Can’t get away from Mississippi ditchbank weeds – even in England (where they seem to be better appreciated)!
But truth is, just as we yearn for stuff from afar, Southeastern U.S. native flowers are wildly popular in most upscale English gardens – used “as if they are normal plants” – with the best being those accessorized with natural or rustic elements.
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.
Five 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 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.
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.
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!
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.
…and a bow for the eagle, and a hastily-assembled custom-crafted wreath from nearby vines, magnolia leaves, and stems from a flowering Forsythia.
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…
Fact: We rarely get snow in Mississippi. Oh, every year or two we get in inch or two. Maybe.
But on December 1, 2017, we got an astonishing six inches, sometime between when I peeked outside at clear 3 a.m. and when I awoke at dawn. It was piled softly atop everything, completely covering decks and glass bottle trees alike, and even utility wires.
It was simply beautiful, and its muffling effect made everything so eerily quiet!
Knowing it wouldn’t last long, I quickly made the rounds, taking photos unspoiled by footprints all around my garden, front and back, and including the completely-buried plants in the back of my truck garden.
Most folks think their neighborhood is a special place to live, but I give my little town-within-a city extra points for how it has dealt with falling between the potholed cracks when tastemakers passed through.
Not braggin’, just sayin’.
We’re certainly not better than others, it just doesn’t matter. While we have our share of VIPs and upmarket homes, some of our areas are not as well-heeled or as “precious” as nearby other communities; still, we feel loosely akin, wary lifeboat passengers from different decks of a foundering ship, doing our best to pull together.