FARGO — He was a good man, Neal Holland, and the region lost a horticultural legend when he passed away about two weeks ago.

It’s not easy to say goodbye to someone who has meant so much to generations of gardeners, even though he was 89. I first met Neal about 45 years ago when I was a young student at North Dakota State University and he was a professor in the horticulture department.

Besides college classes, I worked for him several summers on his vegetable and fruit research projects. His yard near Harwood, N.D., had extensive plantings, and he hired me to work after hours in his own gardens, perennial beds and fruit orchard. He always called me Mr. K.

After I graduated college, we were in the same close-knit horticulture department. He even created exquisite flower arrangements when Mary and I were married. We were frequent customers of his at Sheyenne Gardens, the garden center he began and operated for over 30 years after retiring from NDSU after 32 years.

Neal Holland as seen working at Sheyenne Gardens in Harwood, N.D. Forum file photo
Neal Holland as seen working at Sheyenne Gardens in Harwood, N.D. Forum file photo

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Neal was well-known. Many knew him from NDSU, and probably more remember him as the fountain of knowledge at his garden center. One word describes the interaction Neal had with most of us: teacher. You certainly left his college classes with a great deal of knowledge. You didn’t leave his garden center with plants alone, but with the wisdom he passed along to the customers he served.

He was amiable, kind, courteous, well-mannered, well-educated beyond horticulture, a gracious host, well-spoken, humorous, possessed the keenest of memories and he liked coffee. He had definite opinions, and his gentle Norwegian stubbornness suited him well.

Many of us expressed the tragedy that a man with so much knowledge would no longer be teaching those of us who waited on his words like hungry rabbits waiting for the buds of expensive lilies. We needn’t be discouraged, because a little of Neal’s wisdom survives in each person he met. His teachings were like nuggets that you were happy to share. Neal was the Yoda of horticulture.

Do you know what I found most encouraging about Neal? He continued a lifetime of actively reading and learning. He knew more at the end of his life than when I first met him. Even his knowledge grew, and ours can, too.

Neal Holland taught about perennials that merit increased usage, such as Siberian and spuria iris. David Samson / The Forum
Neal Holland taught about perennials that merit increased usage, such as Siberian and spuria iris. David Samson / The Forum

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Here is a small sampling of what could affectionately be called “Neal-isms.” Not all of his sayings or teachings were original, though many were, but he also repeated time-honored quips and gardening wisdom.

  • Count the day lost you don’t learn something new.
  • If in doubt, prune it out.
  • A perennial that blooms from spring until fall? God hasn’t created that one yet.
  • Experience is the best teacher.
  • A lawn is nothing more than the canvas upon which a good landscape should be featured.
  • When eating potatoes and lettuce, they’re merely carriers for whatever you put on them.
  • To grow it is to know it.
  • Believing the work is done once perennials are planted is like believing the work is done once the baby is born.
  • Good fences and good hedges make good neighbors.
  • Endless Summer Hydrangea should have been named Endless Bummer.
  • A weed is simply any plant out of place.
  • When using the active ingredient 2,4-D in lawn weed sprays, be sure it’s the amine form. The ester form is volatile, and more likely to harm trees, shrubs, flowers and vegetables.
  • Don’t use weed sprays containing dicamba on lawns in which trees and shrubs are planted because it moves down into the soil, enters tree and shrub roots and causes delayed reaction injury or death.
  • Don’t worry about broadleaf weeds that arise in a newly seeded lawn. Many are annual weeds that will be killed by fall frost.
  • When using a rototiller, be sure to overlap each pass by half to dig the soil strip at the middle between tines.
  • To keep peony bushes from plopping apart if wire cages aren’t available, use twine circled around all the stems just below the foliage and bind snuggly.
  • And in Neal’s lilting tone, “It’ll grow.”

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com.