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.


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Author: Robert Plamondon

Robert Plamondon has written three books, received over 30 U.S. patents, founded several businesses, is an expert on free-range chickens, and is a semi-struggling novelist. His publishing company, Norton Creek Press, is a treasure trove of the best poultry books of the last 100 years. In addition, he holds down a day job doing technical writing at Workspot.

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