Parting advice for fellow gardeners

The daisies' breezy faces bob across the rear of the entry garden. Green tomatoes are edging toward ripeness. An adorable 3-inch eggplant is swelling toward completion and beans, both green and purple, are coming in.

Meanwhile, I'm heading out.

I'm moving to Boulder, Colo., a place of foreign alkaline soil and winters too cold to grow a darn thing. But that doesn't concern me. For the first time in 20 years, I won't be tending or planning a garden. Instead, I'll be pouring over statistical survey methods and cramming my mind full of sociological theory as a student in the University of Colorado's Environmental Sociology graduate program.

From what I hear, the lack of trowel time will not be my biggest concern. Reading a book a week for each class takes that position. Instead of educating faithful readers about the life of the soil, I'll be instructing students on Deviance in U.S. Society.

Takes one to know one. I'm deviating from the norm by going to grad school at virtually 60 years old. It's perfectly reasonable to ask why.

My head and my heart had a convergence event. What I know and what I love tell me it's time for brave action.

Unless you're a deer, it's hard to be wild critter these days, let alone a wild plant. With the world's population poised to hit 7 billion before you can turn around and stamp the ground, there's less room for oats, peas, beans and barley, too. (Sorry if my younger readers don't get that.)

As I reach the end of my carpal tunnel's capacity for repetitive motion, I want to be engaged in that issue. To do that, you need a Ph.D. or a political office. I'm no good at politics, but years of asking who, what, where, when and why, along with my B.S. from Southern Oregon University, did get me into a Ph.D. program.

I'm not going without regrets, however, and these are my final words of gardening advice.

  • First off, thanks for reading and for writing to me. To every gardener I ever visited, thank you for sharing. Thanks to Jackson County Master Gardeners, and to the professionals who answered my questions when I was on deadline and they were busy. I've learned a lot, too.
  • Gardening is a practical art. It feeds you, body and soul. Remember to practice a little reverence every time you stick your trowel into the earth. You destroy the soil community, and it doesn't declare war or go on strike (unless you poison it "… just say no to that). Instead, it rebuilds itself and produces flowers and vegetables for you.
  • Buy the Master Gardeners' "Garden Guide for the Rogue Valley, Year 'Round & Month by Month."
  • Plant "native" for the critters that live here, too: flowers, fruits and berries.
  • Get out of your own space and love the gardens others have grown.

Fall in love with a plant type or a garden feature, then join a club and mingle with others who feel as you do.

  • Spread the joy of gardening among the heathen who never have dirty, broken fingernails. u Plant flowers and give vases of them away.
  • Go one step further and advocate healthy garden practices.
  • Volunteer in a school or nursing-home program.
  • Stop your car to talk to people who are letting their dogs sniff while they spray Roundup.
  • Advocate for better stream policies.
  • Complain when you see star thistle or yellow mustard growing like a cash crop in an untended field. Acres and acres of good land become unusable because nothing is done when the problem is small.
  • Love the trees that are already growing, shading your walk or your roof.
  • Watch out for public trees and park lands, and for our precious Bear Creek and its tiny population of salmon.
  • Don't dump anything in the sewer, and tattle when you see it happen. People take it seriously and come out to protect the stream. It makes a difference.

Who knows, you might hear the Earth call and be the next Ph.D. on your block.

Until then, you can continue reading Carol Oneal's contributions in future Green Scene columns. When I am sitting between the Front Range of the Rockies and the high plains that slant toward the opposite coast, I will not forget the Rogue Valley. Unless my own garden's gopher chooses total annihilation, my house and garden will be here. I might be lucky enough to come back for more trowel time. So, until we meet again, happy digging.

Master gardener Althea Godfrey served as gardening editor for HomeLife magazine since 2004. Reach her at

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