Friday, April 15, 2011


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (4/15/2011)

This column receives many queries about politically correct gardening. Some questions and answers follow:

Q. My composter stinks. People walk by our house holding their noses. My wife stamps her feet and talks to me in shrill-speak, and our small children cry because they’re lost all their friends. I’m losing my grip on reality. What do you advise?

A. My diagnosis: you’re an addict, addicted to caffeine from drinking lots of coffee and then dumping the coffee grounds into your composter. You’re a reactive personality, easily distraught by loud, high-pitched voices. Also, you’re a dependent personality, worrying too much about the opinions of others. As for the stink, you can either cowboy-up and tell everyone, including your neighbors, your wife, and your small children, to buzz off, or you can change the ratio of nitrogen to carbon in your composter. I recommend the latter because if you chose the former, you’ll careen off the charts.

First, cut down on the coffee. It would improve your emotional stability. You’re on the edge. Also, it would cut down on the stink. You are putting too many coffee grounds in your composter. Coffee grounds are high in nitrogen. Although dark brown, they’re considered green (nitrogen material) in the composting community. Too much nitrogen results in putrefaction which means the stuff in your composter is putrid.

You can also put more carbon material in your composter. In the composting community carbon material is called brown. You can Google for a list of nitrogen and carbon materials suitable for composters. Carbon material would reduce the stink. Generally speaking, the ratio in terms of shovelfuls is 1 nitrogen to 3 carbon.

Also, take a pitchfork and turn the material in your composter. Often the stink comes from a lack of air (oxygen) inside the pile, ostentatiously called an anaerobic condition which simply means airless. In other words, air out your compost just like some people air out their dirty linen.

Q. My tomato plants are wilting. What should I do?

A. Check to see if the soil is dry by sticking your finger several inches into the soil. If it’s dry, water it. If it’s wet, your tomato plant likely has an incurable disease. If it does, pluck it out, roots and all, and throw in the garbage can. All is lost. Live with it.

Wilting tomato plants generally are caused by one of three possibilities. The first is soil-borne fungi. There is nothing to do as I said above. Don’t use the soil again for tomato plants unless it is sterilized. The soil can be sterilized by putting it in a black container, putting a clear plastic bag over the container, and let it sit in the sun for two weeks, or you can put it in the oven in the kitchen which I wouldn’t recommend. This is why container gardening is best with tomatoes as a means controlling the controlling fungi in the soil.

The second cause is a viral infection which is air-borne. In ostentatious-speak it’s environmentally transmitted. Again, there is no known antidote, just like the common cold. Only in case of tomatoes, they can’t just hang in there until the virus has run its course. With tomatoes, yank the plant and throw it in the garbage can so that it won’t sneeze on others. WARNING: Do not try to salvage cankered tomatoes. Everything out.

The third cause is pests such as cutworms, whiteflies, flea beetles, aphids, mites, and stink bugs. These can be managed by vigilance and the application of appropriate remedies.

Growing tomatoes is une affaire du coeur unlike rutabagas and potatoes. Tomato growers put their heart in it, and as in affairs of the heart, be prepared for heartache and sadness. As Saint Eustace IV of Billingsgate said, “Alas, shitte doth happen.”

Q. My Kentucky blue grass front lawn takes lots of water and care, cost big bucks, and is a pain in my back. What do you advise?
A. Dig it up, amend the soil, and plant vegetables. Make your back pain worthwhile. Grow America.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2011

Sunday, April 10, 2011


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (4/10/2011)

First off, the necrology report. Remember good, old Jack Aspen? Well, he reportedly froze to death last winter. In our Class Year Book he wrote how he’d always wanted to “live beside the road and be a friend to man.” At first, he was reported as “went missing,” but then in the spring after the snow melt, his neighbors found him in a berm of snow, ice, cinders, and salt, buried by the city’s snow plows. The coroner found residue of the narcotic “honeydew.” There had always been the suspicion that he hung around with a
street gang called The Aphids whose leader was called Slime. He might have overdosed on “organic foreign substances” and got himself buried in that five foot snowfall we had last year. All he ever wanted to be was a friend to man.

Also, I’m sad to report the death of Sally Rhododendron from a failure to acclimate. She won the beauty pageant her first year. She roomed with Susie Gardenia down in the foreign exchange student dorm. One year, I think it was the
sophomore, they were put on probation for “strutting their stuff,” as Dean Radcliffe Rabbitbrush put it, during the Ice Carnival and Parade. I think he meant flaunting their body parts while everyone else was stylishly decked out in L.L. Bean mummy bags suitable for 30ºF below. Officially, the probation report read, “Failure to Adapt.” He predicted they would come to no good end. Sally’s death was slow, but Susie went quickly. Susie used a lot of perfume and makeup and was snubbed for it.

Now, the good news. I think all of you will remember Scarlet Penstemon and her brother Rocky at the Class Day Ceremonies.
Scarlet and Rocky were the first of their family to go to college. Rocky got the Rocky Mountain Award for spending every night warming his heirloom tomatoes until the danger of frost was past, some sixty nights, a record.

The family has done well in the current adverse conditions and has even won the Governor’s Acclimatization Award. New Penstemons are popping up all over, like Jack Aspen’s former habitat.

