A review of Maverick Gardeners: Dr. Dirt and Other Determined Independent Gardeners by Felder Rushing University Press of Mississippi Paperback
Maverick Gardenerscelebrates gardening offbeat, on purpose
By Jessica Russell Special to the Mississippi Clarion Ledger USA TODAY NETWORK
At last, Mississippi’s favorite offbeat horticulturist takes us behind the vine-wrapped gates of some of the funkiest private gardens in the South. Suffice it to say, this is not your mama’s garden guide.
With a profusion of interesting and unexpected themes planted densely together, it reads rather like a cottage garden grows: A memoir here, a tribute there. Some history. Some recipes. And plenty of good laughs in between—thanks to Rushing’s signature narrative style.
Nestled among eye-popping photographs of unconventionally beautiful gardens are personal stories of the maverick gardeners who tend them. Between these fanciful encounters, like a well-placed garden bench, the author provides space to pause and reflect. To think…
Maverick Gardeners is my way of celebrating the weird, wild and wonderful things that we gardeners often do. In every corner of the world, in every village and neighborhood, across all cultures and social differences, maverick gardeners exemplify a spirit that, more or less, runs through us all. I call them DIGrs (Determined Independent Gardeners).
These nonconformist souls see no sense in trying to fit in and follow the footpaths of others, yet are well worth getting to know. Some are celebrated like the late, great Dr. Dirt whose passion for his flamboyant garden and sharing with others are at the heart of the book. During the ten years of our rollicking cross-cultural collaboration of swapping plants and rubbing shoulders with fellow DIGrs we unraveled a shared humanity, and spread the word through co-hosting a weekly live National Public Radio broadcast and lecturing across the country.
There are also in-depth interviews with a guerilla gardener who shares food he grows on a vacant parking lot, a woman whose “grief garden” for a lost son is accessorized with countless birdhouses, a neighbor who works at a garden center to feed her plant passion and then uses her miniature horse to weed out those that are not worth growing, and a Jamaican immigrant whose jungle garden is her home-away-from-home.
You probably have a DIGr in your neighborhood as well. A few hints might be their smorgasbord of “passalong” plants – including many in assorted (often recycled) containers, and a packed row of plants languishing in hope for a garden spot to open up soon. And quirky home-made garden art. And a hose that is never rolled up. And a somewhat humble, somewhat defiant attitude.
While each may garden alone, these seeming outliers are a loosely-affiliated tribe bound by plants and attitude, and a love of sharing with others. They’re what I call modern-day “keepers of the flame.”
In the course of writing Maverick Gardeners I discovered for myself some keys to enjoying the journey and its side trips as much or more than the destination. There have been some weird moments, including clashes of umbrage between Master Gardeners and “dirt” gardeners, miscommunications that hurt feelings, waves of astonishment over amazingly simple discoveries, and laughter. Lots of laughter.
My hope in writing the book, then, is to share my take on the experiences, challenges, joys, and frustrations of these exuberant gardeners who joyfully color outside the lines, and to interpret them for those who “don’t get it” but are willing to learn.
And yeah, we ALL have a bit of Maverick in us – so you will most certainly find something in this unique book that will be helpful for your own gardening muse!
SPECIAL NOTE: To celebrate my new book, Maverick Gardeners, my NPR Gestalt Gardener producer Java Chapman and I are taking our weekly garden party on the road, and everyone’s invited. At several of the venues we’ll be broadcasting the Gestalt Gardener radio show from my antique green pickup truck and its overstuffed garden (transmission permitting).
A full list of dates, times, and places – all free, and socially distanced, of course – is available on the MPB website. Click on the Felder caricature for more details of our community road show.
…but, in a “stuck here in the middle with you” scenario, halfway between our Northern friends’ undulating mounds of snow, and the non-stop tropical flowers of SoCal and Florida, we have stuff to keep our pineal glands puffed up, staving off Seasonal Affective Disorder.
