Childhood Passion for Gardening Blooms in Retirement

Published in Pawtucket Times, June 21, 2013

Looking back over sixty years ago, Michael Chute smiles when he remembers how a childhood hobby, has firmly taken root in his retirement years. After 34 years, Michael and his wife Angelina, closed down their Pawtucket-based sign shop near McCoy Stadium in 2012. Now the retired couple makes use of their combined green thumbs, love and knowledge about rose gardening, spreading the gospel of growing the perfect healthy and attractive rose, through their speaking engagements before garden clubs and in their writings in a blog, newsletters and even a book.

Childhood passions can be ignited in later years, says Michael. “When anyone is introduced to gardening or even sports or reading for pleasure or art or writing at a very early age, it will stick with them for the rest of their lives.” So true.

A Child’s Chance Encounter

In the early 1950s, Michael’s chance encounter with a “neighborhood dad” in his quiet Pinecrest neighborhood, would ultimately lead to his life-long hobby and passion for gardening. From this meeting, the five-year old child would take home a little bit of knowledge about how to grow plants and, along with a few leftover radish seeds, given to him by this older man, to start his own small garden.

Michael said that tiny seedlings soon appeared from watering his seeds everyday. “How else could those hard little brown seeds turn into tiny green plants,” he thought, believing that this must be the result of magic. His mother nodded, when he told her this, agreeing with his assessment.

Now, making daily trips to visit his “gardening mentor,” Michael became to learn more about the basics of gardening, now his new little hobby. “I learned that tomatoes, corn, beans, squash, Ralph Kramden, Ike, and DeSotos were good and that weeds, woodchucks, no rain, stray cats, slugs, grubs, and the Yankees were bad,” he said.

The budding, gardener ultimately learned to tell the difference between good bugs and the bad ones. Even at his young age, Michael would realize that using horse manure, “gardener’s gold,” was one way to separate real gardeners from fakes. Lugging his bucketful of nature’s fertilizer to his home, he dragged it right into the kitchen, saying, “Hey Ma, look what I’ve got.” The “gardener’s gold” went right out the back door, he said, because of his mother’s stern command.

With his radish seeds now six inches high in his backyard, he yanked one out, brushed off the dirt and popped it into his mouth. Beginning to chew the “incredibly sharp intensity of bitter flavor that only comes from very fresh radishes assaulted his tender tongue,” he remembered this resulting in his eyes watering and his ears ring. He promptly spit out the radish bits out.

Even with memories of eating the foul-tasting radish, the youngster continued to garden, even learning the principles of germination. In time, he would have worked his own backyard garden. Over the years, flowers, especially roses, have replaced the vegetable patch of his youth and middle years, he says.

Michael would later meet his wife, Angelina, a Newport native, at the Library, a URI coed who expressed little interest in gardening. The young couple, in their early twenties, married in 1971. One year later, they moved into their newly purchased ranch-style home in Riverside. The young man, remembering his childhood training, began to grow and harvest tomatoes, green peppers, egg-plant, and string beans, even strawberries, plucked from his quarter acre garden plot.

“I grew them, she cooked them,” he said.

Michael’s modest backyard garden steadily grew in size over 20 years with his renewed interest in gardening. Gradually, his three rose bushes, quickly increasing in numbers, would replace his tomato plants. Today, the couple has grown hundreds of rose varieties in their back yard, even digging up their front yard 6 years ago and turning it into a trial area for gardening without pesticides, even picking off by hand pests.

As to his philosophy of growing rose bushes at his home garden, “each rose bush gets two seasons to please me. If not, good-bye,” he says, noting that he only has so many holes in the garden and there is great competition for admission,” he says.

According to Michael, in the early 1990s the URI Master Gardeners asked him to speak about roses at a meeting, this leading to other speaking engagements for the couple. The flower shows bookings followed in the late 1990s and the Chutes began traveling throughout New England and New York to spread the gospel about rose gardening. When Michael and his wife joined rose societies they made new friends, but also gained opportunities to share their growing knowledge about rose gardening with these individuals.

Nationally Recognized in the Rose Business

Today, the Chutes are co-owners of RoseSolutions, a landscape consulting company that offers educational programs, workshops, seminars and consulting services on rose horticulture. They are both certified American Rose Society Consulting Rosarians and University of Rhode Island Master Gardeners. Mike is an accredited ARS horticultural rose judge. They served as Guest Editors of the 2008 American Rose Society Annual; authored the chapter “Roses” in the University of Rhode Island Sustainable Gardening Manual; and were co-founders and past presidents of the Rhode Island Rose Society.

The Riverside couple maintains an active schedule of lectures and workshops throughout the New England area, including the Boston Flower & Garden Show, the Rhode Island Spring Flower & Garden Show, the Newport Flower Show, the University of Rhode Island Symposium and Tower Hill Botanic Garden. They recently were featured on Rose Chat Radio, a nationally broadcast internet radio program.

Publishing the Definitive Book on Growing Roses

“From our many lectures on rose gardening, it became apparent to us from the same questions we got, home gardeners wanted to grow roses but did not know how,” says Michael. “There was no definitive book, specifically addressing rose gardening in New England,” he added, adding that not even an easy-to-follow, well-written hands-on guide to sustainable rose gardening (gardening without the use of pesticides), was not on the market.

“There was a niche we needed to fill,” Michael said.

Ultimately, years of gardening experience would be detailed in a self-published book, Roses for New England: A Guild to Sustainable Rose Gardening. The idea of writing a book on rose gardening in New England initially came from people attending the Chute’s workshops who requested their handouts, recommended that they be compiled into a book.

But, it took the couple over four years to write their first book, published by Forbes River Publishing, in 2010. Four years earlier, they had vacationed in Sugar Loaf Mountain Maine, to ski, says Michael. During a blizzard, that kept them away from the ski slopes, Michael and Angelina penned an outline of the book on a legal pad. Later, an internet search would reveal that no book had been written about growing roses specifically in the New England Region, he added.

While the book probably could have been writing in fifteen months, the longer period of time it took to write gave “us an opportunity to see things we initially did not see,” says Michael.

In the near future look for a sequel to their initial book, says Michael. “We are on it now, the book,” he adds, noting that it will detail tips for easy-care rose gardening; including lists of sustainable rose varieties; short bios of modern rose breeders of such roses; along with information on companion plants.

Do What You Love, But…

Aging baby boomers are living longer and working longer, may find themselves in unfulfilling jobs. Michael warns those hoping to reignite a childhood hobby into a new, challenging, and career in their later years, and should proceed cautiously. “Do what you love but be careful because hobbies do not always segue into businesses,” he says. .

But, for those just learning the art of gardening, Michael recommends, “Don’t make your first rose garden too big even if you’re going to plant lower-maintenance roses.”

To purchase the 146 page book ($21.95, free shipping), Roses for New England: A Guild to Sustainable Rose Gardening, go to http://www.rosesolutions.net. Visit the Chute’s blog, too, at http://www.therosejournal.wordpress.com.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

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