A Gardener’s Notebook

Writing a garden column in the Etling years

Special to The CambrianJuly 18, 2014 

  • Tip of the month

    Are you anxious to pull out those bushes that are dying from drought conditions? Don’t do it. It is actually better to wait until fall. You can decide then to just cut them back or remove them entirely.

    While they sit there looking ugly, as long as they are alive they’re drawing water from soil depths, allowing shallow plants to benefit. Larger plants and trees shade the ground, retarding evaporation and creating a cool, moist environment. Leave shedding needles and leaves under larger plants for mulch.

    Instead of removing dying plants, start looking through magazines and books for ideas on drought-tolerant plants for planting in the fall. Make your list now.

When we moved to Cambria in 2002, I’d completed my Master Gardening training and had been writing gardening articles for the Marin Independent Journal.

The Cambrian was a coffee table item in my parents’ home since the 1970s when they moved here, so I was familiar with it. With so many gardeners here, I felt that The Cambrian could address this major interest; something “earthy,” conversational, airing struggles with water, rock-hard clay and cool summers.

I wrote to editor Bert Etling and expressed interest in writing gardening articles for The Cambrian along with a few samples of previous work. He called me on the phone in less than a week, and I went in to meet him. We had a relaxed conversation about the number of gardeners in Cambria and what might interest them. He liked the idea of having a practical “Tip of the Month” on each page. He actually came up with the name “A Gardener’s Notebook,” which gave me freedom in content. I had become a columnist. I now had a “voice” in the community.

Editor Bert never pushed me to write on any subject. He encouraged independent thinking. He never complained when I wrote off subject about travels, chickens, labradoodles or a garden room construction. He liked my photos, and he always tried to put me on a color page so that they would show well.

Bert liked it when I wrote about garden events. He himself is a gardener. He and Laurie put a nice kitchen garden in front of their house and grow a variety of vegetables, even corn! Each month, when I sent in my column, I’d ask how his garden was doing, and he’d give me an update on what was growing well and what wasn’t.

One time Laurie and Bert walked over to my house and brought a “pepino” plant. It grew to be a wonderfully big plant with dark-green leaves producing delicious little cucumber-tasting fruit, similar to a lemon cucumber.

I knew my role as a garden columnist was to talk about gardening, but Bert never edited out any of my personal opinions on the “politics” here in town. I tried to address only issues that concerned gardeners and vent just enough to “keep my lid on.” I’ve only worked with a couple of other editors, but I have a feeling Bert Etling is unique, as is our community.

We’ll all miss him in our own way.

Lee Oliphant’s column is special to The Cambrian. Email her at cambriagardener@charter.net; read her blog at centralcoastgardening.com.

The Tribune is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service