Rosalind Creasy was ahead of her time. She published “Edible Landscaping” in 1982, decades before anyone knew what a locavore was.

She doesn’t take credit for the movement, but says, “I like to think I turned the Queen Mary one degree.”

Creasy will be giving a public lecture in Lewiston on Oct. 27 for the Garden Club Federation of Maine.

What surprised me in a telephone interview with her is that the food was only a secondary reason for trying to get suburban homeowners to grow fruits and vegetables in their yards — even the front yard.

“It was about the soil,” she said. “Here (in Los Altos, Calif., south of San Francisco) we have this rich alluvial soil, 40 to 50 feet deep, and people are using it to put in lawns and junipers, which take hundreds of inches of water a year, and we are in a desert depleting our aquifers.”

Traveling the world with her husband, who was a scientist and computer expert for IBM starting in the 1960s, she discovered different cultures around the world, where people would sit in their yards drinking wine and eating grapes and other fruits and picking cabbages that lined the front walk.

But what really got to her was a trip to Israel, which had been great grassland similar to California but became desert after the trees were cut and the soil mistreated.

“A man told me,” Creasy said, ” ‘This is what we have left. We are bringing in garbage from the cities, and it takes five to seven years and several hundred thousand dollars to make an acre of arable soil.’“

In the late 1960s she and her husband moved to California. She was immediately appalled by the quality of the air and other aspects of the environment, so she joined the League of Women Voters and the Sierra Club to see what she could do to change things.

After a while, although she had a degree in history, she decided to go to school in horticulture at Foothill College, near where she lived, which she loved — in a way.

“The people at the college like to say, ‘Isn’t it wonderful that Rosalind Creasy went through our program,’ but what they don’t say is that I went through kicking and screaming,” she said.

She thinks it is probably a good thing she went to the community college because if she had gone to the University of California Davis or Berkeley, she might not have had the courage to question so much of what she was being taught.

Her final school project was on edible landscaping, and while her professor originally opposed the idea, he was pleased with the results.

After getting her degree, she started a landscaping company, spending a lot of time trying to talk people out of lawns and junipers.

She first wrote “Edible Landscaping” and then “Cooking from the Garden” in 1988, and while she says she still makes most of her income from landscaping, she now gets clients who are into her kind of gardening — creating gardens that are beautiful, environmentally friendly and produce nutritious, tasty food.

“The fire that has kept me going is that this is good for the planet and good for your nutrition,” she said. “It is more nutritious to grow your own food and pick it than to eat tomatoes that have been picked green and allowed to ripen in trucks for three weeks.”

And it is a switch for the earlier back-to-the-land gardeners to learn that a vegetable garden does not have to be utilitarian and ugly.

But with different-colored cherry tomatoes growing on an arbor, tulips growing up through the lettuce, squash, corn and other food in artful designs, her garden is the center of her entire neighborhood, a place where people love to come and visit.

“People often say they need lawns for the children to play, but there are lawns all over the place,” she said. “And the children are always here.”

A new edition of “Edible Landscaping” is being published this fall, and it is expected to be available when she comes to Maine.

And this is not her first trip to Maine. She grew up in Needham, Mass., and often vacationed here, and her brother-in-law John Creasy lives in Freeport and is a geology professor at Bates College.

 

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED

The group planning an arboretum at Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth are looking for volunteers to help clear some land from 9:05 a.m. to noon Saturday.

People should meet at the cliff walk, near the beach, and bring loppers, pruning saws, and be dressed in clothing suitable for dealing with thorny plants, said Rick Churchill, coordinator for the project.

Churchill said the first planting is scheduled for next spring, so it is necessary to get the land prepared now.

 

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at

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