Wednesday, July 24, 2013


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (7/19/13)

          The late Branch Rickey, the baseball manager who hired Jackie Robinson to break the color barrier in professional baseball, managed the Brooklyn Dodgers and then the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1942 to 1950.  He once said, “My father was 86 when he died.  As an old man he was still planting peach and apple trees on our farm near Portsmouth, Ohio.  When I asked who would take in the fruit he said, 'That's not important. I just want to live every day as if I were going to live forever.'”  Hans Vaihinger, the early 20th century German philosopher, put it succinctly, we live “als ob”, as if.

          I often think of Branch Rickey and his father.  At 86, I’m digging holes and planting several lilac bushes along one side of our property.  I may not live long enough to see them grow tall enough to shield our privacy, but I assume I will.  It’s called hope.  Branch Rickey’s father understood that the genius of gardening is hope.  There is always a tomorrow every time a gardener plants a seed, a bush, or a tree, and it’s the loss of tomorrow where many people, at whatever age, go astray.  They’re spiraling in yesterday’s squirrel cage.  Going nowhere or even backwards, they live without anticipation, a life of boring “same olds.”

          On contrast, some social scientists, called “futurists,” think that they know the future.  The three witches in Macbeth were far more reliable.  Since the only thing we know is the past, the “futurists” talk about nothing at all, a fact that doesn’t seem to dissuade them, resulting in a particularly boring kind of science fiction, rivaling economics.  We all stand “upon this bank and shoal of time,” as Macbeth said, trying to see beyond the horizon into the future’s unknown.

Hope isn’t knowledge, but rather anticipation.  In contrast, that dreadful spiraling experience called depression amongst other things is living without hope or anticipation.  It afflicts people of all ages and isn’t solely an affliction of the aged.  One of the reasons that gardening is so beneficial to the human experience is that it is based on hope, an anticipation of a tomorrow. 

Just a short drive around town proves the point.  A gaggle of dismal young people gathered on a street corner or in a city park smoking cigarettes and pot, drinking rot gut, and talking about nothing in particular, all reassuring themselves that life is barely worth living.  I see them on my way to the main library where I tutor with The Literacy Center three times a week.

Then there is some old fart up to his ankles in dirt and muck having the time of his life caring for several rows of corn or carefully tending his roses.  He has fewer years ahead of him, but he’s joyful because he has hope.  Understanding the contrast is a no-brainer.  It has to do with planting a seed.  The gardener always expects to eat the corn or smell the roses.

Gardening isn’t a rational, scientific endeavor, as are botany and horticulture.  They like facts and figures, charts and graphs, what will work and what won’t, and, especially, hierarchical classifications, all in faux Latin and Greek.  Useful, they keep gardeners from wasting time and money trying things that won’t work.  However, they’re observers and commentators on gardening, statisticians, not lovers.

Intimately involved, gardeners feel their gardens are extensions of themselves.  They feel and touch their plants, even caressing them and speaking to them.  It’s not an objective experience but an intimate one.  They relish the feeling of soil drifting through their fingers, as they plant a seed early in the spring or dig holes, full of hope that they will flower or bear fruit.  It’s an existential and spiritual experience rather than a rational scientific one because it’s a hope grounded in faith.  Faith isn’t knowledge but an assumption that breeds anticipation.  It, also, begets joy.

Martin Luther, the great theologian of the 16th century who set faith free from authoritarian repression, wrote:  “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2013


Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at and blogs at



Sunday, July 14, 2013


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (7/10/2013)


          “I bet we have one of the best compost piles in Flagstaff.”  The words were those of Nancy Branham of The Cottage Place Branham’s.  “We take all of the kitchen scraps from the restaurant for our compost pile.”  Frank and Nancy Branham are conservationists.  They collect rain water in barrels, some 550 gallons, to water their garden, harvest electricity from solar panels, and enrich their soil with their compost.  As with any great chef, Frank believes in living close to the land. 


          Years ago while an urban friend of mine was visiting me, I showed him around my garden and plucked a bright ripe red strawberry for him.  He replied, “Oh, no, thank you; I eat only processed food.” He wouldn’t have done well with Frank’s fresh salads and vegetables.  Frank even said that he didn’t use any animal manure in his compost.


          Nancy began their garden by wresting from a mute refuse of rocks and decomposed granite and sandstone a habitat fit for flowers and vegetables.  The dirt was churlish and inhospitable.  She started with a shovel.  Soon Frank added his two cents, buying Nancy a pick axe.  Then Frank became more involved and 14 yards of imported soil were added.  Nancy’s no slouch, a realtor, a professional woman who wields a pick axe and brags about her compost pile, a woman of savvy down-to-earth charm.    

      A large rain barrel stands, as an ecological sentinel, at the top of the steps leading from the street to their front door.  Once over the threshold, a row of windows beckons the eye outside where their garden begins with a view from a deck.  The view goes forever, skimming over tree tops with no hints of artificial construction to the furthest reaches of human imagination, to the mountains and beyond.


Their garden is a visionary gardener’s garden, not a landscaper’s garden, that is, it has a haphazard look until you get the genius of it.  It wasn’t designed for the eye, but rather for the tongue.  Built on a descending slope, it is a group of 12 raised beds and six hoop houses.  The first raised bed was built by Nancy out of imported soil, compost, and concrete blocks.  A large solar panel helps shade a bed of herbs and nasturtiums.  And then the other raised beds followed, filled with herbs, vegetables, edible flowers, and squash for squash blossoms, placed where ever the flow of the land allowed.  Squash blossoms are one of the seasonal delicacies at the restaurant.


          Six hoop houses jammed with heirloom tomato plants dot the slope, and even early in the season the tomato plants were loaded with tomatoes.  Frank has been known to uses walls of water inside the hoop houses.  As with any vegetable garden in Flagstaff, tomatoes are the pièce de résistance of the garden, and they are not just any old tomatoes, but heirlooms that take about 80 days to mature.


          Frank uses his tomatoes in the restaurant in three ways.  Some he roasts.  Those beyond perfectly ripe he turns into sauce and paste.  However, the most beguiling use is the Inslata Caprese, named after the Isle of Capri.  It’s a salad in which layers of sliced buffalo mozzarella cheese and tomatoes are spread across a plate and then strewn with basil leaves.  This savory mélange is then drizzled with olive oil and reduced Balsamic vinegar.  Of our five tastes of salt, sweet, bitter, sour, and savory, amongst vegetables, tomatoes are the most savory.


All of the vegetables either come from the Branham’s garden or from local farmers save for the Balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  The buffalo mozzarella is produced in-house. 


          It’s a question of whether their garden is an extension of the restaurant or the restaurant is an extension of the garden.  What’s not in question is, thanks to Nancy, that Frank is a first-rate gardener as well as a celebrated chef without a surgeon’s ego.  Gardeners tend to be pleasant, engaging people, always wanting to share.  With the Branham’s, it’s the delight that both Nancy and Frank share in their garden and by extension to their restaurant.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2013


Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun in which this article appeared 7/13/2013.  Smith emails at and blogs at