The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Inbox: A Letter to The Midwest

The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Inbox: A Letter to The Midwest

Behind posts, articles, conferences and social media, there’s a backstory. Have you kept up with the digital correspondence between Ranters Scott Beuerlein and Marianne Willburn?  You can start here, or go back and find the entire correspondence at Dear Gardener.

15 February 2024

Lovettsville, VA

Dear Scott,

“I hope you are well” is probably inadequate, based on the copious Facebook alerts with which Meta is blowing up my Inbox.  Every time I see “Scott Beuerlein just posted…” I think of Michele and say a little prayer for her.

I really must change my settings.

I hope you are better.  That is something for all of us to strive for – better – or Younger Next Year – or whatever catch-phrase promise of life eternal was being hocked by fit bodies in the nineties & noughties.

I wasn’t paying attention, I was busy being younger and not realizing it was a thing into which one had to put any energy; but these days I’d settle for “Less Mole Development Next Year!” or perhaps “Synapses Fully Firing Next Year!” I’m not putting all my eggs into the basket of ‘Younger.’  I’d have to find them first.

So I hope you are better. Recovering. Ready to take on the world. Or at least a small section of Cincinnati. The dodgy end.

Now that the business of small talk is over – to actual business. 

You are (or at least were, before this slackadasical excuse of major back surgery flattened you) too busy. I recognize the signs: Ages between letters (you’re making me look needy, and that’s not a look I like), very few posts to your adoring readers who are interested in your gardening thoughts (all three of them), and….what was the last thing…? Oh yes. A flex of such epic proportions in your last absurdly late letter, that Bill Gates was gasping at your stamina.  I’m assuming he is of course a reader.  Of mine.

But do not fret.  I have a cure.  Or rather, Anne Wareham does. 

I’m still not quite sure how to take this; but after numerous emails on topics serious, and WhatsApp messages on topics fun  — both of which usually end with me saying ‘I’ll get back to you more on this later, gotta hit the rest of my Inbox,” she recommended a book that is currently in the process of changing my perspective – Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management For Mortals.

It was a perfectly timed suggestion. I was feeling stretched, speaking to an audience that day with another symposium the week after (flexing here, in case you miss it). Across the week’s diary, the words “GET THROUGH YOUR INBOX YOU SLACKER. PLAN THE PERENNIAL BED. START THE PERENNIALS. OUTLINE THAT BOOK!” loomed large and guilt-inducing. And this Instagram series I’ve been doing on the winter garden had been taking up some brain cells, along with trying to figure out a few hows and whens of a very cool trip to the UK in May.

Then Mike says he’s heading to Charlotte for work and has a hotel. Against the odds I decide to be spontaneous, screw the perennials, and see some plant friends in Charlotte, and work away from my desk for a few days for a change of scenery. Very unlike me.  Usually when he goes out of town I manically repaint the kitchen cabinets or give the bathroom a facelift.

But back to Anne, and the book, and the answer to life, the universe and everything: On the way out of town we stop for dinner and walk by a Barnes & Noble, so I sneak in just to see that those bastards no longer have my book on their shelves, (apparently 15 books on tropical houseplants is sufficient to help people grow a banana OUTSIDE), and I remember Anne’s suggestion for a life-changing time management book.  So I ask.

Don’t you hate it when you ask the associate for a random book you’ve never heard of, and she nods knowingly and leads you to it with her eyes closed – as if everyone but you HAS heard of it, read it, reviewed it, celebrated the author at NYC glamtastic parties, and are currently putting his kids through college by recommending it to everyone they know? 

As you may have guessed, that does NOT happen with gardening titles.  Not only have the remaining brick & mortar leviathans (well, one), shortened the shelf space once given to weed warriors, they’ve handed it over to purveyors of the beige Scandinavian home aesthetic, and celebrity cookbooks.  And Starbucks.

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that the world does not need another mysterious word like Hygge foisted upon it by exquisite Norwegians to make us feel more inadequate about our interiors; nor does it require Chrissy Teigen’s hot take on the banana split.  What it does need is a book that makes growing bananas less scary.  For God’s Sake B&N, be better.

Digressing rather disgracefully there, my apologies.  I forked over my cash – even if they didn’t deserve it – and then on a wild hair, went back and picked up a copy of The Winter Garden by Naomi Slade. I’ve been meaning to order that one online for ages – but how much better to support a shelf restocking of grit and gravitas amongst all that other fluff. British winter garden porn at its finest. 

You wouldn’t understand.

So thus armed, with two books, a laptop, a backpack full of notes for a book project (Yes. The irony is not lost on me), and a swimsuit, we took off for destinations south in a rented convertible like a scene from Bridget Jones, only to hit the tail edge of that recent Nor’easter and remember suddenly that it was February. 

You could almost hear God laughing through the wet, sticky snowflakes; but we had the last laugh as Charlotte was sunny, warm, and convertible-friendly. Daffodils up. Fritillaria up. Leucojum up.  Aspidistra clumps doing what they do down there. Living. Do you know how tall the old foliage of autumn fern can stand when it’s not being ritualistically beaten by Mid-Atlantic winters?

Back in Lovettsville, we had left Emma with the menagerie, firewood, and instructions to start my perennial seeds, but it turned out later that the last bit of that sentence was not a thing, and I’d dreamed it. Perennial seeds still in packets. Still screwed.

However, thanks to this book, I feel a lot better about it, and am going to keep enjoying the hell out of spontaneous decisions made with intention. Such as helping Andrea Sprott at the Elizabeth Lawrence Garden as an indentured servant for a day. She promised us a spaghetti dinner, drinkable red wine, and sparkling conversation in payment. She delivered.

If you could drag yourself away from the instantaneous and intoxicating world of the Metaverse, I’d love to hear how you are [actually] doing.  But probably more importantly, how Michele is doing with what you are doing and not doing.

And while you’re throwing words on paper, tell me, have the perennial seeds in your life seen soil yet?  You could do that lying in bed, slacker – Allen’s post with that germination hack was a good one.

Yours in mania,


P.S. Regarding the semi-life changing book for production-addicts like us that measure our lives by coffee spoons or Inbox Zero:  I’ve just sent you a copy.  I expect your letter writing to improve drastically.

P.P.S. Just as an aside, when checking into swanky hotels as a Hortulanus incognito, it’s always a good idea to put your tool belt with associated holsters and sharp objects in a bag that shields them from the eyes of swanky hotel receptionists. I’m on a watch list in Charlotte now.

Inbox Zero Book



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