Amanda Thomsen (aka Kiss My Aster on Twitter and Facebook) is what I’d call a punk landscaper and garden designer if we’re using the broader meaning of punk. The punk ideology is really about doing it yourself and doing it to your individual aesthetic, mainstreamers and corporatists be damned. And that’s how the music was too, in the beginning, before the record companies saw dollar signs and co-opted everything. But that’s another soap box.

This soap box is all about Amanda’s drive to empower the newbies, the rebels…the rest of us; giving gardeners and home owners the right and the courage to do things their way.

Gardening should be fun yet there are too many books that make it seem not so. Throw in the word landscaping and it’s easy to see how a new home owner or gardener might simply pave over the yard and lease out parking spots.

This is why Amanda was compelled to create her first solo book, Kiss My Aster, and why Storey Publishing felt the time was right for the little guys to have a coach and cheerleader like her.

Amanda has chunked tomes of landscaping advice into a non-linear format similar to the old Choose Your Own Adventure books she grew up with. Turns out this is a perfect form for the way today’s younger readers seek and absorb information. She also keeps all the advice succinct while including games to make it fun and memorable.

Her snarky humor combined with the quirky illustrations encourages readers not to worry about doing it right or being perfect. The landscaping lessons end up being just right for each reader no matter where they start in the book.

While experienced landscapers and gardeners will find this book humorous with a bona fide ring of truth, garden newbies will also find it inspiring, helpful, to the point, (e.g., no unending paragraphs about the benefits of juniper), and fun.

If you consider yourself independent, different, not like your neighbors, this book is written specifically for you. It’s full of advice and guidance enabling you to do it yourself or with the help of a team. And it will give you the freedom to think outside the boxwood hedge.

Photos are excerpted from Kiss My Aster © by Amanda Thomsen, Illustrations © by Am I Collective/Bernstein & Andriulli, used with permission from Storey Publishing.

Interview with Amanda

This past summer I had an opportunity to interview Amanda about a lot of things including her upcoming book. I also followed her on a tour of her new house and very large yard. She pointed out a creek bed where she planned to break a landscaper’s rule by planting an invasive to manage erosion, her plans for disposing of the dated lava rock around the foundation, and her latest thrift store find; a cool 70s outdoor fireplace.

SV: Who did you have in mind when you first came up with the idea for this book?

A: As always, I am my own target audience. The cool thing about this book is I never pitched it to anyone. Someone at Storey said “hey, I think your blog is really cool” years and years ago. “I work for Storey and I’m keeping my eye on you.” We got to be kinda friends, we met in Boston, she wanted to know if I had ideas for a book. Well sure, I had plenty of ideas, crazy ideas for books. And so we met and talked and I liked her so much and she was so young and hip and cool and into gardening and organic farming. She’s like the coolest target audience I could ever think of. If I could amuse her, then I could probably amuse anybody. And that’s how this entire book ended up this way.

SV: So you didn’t think about demographics and target audience…

A: No, what I did think—and this is sort of a dorky thing to say—this book is gonna be something they could put on a table at Urban Outfitters; it’s gonna be that cool. That was my one thing. That it would hit this younger audience.

SV: When I think about this book—the way that it’s structured, the style of illustration—it seems very appropriate for almost any age but especially younger gardeners.

A: Absolutely! I was hoping 20s, X and Y, millennials. I showed this book to my dad—he’s like 65—and he saw the unicorn and was like “who’s this book for? Kids?”

Q: But you’ve got bits of humor in here for everybody, the gnomes, unicorns,…

A: My sense of humor is a range, I love old movies, there are references to Mr. T. They did edit out some of the really young references.

SV: So they did edit your book?

A: Oh yeah, there was a page on watering called “Where your hose at?” and they did change it to “Where’s my hose?” And the page after making a short flagstone path was on making a real mortared stone path and it was called “harder and longer” and they did change that.

SV: How do you feel about those changes?

A: I won so many, there’s so much in here that’s just so flippin’ cheeky that I can’t believe I got away with it. They wanted over-the-top so I wrote over-the-top. Anything they took away (giggles) was probably for my own good. They did let me keep the topiary of Mr. T. (SV: for reals, there is a topiary of Mr. T, I saw it.)

SV: So let’s talk about the illustrations. Why illustration when so many gardening books are based on photography?

A: Well look at it, it’s so awesome. I wanted to do a hundred other things because I couldn’t conceive of spending this much money to get something like this. My original idea was to have the illustrations be like IKEA instructions in 13 languages, I thought that would be really funny and they were like, “we don’t get it”, so it just kinda morphed into this style kind of naturally.

SV: I love the lava lamp in the worm den.

A: The illustrators were just so insane. I’ve never spoken with them, just sent the briefest of notes. They gave the publisher lots of ideas. The illustrators did a really good job of keeping my flava’, you know?

I’m so glad I ended up with these guys, I just love them.

SV: And it sounds like they loved working on this too, I read on their blog.

A: What’s interesting is, there’s this twistiness of the concept and how it’s written but the illustration is fun, it’s not morbid in any way. Every page is fun. Here’s two of my favorite pages: “The Hobo Deck Style” and “The Hobo Garden.” I did have to explain that to the illustrators, they were like, “whaaaat’s a hobo garden?”

SV: The squirrels are great, you’ve got them in several places in the book.

A: When it was originally going to be a graphic novel, it was going to be me and a drunken squirrel fighting about how to do things and he was gonna do things wrong. So I asked for the squirrel to be included in as many things as possible.

SV: This book flows differently than others, it’s not linear. Can you tell me how you came up with the idea for it not being a linear book?

A: I wanted to make something interactive, and I thought about the ones I knew that were interactive, the Choose Your Own Adventure books. And I thought well, planting your yard is an adventure and I just came up with the idea. I thought it was too complicated for me to do, to weave everything together, and then the publisher said, “you just write the stuff, we’ll weave it together.” I wrote the book from beginning to end and they made everything match up.

SV: So someone picks up this book, how do they decide where to start.

A: They can start anywhere. There’s not really a table of contents but there’s this worm burrow at the beginning so if you wanna just do vegetable gardening, there’s a vegetable gardening worm burrow and you can do any of those pages. Or you can start reading from the beginning and at the bottom of every page you can choose where to go next.

SV: Did you have a particular goal with this book or did you just want to write a book?

A: To write more books. I don’t know why, I just want to. And I’m not a particularly driven person but I enjoyed this. The big story behind this book is that the day I found out it was a go was the day I peed on a stick and found out I was pregnant. And from there the race was on. I had a year to write a book and 10 months to have a baby. So it was a very interesting year. I also got a big promotion that year. Writing this book was so fun. I’m not going to say it was effortless. I don’t consider myself a writer, I’m an amusing person to talk to and I can pretty quickly tell you what kind of tree to plant in your back yard. That’s pretty easy to do and I just wrote it down.

SV: What’s your favorite part of the book?

A: I love the games. I’m really proud of the bingo and the cootie catcher. There’s mad-libs, match-em-ups. One of my favorite things that I didn’t do, is the last page, the little garden party. It was all the illustrators’ idea.

SV: Most gardening books I’ve seen are reference tools with the exception of fiction like The Orchid Thief.

A: Yeah, I’m hoping this is somewhere in between. There are personal stories in here and a lot of parts that are conversational.

Contest over.

And we have our winners! Congrats to tattoo winners: Jim H, Jonquil Alexia, KnowThankYou, and Cindy; and the grand prize winner of the book is Karrita!

Win a copy of Amanda’s book, Kiss My Aster (and maybe an official tattoo!)

Stalk Amanda at these links:

Good Enough Gardening Podcasts:
Check out her Ryan Gosling gardening meme:

See what else is germinating at Storey Publishing: