A tribute to the Maine gardener who brought us along with him on his journey of discovery
• By Janine Pineo •
Before me sits a pot of succulents on the desk; behind me is a myrtle on the window sill.
The plants came home with me some years ago, straight from the hands of Michael and Gail Zuck of Everlasting Farm in Bangor, reminders of the “plants you won’t find anywhere else in Maine” that I loved to discover.
Now, in my mind, they are living links to Michael who died March 7, 2015.
I do not recall the first time I heard of Michael, although my best guess would be it was via the Bangor Daily News. He was hired as the gardening columnist for the paper in 1987, writing a weekly column until 1994. I started freelancing for the paper in 1987 and, oddly enough, started writing a much less educational gardening column in 1994. He had the gardening chops; I had the wide-eyed wonder of newbie.
At some point, I ended up at Everlasting Farm to buy plants. It was there Michael and I met, and I came to cherish our brief conversations on my epic buying sprees. He always had this glint in his eyes as he viewed my cart — OK, carts! — that would be full of gloriously unusual plants. I readily blamed him for addicting me to hard-to-find salvias and a certain columnar basil. I then started sampling succulents and always tried new herbs that caught my eye.
I attributed that Michael glint I saw to either his sheer delight that he was making me an addict or his approval that I always combed the greenhouses and found the most unlikely looking plants to take home: no blossoms and just a tag with a promise to trust them when they said it would be worth it.
It always was.
I have missed seeing that glint the past few planting seasons.
When my sister told me the news last month of Michael’s passing, my disbelief was overwhelming. And when I went into the office and saw the plants sitting there, I could not quite fathom how he was gone but a tiny piece of his legacy in the world was still alive before me.
It is ever thus with plants, as Michael knew. They survive us humans if we give them some care, connecting people and cultures across centuries. Like Michael, they do it quietly, but if anyone cares to ask, they will reel you in with their fascinating stories.
A couple of days after I heard of Michael’s death, I received an email from one of his many friends in the gardening world. She asked that I consider writing something. I said I would, but I also asked her to let people know I would welcome hearing personal remembrances on this man who had such a wealth of life in him.
The response is something I will cherish, and it is my honor to share it with you. After receiving a number of emails, I also heard from Gail, Michael’s wife, who sent me some of the last writing that Michael did.
If I was forced to summarize it, I would say Michael was full of hope for the future of the world. Gardeners are the best philosophers, I think, because they tend to practice what they preach. And Michael was the best: humorous, practical and a deft hand at gardening.
I leave you with Michael’s words from an essay he wrote to his niece, Lillie. After it, you will find links to it, his other recent writing and letters from some of his friends.
From Michael’s essay, A Farewell to Spuds: “Now at the end of life, I am hearing a different call from mother Earth. It is a call to return to her. And while I am in no particular hurry to answer the call, still it is a deeply comforting call.
“Now at the end of February, I lie here doubting that I will see another growing season, yet longing to go a-gardening once more.”
Letters from friends:
- That Most Rare of Friends
- Mickey the Elder
- From Mickey to Mick
- Generous with Knowledge
- Master of the Limerick
- An Amazing and Humble Man
- One Heck of a Gardener
A series of letters from Michael to his niece, including the aforementioned essay and a poem:
- Letters to My Niece: Towards a New Back-to-the-land Movement
- Letters to My Niece: Soil is What Truly Sustains Us
- Letters to My Niece: ‘Be the Change’
- Letters to My Niece: Refer to Nature, Defer to Nature
- Letters to My Niece: A Bit of Unexpected Fun
- An Essay: A Farewell to Spuds
- [an untitled poem] by Michael Zuck
Photo of Michael Zuck in 2003 courtesy of MOFGA. Read the article about biological pest control and Michael’s work in that area here.