Tuesday, August 31, 2010


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (8/30/10)

NormaLee Roudebush, a third generation Arizona wrangler, following her father, spent her early years breeding, breaking, and training horses, including thoroughbreds, in the Valley of the Sun. She got her start gentling an Appaloosa, but only after being thrown three times. “True grit,” or as the Prayer Book reads, she “perseveres therein to the end.” As a single mother she raised three children and collected two master’s degrees along the way in sociology and education. She came to the High Country when the ranches, fields, and groves of her childhood were turned to asphalt and concrete.

In other words, she’s a tough as nails, wearing the sobriquet, “desert rat” with pride. She’s also kind, tender, warm-hearted, and thoughtful. Walking the halls of Kinsey School, children wave at her, greet her by name, and run over to hug her. They’re all her helpers.

NormaLee’s not only the head honcho of the garden at Kinsey School, she’s also the only honcho. Having finished the Master Gardener Class, she decided to fulfill her volunteer hours creating a garden at the school where she is a substitute teacher. Starting out with hard scrabble, much of it detritus or debris, between two long rows of classrooms, she’s developing a flower and vegetable garden for the school children. The land lies on a slope and is subject to flooding during the monsoons which means mini-gully washers. However, she is indefatigable, this wrangler of yore, going back after every washout, restoring the beds and plants, resulting in a garden of small paths ambling up a slope amidst vegetables and flowers.

She began terracing, using old railroad ties she’d scrounged here and there. As with a lot of gardeners, she’s a scavenger, never throwing anything away and always on the lookout for stuff someone else has thrown away. She started creating soil out of the ground, best described as loose material, hauling out the big rocks to make a teaching circle for the children and then turning compost and organic matter into the remaining loose material, creating soil.

She’s also a finagler, having taken a grant for one project and extending it into three projects by means too complex for ordinary comprehension.

Wall-Mart, Warner’s, the School District, and the City all pitched in, giving her equipment, a composter, tools, and a shed. Also, she has the warm support of the teachers and staff at Kinsey, particularly the principal, Carolyn Hardy. However, she needs more help in funds, material, and sweat equity. Call (928) 773-4060 and leave a message.

In addition to being a wrangler, gardener, teacher, and mother, she’s also a volunteer landscaper at Kinsey School which is how she found herself digging in the schools’ dirt. She saw the need for a teaching garden. Her motivation is providing a garden in which the children, accustomed to concrete, asphalt, junk food, and packaged goods, can dig in the soil, letting it run through the fingers, rubbing a basil leaf in their fingers and smelling the aroma, eating a tomato off the vine, and picking a squash. In an age of electronics, cell phones, computers, iPods, and texting, grounding children to the ground may be one of the most crucial educational tasks.

Perhaps, even more important than connecting with the ground is teaching the children by example the process of creation, how to make something. Most children know how to use things, even use them up, but not much in how to create things, to have a vision and accomplish it. Everyday the children at Kinsey School can look out of their class room windows and see NormaLee fulfilling her vision of the creation, even helping her. It may not be ex nihilo, as did the Lord God in the creation, but certainly wrangling soil out of left-over dirt, making the earth bloom, creating life out of that which was rejected.

She does this, for those who are hale and hearty, with a bad back, wresting from the mute, dumb earth a garden that speaks to the children. The garden's metaphorical message is the meaning of beauty, food, creation, transformation, work, and in persevering “therein to the end.”

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010

Friday, August 27, 2010


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (8/24/10)

Ann Marie Zeller’s garden is a quintet of gardens, each one playing off the others, elaborating variations on a theme, fuguing now and then to parts unknown, sometimes far from the beginning, and then returning to the beat and theme. A quintet is a conversation either amongst strings, winds, brass, or voices. It can be a conversation amongst friends or internally within ourselves amongst the various personae we’ve accumulated over a lifetime. In short, a quintet of gardens is the internal conversation within the gardener or, perhaps, within the gardener’s family.