Their emphasis has been horticultural authenticity, like in Sunset Penstemon. Freddie Fescue's big into authenticity, too. He was often called Arizona because his great grand father was a first-settler, homesteading a big spread out near Lava Flow. Well, anyways, his
cousin Ferdie Fescue got nicknamed Sheep for reasons that don’t need to be spelled out in our column. He got admitted as a legacy. His grandfather donated Fescue Organic Commons.

You’ll remember that Arizona and Sheep started a fraternity called The Natives. Some of our class mates called them The Clumps. They were finally disbanded because of their discriminatory policies, having black balled some foppish dude who called himself Colonel Blue Grass. He sported a string tie instead the bolo tie. Talk about out of place. Well, it turns out that Arizona and Sheep were right. Colonel Blue Grass was a subversive, who should’ve been on the university’s Weed Watch List. Expelled in his junior year for exoticism, he thought he was some kind of trophy grass.

Nobody can forget Rosy Antennaria. Her nickname was Pussytoes because she wore little fluffy things on her Wellies. She was a little low to the ground if you know what I mean. Well, anyways, she’s chairwoman of our tenth reunion festivities.
She’s got several contests. One is called the Hang In There contest, like who survived winter with the least damage. Last year it was won by Jethro Juniper and the year before that by Jerry Gambel. Remember, Jerry was really good at the twist and won lots of contests. Even though it was kind of out-of-date, he was so good at it that he kept on twisting himself right into a permanent corkscrew. Well, I heard from Ferdie that he's in some kind of orthopedic treatment to unscreew him. It's suppposed to be kind of painful.

At any rate, this year she’s only accepting flowers, not even vegetables. I’m putting in for Rose Woods. Gets glossy red hips in the summer. Never seen them, but I heard tell they’re really something. See you in June.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2011

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (4/30/2011)

“Dysfunctional family” is an epithet often thrown around nowadays, masquerading as a diagnosis. The problem: it’s meaningless because all families are dysfunctional in one way or another. It’s a diagnosis without a difference.

We perceive our experiences through the prism of metaphors. In human relationships, it’s dysfunctional think of human relationships in terms of the machine in which everything works together without intra-related intimacy, the parts being interchangeable. It’s also dysfunctional to think of human relationships in terms of a cupboard or a parts department, pigeon-holing people as thought they unrelated to one another. More functional metaphors for a family are an organism or a fabric, an intra-related whole.

Dysfunctional families pretty much parallel our gardens. When we first moved to Flagstaff 8 years ago, one of the first things I did was to plant a rhododendron and
several forsythias largely because I was still enthralled with the beauty of Princeton in the spring, a halcyon experience now 64 years old. A hymn reads, “New occasions teach new duties, and time makes ancient good uncouth.” I’d forgotten that.

I enjoyed Latin in school, but not my sons. A year of frustrations and anger was misspent enforcing Latin because I thought my sons should like what I liked. I wanted them to become what I had in mind. A folly is when we impose our expectations on others contrary to their interests, abilities, and inclinations. Happily, they’ve forgiven me. Indeed, when they were in their early twenties, I took them out to dinner with my daughter and asked their forgiveness for all the ill-tempered, cruel, stupid things I had done. I would recommend such an event for every parent.

So it is with gardens. Lots of wonderful plants don’t do well or not at all in Flagstaff, and lots do. I kept that poor rhododendron alive for four years as it withered year after year. The forsythia, Shasta daises, blanket flowers, penstemon, and Arizona fescue have prospered beyond my expectations. One sure sign of dysfunction, nay, insanity, is to keep repeating a failure expecting a success. In short, try what works under the circumstances.

Our sense of beauty needs to change when we move from one place to another. I was raised in California with orange trees, Meyer lemons, camellias, bougainvillea, avocados, and azaleas. I miss them, but that should not blind me to the beauty of the ponderosa pines, Gambel oaks, sheep fescue, and quaking aspen.

When I moved to Tucson years ago after 8 years in the East and Middle West, I first thought the desert was a waste. After a year, I began to see its beauty, and when I left, I missed its beauty. I still smell creosote bush when it rains. So it is with the High Country. No azaleas, but, ah, the wildflowers.

Also, that maple I planted the same time as the rhododendron and the forsythias now shades a once beautiful flower bed into which I had shoveled lots of compost. The flowers are now pitiful, pathetic, and dysfunctional. I have to transplant them and put in what the arborists call “understory” plants. We seldom think of it, but gardens evolve just as does families. We even have to re-appreciate our sense of beauty.

Gardening is a shifting enterprise. However, some battles remain the same, aphids and grasshoppers are constants.

Since we’re all dysfunctional, it’s important to look at the whole of the garden and family. Sometimes plants don’t prosper no matter how much care they’re given. No point in blaming the plant or Flagstaff. The big dysfunction is in not accepting one’s dysfunction. As Oliver Cromwell told the Westminster Parliament, “I beseech you, in the blood of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.” The Westminster Parliament didn’t. We should.

Families bond much like a soldier’s “band of brothers” where forgiveness, tolerance, and trust are the sine qua non of survival and prevalence. So, too, is a garden. Not every member is the same. Gardens themselves are organisms. It’s important to treasure our gardens which are as much members of the family as are our children, parents, cats and dogs.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2011