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Dr. Dirt
June 2015

Looking Back, & Ahead, & All Over the Place

— in which Dr. Dirt ponders beginnings, middlings, and endings

Dr. Dirt started writing for the NHLA Newsletter in the spring of 1987, not long after moving to New Hampshire from the distant galaxy of New York City. Much of the current NHLA membership was in grammar school, or perhaps unborn. In my first article, I noted the “landscape miner,” a contractor who comes out of the woodwork, owns a pickup and a wheelbarrow, and hasn’t much of a clue about how to build and maintain landscapes. They are usually low-bidders, not understanding true costs, overhead, or the business of landscaping. They can be pests in the landscape, undermining those who do good work for a fair price.

That landscape pest is still with us. But in the last thirty years, the profession as a whole has grown considerably in New Hampshire and across the country, and the pest is less a problem. I like to think that NHLA has had a positive effect in the advancement of the profession (or the trade, as Peter Kidd would have it).

Speaking of Peter, he was the first Newsletter editor and knew well how to rouse a populace and get some action going. Now living in Texas and retired from the Green Industry for several years, he still contributes now and then to the Newsletter. He’s always had a talent for translating the mundane and specific to the philosophical and the big picture. It’s a perspective worth emulating. Of course, if you did that all the time, you’d just be hanging out writing poetry.

My relationship with NHLA has been overwhelmingly positive, though there was a period in the 1990s when I withdrew. The board decided to cancel all Newsletter subscriptions to the University and Cooperative Extension. To my mind, these were public entities, underfunded, which existed in large part to support horticulture and land conservation in the state. I felt NHLA was cutting off its nose to spite its face. And I was personally disenfranchised. I took all my toys and went home for a few years.

I continued to attend NHLA meetings and workshops and to take students on tours to member businesses (and continuing thanks to all who hosted those trips over three decades). In the early 2000s Peter Kidd and Phil Caldwell twisted my arm to return to the Newsletter. I’ve enjoyed the monthly connection, and the opportunity to be forthright, opinionated, obnoxious, difficult, and right and wrong. Over the years I hope I’ve bluntly nudged some of my readers to alter at least a few bad habits.

In the last couple of years the Newsletter has seen an upwelling in articles written by members. I’ve always enjoyed the monthly notes from the President, and with that person changing more or less each year, different perspectives are offered. And lately a number of seasoned practitioners have become regular contributors, including Bill Gardocki, Phil Caldwell, Paula Kovecses, and others I’m not remembering at the moment (apologies). Having the Newsletter filled with articles by NHLA members and other interested professionals who understand the state and its regulations, and who can explain and recommend the materials and methods appropriate to this bio-region, is a great resource for members. Editor Carolyn Isaak has done a great job of finding appropriate materials from other sources when there is space to fill, but it’s not the same as testimony and advice from local talent.

I can anticipate being put out of work soon by these youngsters. Judging from the past year of my articles, I’m incontrovertibly and officially a curmudgeon. I find myself becoming more and more locked into a view of the world as it is and forever will be, even as change assaults me daily on multiple levels. It’s getting to be time to hang up the spurs. Not today, but maybe tomorrow.

— Dr. Dirt has left several recent voice-mail messages to, with no response from, John Hart ASLA, Environments LLC, Durham NH,



Dr. Dirt, a.k.a. John Hart