Get Growing: So long, farewell

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For the Gazette
Published: 10/18/2019 12:01:19 AM

I am sad to report that this will be my final Get Growing column. I started writing the column in December 2015, nearly four years ago. As I explained in my very first column, I came to gardening in a self-taught, seat-of-the-pants way. I read a lot about gardening and I talk to as many people as will entertain my questions. I get out into the dirt and try different things. In my columns I have tried to impart that sense of gardening as a process of trial and error and, sometimes, spectacular and serendipitous success.

In the course of writing nearly 200 weekly columns, I have heard occasionally from readers. Some have asked me for information or suggested subjects I might want to explore. Others have pointed out errors or omissions. I’ve discovered that some of my most loyal readers aren’t even gardeners. I have responded to all such communications with gratitude and have struck up lasting relationships with some of my correspondents. I’m taking this opportunity to thank all my kind and generous readers, gardeners and non-gardeners alike.

Writing the Get Growing column has honed my skills of observation. I notice so many things in the natural world that previously escaped my attention. Trying to describe these visual delights for my readers has been a perpetual and rewarding challenge. It has meant a great deal to me to hear from readers that they too had witnessed the same small miracle of nature I had written about. A walk in the woods, or a drive in the countryside, or a stroll through a teeming city, is a vastly richer experience for me than it was four years ago.

I have learned a lot about all aspects of gardening from many hard-working and gifted practitioners in the area. Garden people are always happy to share their knowledge. Members of the Garden Club of Amherst showed me their gardens and explained their design philosophies as well as nuts and bolts techniques. Staff at local nurseries have always been quick to answer my questions. Ellen Weeks at UMass Extension has pointed me to the right expert to quiz on a particular subject. The annual conferences of the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Association have provided expertise and inspiration. There is no shortage of useful information about gardening close at hand.

Writing the column has also taught me a tremendous amount, not just about gardening, but about patience, diligence and persistence. In the summer I had the opportunity to write about Heather Craig and her project to build a wheelchair-accessible path at the Northampton Community Garden. When we met at the garden, I soon realized that she intended her garden path to provide access for people to enjoy the garden but also to work there. She explained how she calculated the amount of space a wheelchair-bound gardener would need to navigate a garden plot. She described the kinds of raised beds and plants that would be appropriate. She pointed out that people with various sensory impairments can experience the delights of a garden, the sounds, sights and smells. In our two-hour chat, she broadened immeasurably my sense of what gardens can and should be.

The column has given me the privilege of getting to know people who are devoting a significant part of their lives to preserving open space and protecting the planet. Sue Walz of the Pascommuck Conservation Trust in Easthampton, and Peggy MacLeod, Larri Cochran and Amy Pulley of the Western Mass Pollinator Networks are just some of the many dedicated champions of the environment I’ve enjoyed working with. Keep up the good work!

And now, I have some leaf-raking to do.

Mickey Rathbun, an Amherst-based lawyer turned journalist, has written the Get Growing column since 2016.


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