Mississippi garden writer Felder Rushing will provide an afternoon of his unique horticultural wit and wisdom on Sunday, September 9 at Birmingham Botanical Gardens. The 2 p.m. lecture will be followed by a book signing of Slow Gardening: A No-Stress Philosophy for All Senses and Seasons.
“Slow Gardening is more about doing what you enjoy, and savoring what you do,” Rushing writes. “But though my take on gardening has been through the hot forge of decades of formal horticultural training and professional work, it’s also tempered by my having been raised by real gardeners, including a horticulturalist great-grandmother who patiently shared with me her love of wildflowers, a garden-club grandmother whose home-hybridized daylilies won many blue ribbons, another more ‘country’ grandmother who just loved old-fashioned zinnias and her concrete chicken, and my parents, who struggled with vegetables and a lawn while raising a bunch of rowdy kids and pets.”
The author or co-author of 17 gardening books, including several national award winners, Rushing was featured in Southern Living’s 25th anniversary issue as one of “25 people most likely to change the South,” and his “overstuffed, quirky” cottage garden has appeared on the cover of the same magazine as well as in the New York Times.
With many years service as “a distinctly non-stuffy” board member of the American Horticultural Society, Rushing also takes pride in being a rare male honorary member of Federated Garden Clubs of Mississippi. As a popular lecturer he has logged more than half a million frequent flier miles.
His latest book, Slow Gardening, lavishly and often humorously illustrated, has appeal for beginning to expert gardeners and covers the gamut from pass-along plants to water wise tips to “what to do with all those little picture plant tags that come with flowers and veggies.” (He cautions, “Has anyone ever seen a magazine photograph of a garden that has labels?”)
Throughout the book, practical advice is presented with the same sense of whimsy that Felder encourages in garden design. Included in his “Gardeners Bill of Rights” are the right to plant any color of flower next to any other color of flower, even if they clash, the right to plant too many tomatoes every year, and the right to as many wind chimes as we can afford–bird feeders, too.
He speaks to good garden design combining elements that stimulate all of the senses, from “wind chimes, as important as nice fragrances,” to “other senses, including a sense of place–the terroir that makes a garden feel right” and “the overall ‘savory’ sensation called umami…which can be extrapolated to mean the overall satisfaction a garden gives.”
Felder’s list of warning signs that gardening may be approaching the compulsion stage is presented as a series of questions, including:
Does gardening affect your reputation (does the grocery store clerk know you garden?)
Do you grow more than ten different varieties of any one plant?
Do you know how many bags of compost your car can hold, or have you ever cleaned your car with a leaf blower?
Exploring the “New” American Garden Style, he writes, “But the typical, fast-food American approach of having a row of gumdrop-and meatball-shaped shrubs hugging the foundation of the house–usually set there originally by the building contractors–reminds me of a pig roast in which the cook tucks a little skirt of greenery around the baked ham. Parsley around the pig.”
Gardeners are encouraged to add vodka to the paperwhite bulbs and art to the garden. “All good gardens have some sort of artwork…Trouble is, there is no limit to how far you can take this concept; there is a fine line between expressing joie de vivre and just displaying a lot of junk. Some people don’t know how to stop and end up creating a ‘total yard show’ by over-accessorizing with all sorts of little miniature windmills, gnomes, flamingos and plastic flowers.”
As Roger B. Swain writes in the introduction to Slow Gardening: “Felder will be quick to tell you that this book is essentially about pleasing yourself, about following your bliss, about savoring everything that you do in your yard…These are the gardens that cause us to pause, no matter how fast we are passing by. These are the gardens, the ones characterized by whimsy, that people stop for. The arresting force may be those flamingos, or a herd of plywood Holsteins. The point is that people slow down. They get out of their car. The reach for the camera.”
September 9 lecture tickets are $15 and available online at www.bbgardens.org. For more information contact BBG Librarian Hope Long at 205-414-3950. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens are at 2612 Lane Park Road.