For the love of gardening

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, May 23, 2018

By Felder Rushing

Do you remember the first time someone showed you something in the garden and explained it to you?

I recently had a rush of deja vu from my long-gone great-grandmother Pearl’s garden. I had just dropped off a gardening friend at his cottage after a morning of driving around a small town admiring flowers that grow with little care or fuss.

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We had passed old Miz Floyd’s place, overstuffed with once-again fashionable antique roses, iris, daylilies, canna, four o’clocks and ginger lilies, and talked about how she reminded us of all the women and men who ever shared a plant from their own hand, teaching generosity as they spread earthy culture through the generations.

The lady looks after her great-grandchildren in the summers, making them go outside and not come in until supper. Her big yard is always in need of mowing, always beckoning with chores, stuff to move, haul, stack, or fix. And her only reward for hard work was a glass of sweet tea.

That’s how I was raised. One of my grandmothers was a blue-ribbon garden club lady who taught me diligence and elegance. My other grandmother was a simple hill–country gardener who loved her zinnias and proudly accessorized her flowers with a painted concrete chicken which I have in my garden today. Pride in simple things.

My grandfather showed me how to step on pecans to see if they were firm enough to pick up, or if they broke because they were “faulty” and rotten inside, and my father taught me to get chores done before going out to play. Raking leaves and mowing grass provided a sense of accomplishment — however grudging.

Great-grandmother Pearl, who had a huge Bird Sanctuary sign in her front yard way before “wildlife habitats” was a catch phrase, and who called me Little Professor when I was just 10, taught me the difference between wildflowers and weeds (sometimes the same plant growing in different places), and how caterpillars turn into a chrysalis and then emerge as a beautiful butterfly. One hot, sticky July afternoon I helped her pick figs and turn them into preserves — something I still do every summer.

Get it? These folks, by making me do simple chores around the garden, taught me some important life skills in little ways that affect my outlook to this day. Time well spent with Pearl came flooding back as my friend and I drove by Miz Floyd’s place and there she was out in her yard, garden apron billowing, long hair escaping in silvery wisps from under a huge tied-down straw hat. She was mowing the grass, methodically ticking off another chore one step at a time. The more genteel ladies in small hometowns probably talk about her, like they did Pearl and others whose love of flowers has outlasted everything but great-grandkids.

Let ‘em talk. There she plodded, beneath ancient crape myrtles and live oak, past beds of althea, angel trumpet, and castor bean, nodding over tomatoes and zinnias, every plant with a story.  She was gardening.

And in my mind I saw Pearl, and tasted her fig preserves, smelled her jonquils.

School will be out soon, but children likely won’t be out playing in the yard. Too many “cooler” things to do now, indoors and out, making it even more crucial to snag those we can, when we can, and teach them life skills from the garden.

All it takes is a few minutes of bending over, wiggling your finger in some flowers, finding something fragrant to smell. Heck, make them take a flower or bug photo with their phone and share it with friends.

Never know what may kick-start a lifetime of wonder.

Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to