Missing Henry Mitchell refers to the garden writing world’s loss of Henry Mitchell, who wrote the gardening column in the Washington Post for nearly twenty-five years prior to his death in 1993. I didn’t come to gardening myself until a year or two after that, so I never had the pleasure of anticipating in real time his next insightful observation or clever turn of phrase. I moved to Washington DC in 1995 and there discovered Mitchell’s delightful writing, which I used for inspiration as I cultivated my first grand mental garden–in reality, I was limited to a single south-facing window in my small apartment.
Mitchell belonged to that last generation who really knew how to write letters, which, after all, is all that a column is. He was once apparently described as a “Victorian” writer. I don’t know about that; I do think, though, that his writing can transport us to a slower, more introspective, even a more gentle place. He could be curmudgeonly, for certain, but his advice in the aggregate is patient, kind, and encouraging, persuading us to take inevitable losses and failures in stride and to celebrate the tiny victories like the first push of new green shoots in spring, or the wondrous aspects of simply the passing of time and season.
I certainly don’t pretend to compare my writing in this blog with his. Instead, if I can eventually develop his practices of observation and patience, I may be able to consider myself a disciple worth her Felcos.