Mel Bartholomew, a former Old Field resident and author of “Square Foot Gardening,” a how-to book that changed the way people garden around the world, died April 28 of liver cancer.
The La Jolla, California, resident was 84.
With the publication of his book in 1981, gardening was forever changed in a process created in Old Field.
“As an engineer he was always thinking outside the box of how to fix issues and problems,” said his son, Stephen Bartholomew. “When he helped with a community garden out in Stony Brook and he saw by midsummer nobody was gardening and the weeds took over, he knew there was a better way.”
Bartholomew, born Dec. 14, 1931, in upstate Kingston, was a 1953 Georgia Tech graduate who through the ROTC program went to the Army after graduation and served as a first lieutenant/radar and electronics officer. He was stationed in such places as Maryland, Texas and Germany.
He later founded an engineering company in Maplewood, New Jersey, that had contracts with several New York state universities, including Stony Brook University.
“He liked to say his engineering firm handled everything you can’t see: plumbing, electric, air conditioning, water, heating,” Stephen Bartholomew said.
After retiring from his civil engineering career, the elder Bartholomew applied his love of gardening and his engineering experience to create an alternative approach to single-row gardening. The Square Foot Gardening method was born, revolutionizing the way millions of people garden.
His first book, “Square Foot Gardening,” was published in 1981 and has sold millions of copies, Stephen Bartholomew said. His father also had a five-year syndicated PBS television series, “Square Foot Gardening,” in the 1980s.
“He encouraged gardeners everywhere to abandon the tradition of row gardening for a more efficient, space-saving, easy and fun method,” Stephen Bartholomew said.
In 1981, his father established the Square Foot Gardening Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in La Jolla, whose mission is to combat world hunger by spreading his method of gardening around the globe.
Bartholomew is survived by another son, Jeffrey, of Brookville, Maryland; former wife Virginia of Huntington; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his daughter, Gail Osgood, in 2000.
A private service will be held on Long Island later this spring.