He Wrote A Garden Column. Finished Documenting Climate Change.


April 1, 1978: “The only thing everybody wants to know these days is when to plant tomatoes. Well, now is the time. … First, make sure you really want to experience the challenge of growing these fruits.”

March 28, 1981: “There are hundreds of reasons not to grow tomatoes. They are not beautiful plants. They attract whiteflies. If the temperature drops below 56 degrees, they will not bear fruit.”

March 28, 1987: “It’s time to start tomato seeds in Alaska. Mind you, I’m the first to admit that Alaska is a terrible place to grow tomatoes.”

In May, tell readers to rotate their gardens. Memorial Day weekend is the time to plant seeds and transplant tomatoes outdoors. Remind readers to fertilize the lawn in May and July. They should draw dandelions or spray them with 2,4-D. Note the fire moss blooming in August: according to Alaskan tradition, that means another six weeks before the first frost. In September, a reminder and harvest call to rake the lawn and plant bulbs; Green tomatoes will ripen if they are placed in a paper bag containing apples or bananas. Provide a gift guide in November. In December, discuss houseplants and give tips on poinsettia. Lead readers to order seed catalogs in January. Soon tomato deterrent season is circulating again.

“Ten-year columns!” Lowenfels wrote in November 1985. (Actually, it was nine; when I showed him this, he texted “lol.”) Lowenfels has been a successful lawyer in the private sector by now. He was an optimist, a man walking around with a bullet in his neck. He wore a bow tie to work and carried a red clown nose in his pocket as a charm of lightness. He and Judith had children, Lisa and David. His father died. After the funeral, Lowenfels removed some of the orange day lilies and brought them back to Anchorage. He planted them in front of his house. They sent shoots every year, but they never bloomed.

A few of the plants Lowenfels grew with in New York thrived in Anchorage. “Remember the old axiom,” Lowenfels wrote—“’If kids don’t like eating it, it will thrive in an Anchorage garden.’” Kale can be reliably grown alongside broccoli and lettuce, peas, carrots, and radishes. A few crops did extremely well. In August 1983, he wrote about Gene and Mark Dinkel, residents of the nearby Matanuska Valley, who once grew 79-pound cabbages. “He hopes to one day break the 100-pound limit,” Lowenfels wrote, referring to Gene.

Gardeners have always been pushing the limits of the possible. Lowenfels often recommends new flowers, vegetables and garden herbs to try. He mentioned a new bean maturing in 51 days, a new carrot containing “40 percent more vitamin A than other carrots” and two “interesting” new radishes. He suggested Ligularia. “Now, you’re probably thinking: Ligularia? What is this? Some kind of new pasta?” (It is a genus of tall, flowering, large-leaved plants.) He praised May Day trees. “Somewhere they must bloom on May Day,” he wrote, “but here they never were.”


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