by Henry Lane Hull
In the days before there were Master Gardeners in the Northern Neck, there was Dorothy Carr, one of the greatest proponents of gardening ever to walk on this planet. Dorothy was the consummate gardener. She was genuinely encyclopedic in her knowledge of every aspect of horticulture, a science that she practiced from childhood on for almost a century.
Dorothy thrived on challenges in the landscape. One of nine children, she was born and raised until her teen years in Weems. After her father’s death, she went to live with an aunt in Rochester, N.Y., where she later went to work for Eastman Kodak Company. In Rochester she met her future husband, Walter Carr, a Canadian from Toronto, who was working in a bank there.
Over four decades ago Dorothy and Walter decided to move back to her roots in the Northern Neck where Walter worked first in insurance, and then returned to the banking industry, where he applied his vast store of knowledge about computers as the vice president for operations. Watching him at work, I used to think that no computer ever would cross Walter. He stayed in banking for the rest of his career and then took early retirement.
Walter and Dorothy built two homes in the Northern Neck, which provided the venues for her to display her magnificent talent in the field of horticulture. Each of her yards was more impressive than the previous one. I once asked her how she could give up the beautiful outdoor settings she labored to produce. She replied with a remark that was reminiscent of what Napoleon Bonaparte said when asked what was his favorite battle, namely, “the next one.” Thus was the case with Dorothy; she enthused over getting a yard devoid of plantings, thereby allowing her to bring forth the beauty of nature’s creation as she saw it.
Dorothy’s last venture in the Northern Neck was at a new home on Black Stump Road. She took a bare lot with only a few trees and brought forth an oasis of beauty, shielding the home from the road with ornamental grasses and developing eye-catching gardens at every turn. As a gardener, Dorothy definitely “did her own thing.” She had developed methods based on her experience working with the soil over the course of her lifetime, and she knew what would work and what would not.
Preparation was the key to Dorothy’s operation. She was versed in all aspects of soil composition, fertilization and plant husbandry. I often told her that driving past her house was a terrible distraction, as motorists wanted to look at her gardens, rather then keeping their eyes on the road.
As with all true gardeners, Dorothy wanted to share her knowledge. She delighted in being asked questions about how she handled a particular plant, what she did to achieve the proper soil composition, or whether to deadhead a spent flower or not. When Dorothy spoke, gardeners listened.
Five years ago Dorothy and Walter sold their home and moved to Tappahannock where they purchased a smaller house. True to her nature, at the age of 87, Dorothy plunged into the yard, working in her usual capacity to let nature shine in her yard. She was a flower person, one who never tired of plants, finding in them her sources of inspiration and relaxation. At one point she underwent orthopedic surgery in order to be able to be more flexible in getting up and down caring for her plants.
Three months ago Dorothy died, perhaps as she might have wished in the season when spring flowers are at their peak. She was an inspiration to me as well as many others as the complete gardener. I never expect to achieve her level of perfection in channeling Mother Nature’s array of beauty, but I frequently think of her when down on my hands and knees weeding away. She would like that.
Dorothy A. Carr, October 15, 1926 – April 22, 2019. R.I.P.