The garden facing the street, the presenting self, as the shrinks like to say, is the garden that visitors first see, the one that Ann Marie first developed. Somewhat of a fairie garden, its tiny steps and flowering chives lining a narrow path pass under a huge, overhanging pine tree into the back yard. A feminine yard of yarrow and columbine, it welcomes the visitor in a fine lyric soprano, such as Dame Kiri Te Kanawa singing “Come to the Fair,” floating over the path, beguiling the visitor farther into the garden.

But there it ends. Once around the corner in the line of sight
is the wild side garden straight up a steep embankment where the treading is uncertain and the discoveries are those of an abandoned forest, pine, sumac, Gambel oak, tufts of grass, and drifts of this and that. Anne Marie’s daughters hide out in the wild side garden when they want to be rid of boring, responsible adults which means that it’s a garden with hormones out of kilter. It’s a garden of giggles, screams, shrieks, growls, and howls, especially in the dark of night, with the voice of a throaty cabaret contralto, a Tallulah Bankhead voice, trained on alcohol, tobacco, and drugs, beckoning the unaware out of their comfort zones into hidden but forbidden delights.

Smack dab next to the wild side is the stable side, a back yard that looks like what a back yard should look like with a strong baritone voice, something like Thomas Lampson, belting out, “God Bless America.” A proper backyard has to have a lawn, a big expanse of green grass on which children can roll and tumble, games can be played, and dogs can run in circles leaving a few yellow spots here and there. It is a backyard for an old-fashioned 4th of July picnic with Old Glory flying high, hot dogs and hamburgers, sack races, well-worn war stories, and some ruffles and flourishes.

Such a yard gives a sense of stability amidst the swirl of life’s conflict and demands, a refuge of comfort. Maple and fir trees form a backdrop while bearded irises, blanket flowers, yarrow, California poppies, red hot pokers, and lilies border the lawn. Over in a corner next to the house and the wild side are a fire pit, table and chairs, and an outdoor grill sheltered under a canvas canopy.

Literally, there’s a garden’s gate leading from the comfort zone into a garden of organized chaos, a place of vegetables, vines, fruits, a place of burgeoning life and fruition. There are no straight lines, but rather a meandering path amidst a cornucopia of goodness, a tomato plant here and there, a couple of artichoke plants, climbing grape vines, some towering dill, raspberries, huckleberries, mint, lavender, anything that can be eaten. One half expects to see a full-figured Mother Nature standing somewhere amidst the bounty holding out her apron, filled with the fruits of the earth. The only voice possible is a rich, lush contralto, a Marian Anderson singing a Negro spiritual out of the depths of a black American’s experience of the gospel.

Finally, a very small garden on the side of the house with chairs facing a lattice filled with sweet peas, a place of quiet contentment. A place to listen to the three tenors, Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, and Luciano Pavarotti sing “O Sole Mio,” “What a beautiful thing is a sunny day.”

Anne Marie’s garden was one of the two winning gardens in the 2010 Flagstaff Garden Competition. She enjoys visitors, but call ahead.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010

Photographs courtesy of Tom Bean.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


James Mast

“Rake that dirt some more, Jimmy. We want it nice and level.” It’s springtime in 1958. I’m in my Grandpa Mast’s expansive back yard in Orrville, Ohio. It’s time to plant the “widows’ garden,” and I’m finally old enough to help. Edna Miller from down the street brought over lettuce, radish, and beet seeds yesterday. Mrs. Yoder from around the corner has just left after dropping off some cabbage plants and a big bag of seed packets–carrots, green beans, yellow beans, corn, spinach, mustard greens, summer squash, and pumpkins (my favorite.) Dorothy Hostetler’s onion sets, tomato plants, and pepper plants are sitting on the back porch.

After Grandmother’s death, Grandpa decided to convert his big vegetable garden into an even bigger communal garden for the many widows in the old neighborhood. The ladies provide the seeds and plants, and Grandpa and my dad and now me, too, plant and raise the garden. Then, we deliver the produce back to the ladies when it is ready. It keeps Grandpa busy and is a great way for him to socialize.

The soil is rich and ready to work. One Saturday, the previous November, Dad and I drove out to the Paulus Turkey Farm and got a load of manure. We covered the whole garden with it so it could sit and soak in over the winter. Grandpa has faithfully done his “garden pits” since fall. He digs a hole in the garden and puts vegetable scraps into it daily until it fills up, and then he covers it with dirt and starts another hole. Eventually, most of the garden has a layer of compost under it.

