St. Paddy’s Day Parade, Jackson, MS

aFive years ago I didn’t think it could get any better when I, accompanied by my sweetheart, was the Grand Marshal of the 30th anniversary St. Paddy’s Parade, a major event in Jackson, Mississippi, with nearly ninety thousand people lining the route.

But this year when I showed up just as a spectator driving my antique pickup truck – painted a brilliant John Deere Green (how apt for this auspicious event), and with its decades-old herb and flower garden planted in the back – the parade founder pressed us back into service…and once again put me at the front of the queue.

The truck garden is green all year round

The parade was founded on St. Patrick’s Day in 1983 by Malcolm White, the current Mississippi Arts Commission executive director, at a local pub with a couple hundred of his close friends. It caused a massive traffic jam in Jackson’s busy city center. It has grown now to where the entire downtown is cordoned off for huge colorful floats and marching bands.

My son Ira, his wife Stevie, and her sister TJ visited before the parade kicked off
My son Ira, his wife Stevie (festive glasses), and her sister TK visited before the parade kicked off

With marching bands giving it everything they’ve got, to music blaring from loudspeakers on every float, we can barely hear the “throw me some beads” chants from the crowd, which is in places ten deep with people in every imaginable combination of green costumes, hats, flags, and other accessories. While you’re imagining that, throw in the indescribably delicious aromas from hundreds of portable barbecue grills loaded with Southern outdoor cuisine.

Truck Garden Passengers
Rescue gnome and Granny’s concrete chicken

The truck garden, which was refurbished two years ago (visit the video link here), is already over-accessorized with an old gnome rescued from Darwen, Lancashire, and my grandmother’s concrete chicken from Indianola, in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. And bottle sconces, a bird house, and more.

Today EVERYONE is – or at least all decked out as – Irish!

St. Paddy’s Day Spirit

So I wanted to do my bit. I quickly cobbled together some faux bottle trees from crape myrtle branches, cast-aside green soda bottles, and strands of green beads from other revelers.

Green bottles… of course!

…and a bow for the eagle, and a hastily-assembled custom-crafted wreath from nearby vines, magnolia leaves, and stems from a flowering Forsythia.

Hood eagle with green bow and garland

Yeah, my Celtic roots run deep – my Rushing ancestors hail from the Isle of Man – so it’s extra satisfying to lead out one of the largest Irish festivals in the country…

Beannachtai Na Feile Padraig Oraibh

(St. Patrick’s Day Blessing Upon You!)

Gestalt Gardener Panel

Snowdrops, Snowflakes, WHATEVER

Most horti-holier-than-thou professional garden writers get a little peeved when people call plants by the wrong names, or downright irritated when Latin names are mispronounced. Doesn’t bother me at all, as long as we’re still communicating, talking about the same flower.

I mean, I have to switch back and forth every time I cross the Atlantic on how I say tomato (to-MAH-to), oregano (or-e-GAH-no), and ain’t (oops – no translation in the Queen’s English). I even switch hands when picking up my fork and knife.

Large cup or trumpet Narcissus
Narcissus… or Daffodil?

It isn’t about being ignorant, it’s called going vernacular. And it’s okay. Breathe in, breathe out.

When lecturing on the West Coast, Midwest, or New England I understand that when they say “hen and chicks” I know they’re referring to Sempervivums; in the South, hen and chicks are Graptopetalum. And though I grow dozens of different kinds, including some from my horticulturist great-grandmother’s garden, I’ve long since stopped arguing over the difference between Narcissus and daffodils (they’re the same; one is Latin, the other is  folk name for English speakers. And don’t get me started over jonquils versus paperwhites!).


Both Graptopetalum and Sempervivum are called “hens and chicks”

So I don’t get my shorts in a knot over all the different buttercups, zebra plants, or wandering Jews. Let’s quickly get onto the same page and move on with our talking about whatever it is.

Quick aside: My old friend Brent Heath, 3rd-generation bulb grower from Virginia, says there is nothing “common” about common plant names – they are really folk names.

