The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (8/13/2013)
I met my plumber’s wife, Lanie Criner, about ten years ago when I called her husband, Dennis, to repair a leaking pipe. She accompanied him, carrying several buckets of plumber’s tools, as he wended his way through our garage. Dennis is a big guy with blue eyes that look straight at you, letting you know that what you see is what you get. Lanie is petite, but not delicate, strong, a woman full of life and love. As Dennis wrestled with the leaking pipe, she handed him tools as he asked for them, something like a surgical nurse handing instruments to a surgeon.
After Dennis repaired the pipe, he introduced Lanie as his wife and began telling us of the history of their relationship. While a bachelor, he had regularly eaten at her restaurant, My Thai Kitchen, and had enjoyed long conversations at the restaurant with her husband, Walt. After her husband died, Dennis began working as a part time waiter in the evenings. Subsequently, they married, and now work together as a team in their plumbing business, Good Neighbor Plumbing Company.
After several visits to fix leaking pipes, Dennis told us about Lanie’s gardens, showing us several photographs. Later, I visited them and her gardens. Dennis proudly showed me a two page note left anonymously at their door. The first page was drawings of flowers and a greeting, “Dear Garden Lady.” The second page read, “Whenever I walk past you house, your garden is very pretty, and it makes me smile. I just wanted you to know that it is a lovely garden. Have a good day.”
And a lovely garden it is. Their house sits high above the street on a plateau so that the front garden is a series of tiers, rising from the street to the plateau. The soil is rich. The plantings are random, not chaotic, but random. Many gardeners follow the French model with geometrical gardens, following the rationalism of René Descartes, the 17th century French mathematician and philosopher.
Lanie’s front garden isn’t Cartesian with precise patterns, but rather beckoning, resembling the patterns of nature. The effect is that of an organic union, much like a meadow of flowers. When Lanie finds a flower she particularly likes, she finds a place for it. One can see why a passerby left the note. Her front garden would cause a walker to pause, take in the beauty, and then sigh, feeling better for having feasted on the sights, textures, and aromas of her garden.
All of this brings us to rationalism and gardening. Botanists are rationalists and orderly, and they need to be. Gardeners are romantics and sometimes a little off-hand because life and gardens aren’t tidy.
Dennis’ work in the garden is to build the block walls for the terraces and raised beds which he seems to be delighted to do. A sign of a good marriage is where the husband and wife are happy fostering their partner’s delights.
The plateau on which the house sits is host to a series of isolated beds. Two of the beds are dahlias which Lanie triumphantly announced stay the winter in their beds without being dug up in the fall, stored during the winter, and replanted in the spring. This is an accomplishment worth noting. The dahlias are lush, bold, and bountiful which is proof of the pudding.
There are some apple and peach trees which produce fruit about every ten years which is SOP for
errant spring times. Gardeners who plant
stone fruit trees in Flagstaff
are both stubborn and hopeful. Flagstaff
And then there is a vegetable garden where everything is rational with straight rows, bursting with good things to eat. One test of a garden is that it is refreshing to the eye and rewarding to the palate.
Lanie comes by her gardening honestly. Raised on a farm near
in the Philippine Islands,
she learned gardening from her grandmother who raised 12 children and lived to
be 110. Preferring to run rather than
walk, Lanie possesses the strength of ten and as with people raised close to
the soil, her hand is magical in the garden.
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2013Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the