The Dirt Diva

Tailoring your garden to your needs!

Honoring Jane Blake: Gardener, Client, Friend

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When someone in my life dies unexpectedly, my default mode is to fixate on all the things that I could have/should have done for them while they were still alive. This is probably a pretty common reaction. I’ve been meaning to sit down and write this post since my friend Jane passed away December 13, and now that the new year has dawned I can’t procrastinate anymore. The reason I’m writing about her here is that she was my first Dirt Diva client, way back when I started doing garden projects on the side while still employed by Silver Heights Farm in 2007. I’d like to honor her by telling you all about what an special person she was, and what she taught me.

Jane in 2012 with some exceptional parsnips from her garden

Jane was 82 when she passed away, so she had just turned 70 when we started working together. I had known her previously from my stint as volunteer coordinator at WJFF Radio in Jeffersonville, where she kept the books once a week. On the days she came to work, I remember a lot of laughing in the office. Jane had the most contagious laugh, the hilarity of which was amplified for me by her Norfolk, England accent. She referred to her cats as pussies! Not in an ironic way either. She was an excellent judge of character, didn’t take any crap from anyone, and as long as I knew her, she lived alone in her little country cottage in the Beechwoods area of Callicoon.

Veggie garden renovation 2007

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Her gardens looked like they were transported from the English countryside. I can’t imagine anyone else ever living in her home, even though it predated her. Her gardens were so extensive that she had a separate company (Garden Creations, Damascus PA) maintaining her flower gardens, while I was assigned to the edible landscaping in the veggie garden and orchard. She of course spent as much time in her gardens as she could between being a grandma to her 4 grandsons, working in her painting studio, and commuting to her book keeping jobs in NYC and Sullivan County.

I admired her independence and how she defied my ideas of what an “old woman” was supposed to be able to do. Each year from 2009-2014 my husband and I, along with a rotating cast of farmer friends included Jane in our annual strawberry picking outing to Thompson Finch Farm in Ancram, NY. Thompson Finch is one of the few Certified Organic pick your own fruit farms in New York State, a good 2.5 hours from Callicoon. Jane usually out-picked the rest of us, even the year it was 90 degrees, despite having a 40-50 year age jump on us! A good amount of those strawberries were turned into jam for her son and grandsons to enjoy.

Jane picking strawberries at Thompson Finch Farm 2010
Post strawberry picking picnic lunch, Thompson Finch Farm 2011

She traveled to England and Europe pretty regularly, either solo or with a girlfriend or two. She was a well known artist in the region and NYC, and was creating new work up until last year when her health began to decline. It wasn’t until then that I realized Jane was “getting old” and needed more assistance. This is where I wish I had been more present beyond my scheduled garden visits. Although a good friend stepped up and became her caregiver, and her son checked in as much as possible, I knew I should have set aside more time to just be in her company. So, going into 2020, I will try to be more present for the humans in my life, since that’s what makes life worth living! Cheers Jane, and I hope wherever you are, there are strawberry fields forever!

John and I with our haul, Thompson Finch Farm 2009

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