All that said, I have to just ignore it when someone in Mississippi talks about their snowdrop bulbs, when they’re referring to snowflakes. The similar early-flowering bulbs are pretty closely related and are used the same ways in gardens, but are different enough to a make a point, if you feel the need. Sorta like how apples and pears are very close relatives, but not quite the same thing.

I’ve photographed early-flowering snowdrops (Galanthus) from coast to coast and all over England, including a fascinating personal tour by Lady Carolyne Elwes of her vast Galanthus collections at her Colebourne Estate halfway between Cirencester and Cheltenhamin in the heart the Cotswolds (here’s a nice link to a winter visit there). They’re pretty, and hardy, but they have poor to no tolerance for the hot, humid summers and mild winters of the lower and coastal South.

On the other hand, snowflakes (Leucojum) spread pretty rapidly from home gardens to roadsides and moist ditches, even in wet clay, and are among the earliest flowering bulbs even in Florida.

Rather than make your eyes bleed with unnecessary details (the petals are technically tepals, and, short of writing a book, there are too many species and cultivars to get into), here are two simple photographs. Look at them, and decide if yours is one or the other.

Snowdrops – Galanthus
Snowflake – Leucojum

And call them what you want, as long as we’re admiring the same beautiful early flowers.

African Plants in American Gardens

Portion of ancient tapestry in Accra, Ghana
Detail of a hand-painted fabric I photographed in Accra, Ghana

The climates of Africa range from hot, wet tropical rain forests bordered by vast savannas to mountains, large deserts, and a mild Mediterranean climate found on both the southern and northern tips of the continent.

Croton in West Africa

Many of the African plants I enjoy in my garden are hardy herbaceous perennials and bulbs, but those unable to tolerate even mild frosts are simply grown as annuals planted from seed, or as favored potted specimen to be brought indoors in the winter.

Some I would have a hard time doing without – coffee and cotton come to mind – while others are cultural staples; what kinda Southern cook would I be without blackeye peas, okra, or fig preserves? Continue reading “African Plants in American Gardens”

Silence Personified

Señor Misterioso is silence personified.

Señor Misterioso Examining the Pomelos
Señor Misterioso Examining the Pomelos

With clasped hands and half-hidden smile, his stoic, contemplative, non-judgmental demeanor is immutable, whether checking out seasonal pomelos at the local market, or communing eye-to-eye – at a safe distance, of course – with an ancient garden gnome whose eerily-unchanging mute smile is as enigmatic as the Señor’s taciturn regard.

Communing with Gnome
Communing with Gnome

Only thing breaking the silence is a sigh, which may just be the soft susurrus of a breeze wafting through the thyme.

(For a little background on Señor Misterioso click here)


An authentic old Mississippi whiskey still in my garden has weathered beautifully with its copper patina

Patina on Authentic Copper Mississippi Whiskey Still
Patina on Authentic Copper Mississippi Whiskey Still


This old wooden swing has seen its better evenings…

Weathered Old Swing
Weathered Old Swing

Winter Wonders

I’ve gardened in sunny South California, where weather reporters are all but unable to forecast anything out of the ordinary – there’s a joke in San Diego that seasons are more about whether or not it rains.

Light Frost
Light Frost

But for the past eight years of shuttling between my gardens in Mississippi and Lancashire, northern England, it seems to me that there are mainly two distinct seasons in the British Isles – a brilliant if cool summer with long, long days, and a seemingly never-ending wet, chilly winter, with fairly drawn-out segues of what pass for spring and fall.

My Mississippi garden, on the other hand, has five seasons, from a mild occasionally-frozen mid-winter through two nearly imperceptibly drawn-out and overlapping springs (early and late, with completely different sets of weather and flowers); a long, torrid, breathtakingly-humid summer with temperatures that remain warmer at night than England rarely ever even gets up to in the daytime; and a month or so of subtle changes in Autumn color.

No matter. There are countless combinations of evocative accessories to carry gardens in all climates through the changes of weather, and weather-tolerant plants to boot.