This week it dropped from the low 70s to 9, which kicked hard on plants that which are normally hardy but had lost their cold conditioning.
So the day the sleet and snow started falling I went around my garden and neighborhood and collected a few flowers that flower naturally in January and February, capturing them in the still-life of a vase.
Making Christmas tree decorations was a boring-day activity put into play by my mom, who worked tirelessly at keeping four restless kids occupied during wintry holidays What we made weren’t great, mind you, but they were originals.
Among the different creations, were hard-tack flour-and-salt cookie ornaments and garlands of chains made from glued rings of colorful strips of craft paper.
The Santa face, painted on a dried okra pod by Sherry Battista from Crystal Springs Mississippi, is a “must have” favorite of all who see it.
Did I mention this was way before the Internet, when we only got a handful of black-and-white TV channels?
Stuck at home with kids who are bouncing off the walls when not on their electronic devices? I’ve simplified some pages from two of my children’s garden books and prepared a brochure of gardening projects that can keep young people occupied and learning during the stay-at-home days – we’re all in this together, right?
Just drop me a line via the website contact form, or at email@example.com. (Your e-mail will not be used for any other purpose.)
These extracts give a flavor of the brochure:
Way before it was proven science, every time a new child was born into our family my parents would have a small fresh load of real topsoil – D-I-R-T – delivered to their big back yard, and for several years it was that kid’s personal pile to scatter with toys and garden tools. The yard looked like a giant fire ant colony but when the kids got older, they helped their granddad move the pile around to fill low areas and tree stump holes. What started out as personal playgrounds ended up as a lesson in taking responsibility and helping with community work. Continue reading “Kids Gardening Brochure”
Pssst! I got jewels of Opar and a string of pearls… wanna make a deal?
My garden is stuffed with hard-to-find plants that came to me with sweet folk names and back stories.Their charms have been spread over and under fences around the world, cutting across cultures and languages.
But worthy as they are, many are not easily found for sale – to get a start, you gotta have informal connections.
They are passed around like the simple string game which has no written instructions yet is known by children worldwide.
For decades, as the co-author of the Passalong Plants book, I’ve been overseeing small and large-scale plant swaps. Often there is little in common between participants except a love of plants.
True anecdote: Some years back the Pulitzer Prize winning author Eudora Welty told me over dinner that her mother “stopped going to her garden club meetings when they stopped swapping plants.”
But not to worry, thanks to folks with generous spirits, the tradition is alive and well at plant swaps around the world. I’m featuring just three here.
While checking on my garden’s rainfall drainage patterns during a recent downpour, I caught one of the longest worms I have ever seen as it ventured out of a sodden raised bed. When I tried to gently tug the foot-long creature out of the soil, it resisted, clinging, alarmed, to the sides of its burrow with tiny, claw-like bristles similar to those that so swiftly propel “graboids” (Caederus mexicana, the twenty-foot long terrors of the Mojave Desert). Continue reading “Worming Their Way Into My Affections”
It’s nothing new, marking the turning of seasons by the waxing and waning appearance of the sun. Certainly the most striking is during the morning of the winter solstice, when once-lengthening nights roll over into ever-lengthening days and the promise of warmth, new crops, and renewed life. So of course ancient people celebrated the midwinter return of the sun.
And where better to experience it than through the carefully-aligned great trilithon, the largest of the standing stones of Stonehenge? It and the others were lined up thousands of years ago to pinpoint the specific morning that for eons has heralded the return of Grian – which Celtic people called the sun.
My old truck with the garden in the back has been driven to countless flower shows and events across the eastern half of the US. It has been featured in magazines, online sites, garden books, and on NPR programs. It still drives fine, and the garden still flourishes through heat and cold, year in and year out, with only twice-a-year replacement of a handful of seasonal annuals.
The antique truck is better known than I am. Over the thirty or so years I’ve had it, it has been through many makeovers. Its current, cheery form has been preserved on film – as a result, people often call out a greeting while I’m driving through Jackson.