Valerie Easton has decided it’s time to cultivate what really matters.
FOR NEARLY 25 years, I’ve been cultivating this column. And it’s mattered so much to me, from doing my best to share in a few hundred words what’s going on in our Northwest gardening world, to making my deadline. Every single week.
My first column, on the topic of fragrant plants, came out about this time of year. My editor, Ginny Merdes, kicked it back and suggested I write a column rather than an article. Being a librarian, I felt bound to include every fragrant plant I could think of, plus plenty of references. “It’s your job to be arbitrary,” Merdes told me. And over time, that came to be as freeing as it was difficult and necessary.
When I argued for more space so I could include just a few more plants, she said, “I suggest you get comfortable with the length of your column.” Those turned out to be powerful words as well, and I’ve taken them to heart over the years, learning to work within the restrictions of space and time that are inherent in a weekly column.
A fond farewell, and a warm welcome
This is Valerie Easton’s last Natural Gardener column, but through 2017, she’ll continue to write occasional Northwest Living features about spectacular gardens. Starting next week, Pacific NW magazine welcomes a new garden writer: local legend Ciscoe Morris, whose beloved “In the Garden” column moves to our weekly pages.
But how did a UW horticultural librarian end up with a column, anyway? It surprised me as much as it did anyone else. When we remodeled our home in the early 1990s, I sent some photos and a story to Pacific NW magazine in an attempt to help our architect, who had given us a break on the price of his work.
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Turns out I was the one who got a job out of it, because when the photographer and editor came out to see the house, they liked the garden, which I had hardly started on yet. I gathered my courage and suggested it’d be a good idea for the magazine to run more about plants and gardens. Be careful what you ask for.
Merdes asked me to propose some stories. So I’d written a few pieces, about small trees and I can’t remember what else, when she offered me a weekly column. Which I turned down, because I didn’t have time to even consider a column while I was managing a library with two kids at home.
Enter my friend Steve Lorton, then-Northwest Bureau Chief of Sunset magazine. We were in San Francisco for a meeting of the American Horticultural Society Book Awards Committee, which we co-chaired. We were sitting on some steps in the sun, eating ice-cream cones, and he told me it would be a cinch to write a weekly column … all I needed to do was keep good files. Being a librarian, I thought I could probably do that. Thank you, Steve; you were clever enough to know I couldn’t resist that argument.
Merdes told me writing a weekly column would change my life, and she was right. From the first, being published regularly set up a dialogue with readers, first by letter, later by email, that informed and shaped the world of gardening for me. The column gained me entry to hundreds of intriguing gardens, and interviews with so many characters, from superstar gardener Christopher Lloyd to homegrown horticultural heroes like Rich Haag. But mostly it imposed the discipline of regular writing, which helped me go on to publish stories in a number of U.S. and British magazines, as well as five gardening books.
When you write a column every week, you’re perpetually learning, interviewing, seeing gardens, writing, editing or being edited. It was a wonderful rhythm to live by all these years.
But now I realize I need a different rhythm. By the time you read this, our first grandchild probably will have been born, and I’m looking forward to helping my daughter with him. I plan to renovate our garden on Whidbey Island, pruning, removing plants, simplifying it yet again. I’ll continue to run a yoga studio in Langley, and teach four days a week. And I look forward to writing about things other than gardening.
My ideas about gardens have changed over time. Now I’m more interested in the environmental aspects, and much less fascinated with new and unusual plants. I hope to grow more lettuces, herbs and berries, and the common plants I’ve always loved, like zinnias and sweet peas; lilies; and, yes, even roses. I’m pretty much done writing about it, though … I just want to get out there and cultivate the earth.
Many thanks for actively participating in my column for so many years; for being so quotable; and for enriching my work and my life by sharing your gardens, expertise and opinions. May you all settle into your own rhythms and find your gardening bliss out there digging in the dirt.
I hoist a shovelful of rich, well-draining soil to each and every one of you. Happy gardening.