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Get 'Em While They Last

Three years ago, a formidable nonegenarian named Hortense Miller — vegetarian, environmentalist and early feminist — discussed her longevity with a reporter: "Well, there's an end to everything. Good God, I'm 96 years old. I ought to die. And I don't do it. I don't know what's wrong with me."

Alas, Hortense Miller was merely human. The gardener who spent 40 years creating what is now the Hortense Miller Garden in Laguna Beach, CA — plus a few decades writing about plants — died last week at the age of 99.

Many thanks to blogger Cindy McNatt at Homebody; otherwise I would have missed the woman's passing.

Now you may very well take issue with my headline, but you cannot argue that as elderly gardeners die, they leave the planet both richer (for all their hard work) and poorer (all that sagacity, gone). And since only the smallest percentage of them end up famous enough — or rich enough — to be written about and feted, I'd like to suggest that there may very likely be an uncelebrated Hortense Miller living somewhere near you.

Here's my pitch: If there is a senior gardener in your neighborhood, maybe this is the summer to make a little time for her. Or him. Or them. Maybe rather than just nodding or waving, this is the summer to stop and chat. Ask about her trees, his secrets, their memories; offer to dig something out of your garden for them to try. More than likely, you'll end up with something lasting and perennial from them.

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I say this because life goes so ridiculously fast and death, well, any gardener knows it comes with the territory. But at least we gardeners get to pass around our passions, like burst pods scattering seeds.

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