Every day, the best-selling writer Max Brooks drives from his home in Venice to work in the attic of his father Mel’s place in Santa Monica. It’s a way to check in on his famous dad–and the garden lovingly planted by his late mother, the actress Anne Bancroft.
It seems Ms. Bancroft, in addition to being a beautiful movie star, loved getting her hands in the dirt. Wherever she lived over the course of her life, she grew whatever she could with whatever available space she had. At the home where Max spent his adolescence in Santa Monica, she built a spectacular terraced garden, lit so she could tend it night.
Only after her death in 2005 did her husband and son immerse themselves in it. And add to it. This isn’t just a tomato plant and a lemon tree: it’s a sophisticated garden, with sugar cane, coffee beans, several varieties of persimmon, blueberries. Max has even experimented with growing wheat, and can wax poetic about his work with corn.
You can learn more in an essay Max contributed to a new book called The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage: True Tales of Food, Family and How We Learned to Eat.
“I didn’t think anyone would be interested in this cul de sac, so to speak,” he told me. “I thought everyone expected zombie science fiction, and here I am writing about gardening. But it’s something I love and it takes a lot of my time.”
Max doesn’t see himself giving up writing in favor of becoming an organic farmer, as much as he loves his work in the garden. But he does now understand how his mother took joy in killing worms. Then, he thought it was sadistic and wrong. “Now, I understand that sense of protection, when I see squirrels in Venice coming after my Japanese plum tree, if we lived in the country, you’d go in the pot as well,” he said.
His father gets it too. Now, the two bond over rat patrol at the compost bins on the side of the house. Mel carries the stick, and Max carries the compost. Being from New York makes scaring away the vermin a bit easier.