It's not what you think, I'm pretty sure of that. It has nothing to do with aged master gardeners. It has nothing to do with Da Vinci or Michelangelo, although I do believe it has a touch of the genius in it. It was the first gardening to which I was exposed, and it probably had a greater influence on my gardening today than I could ever imagine.
Just what, exactly, is Old Master gardening? OK, I have to be honest with you. It's not one thing, it's a combination of two things. I'll tell you about those two things now.
I grew up in Northwest Florida where the soil tends to be very sandy. The first garden (think food in this case) I experienced was that of my paternal grandparents, Big Mama and Big Daddy. Because the soil was so sandy, and maybe because they were older, they gardened in galvanized tin washtubs set up on boards. By gardening in tubs, they could have the soil they needed and save their backs a bit when they were harvesting. They grew garlic, hot peppers, banana peppers, bell peppers (pepper without pepper, I called it) and lots of basil. They probably grew more things, but these are the ones I remember. I don't think their garden was especially pretty to look at, that double row of galvanized washtubs elevated on boards, but you do have to admit there was a touch of genius in it. That's the genius part; here's the rest.
I spent a lot of time with these grandparents, and as a small child, there was no place I'd rather be than with them. Sometimes I liked to help, and sometimes I was just bored and wanted to play in the dirt. Big Mama gave me spoons to dig with. I have those very spoons today; they are sterling silver in the Old Master pattern. I'll bet you won't find many gardeners who get started the way I did. While I don't garden in washtubs, I certainly grow lots of basil. And I didn't start life with a silver spoon in my mouth. It was an Old Master spoon in my grubby little fist!
And there you have it - Old Master gardening!