapy, a column called the Gardenist.  So I find it challenging sometimes.  More readers there are definitely container gardeners or have smaller city plots, so I’m constantly putting myself back in those shoes.  I used to have a city garden once, it was little but it was great.  I put plants in it that were way too big for it.  It’s what you do, they’re so little when you buy them, but then they grow.  LOL

Dave:  I understand completely.  Our half hour’s rapidly escaping us.  And now is the time in the podcast where I play my favorite game, called 5 quick questions.  Are you ready to play?

Rochelle:  Sure

Dave:  Number 1.  What do you think stops most people from gardening?

Rochelle:  I think people think it’s too hard.  Too hard to know what to do, but also too hard maybe physically and I think they’re not wanting to get out there and sweat.  That’s harder to overcome, but I look at it as exercise.

Dave:  Number 2.  What is the best gardening advice you ever received?

Rochelle:  Not take any of it too seriously, it’s advice I’ve received many times over.  But I like to give it too, because I feel that especially when I’m going to somebody’s house and they have a garden, I find that my blog precedes me and people will say ‘oh my garden’s a mess’ and they’re very stressed out.  I think, no judgement, it’s okay.  Gardens are wild and crazy things, so all the better, just don’t stress, don’t take it too seriously.

Dave:  I love that answer.  Number 3.  If you had just 2 websites to share with a beginner gardener, what would they be?

Rochelle:  I think that Margaret Roach’s www.AWaytoGarden.com is a fantastic website, I visit there a lot myself.  She’s just great.  I would be remiss to not say my own site, but I think you need to look beyond garden websites.  And when you go about creating a garden, I think you need the practical knowledge, but you need inspiration, whether that’s from art or fashion or interiors or whatever.  Having a good sense of what you like and what your style is, from wherever you might find that is probably a fantastic resource.

Dave:  Number 4.  What’s the best gardening book or resource you can suggest?

Rochelle:  My favorite book that I’ve over owned is the Royal Horticultural Society’s Book of Plants, the A to Z, it’s a monster.  I think it weighs 25 lbs.  Personally, I like to just flip through it and discover new things, but I’m a bit of a plant nerd.  I think that’s fantastic.  If you’re looking for basic kind advice, The Essential Garden Design Workbook, Rosemary Alexander, it’s very good at helping you figure out all the practicalities that you need to think through if you’re going to design your own garden.  

Dave:  Wonderful.  Number 5.  What’s the number one thing that you believe that every gardener should try to grow next season?

Rochelle:  I have to say I’m a big proponent of not growing what you can buy, vegetables particularly.  Except for tomatoes, tomatoes are altogether awesome on their own.  Grow something different that maybe nobody else is growing.  It’s so important to maintain that diversity and I think it’s so easy to fall into this trap of picking up whatever is at the garden centre.  Personally I think the world of plants is vastly interesting that I like to see people become specialists in one little thing, whether it’s peonies or some crazy vegetable, or whatever.  Grow a whole bunch of them and be the go-to person in your neighbourhood and just trade for everything else.  I don’t know what I would say my one thing is because I like a million things, but I love people who have that depth of knowledge about one thing.  It’s so interesting to me.  So find your thing, whatever it is.

squash plant

Dave:  That’s a brilliant answer.  I like that.  Become a specialist and trade for the rest.  Well, dear listeners, this is wrapping up another episode of Back to My Garden.  Rochelle, you have been such a wonderful guest.  I want to make sure everybody heads over to your blog, www.studiogblog.com  and I want them to watch for Pith + Vigor  at  www.pithandvigor.com.  And, of course, your book coming out on Amazon.   I want to say thank you so very very much, and I want to give you the last work okay?  Can you share with the listeners, one little piece of wisdom or just a nugget of encouragement on their gardening adventure?

Rochelle:  I would say don’t look at failure as something that’s insurmountable.  There isn’t a single gardener out there who is successful all the time or even half the time.  I feel like I’m a fairly experienced gardener and still have things that don’t work a lot.  Figuring out what it is that made it not work and figuring out how to make it work is part of the fun and the challenge and if you see it that way instead of looking at something not working as a failure, and thinking ‘I’m not a good gardener’ , is a much better way to about enjoying gardening.  

Dave:  Fantastic.  Rochelle, thank you so very much, you’ve been so gracious with your time.  I really enjoyed our interview together.

Rochelle:  Thank you.

Listen to Rochelle Greayer talk about gardening here: