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Forty Years in the Garden – Between the Rows

The photo is not good, but this is the house we were racing to after Thanksgiving 1979. We were fixing it up

The day after Thanksgiving in 1979 Henry and I packed a big U-Haul truck with all our New York belongings, and the three daughters, Diane, Betsy and Kate. The day was balmy and warm, the perfect day for moving. We stopped in Greenfield for supper and groceries, then onward to Heath.

It was no longer balmy. Temperatures had plummeted. It was dark and we had to unload the truck or we would have no place to sleep. The girls put their backs into the job. The truck needed to be emptied in order to go on the road the next morning.

We made two trips with the truck to my mother’s house in Mason, New Hampshire, while the girls continued organizing in Heath. We had stored some of our stuff there when we moved to NYC, and she said it was our turn to store her stuff while she moved to New Jersey.

As we finished unloading that third truck Henry said that was it! We were at the end of the road and were never moving again. Indeed, our old farmhouse was literally at the end of the road, hence our title, End of the Road Farm.

Our country life began. We had plans to grow our own food, raise chickens for eggs – and meat, and be part of the back-to-the-land movement of the ‘70s.  Of course, we needed regular jobs, too, but we were ready to grow vegetables and flowers.

We had only been living in Heath for five months when I drove into Greenfield, took a deep breath, and walked into the Recorder offices. I met with Bob Dolan and proposed writing a garden column. I got lucky because the Recorder was just then preparing to publish a weekly leisure magazine insert to cover topics including books, music, food, television – and gardening. In my interview with Mr. Dolan I confessed that I didn’t know a lot about gardening, but I knew who to interview for expert information.

I was lucky. The first issue of the magazine was on May 22, 1980. My first column Compost Piles Vital for Good Gardening appeared on page 15.

The column needed a title. I thought back to our year in Maine and our next door neighbor, Mr. Leslie.  He had a vegetable garden and was knowledgeable in many ways. He’d laugh at me and my running around scattering seed. He told me I needed to slow down and swap lies between the rows. That is what my column intended to do – at least talking to experts and beginners Between the Rows.

John Zon

John Zon

That was the beginning. Besides my own limited gardening experience I turned to Tom Luck about planting potatoes in sawdust, John Zon, our next door neighbor about managing and caring for a garden, especially raspberries. I was off and running.

The joy of writing a garden column was, and is the pleasure of meeting other gardeners, all of whom have more skill and knowledge than I did. Unlike cooks who guard their recipes, gardeners are delightfully willing to share their knowledge, show off their gardens and tell stories.

Elsa Bakalar and me in 1980 – ohoto by Mike Bakalar for column

Elsa Bakalar, known for her beautiful flower gardens, lived on the other side of Heath. She was a great teacher and a great story teller. Over the years she taught me about perennials from garden phlox, achillea, delphiniums, Russian sage, cone flowers, boltonia and all manner of other flowers. She and I shopped for wonderful plants at Blue Meadow Farm in Montague. She planted hers, and I wrote about them.

Elsa Bakalar

Cover girl – Elsa Bakalar

Larry Lightner who had taught for years at Northfield-Mt.Hermon taught me about collecting fall leaves to make cold compost. I have used his technique in many ways. The idea is to make a wire bin, of the desired height and width and collect leaves and continue over time, because the leaves break down, slowly creating compost without the heat of kitchen leftovers. I have two tall cold compost bins full of leaves right now. This is such a great technique that I write about it from time to time.

People often ask me how I can write a column every week. The truth is a columnist is always looking for material, and material is found because everyone likes talking about their gardens. Some columns can be written about specific kinds of gardens like flower gardens, rain gardens, shade gardens, herb gardens and more.  I look through my lists and I see repeating topics like New Year Resolutions, Plant of the Year, small trees, color in the garden, fall planting, succulents, new perennials, poinsettias. After I created my Rose Walk I always had new roses to write about.

Special events often make it to my column. There are garden tours, and plant sales. This year the Greenfield Garden Club will still hold its annual Extravaganza plant sale at the John Zon Community Center at the corner of Davis and Pleasant Streets on Saturday, May 23, 2020, from 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 a.m. Of course there will be special requirements. All must wear masks and abide by social distancing. This is a great opportunity to get some great plants at good prices for your gardens while you support Garden Club school gardens.

Next week my anniversary celebration continues.###

Between  the Rows  May 16, 2020