Henry Homeyer: Reflections on a gardener’s life

By Henry Homeyer
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

During the holidays I try to take time from the humdrum of festivities to sit quietly and reflect on how happy and grateful I am for my life here in rural New England. Much of what I appreciate is linked to a life that allows me to spend time in my garden, raising some of the food I eat and growing flowers that bless me with their beauty.

The summer of 2020 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of buying a ramshackle old butter factory built in 1888, The Cornish Creamery. I still live in it today, though I have improved its condition considerably. I was just two years out of college when I bought it and had the energy and motivation to learn how to make most improvements myself.

This brush hook is great for clearing out brambles and small trees.

When I bought the Creamery, it had little space for gardens. The building sat on just an acre of land, and most of that was dominated by trees, with just a little lawn surrounding the house. I cut down a few small trees to create my vegetable garden that first summer. If I recall correctly, I had just a couple of tomato plants, lettuce, perhaps some squash. I was busy fixing up the house and had little time to garden. The garden was too shady and not a big success.

Later I was able to buy an adjoining acre or more, a field behind the house that was dominated by brambles, alders and a small brook. I cleared the land by hand using a brush hook my father gave me. The tool, with a sharp curved blade on an ax handle, did well for clearing. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen one for sale in modern times.

After clearing the land and digging out many roots I used a second-hand rotary mower to discourage re-growth of golden rod and weeds. Eventually I hired a farmer to come with a plow to turn the soil for a huge vegetable garden. The land around it I mowed, and that eventually turned into lawn and flower gardens. It was in full sun with rich alluvial soil deposited by the brook. It produced fabulously, and I was hooked.

My grampy, John Lenat was an early proponent of organic gardening.

My grandfather, John Lenat (1885-1967) was an organic gardener. He subscribed to a little newsprint magazine called Organic Gardening and Farming, which was always on his kitchen table. He believed in using compost and feeding the soil with manure tea. Earthworms were plentiful in his soil and his tomatoes were perfect.

Although Grampy probably only had a grade school education in the old country, Germany, he spoke 5 languages and understood how to make plants grow. He knew he didn’t need chemicals to “fight” bugs or diseases. He handpicked beetles and encouraged birds to visit. He fed his family and shared food with his neighbors. Grampy rarely told me how to do things but I learned by watching him in his garden.

I am grateful that Grampy grew flowers, too. I learned to appreciate their beauty and to know that life is more than just producing food. In the 1980’s I started to get serious about flower gardening.

My boy Josh and I built an 80-foot stone retaining wall to create a terrace for fruit trees and flowers. The stone came from our own property, or from tumble-down stone walls that a neighbor let us pick through. It was back breaking work, but oh so satisfying. Thirty-plus years later the wall is still there, albeit somewhat decrepit. Still, it makes me happy when I reflect on that project.

Peony “Festiva maxima” that my grandmother grew.

In the late nineties I started gardening and designing gardens for others. At that time I was an electrician, and getting bored with it. But creating flower gardens and beautiful landscapes made me intensely happy. So I largely gardened in the summer and wired houses in the winter.

I am happy and grateful that I was able to start writing a gardening column over 21 years ago, and still have a group of newspapers and websites that use my weekly column. It also pushes me to keep trying new plants, new tools, and new approaches to gardening. I like sharing all that with you, my readers.

I started my professional life as an elementary school teacher after college. Now, more than 50 years later, I still enjoy teaching. Most of that is done right here in this column.

Gardening has been good to me. I believe it will help keep me healthy for another decade or two. And my thanks to all of you, too. Enjoy the holidays – and I hope you find time to count your blessings.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeHenry Homeyer's Notes from the Garden

About the Author: Henry Homeyer is a lifetime organic gardener living in Cornish Flat, N.H. He is the author of four gardening books including The Vermont Gardener's Companion. You may reach him by e-mail at henry.homeyer@comcast.net or by snail mail at PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, N.H. 03746. Please include a SASE if you wish an answer to a question by mail.

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