15 Best Quotes from Ruth Stout’s Gardening Without Work

Ruth Stout, the lovably eccentric advocate of simple living and especially no-work gardening, sprinkles all her work with wise and funny observations. Here are my 15 favorite Ruth Stout quotes from her book, Gardening Without Work: For the Aging, the Busy & the Indolent:


Ruth Stout
Ruth Stout, author of Gardening Without Work.

“You can, of course, just promise yourself that you will reform and will do better next time, but broken vows, even those made exclusively to oneself, can be rather uncomfortable to live with.”

“If there’s anything more foolhardy than digging down under the surface of a compliment to try to decide whether or not it’s sincere, I don’t know what it is.”

“My guess is that if our homes weren’t quite so ‘pretty,’ our faces would, often, be more so; that is, pleasant and relaxed-looking.”

“From time to time we run across some new item someone has thought up to distinguish man from mere animals, and here is my contribution; animals kill other living creatures at their convenience, unhampered by any ideas about loving kindness or brotherhood, because they have no such thoughts. Men do have these lofty ideals but they also are unhampered by them.”

“I read somewhere that a shallow pan of beer put into a garden at night will do away with slugs. (Whether they are dead or just dead-drunk in the morning, I don’t know.) I wrote this to one inquirer and he answered: ‘I’m certainly not going to carry beer out to the garden for slugs. If they want beer they can come in the house and ask for it, like everybody else.'”

“In my early childhood I had some kind of vague yearning to Save the World from something or other; now all I ask is to save a small part of it from over-working in the effort to produce things that are good to eat or are lovely to see.”

“A dentist in Pennsylvania and a doctor in Oregon have both written me that they keep a copy of my garden book in their waiting rooms. Or at least try to; the dentist has had twenty-three copies stolen, the doctor, sixteen. I am not exactly boasting that my idea turns people into thieves, but I can scarcely help feeling flattered. It’s a fair sized job to write a book that people can be bothered just to read; when they begin to steal copies of one you’ve written you are really getting some place.”

“I have been told that garden clubs would stop asking me to give talks when they found out that I couldn’t seem to resist discussing growing vegetables. That hasn’t happened, although it’s true that almost without exception the clubs who have asked me to talk to them about my method are made up of people who are interested primarily in flowers. Since there’s no need to encourage them on that score, I just go ahead and talk about vegetables, and when they find out how little work there is to producing them with my system, many of them probably begin to grow them.”

“I have many things to do, some of which I am obliged to do in order to keep up my end in this business of daily living. But much that I do (this includes growing our vegetables) is done because I want to and enjoy it. I like to keep those two reasons for all my activities in a nice balance. If I deliberately and unnecessarily added a job here and there which I felt I must do, and particularly things which had to be done at certain times, I would soon begin to feel pushed and ordered around and hectic.”

“Some people simply have to know why, even if the answer is wrong.”

“Recently I heard that Amy Vanderbilt, the latest etiquette expert, says that, now that many women no longer have servants, one shouldn’t drop in on them without warning. In my ignorance I thought she meant that women shouldn’t be interrupted when they’re busy doing their housework, but it seems I’m wrong. I believe that she explains that a woman is now helpless, having no servant to tell the invaders she isn’t at home. This aspect of it has never affected me either way; I never did hire anyone to do my lying for me. When nothing else will serve, I’ve always handled my own.”

“The most fascinating subject in the world can become boring if harped on too constantly.”

“In a sense, scientists are like gadgets—sometimes they are dependable, sometimes they aren’t. But at least we know when a gadget isn’t working properly, while with a scientist we often can’t tell until, perhaps, it’s too late. So when can we believe them, trust them, follow their advice?”

“That’s the trouble with experts; if they were always wrong we could forget about them and relax, but every now and then they hit the nail right on the head.”

“If you have the soul of a gardener, not for anything would you work with gloves on.”

You’ve Read the Quotes, Now Get the Book!

More about Ruth Stout’s Gardening Without Work.

There’s plenty more where that came from, plus a delightfully simple and down-to-earth gardening method in Ruth’s Gardening Without Work.

Her no-till, no-work method uses a thick year-round mulch (straw, hay, leaves, chips, or whatever you can find) for both vegetables and flowers. The mulch eliminates the need for weeding, adds nutrients, and reduces water consumption. And, best of all, it’s simple.

She also talks about organic vs. chemical methods, how to lay out a garden, hints about growing and preparing vegetables, and much more.

I first read Gardening Without Work as a child, during my first gardening phase, and when I read it again as an adult, I was struck by how much of its life lessons I had retained across the years. Ruth always strives to make things simple, because life doesn’t have to be so hard!

So when I had the chance, I republished Gardening Without Work under my Norton Creek Press label, and it’s now available in paperback and Kindle forms.

Ruth Stout’s Gardening Without Work Still Going Strong


Ruth Stout
Ruth Stout

I keep running across blog posts praising how well Ruth Stout’s “no-work gardening” methods work, like this post on The Messy Shepherdess.

I first ran across Ruth Stout’s writing when I became interested in gardening as a child, and got a subscription to Organic Gardening.

This was around 1970, and Organic Gardening was very much an end-of-the-world prophet of doom back then. Even articles about how to grow nice tomatoes with a trellis against your house would take time out to explain how you’d better hurry up, because we’d all be dead by 1975!

Gardening Without Work by Ruth StoutBut towards the back of every issue was a column by  Ruth Stout. Ruth was a life-long eccentric, a proponent of simple living, and thus wasn’t very impressed by the way most people insist on making life way harder than it has to be.

For example, she and her husband liked having friends drop by and hang out in their general vicinity, but didn’t much like being combination restaurant/maid service/entertainment. So they remodeled their barn to provide simple guest quarters, with its own kitchen, and invited people to come and stay more as neighbors than guests. This worked well, and Ruth writes about it, along with much else, in her book, Company Coming: Six Decades of Hospitality, which I’ve reprinted under my Norton Creek Press label. (Among other things, she describes the time that, when she was a teen, she helped Carry Nation smash up a saloon.)

Company Coming: Six Decades of Entertainment by Ruth StoutSo in her Organic Gardening column, Ruth ignored conventional wisdom, as always. She ignored conventional gardening wisdom. She ignored the writing conventions of Organic Gardnening. She acted as if politics didn’t exist. She assumed that what you did in your own garden was up to you. She talked about gardening. In particular, she talked about what she was doing in her garden, since she didn’t consider herself to be an expert about gardens in general.

So as a reader interested in gardens, her stuff was cool, because it was focused and clear and was all about doing stuff: without wandering off into theory and politics and never coming back. So, there I was, a ten-year-old gardening enthusiast, and I always opened up a new issue of Organic Gardening to the column by that eccentric octegenarian, Ruth Stout, because it spoke to me.

When I discovered that Ruth’s book, Gardening Without Work, had been out of print for years, I was amazed! I was also quick to correct this lapse, and reprinted it. It’s been one of the most popular Norton Creek Press books ever since.

This is a fun book to read. Her deep-mulch system is so simple that the step-by-step instructions only take a few pages. The rest of the book provides stories, anecdotes, and experiences that expand on the ideas and help them sink in. Which is just as well, because some readers take a bit of convincing that something so simple can work so well. In any case, Ruth Stout is a delightful writer.