I am a gardener. That definition provides the least common denominator for my life. When I was three, I could identify all the different types of stone fruit. Leaves on/leaves off, I could name ‘em all as we drove down the road. I drove friends and family members crazy with my constant chatter about fruit trees.
When I was ten, I bought several boxes of ancient horticultural textbooks in a junk store. Many of them were written by or about Luther Burbank. He was a trend-setting horticulturalist and plant breeder. I quickly devoured the books, then re-read them to ensure I didn’t miss anything.
When I was 11, I duplicated a few of Burbank’s fruit tree experiments in my ghetto backyard. I used the methods Burbank and his contemporaries taught in the 19th century. I didn’t realize those methods were quite obsolete. It didn’t matter. I produced old types of fruit trees and new.
Another important thing happened when I was 11; I began to work in other folk’s yards. I did this to buy toys, books and food. Wholesome food was sometimes in short supply in my home.
While I appreciated the money garden work brought into my life, I soon determined it had an unforeseen negative side-effect: when I worked in other people’s gardens, l was too tired to work in my own. This was a trend which was to follow me through most of my long and varied career in horticulture. I sold hundreds of thousands of plants. I built or maintained countless gardens. But my own gardens were barely-maintained truck yards and growing grounds. People said my home nursery was ugly.
I am still a licensed nurseryman. I still propagate thousands of plants. But I don’t sell many plants. I participate in a couple of charitable or semi-charitable plant sales each year. That’s it for the commercial side of my operations.
That last paragraph invites a question: if Tom Liggett isn’t in the commercial nursery business, why does he propagate thousands of plants each year? The answer is easy: I do research on roses, lettuce, melons, strawberries, fruit trees and minor cut crops (long-stemmed cut flowers other than roses.). I specialize in fragrant, florist-type carnations. I grow much of the food we eat. We grow tons of food to feed hungry people, rich and poor alike. I am producing plants for my three private gardens. I am growing the plants that suit me and my loved ones. This is quite a change for me. I used to grow plants that suited other people.
I also experiment with irrigation, landscaping, propagation and growing methods. This is made easier by the Japanese farm-type research nursery I built in my huge downtown San Jose backyard. Much of my growing area is in raised beds or on elevated plant benches. I like to say I have built an old-person’s garden. Bending over is difficult for old gardeners.
I am starting a newsletter. Subscribers will receive insights about gardening and maybe a bad poem, or two. Who knows? I might even add some thoughts about life, love and relationships. I have failed mightily and succeeded admirably in that area.
Why am I doing this? I want to find ways to spark or increase your interest in gardening. I want you all to find ways to grow plants. You will discover that gardens will always return more than you give to them. Maybe I want to show you that gardens are better than any gym.
I want my readers to please be tolerant with what I write in my newsletter. You will be reading raw, unedited stuff. I am a half-decent writer but a poor editor.
Thank you for reading the thoughts of an old cowboy/farmer/writer/Buddhist-and sometimes poet.