Dad and I help Grandpa finish the spading, turning every bit of soil as deeply as we could with the shovels. Next, we chop up the clumps of clay and rake the soil into a smooth beautiful bed.

After that, we lay out the rows. Grandpa believes they must be perfectly straight and exactly three feet apart, except for the rows of corn, which have to be wider. He tells my Dad, “Get the stakes and the twine out of the garage.” It takes the three of us an hour to set up the rows, carefully measuring where each one goes and pounding in the stakes to mark each end. Then, we string the twine from marker to marker creating twenty precise rows, aligned from north to south to get the best light. Grandpa shows me how to pull the edge of the hoe against the twine down the length of the row to make the seed trenches.

Finally, we start planting. The pictures on the seed packets are very colorful and the names sound so interesting: Black-Seeded Simpson lettuce, Champion radish, Red-cored Chatenay carrot, Detroit Dark Red beet. Grandpa let me do the radishes. The radish trench is shallow because the seeds are very small.

“No, no, not too close. Spread the seeds out more so the plants will have enough room to get big.” After the seeds are down, I carefully cover them with dirt and tamp them down with the end of the hoe. The empty seed packet is placed on the marker stake so we will know what’s in that row. I ask Grandpa, “Are we going to plant all of this stuff today. “Oh, no, we’re only planting the greens and the radishes, carrots, and beets today. The cabbage plants can go in next week, but the tomatoes, peppers, and corn will have to wait a few weeks until it warms up some more. Go get the onion sets. We can put them in today.”

“Yellow Stuttgart” it says on the bag. Grandpa shows me how to plant each little bulb, top side up and root side down, exactly two inches apart as we worked our way down the row. I cover them with an inch of soil as he follows me tamping them in with the hoe.

“Whew! A lot of work today! But soon everything will be coming up and the widows will be stopping by to see how “their” garden is doing.”

(Dr. James Mast, a dentist in Flagstaff, is one of the original Master Gardeners in Coconino County.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (8/23/10)

A serendipitous moment it was for Corporal Pam Koch, a Coconino County Sheriff’s Deputy on patrol, when she checked out a car parked on Koch Field Road to see if she could render assistance. Inside the parked car was a young man, neither inebriated nor stoned, counting the number of cones on a pinyon pine. The cone counter was a graduate student studying ornithology with Professor Russell Balda of NAU who is famed for his knowledge of birds in the Southwest, particularly the pinyon jay.

Counting the number of pinyon pine cones, of course, is related to the study of the feeding patterns and habits of birds which led to an ornithological relationship with Dr. Balda, banding of pinyon jays in her yard. You see, Pam Koch is a birder herself who has attracted over 80 varieties of birds to her yard. She’s been featured in articles by Cornell University’s famed ornithological laboratory along with her photographs of birds. She’s also published an article in Wildbird Magazine on her participation in Project FeederWatch, a citizen scientist program. In addition to cruising the highways and byways of Coconino County as a sheriff’s deputy, she’s made her mark as a birder and photographer.

However, that is only the beginning of Pam’s story. She’s also a Master Gardener who’s designed and built with the help of her husband, Lt. Ken Koch, of Flagstaff Police Department, a garden that’s won the 2010 Best Native Plant Garden of the Flagstaff Chapter of the Arizona Native Plant Society. All this has been done in Doney Park where her garden is blessed with great soil, having once been a bean field, and cursed with wind whipping down from the San Francisco Peaks.

The genius of her garden is the relationship between native plants and birds. To attract lots of birds a garden must have lots of native plants, a crucial correlation for gardeners who want their gardens to attract birds. The principle is simple. Native plants grow the kind of food that birds like, especially in the High Country.

First off, her garden is beautiful, not the kind of image that comes to mind when thinking of the forest floor with its scrub grass and occasional struggling wild flower. It is authentically lush. Meandering through the front yard is a stream bed of river rock whose chief function is to drain off water from the neighborhood. Various native plants have been planted on the street side of the stream bed, such as Sunset Crater and Rocky Mountain penstemons, Virginia creeper, Gamble and Pin oaks, and chokecherry. On the house side is a thick green lawn of native grasses.