Mississippi Snow
Mississippi Snow

Continue reading “Winter Wonders”

Dr. Dirt’s Legacy

Leon “Dr. Dirt” Goldsberry

This is saying a lot, but “Dirt” was without a doubt one of the most overflowing humans I have ever encountered. Bigger-than-life he was – tall, colorful, thoughtful, bawdy, humorous, and, yes, easily outraged and loudly opinionated (usually spot-on).

First met him by accident, while cruising backstreets of small-towns looking for interesting cottage gardens and the pass-along plants usually found in them – one of the best ways to uncover hardy, garden-variety plants.

His unmissable garden stopped me in my tracks. The outstanding “total yard show” was overstuffed and overflowing with kaleidoscopic combinations of plants and home-made yard art made from found objects. Its care-taker – a tall, lanky man with a do-rag on his head and a Kaiser blade in hand – met me at the gate. He wouldn’t invite me in, much less tell me his name, instructing me to just call him Dirt.

Dirt Garden in Autumn

Continue reading “Dr. Dirt’s Legacy”

Señor Misterioso

Senor Misterioso
Inscrutable Expression

NOBODY really knows who he is. Or much of anything about him, other than the whispered rumors that the Dos Equis guy – who is said to be the “most interesting man in the world” – wants him dead. Don’t know why he wears such an impeccably-tailored glow-in-the-dark suit and fedora. And even less is known about the even more enigmatic Senorita Misterioso – his sister perhaps?

I first found him alone on the second shelf of a dusty VooDoo shop hidden on a side street of New Orleans. For years he stood on the dash above the steering wheel of my antique truck, one time helping comfort and guide me and Dr. Dirt through a Texas deluge so heavy we couldn’t see the edge of the pavement.

When the old truck was temporarily stolen, he disappeared for awhile, along with our dashboard hula girl (a ceramic beauty I rescued from an antique shop in Hawai’i). They have made it back, and while she gyrates around America in the truck, he travels the world with me, occasionally coming out from his special pouch of my canvas murse.

Senor Misterioso in Felder's hand
Pocket Size and All-Weather

With clasped hands and half-hidden smile, his stoic, contemplative, non-judgmental demeanor is immutable.

Oh – and have I mentioned that he glows eerily in the dark?

Other than claiming somewhat cheekily that “I’ve got Señor Misterioso in my pocket – at least for now” there’s really nothing more to say. Either you get it, or you don’t.










Blackpool Tower
Blackpool Tower

ADDENDUM: An alert follower shared a possible connection to a Venezuelan physician and popular folk figure, Dr. José Gregorio Hernández, who died in 1919 and  has been venerated by the Catholic church (and considered a candidate for sainthood). Striking resemblance, and there are many small statues of him – including this small one –  which strongly suggests he may be the original inspiration for Señor Misterioso…

Statue of Dr. José Gregorio Hernández
Miniature statue of Dr. José Gregorio Hernández

Swinging Garden Saints

Feel a little oddly uneasy on your garden swing? There’s a saint who may offer comfort.

There are some quirky saints, to be sure, patrons of every imaginable profession or situation, from farming to protecting beekeepers, even keeping ants out of the house. But some are peculiarly suited for gardeners.

One of my favorite garden sculptures is my three-foot concrete statue of a saint – not Francis, the environmental/wildlife guy with the bird on one hand, but St. Fiacre, the most popular and official patron saint of gardeners.

St. Fiacre in Felder's garden
St. Fiacre in Felder’s garden

St. Fiacre is said to have sailed from Ireland to France looking for a quiet place where he could devote himself to God. An obliging bishop offered him as much land as he could turn up in a day,  and clever Fiacre, instead actually plowing the expected small plot, used his wood staff to dig a row all the way around and enclosing a larger area. His garden became a hospice from which he shared his vegetables, herbs, and flowers with travelers, some of whom claimed he performed miracles. He is now recognized as the patron saint of gardeners – and, by the way, of Paris cab drivers, whose taxis are called fiacres – because the earliest commercial rides-for-hire in Paris originated near the hotel Saint-Fiacre. Continue reading “Swinging Garden Saints”