Feature Story

Dorothy About Town: 7.11.18

It’s human nature to wonder what our cultural icons are really like. That, surely, is one reason why so many St. Louisans came to the art museum to hear Martha Stewart speak about her new book, Martha’s Flowers. The maven of all things folksy, foodie and flowery was actually very relaxed and approachable, dressed in jeggings and wedge sandals and even cracking an off-color joke or two. She and collaborator Kevin Sharkey spoke during a Q&A session conducted by museum director Brent Benjamin.

With 80 books to her credit, Stewart ought to be relaxed. This latest tome, focusing on all things garden, has gorgeous floral arrangements created with blooms from gardens at Stewart’s homes in Bedford, New York, and Seal Harbor, Maine. In the hour-long interview, Stewart said she proudly designs her own gardens, an impressive task considering the acreage. She has populated her gardens with the kinds of flowers her grandmother had, mostly traditional blooms. “I don’t grow a lot of exotica,” she said. “I grow from seed and cuttings—you learn a lot about patience from gardening.”

She told one story about buying a slew of hydrangeas that segued into discussion about her being the consummate entrepreneur. “Starting a business really means being passionate about something and asking, ‘How can I make life better with this passion?’” She said writing her first book, Entertaining, was the beginning of a new career for her. “I felt so good about it—suddenly I had a voice!”

Stewart has been interested in gardening since childhood, when she was the only one of six children to take up her father’s hobby. “Dad was very organized about his garden,” she recalled. “He was the least patient man ever, but not when it came to gardening.” She recalled recently finding (and using) a vial of French lavender seeds labeled 1952 in her father’s handwriting.

A question about growing vegetables elicited anecdotal information. “I grow so many different vegetables,” Stewart said. “My chickens run around the garden all winter long, so it’s great dirt: they scratch it, poop in it and eat all the bugs!” She also likes to use the flowers of herbs like borage, thyme and rosemary as food, but said “remember to never spray—and make your own compost!” She also “loves coyotes” for obvious reasons when you consider the havoc bunnies, squirrels and “other varmints” can wreak on the garden.

As for advice to those of us who don’t have two green thumbs, Stewart said, “Landscape first, then garden.” In other words, planning and soil preparation are paramount. And how about keeping our floral arrangements looking as perfect as those in her book? “Change your water all of the time. And no additives, except a little bleach—you can use vodka or gin in the case of tulips. Don’t ever throw out a leftover martini. It’ll perk up those tulips perfectly—the opposite effect as with you know what!”