To say horticulture is central to Betty and Neal Sanders’ lives is an understatement. True, Betty is also a chemist and Neal worked in the corporate world for decades. But gardening has always captivated Betty, whose mother had a green thumb. Over the years, Betty has become an ardent horticulturalist, a Lifetime Master Gardener and an in-demand speaker on gardening and environmental topics. She even appeared on an episode of This Old House to discuss raised garden beds. “They are all fun things to do,” she says.
Neal says he was roped in—he offers a lecture entitled Gardening Is Murder: A Husband’s Point of View when he speaks at conventions—but don’t let him fool you. Neal has done the heavy lifting in every garden the couple has created. And since his retirement, he has become a prolific mystery writer, authoring books with horticultural settings such as The Garden Club Gang. For three years, he also headed the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s activities at the Boston Flower & Garden Show (unwittingly, he says: “The committee signed me up and forgot to tell me!”).
In 2015, Betty and Neal built a home outside of Boston to “age into gracefully” and applied the same thinking to its grounds. Their garden boasts native flowering trees, shrubs and perennials; a permeable driveway; and pathways of moss—all without a blade of grass in sight. It’s paradise for pollinators and low maintenance for the couple. When the region experienced one of its driest summers on record in 2022, neighbors’ lawns turned crisp and brown but the Sanders garden remained green with only reclaimed water.
Fortunately, Betty and Neal don’t just keep their gardening talents to themselves. They manage a vibrant, 75-plot community garden that produces enough vegetables to both feed its members and provide two carloads of produce to local food banks each week. “It’s amazing what gardeners can do when they care,” says Neal.
The couple also gives back to their community by contributing to nonprofit organizations. They made their first gift to The Nature Conservancy in 1989 and included TNC in their estate plan in 2018. They augment their annual support as Last Great Places Society members with required IRA distributions, a “down payment” on that estate gift. “If TNC did not already exist, someone would have to create it,” says Neal. “TNC’s conservation mission—with its global and local reach—is both compelling and unique,” says Betty.