Plant Paradise

Einstein Chomping his Herbs in A garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Einstein Chomping Herbs (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

I’ve been jonesing for the scent of earth and greenery like every other New England plant addict, and luckily found a place nearby to get my fix; at the home of house plant extraordinaire Tovah Martin.  Upon entering into her greenhouse entryway, I was immediately greeted by rows of healthy, aromatic flora ranging from dwarf citrus (Calamondin orange) to succulents, touchable salvia argentea, assorted begonias, bromeliads and an elderly staghorn fern.  Of course, all of these were mixed with herbs and grasses grown for her indoor companion, Einstein.

Assorted Succulents in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Assorted Succulents (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Even as a young child growing up in suburban Pennsylvania, Tovah felt the urge to bond with nature.  Starting with foundation plantings of marigolds, hyacinths and exotic parrot tulips, while other children were out playing games, Tovah was decorating her home’s exterior and communing with daddy long legs.  And when she wasn’t playing in the dirt, she was typing (on an improvised ping pong table desk) stories about nature and flowers. Calling herself the opposite of buttoned down, and somewhat misunderstood by her peers, she went off to college in Ohio to pursue her love of writing.

Salvia argentea in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Salvia argentea in Tovah’s greenhouse (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

From there, Karma intervened, with an opportunity to do a work study program at Logee’s Greenhouses in Danielson, Connecticut.  During her interview with Joy Logee Martin, Tovah explained she would work for free and didn’t eat much.  That, and her love of plants, clinched the deal and she ended up staying with Logee’s for 25 years.  Although she wasn’t used to such a rigorous work schedule, this petite powerhouse took on more and more duties as time went by.  Initially starting with herbs, she began tending to the begonia collection, then managed the mail order department, photographed and wrote the retail mail order catalog (over a 1,000 plants), and tended to the acre vegetable garden plot that fed the extended Logee family, as well as the divided half acre plot of carrots and melon that were retailed.

Bromeliad in Greenhouse in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Bromeliad in Greenhouse (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

All the while, Tovah was writing stories about the plants she loved, keeping them in a dresser drawer by her bed.  The Logee family recognized her talent and suggested she send these articles to different publications.  With descriptive skills honed by writing about thousands of introductions year after year, it was no surprise that she was quickly accepted by Horticulture Magazine (who, at the time thought Tovah was a man), as well as many others during the earlier years.  From there, this energizer bunny continued to run around in her “Uniroyal” sneakers, taking care of business at Logees and writing instead of sleeping.  Her efforts paid off.

The Goat House in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

The Goat House (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

By 1989 she had published her first book, Once Upon a Windowsill, followed by Essence of Paradise in 1991, along with many other collaborations. But, her first real labor of love was writing Tasha Tudor’s Garden, where Tovah shadowed Ms. Tudor daily and was instructed not to sugarcoat her eccentric personality quirks. Soon after, she left Logees and worked briefly at White Flower Farm before deciding to go the freelance route (although she still writes for White Flower).  This career change coincided with a move to a small town in Connecticut, where Karma intervened again with the help of her friend Peter Wooster.  Although her dad said she could have found a “real house” for the money she was spending, Tovah was in love with her converted barn/cobblers shop.  Loaded with windows, a mini green house and surrounded by seven flat gardenable acres, it was a dream come true.

Tovah's Vegetable Garden in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Tovah’s Vegetable Garden (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Suitcases weren’t even unpacked before colored benches were installed and plants were stacked upon then.  Ornamental gardens were planted along the front driveway, a curly larch inserted in the front corner of the house and, of course, a vegetable garden near the kitchen door (since enlarged and moved out back).  Although she adores her indoor plants, she is an accomplished outdoor gardener as well.  An open palette, the property that once possessed a single iris is now adorned with specimen dogwoods, magnolias, viburnums, fruit trees (blueberries, peaches, gooseberry, raspberry) spireas, beauty berry, winterberry, hundreds of rare bulbs and unique perennials and herbs.  One wonders where she gets the energy to tend to all her plantings.

Tovah Martin and Flora in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Tovah and Flora (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

That’s where yet another essential part Tovah’s life comes into play; her love of animals. With the acquisition of property came the opportunity to bring along her cherished goats. From the age of eighteen, goats have been in Tovah’s life. And not just any goats, but the Swiss Saanen, a larger (150 lbs.), white, neighborhood friendly (in other words, quiet) goat, that when bottle fed as a baby, makes a fabulous companion as well as milk producer.  Her goat Flora (who is walked daily, no matter the weather) happily trailed behind us as Tovah showed me her gardens and property.  Then once inside, we were pounced on by her other beloved pet, Einstein, the rambunctious Maine Coon kitty that will not be ignored.

Lounging Einstein in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Lounging Einstein (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Over tea, we chatted about her latest books: The New Terrarium and The Unexpected Houseplant, both clear indications of not only her passion of indoor plants and her love of horticultural history, but her desire to change the world.  That’s right, change the world.  Tovah believes (and I concur) that by putting a plant into the hands of a person that has never touched one before, you can literally change their world.  It seems so simple, yet by adding a plant to an otherwise bland office cubicle, you have added the miracle of life.  The benefit of being a gardener without having any land.  People with no time (or inclination) to care for a living thing, can easily own a terrarium, a beautiful, lush, self contained biosphere.  For those that have never touched soil before, creating a terrarium can be life transforming.  And for those of us that have done our share of digging, an indoor plant or terrarium is just the ticket to help us through the winter funk.

“Planting creates a connection”, Tovah said. “If you don’t touch it, you don’t value it”.  Words to live by, I’d say.

Her upbeat writing style is unique in the garden world, and the pages of her books are jam-packed with ideas and inspiration.  Don’t miss an opportunity to hear Tovah speak or to read any of her books: www.tovahmartin.com. 

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Comments

  1. Bravo! Love the story of her life with plants and animals. The photo’s were great, even with the winter touch….

    • Thank you! Tovah is a delight to talk to, her home and lush plants are inspiring, and her animals are precious! It was a fun interview~

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