Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Walt Mayr: Nurseryman/Adventurer

Success in the nursery business requires risk-taking, curiosity, people-skills and tenacity. Success in the Alaskan nursery business took Walt Mayr.

imageOne of “the last true pioneers” of Alaskan horticulture, Walt Mayr (1914-2009)

Photo: Courtesy of Nancy Fann

By Allen Bush

I’ve started reading the daily obituaries out of necessity rather than curiosity.  The Kentucky writer Wendell Berry once said you end-up going to a lot funerals when you live in a small community. I’ve celebrated the passing, this past year, of two friends who lived long, wonderful lives. One was a North Carolina farmer, the other a Kentucky lawyer. It is a privilege to have a friend (in this case, the lawyer) who could laugh in his 95th year and ask, with a twinkle in his eye, “Why don’t we have a little something?” Meaning: Make mine a dry martini. Both wise men departed life on the wings of a dove. And though Phillip Roth said, “Old age isn’t a battle, it’s a massacre,” my friends left a legacy for growing older with grace. There wasn’t the slightest hint that old age was an inconvenience.

Walt Mayr, age ninety-five, passed away on August 10, 2009. I never met Walt. He lived far away in Sutton, Alaska. He was a skilled nurseryman who needed cultural questions answered when he first phoned me at Jelitto Perennial Seeds in Louisville, Kentucky.


We used to talk once a year and it didn’t take long to understand his genome was hotwired for curiosity. I didn’t have all the answers, but that didn’t matter. Figuring-out the best soil chemistry for growing plants is like rolling the dice on the periodic table. The best growers are a mixture of humility and doggedness. They work against great odds every year and know the deck is stacked. The most adventurous, and successful, are willing to try a few new plants every year along with their bread and butter inventory. They struggle to figure-out how to grow crops well, but that is one of the exciting parts of the adventure. Rare, indeed, is the grower who can keep the wolves from the door for over fifty years.

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Posted by Julie on 01/23 at 11:37 AM
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