The front yard is a bit of a teaser. When one rounds the house through the side yard, one finds a horticultural jewel, again a lush lawn of native grasses, a fountain, and a pond, all ringed with native and adaptable flowers, such as Shasta daisies, bearded irises, yarrows, agastaches, black-eyed Susans, and bee balm. A haven, it is a rest for those with stressing occupations, such as policemen and sheriff’s deputies. The effect is complete, the songs and colors of the birds, the scents and colors of the flowers, the soothing pond, a lush, thick green lawn, and the murmuring of the water fall, a garden of its own enclosed by a wooden fence.

Of course, a haven needs protection. Surrounding the inner garden, a sanctum sanctorum, an outer garden forms a protective perimeter, shielding the inner garden from outside onslaughts, particularly Doney Park’s winds and unwanted animals. Enclosing the outer garden of chokecherries, lilacs, sumac, Gamble oak, and mock orange, is a chain link fence hidden by the native plants.

Pam’s garden, the whole of it, but particularly the inner garden, is like Bobbie Burn’s “melody that’s sweetly play’d in tune.”

Next week, Ann Marie Zeller’s winning “A Quintet of Gardens.”

On Sunday, take a Self-Guided Tour of the 13 Gardens from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Maps are available at Warner’s, Winter Sun, and Flagstaff Native Plant and Seed on Saturday and only on Sunday at the Flagstaff Community Market from 8:00 a.m to noon.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010

Photographs courtesy of Tom Bean

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (8/10/10)

When going to a party where everyone else is a stranger, it’s nice to have along a friend who knows lots of guests. When Hattie Braun arrived in Flagstaff in 1995 with a master’s degree in horticulture from Penn State, she was a stranger to gardening in the High Country. So, she promptly signed up for the Master Gardener Class, led then by Tom DeGomez.

Instead of stand-offish strangers, she met lots of friendly gardeners who shared their knowledge of gardening in Flagstaff, such as the four challenges of gardening in the High Country: soil, water, wind, and short growing season. The Master Gardening Class turned gardening around for her from woe-is-me to opportunity.

After Tom moved on to other tasks in the forest, she became the Coordinator of the Master Gardener Horticultural Soirée and Fête. In addition to knowing a lot about gardening in Flagstaff, she, also, understands the horticultural shock for transplants from lush lowland climes. She knows what works and what doesn’t.

In addition to that, she’s collected a gang of horticultural virtuosi who know things that only veterans know, good and bad insects, plants that look good and do well, plants that look good but don’t do well, smart watering, and shrewd fertilizer. They’re book-learnt to be sure, but they’ve been around the block more than once and know a lot about gardening in the High Country.

Soil is the starting point of gardening, and as she found out, soil in Flagstaff isn’t what it’s like back home. It needs lots of help. As she says, “It’s almost like we’ve got to make our own.” It has nutrients, but little to no organic matter. There’s a whole class session on adding organic matter to the soil called composting.

In addition to soil, the Master Gardener Class deals with vegetables, flowers, native plants, ornamentals, insects, and water-wise gardening. If people are inclined to go native, the Master Gardener Class prepares gardeners to dress their gardens like a fancy slice of the forest. On the other hand, there are techniques for creating eye-catching gardens, loaded with ornamentals and flowers. For those who want to garden all year, there is a greenhouse tour. And who knows? Someone might discover an entirely new way to garden.

If a gardener wants to turn the yard into a truck farm with row crops of corn, beans, squash, peas, and so forth, the Master Gardener Class is the place to learn. Also, front lawns, the pride and joy of householders everywhere else in the country, are problematic with Flagstaff’s water restrictions and impending rate increases for water.
There are water-smart ways to have beautiful front yards, and the Master Gardener Classes are the place to learn how to make them without reducing front yards to gravel pits with ornamental cattle skulls.

Since Flagstaff is smack-dab in the middle of a Ponderosa pine forest, it’s smart to learn something about one’s environment, like wildfires, bark beetles, and the care of pines trees and their forest friends. St. Ambrose advised St. Augustine who’d moved from Milan to Rome about fast days in Rome, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” In other words, get the lay of the land and hang with it.

