I first heard of Ruth Stout when reading Daniel Chamberlin’s piece for Arthur Magazine on Tim Dundon, the Alta Dena, California “king of compost”/”guru of doo-doo”/”sodfather,” back in 2007:
Ruth Stout [was] a rebellious woman raised as a Quaker in Girard, Kansas, [who] published her first book in 1955. How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back outlined her philosophy of permanent mulch, summed up with the maxim “no dig, no work.” [S]he recognized nature as a gardener that didn’t need to be improved upon, and was reputed to tend to her bountiful, chaotic roadside gardens in the nude.
After Dundon moved back to his parents’ place in 1973, he continued to garden, but it was Stout’s writing that gave him the inspiration to start his now legendary compost heap and the jungle that has sprouted from it. “I read her book about mulching,” he says, “and how it had turned her place into a virtual paradise. She had all this stuff growing, really wild, just by spreading hay and organic material on the ground…”
In the interim since we published Dan‘s article (with photography by Eden Batki) in Arthur No. 27 (Dec 2007), a vintage documentary on Ruth Stout, filmed in 1976 when she was 92, has appeared online. In it, she shows her way of doing things, relates her history and confirms that she did indeed regularly slow traffic by gardening in the nude. What a woman!
Here’s “Ruth Stout’s Garden,” directed by Arthur Mokin…