The Small-Town Gardener Behind the Big-City Desk

By Tom Ludorf | Editorial, Urban Agriculture

I’ve never been one to talk at length about myself. To me, a firm handshake and a brief introduction speaks more of an individual than a manicured Curriculum-Vitae and doting on one’s own accomplishments. Moving from a small farming town in northern Connecticut to hoity-toity Englewood, New Jersey exposed me to many facets of life that you just don’t see that far from New York City. In the past three years I’ve seen more gardeners, landscapers, and professional horticulturalists parade from yard to yard trimming trees and tidying leaves but I’ve yet to see one person elbow-deep in the soil growing something good to eat. Anyone can argue that we’ve moved away from nature and begun to fight tooth and nail against her encroachment upon our verdant lawns, but few seem to welcome her back. I for one believe that we should move toward integrating a pinch of self-sustainability back into our lives regardless of what the neighbors think. Whether it’s basil in your bedroom or hops twining up your Corinthian columns, it only takes a single seed to see the light.


Among some of my earliest seedlings, cuttings, and experiments. Gardner. 

Upon graduation from high school I went off to college. I, like many other 18 year olds, had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life and became a bit of an academic vagabond. Enrollment in the University of Hartford began with an entire year of Mechanical Engineering. After all, my grandfather attended the same school for the same program and went on to design fighter-plane engines. After a hard-fought year of calculus, physics, and engineering theory I traded in my slide rule for an ink blot. A few arguments with advisors had gotten me into the Psych program, and just like that I was no longer bound by the equations and calculations of my forefathers.

The transfer was worth every second thought I’ve had since that point. I would never have met my fiancé if I hadn’t taken an elective class on Mindfulness Psychology, and I would never had picked up the minor in art without the enthusiastic staff I had met along the way. The science of the mind is a beautiful thing:7.2 billion individuals toiling about on the Earth united and divided by the thoughts and decisions of the other 100 billion that came before them! Useless abstraction was another skill I picked up in Psych. The only downside to this major were the opinions shared by all of my aunts and uncles along the way: “You’ll never find a job in Psychology!”

Unfortunately this proved true for a few months and I bounced aimlessly once again. From selling insurance in Newark to managing an ice-cream shop in Ridgewood, I tried my hand at many trades. Then during a trip to Home Depot to repair a picnic table (it was torn to pieces during a birthday party) I became captivated by a Purple Flash ornamental pepper. Shortly afterwards I got a job in Forensic Psychology. Though I lost all of my free time, I continued cultivating and propagating the few plants I could get my hands on. Several surprise frosts, a few infestations, sun baked seedlings, and animal attacks later I’ve learned a few things but there are still a several million lessons left to learn as a gardener. I’m by no means an expert gardener- conceptually, academically, or by experience – but that doesn’t stop me from trying my hand at exotic varieties, ambitious projects, or non-traditional methods of gardening. Take a chance and bring a plant into your life. There are no mistakes as a gardener, only opportunities for self-improvement!

May all your cuttings root,

Tom Ludorf

About The Author

Born and raised in a small town in Northern CT as the middle-son of a DIY-champ Auto Mechanic and a Psych-Nurse I've moved to New Jersey with my fiance to pursue a career in Psychology. Somewhere along the way I picked up gardening and each day is better because of it. Always remember you learn more from your accidents than anything you've ever learned in school. It's never too late to pick up gardening and reap the rewards it brings.