The classes, fourteen in number, run from September 14 to December 7 on Tuesday evenings from 6:00-9: 00 p.m. at the Southwest Forest Service Complex at NAU, Room 133. There will be no classes on November 23 and two Saturday classes on September 25 and October 9.
The fee is $250.00 of which $50.00 is refundable on completion of volunteer hours. The Arizona Master Garden Manual is included in the fee.

For applications call Hattie Braun at (928) 774-1858, x 170 or email her at hbraun@cals.arizona.edu.

When asked his opinion of free verse, the poet Robert Frost said that it was like playing “tennis with the net down.” Gardening in those lush lowland climes is like gardening with the net down. The Master Gardener Class prepares gardeners to garden Above the Rim with the net up. It takes more smarts, and it’s a lot more fun.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith

Sunday, August 01, 2010


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (8/1/10)

Meine Überfrau, a gracious, warm-hearted, and vivacious woman, said to me over oatmeal one bright winter’s morning, "If I were chairman of a committee, I'd sure never pick you as member." She was referring, I believe, to my disposition to prefer my own company. As a high-flight extrovert, she sometimes takes umbrage at my introverted ways, as in, “Come on, say something!”

Gardening can be either an introverted experience or an extroverted one, witness Loni Shapiro’s gang of green thumbs at the Olivia White Hospice Gardens. It’s mostly introverted for me. An occasional passer-by or visitor is just fine. Company is great as long as I am left alone now and then in the garden.

The reason for my churlish behavior is simple. Gardening for me is my principal form of meditation. I cannot meditate sitting still as do some of my Buddhist friends, transfixed by a candle’s wavering flame. My mind gets diverted by my bum knee when kneeling. Besides, the customary stance in the Bible for prayer is standing up straight, a stance of dignity.

My physical body has to be active for my spiritual body to focus. It's not that I'm hyperactive. I'm actually lethargic and prone to sloth. It is pleasant physical activity, such as taking a shower, which relieves my consciousness of everyday existence so that I can experience the ordinary extraordinarily.

Rudolph Otto in Die Heilige called this experience a "mysterium tremdendum et fascinans," an experience that is at once awesome, mysterious, and compelling. Long ago I gave up trying to talk to flat-line thinkers, such as secularists, about spirituality. Now, I just get another glass of wine, shaking the dust from my feet, leaving them to their cynicism as I head for the hors d’oeuvres. If they want to live in a world without mystery, a world “weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable,” so be it, and a boring choice it is.

The chances are that when gardeners are alone working away in their gardens, they are meditating. It's something like driving on long stretches of a lonely highway. The mind is set free. The tasks of gardening aren't mind-bending. They’re simple once a person gets the hang of it. The real pleasure is not in clipping, spraying, digging, pinching, and planting, but in moving amongst beauty, feeling life slapping one's thigh, catching the faint, subtle aromas of life, and relishing the beauty of flowers, leaves, and even bark. As Gretchen said on watching seedlings sprout out of dry seeds, "I don't see how anyone could not believe in God if they watched this miracle."

Meditating is basically zoning out so that one can zero in. I found this out the several months I spent at a remote Augustinian monastery years ago. For several years, I had been on a spiritual quest to find a way to meditate that was congenial to me, and the Augustinian monastery was a stop on my journey that ended the journey. The monks walked around a courtyard garden chanting and invited me to participate. The more I participated, the freer was my mind to focus.

Their theology didn’t beguile me although I relished theological conversations with them. It was their method. I learned how to pray. And so it is with gardening. If someone wants to pray, the mind must be set free because prayer is at heart an experience beyond the pedestrian, a sense of a Presence, beguiling a person beyond the “dark backward and abysm” of the ordinary into the insurgency of eternity in an hour, infinity in the immediate, and a Presence in a moment.

Albert Einstein said it well, “The most beautiful and most profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true art and science.”

What better place than a garden? It is not by chance that Jesus repaired to the Garden of Gethsemane to find his destiny. A garden frees our minds of the everyday clutter of obligations, ideologies, and certainties, and allows us to move into the mysteries that one must experience to be able to believe everything else or in anything at all.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010