Thursday, March 27, 2008


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (3/27/08)

Loni Shapiro is a serious human being, not that she doesn’t have a sense of humor which she does, but that she wants to make her life count. In the language of the Book of Common Prayer, she wants to make the world richer for her presence.

Making the world richer requires gumption. Happily, she comes from sturdy stock. Her grandfather, a German immigrant, farmed in Minnesota and Northern Illinois, and it was from him and her mother that she learned to garden and love gardening. However, it was during her years in San Francisco where she met her husband that she learned to love gardening in containers, yards in San Francisco being too pricey for the type of gardening she learned back in Libertyville on the Illinois prairie.

Also, in San Francisco she learned her other focus in life as an occupational therapist, and throughout her life she has fused the two, gardening and occupational therapy, into a life’s commitment. This is her serious, no-nonsense side, the other being a wit and a raconteur. Her life as a therapist has richly endowed her with a treasure trove of stories she has learned from the people with whom she has worked, particularly the elderly. As she says, “They’re the ones with the stories to tell.”

She tells the story of a woman in her nineties, who emigrated from Poland when she was nine, talking about the Russian invaders who took their food and livestock and the German invaders who took their tools and implements. And then there was an old sailor, also in his nineties, who was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, “the date which will live in infamy,” with stories to tell. The historians call it “living history.” There is nothing comparable to talking to the people who were there.

Between San Francisco and Flagstaff, she lived and practiced as an occupational therapist in Eugene, Oregon, where gardening “was plant it and it grew.” Sadly, what’s good for gardening is hard on allergies and so the move to Flagstaff where it’s good for allergies and hard on gardening.

After moving to Flagstaff, she became one of the early Master Gardeners, working at the Arboretum as a volunteer Master Gardener and eventually in the green houses in the winter and a docent giving guided tours in the spring and summer.

A tall, slim, attractive woman with a commanding presence, she is amongst other things, the coordinator of the gardens at the Olivia White Hospice. Beginning as Laura Davis’ assistant, she became the head honcho when Laura moved to Tucson, accomplishing with her many colleagues one of the most attractive gardens in Flagstaff. As she did, she also involved many of the residents at Olivia White Hospice in the gardens and gardening.

Her task as the coordinator of the gardens involves recruiting gardeners and craftsmen to help with the gardens, cadging materials out of many donors, organizing the platoons of gardeners, and throwing an annual tea and tour. And for this she gets no pay. As was said before, she likes to make her life count.

One of the garden’s highlights is its rose garden, a significant achievement in Flagstaff. As most gardeners know, roses, like tomatoes, are difficult to grow but rewarding. Just as the beauty and aroma of roses are incomparable, so are the tastes of tomatoes just off the vine. When asked about her secret for growing roses in Flagstaff, she replied, “Canadians, Canadian roses.” It turns out that Siberian tomatoes and Canadian roses are a good fit for Flagstaff.

As for the roses, she mentioned Griffin Buck at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, who’s developed cold hardy roses and High Country Roses, Jensen, Utah, which has both cold hardy and drought tolerant roses. She’s also been helped by local rose gardeners, Terry Schick, Marion Lopez, and Hattie Braun.

As with the military, she always needs new recruits, both male and female, for the Olivia White Hospice Gardens and is having on orientation on April 29. It’s a good way to learn about gardening in Flagstaff, hang out with some really nice people, and make the world richer for one’s presence. Fur more information email Loni at

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2008

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