Grumpy’s 32 Tips For 32 Years

August 2, 2015 | By | Comments (23)
32 tips

Grumpy at his home at Monticello. Photo: Robbie Caponetto

Today marks the start of Grumpy’s 33rd year of not being fired from Southern Living. I know, I know — how could any organization overlook more than three decades of sarcasm, bad taste, poor judgment, and blatant snarkiness? I still remember my first day on the job. I was 10 and had to sit on what was called a “telephone book” to reach the keys of my state-of-the-art IBM Selectric typewriter. To thank you, dear readers, for not throwing up every time you saw my byline, I now present 32 of Grumpy’s greatest garden observations — one for each year you convinced the magazine not to march me to the edge of the roof and push.

1. Never plant a single okra plant lest you appear foolish.

2. The best way to get even with someone who slighted you is to give him or her a flat of mint.

3. Don’t get upset when plants die. It gives you the chance to plant something new and better.

4. You know you’re a gardener when you consider a truckload of manure an acceptable anniversary gift.


She’ll love you for it. Photo:

5. The most common reason plants fail to bloom is lack of sun. The second most common reason is you parked your stupid RV on them.

6. Prune your crepe myrtle like you prune your dogwood — in other words, just about never.

7. Never copy what your neighbor is doing in his garden, because he has no idea.


Can’t wait for these bushes to fill in. Photo: Steve Bender

8. Don’t plant Bradford pear! Its flowers smell like tuna, it falls apart in wind, and its thorny seedlings come up everywhere.

9. NASA has just confirmed there is life on Pluto. Unfortunately, it’s privet. Learn from this.

10. Find out how big a plant will grow before you put it in the ground. Giant house-eating plants are a pain in the hiney to move.

11. Don’t scalp your grass or you’ll soon have all weeds and no grass.


4 beers + mower = ugly. Photo: Steve Bender

12. If any guy with a pickup truck offers to “top” your trees (cut the tops off), give him 5 minutes alone with your pet gator.

13. The easiest way to kill any plant is to make it the focal point of your garden.

14. Determining your last spring frost is easy. It always comes the morning after you set out your tomato plants.

15. If the power company says it’s going to prune your trees, assume it will do so in the ugliest way possible.


The power company artist who maimed my maple was not named Rodin. Photo: Steve Bender

16. Just because a plant is native doesn’t make it better. Choose the right plant for the right spot, no matter its origin. (Privet is never the right plant.)

17. People who don’t read my “Grumpy Gardener” blog each week are like blind people in a portrait gallery.

18. No, you cannot grow any type of grass in the shade, including the fun kind.

Fun grass

No grass likes shade, Bud. Photo:

19. Hiding a pretty house behind a hedge of shrubs is like putting flannel plaid pajamas on Taylor Swift.

20. Never grow watermelons on a fifth-floor balcony for obvious reasons.

21. It’s easy to keep dogs from digging up your flowers. Get rid of one or the other.

22. Don’t burn off a dormant lawn in winter. It looks like an asteroid struck.


Fortunately, the lawn was uninhabited. Photo: Steve Bender

23. Hollies can be male or females. Females are prettier, but they never stop talking.

24. Never take a chainsaw up into a tree unless you’re already dead.


The snarl of a chainsaw puts kids right to sleep.

25. The vast majority of plants like sun and well-drained soil. Tattoo this onto your arm so you’ll remember.

26. Big trees that are hollow inside will probably fall on something precious, like your Big Green Egg or Garden Yeti.

Garden Yeti

Every garden needs a Yeti. Photo:

27. Southern Living spells “crepe myrtle” with an “e” because it makes sense and we like to. If this keeps you up at night, spell it with an “a.” We don’t give a flip.

28. Shaking a hornet nest always ends badly.

29. Enjoy hydrangeas in your garden all winter by spray-painting the old, brown flowers blue or pink. But not orange. That’s offensive.

Spray-pain hydrangeas

Atlanta garden designer Tara Dillard creates an ‘Endless Winter’ hydrangea. Photo: Steve Bender

30. To keep birds from pecking holes in your ripe tomatoes, hang red Christmas tree balls on the vines. This drives them nuts.

31. Do not put up “Deer Crossing” or “Chipmunk Crossing” signs. Deer and chipmunks cannot read.

Chipmunk Crossing


32. Whenever a person asks what you think of their hideous yard, just say, “That’s something!” “I’ve never seen anything like this before!” “Who would have thought of that!”


  1. Joan

    I need a proven way to get rid of poison Ivy in Middle Tennessee. Thanks…Love your’s the first article I read in SL

    August 26, 2015 at 6:14 pm
  2. Lifesart

    New to your wit and wisdom and new to Virginia after almost a lifetime up north. Nice to have the advice for the different conditions, though the official USDA gardening zones are only half a zone apart. Keep up the great work!

    August 23, 2015 at 9:15 pm
  3. Pam Lorentz

    Should have been they all instead of they’ll. autocorrect!!

