The Dirt

1 Book, 5 Questions with Billy Goodnick

In which we will learn the biggest mistake someone can make with their yard, and why, when it comes to garden design, Iron Butterfly is better inspiration than The Who.

Question 1: If you had to give this book another title, what would you call it?

I would call it “Don’t Pick Your Flowers Too Soon.

Question 2: What do you mean when you say, “a good yard had better give something back”?

It’s important that a garden is pretty, but to me that is the last thing that comes about. A yard that gives you something back is one that serves as many functions for your lifestyle – like entertaining, relaxing, or growing food — as it does your aesthetic sense.

Question 3: What is the worst thing someone can do to their yard?

I think it is to overlook its full potential. To not start with the rudiments. To me, there is a design process, a logical order of decision making — the same way designing a house doesn’t start with picking out fabric swatches for the throw pillows. You have this property outside your house, and you may as well maximize it by balancing utility and aesthetics, all passed through the filter of making things as sustainable as you can. Those, to me, are the three legs of the stool.

Question 3.1: How do you define sustainable?

Well it’s kind of a moving target, but the definition I like (because I came up with it) is that sustainability is the way we gardened before we had a choice, before we could run down to the big box store and buy anything from anywhere.

Question 4: You have been a drummer for most of your life, so how is a good yard like a good drum solo?

I don’t think a good yard is like a good drum solo.

Billy Goodnick, author of Yards: Turn any outdoor space into the garden of your dreams
Billy Goodnick, author of Yards: Turn any outdoor space into the garden of your dreams

Question 4.1: How is a good yard not like a good drum solo?

A drum solo doesn’t rely on anything else for support. For me, a good yard is like a good musical composition because it has some foundation and repetition. It’s thematic and then it has some embellishments on top of it and that could be a good guitar lick or a brief drum solo or going from the verse to the bridge for contrast, but it has good fundamentals underneath it.

If a good yard were like a drum solo, it would be more like the thumping bass drum that forms the fundamental theme of “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida” than Keith Moon flailing away.

Question 5: What would you like readers to say after they finish this book?

I would like them to say, “I’ve never looked at my garden that way before.”

Interview conducted by Steve Aitken, editor.

Random Comments:

On what else potential readers should know about the book:
No one book can teach you exactly how to design your own yard. This is the book to read before you read all the other books. It will put you inside the brain of a landscape architect. And you can only benefit from that.

On his favorite sentence in the book:
It’s on page 13, at the end of a paragraph where I am discussing things like sticking your cactus collection in front of an English Tudor cottage: “But like chocolate milk and sardines, some things just shouldn’t mix it up.”

On the potential plot of a gardening murder mystery with the working title Thyme of Death:
That someone has gotten so fed up with the mow-blow-and-go guys that they actually become a serial killer who is going out and using their tools to bump them off.

View Comments


  1. user-1020932 08/05/2013

    i am rolling here after reading your favorite sentence. i live in a late 40's cape cod and everything is lush and fully planted BUT on the east side porch i do have a cactus collection. not sure how it came about but it's here. yes, i'm a plant hoarder and feel the need to have 3 of everything

  2. Vazalode 07/26/2019

    I have been waiting for this book for a long time because I admire its author. And given that in college, I was only rescued by Essay Explorer with review paperell, then such literature in my eyes takes almost the first place. By the way, I liked the idea of the author that it is impossible to achieve the ideal of following the precise instructions of another person, but you need to try everything and experiment.

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