Our Alive Outside initiative features articles, stories, and artwork that help us connect with the world outside. Thanks to Jim Fellows for arranging this piece by local gardener and environmental advocate, Elisabeth Holder.
When I was in high school, I worked for an Englishman named Mr. Follet who’d retired from running a nursery in my hometown. My main job was helping this 86 year old man keep up with the weeding, but he took some time every day to teach me something. Some of the lessons that I’ve retained for the last 5 decades were to “know the weed” before you pull it, always take good care of your tools, and sharpen them frequently so they cut easily and cleanly.
I plant most of my vegetables in raised beds, but grow onions, garlic, and rhubarb in well-mulched areas at ground level. They seem particular about having good juicy soil and lots of mulch, but they don’t need as much care as some of the others.
I divided 4 of my mother’s spindly rhubarb plants in 1992, expecting to get about 8-10 new plants. I ended up with 20 and have been dividing and replenishing them ever since. There must be over 100 progeny planted now, from upstate New York to Massachusetts. This shows the refurbishment of the bed around 2014, involving the dividing and replanting of the plants with spindly stalks, adding lots of compost, but leaving the strongest plants alone. Vigilant 60-pound hound dog for scale.
Tend your compost piles, treasure your autumn leaves, and hope for a good snow cover to insulate the precious roots. And, most of all, enjoy the company of the creatures all around — the catbird that watches intently to see what I will dig up, the chipmunk that dashes away with a giant June bug grub in its mouth, and the bluebird that just seems to find me amusing.