Lunch with Barbara Damrosch


I was reluctant to make the schlep into D.C. to attend DC’s Home and Garden Show, which (like HGTV) deserves a silent G for its dearth of garden vendors.  But the show DID have the good sense to book a talk by someone I’d wanted to meet for a long time – writer/farmer Barbara Damrosch, whose Garden Primer we’ve raved about here.  (And we loved this New York Times profile of Barbara and husband Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Farm in Maine.)

four season
Barbara was just coming off six weeks of traveling to promote their Four Season Farm Gardeners Cookbook, out this year.  Over convention-center food, she patiently cited the basics of her bio (studying medieval lit, teaching college English, writing for the Village Voice and others, doing garden design professionally before settling down to farm – and write about gardening).4 season2

All of which I could have learned on my own if I’d been a better prepared blogger.  Preparation might have also included reading one or two her Cook’s Garden columns in my local paper, or knowing anything at all about growing food.  Or cooking food.

But I can ask about issues important to Garden Rant readers, like:  Did she and Eliot notice that he was the consensus winner of our Sexiest Man in Gardening contest way back in 2006? (Here, here and here.)  Yes indeedy they did and read the commentary aloud in the staff lunchroom to great hilarity.

More Damrosch News and Insights over Bad Lunch Food

  • Four Seasons Farm isn’t a hobby; it’s a working organic veg farm with a seasonal crew of 6 or 7, regular restaurant and store customers, and a farm stand. Demand has always been “gigantic” for what they produce.
  • To  New Englanders, she’s a former TV personality, having hosted the regional segments of “Victory Garden” and her own show with Elliot, “Growing Naturally.”
  • Eliot’s even more of a Renaissance man than we’d imagine.  He’s a professional tool designer (currently for Johnny’s Seeds), working to provide small farmers with tools larger than hoes but smaller than combines, among other projects. And before he caught the farming bug he was a “semi-pro adventurer” whose talents include white-water kayak racing, skiing and rock climbing.
  • Does she grow ornamentals, too?  Absolutely.  They grow flowers that turn into bouquets for sale, and it was important to her to create a environment around the home, too.
  • The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association is humongous (6,000+ members, the largest such group in the U.S.) and Barbara is on their board of directors.  Click to see some real gardeners, y’all – Maine farmers!
  • She is NOT a vegetarian.  (People must just assume that she is – like I did when I mentioned the veg offerings at the convention center – because I notice her bio ends with that disclaimer.  Got it!)
  • A regular reader of the Rant, she’s no stranger to ranting herself.  (Something I’d know if I read her column.)  Primary rant targets include GMOs and assertions that organic farming can’t feed the planet (which makes her nuts!)

But for me, the big take-away from lunching with this warm and savvy woman was how young she seems, despite facing the big 7-0 this year.  (And get this – Eliot’s 74!)  Aging-while-gardening is a big issue for me so I listened up when she described her long work days, even long days of physical work, with apparently no injuries.  So, what’s her work-out routine?  Just gardening, which she says has kept her “young, though not as strong.”  So except for not being able to lift as much poundage as she used to, she hasn’t slowed down at all.

Let no one be misled by her petite and pretty appearance; this lady’s a farmer.


  1. Barbara is one of the few northern gardeners, The Garden Primer, to have been taken seriously in the South.

    Thanks for writing about her, and making me realize I must give her name to some Southern plant societies, flower shows etc…..

    And that I must get her new books.

    My mother-in-law adored Barbara, we bonded over her book ! Alas, she died, breast cancer, 1995 & I inherited her copy of The Garden Primer. Bittersweet.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  2. S-H-U-T up! She doesn’t look any bit 70. Forget all the reasons to Garden, the foremost statement should be that it keeps you looking like a fox. I need to start growing vegetables.

  3. Ah, Barbara! If I met her it would be hard not to give her a big hug and a smooch. Her “Garden Primer” has become a well-thumbed bible for me these last few years. Thanks to her I now know the joys of salsify and the benefits of fungus.

    And Eliot -what a creative character! Thanks to “Four Season Harvest” I now keep the garden party going all winter long, and without an expensive greenhouse. On tonight’s menu is a fresh spinach and carrot gratin.

    Cheers, all!

  4. It’s amazing how we are all getting “a wee bit older” and yet preserving our passions in and out of the garden. As Barbara recommended in one of her books, I am thinking seriously about getting a couple of ducks to keep the pests down! I can’t dance with a hoe any longer, but I do use it as a “walking stick” (Dear Husband insists I use it as a cane), and I need the handle longer for the walking purpose. Thanks for sharing your time with her and her sense of humor! Best to you both!

  5. I loved Growing Naturally. Back when there were real gardening shows on TV.

    And gardening while aging concerns me, too. I’m not ready to retire but I did seriously injure one of my knees last year and sometimes I wonder how long I’ll be able to handle my garden and yard. Which is very serious, because in all of life I don’t think I’d miss anything as much as being able to garden.

  6. I plant Nicotiana in my garden every year in her honor.
    My hubby and I would watch Gardening Naturally together in our teensy college apartment and dream of the day when we would have something more than the terra cotta planters we would put out in the morning and bring back inside every evening that *just* fit next to the edge of the fold out couch we slept on.
    During one episode she said something like “A garden isn’t a garden without at least one Nicotiana.” I vowed then and there every garden I ever planted would have one for her. I haven’t missed a year yet!

  7. I am a big fan of Barbara Damrosch, Eliot Coleman, MOFGA, Johnny’s Seeds and find all of them a great inspiration. WE were actually early members of the Maine Organic Farmers and GArdeners during our one year in Maine and attended the historic Spring GRowth confernce in 1975. Hooray for Maine! I live in Massachusetts now, but if Maine were closer I’d live there.

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