    August 18, 2015 at 3:15 pm
  4. Pam Lorentz

    crapa myrtla. if one “e” should be an “a” then they’ll should be. Makes it look like a scientific name.

    August 18, 2015 at 3:13 pm
  5. Lenna Allen

    Refreshing advice!! 🙂

    August 14, 2015 at 6:35 am
  6. Martha

    I can’t help myself – I reread your articles frequently, and still laugh like I am reading it for the first time. #15 touched my heart as the power company just trimmed a large maple in my backyard. The “specialist on sight” trimmed all the leaves off a branch, then left the bare branch on the tree just sticking out – go figure. Such a beautiful addition to my garden. Given serious consideration to making signs to hang on trunk stubs in our area for those who are ignorant to the rules of growing crepe myrtles – murder is rampant.

    August 8, 2015 at 10:11 am
  7. Elizabeth Whitlow

    Steve, you’re a treasure! Your humor, sense, and knowledge are priceless, and so is your ability to write. Congrats to SL for hanging on to you, and I’ll raise um, a crepe myrtle blossom to many more years of great writing and laughter. (USE FIRST NAME ONLY IF POSTED, PLEASE.)

    August 4, 2015 at 9:28 pm
  8. CH

    AWESOME! You rock Grumpy! Snarky? Bring it on! This Southern girl sees the humor in the snark!

    August 4, 2015 at 8:24 pm
  9. Suzanne Langlois Mooney

    A FLAT OF MINT…I haven’t laughed so hard in ages…Bless your heart; see? I’m learning Southern English. It;s delightful.

    August 3, 2015 at 7:18 pm
  10. Kathleen

    You & Rick Bragg are the best . Thanks for the great articles & attitude.

    August 3, 2015 at 1:51 pm
  11. Cindy Swart

    I love your articles and you advice. I really love # 32. In our first year of home ownership, my DH decided he was going to plant a garden. The man had never planted anything in his life but he came from farming people so how hard could it be right? Our wonderful elderly neighbor had the yard and garden’s of a master. As he stood next to my husband one late summer afternoon; he politely informed my husband that he had never in his life seen anyone grow more healthier weeds in his life. He then patted my husband on the back and offered to help plow it all under. We decided to put a satellite dish in the field the next summer.

    August 3, 2015 at 1:24 pm
  12. Diana

    I never tire of reading your articles. I have a hard time not going straight to the back. After many years of relocating to the north I am back in the South, NC, and wallowing in gardening. Heat or rain I am doing or thinking garden 🙂

    August 3, 2015 at 11:35 am
  13. deaconsbench

    ^ “crepa” ha! I see what you did up there ^!

    August 3, 2015 at 9:55 am
  14. wynn

    What if you have dead limbs…should you trim them out of your dogwoods and myrtles

    August 3, 2015 at 8:51 am
  15. Denny 144

    I’m a Southener living in exile in Michigan. I love reading your column for all the things I can’t grow here. Except privet, the x,$!x#> stuff grows everywhere, it’s almost as bad as kudzu.

    August 2, 2015 at 6:31 pm
  16. G. E. McCormack

    #27…crepa myrtle?

    August 2, 2015 at 4:42 pm
  17. Sandra Devine

    I thought your favorite uncle owned SL and that was the reason you were still employed. More often than not, you are too rude in your responses (for my taste). My Mother subscribed to SL from way back in the 50’s and through all the years, SL magazine has definitely changed. Some changes were not for the good, as can be evidenced by SL’s loss in subscription numbers. I do heed your gardening advice; however, I just don’t relish your deliverance.

    August 2, 2015 at 3:39 pm
  18. Vikki Barnette

    Information and a show. Here’s to another 32 year run at the Southern Living Casino!

    August 2, 2015 at 2:58 pm
  19. Rayene Davenport Roach

    Thanks for all the garden info and all the snarky comments! Reading your articles always make me smile! Sometimes when I am reading your articles I smile so much my coffee ends up coming out my nose! Geez! ( guess I should wear a bib when reading your stuff)

    Looking forward to your 33rd year!

    August 2, 2015 at 2:41 pm
  20. AW

    Saluting you with an appropriate cold, adult beverage and looking forward to the next 32!

    August 2, 2015 at 2:28 pm
  21. Freddie Raley

    Personally, I love snarkiness! Looking forward to your 33rd year.

    August 2, 2015 at 1:10 pm
  22. Carolyn Choi

    Bless your heart. Love all your great gardening gems but #17 is my favorite and #32 shows you’ve learned a lot of good ole’ Southern sensabilities during your 32 years on the job.

    August 2, 2015 at 10:38 am
  23. Jean

    32 years of informative and funny, well written articles. I can tell from the first sentence of a piece in SL if you have written it or not. SL knows a good thing when they see it and we will continue to enjoy your expertise and craziness. J

    August 2, 2015 at 10:29 am

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s