by Charlotte Germane
When my husband and I moved to rural Nevada County from the Bay Area we used to buy The Sacramento Bee newspaper just once a week -- to read Dick Tracy's Saturday gardening column. Dick was The Bee's Home & Garden Editor and a witty oracle of garden information. He didn't start out that way. In 1969, when Dick moved to town for a reporter job at The Sacramento Bee, his new boss mentioned there would be farm and gardening stories on his beat. Dick, a sports journalist, went home and told his wife about the new assignment. "I'm not unpacking", she replied. Dick says that in 1969 he could identify three plants: a dandelion, a cactus, and a rose. He quickly fell in love with gardeners and farmers, and they felt the same way about him. One of the secrets to Dick’s lively prose about gardens is his unending interest in gardeners. As a novice garden writer I asked to shadow him as he visited three gardens, preparing articles to promote an annual garden tour. Meeting Dick Tracy is a “rock star moment” for any Sacramento-area gardener, but Dick’s genuine friendliness puts the gardener at ease as Dick asks permission to start his portable tape recorder. After a few of Dick’s admiring questions, any anxiety about being recorded disappears, replaced by delight in being able to converse with someone so knowledgeable about plants and design. That day Dick and I visited gardens that ranged from fabulous to run-of-the-mill, but he found virtues in each one, and especially in each gardener. When I asked him how he avoided making design judgments about gardens he said he was always amazed by “how extraordinary REAL gardeners are. Tell them they can either give up gardening or give up an arm and they ask, ‘Which arm?’.” continued on next page
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