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I learned to garden with my mother and enjoyed it then because it was precious time when we worked side-by-side without the usual diet of strained communication between a demanding parent and a rebellious child. Mom grew up poor in Louisville KY, the youngest daughter of truck farmers, hard working people who never finished grade school. Mom left that world behind long ago, going to college, becoming a psychologist, and moving away from the south. You'd never believe she came from those roots except for this occasional spark of pride that flashes when it comes to knowing about dirt and worms and manure.

When we moved up to Arlington MA, into this 200 year-old house with ground so compacted it felt like concrete under foot, Mom told me we'd never get anything to grow unless we fed the soil "better than a baby and just as often." By that time, Mom was too old to sink her hands in the soil herself so I took up the challenge. Over the course of 10 years, she showed me how to double-dig the tired soil, to put together a compost pile, and mulch over beds in winter, transforming the coffee brown clay into black rich soil.

After many years of wanting to get some research-based knowledge about the practice of growing, I decided to take a class. I had to smile to myself when the teacher, Lori, expressed one of the first tenets of her gardening philosophy in this simple way: "If you feed the soil, the soil will feed the plants." Thank you Mom, you knew it all along.