Thursday, September 26, 2013


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (9/11/2013)


          As I tool down the street in front of our house, I pass some lovely gardens as well as some drearily graveled yards, but the garden with which I would collide if I didn’t hang a left at a junction is a sheer delight of colors and shapes.  The flower that has intrigued me the most is a large white peony, partly because I have failed at getting my peonies to bloom for the last eleven years.  


          The garden’s the work of Kristi Baty.  I’ve seen her husband, Ace, a microbiologist who is an associate at W L Gore, doing grunt work around the yard, but the garden is Kristi’s baby.  However, the peony isn’t.  It’s her great, great grandmother’s baby.  The peony is peripatetically genealogical, traveling with familial migrations and generations from Indiana, to Wyoming, to Colorado, and finally to Flagstaff.  It’s a treasured heirloom.


          The garden isn’t Kristi’s only baby.  Along with Ace, she’s raising two teenage girls, and with degrees in cultural anthropology and elementary education she owns and operates Summit Gymnastics Academy through which 400 children pass each week on their way to better balance and health. 


          But on to her garden.  She calls it a mishmash, but it’s really a profusion of colorful plants, several of which are family heirlooms and all of which are perennials.  Her method sounds haphazard, but the result is not.  Some gardens are plotted as though they were geometric exercises, carefully laid out ahead of time on graph paper and precisely executed; however, others are the products of a vision perceived by the gardener, the details of which are seldom known at first.


These gardens unfold as the vision is gradually revealed to the gardener, something like Abraham who “went out not knowing where he was to go (Heb.11:8).”  They require a faith that the vision will ultimately be revealed, perhaps not all at once, but bit by bit.  Faith requires that the visionaries trust themselves enough to live without the certainty of knowledge.  The result is a graceful garden in which all the lines are curved, leading the eye from one space to the next as though the garden were a journey with an intriguing something around the next curve.


          Some of the journeys in the garden lead her into her history and heritage.  Unlike so many rootless people, Kristi has kept faith in her garden with her forebearers.  It is difficult to know ourselves if we don’t know from whence and whom we have come.  In short, her garden has a memory, and as she enjoys her garden, she remembers.


          If Kristi’s garden is a memory filled with ancestors, it’s also a garden filled with love.  She created a bower under some lilac bushes where their daughters, Ellie and Madigan, could hide and read, a place for children.  Off in the corner is a rock garden filled with cascading plants.  There is a patio with tables and chairs for warm weather parties and dinners, but most of all there are the flowers, tulips, daffodils, iris, gladiola, and dahlia, spread throughout beds scattered here and there in the garden.  Her favorite flowers are delphinium, daisy, phlox, sweet peas, and clematis. 


          Save for the concrete driveway and steps in the front and a small pad off the sliding glass doors in the back, there isn’t a straight line in the yard.  The reason is simple.  Straight lines are as dull as dish water and impotent as well.  A skier is all S lines as is the cocked arm of a boxer or quarter back.  Once the skier stands up straight, it’s all over.  When the punch is thrown or the ball passed, the power is spent.  Curved lines are graceful and powerful. 


          The 19th century German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, in Beyond Good and Evil writes:  “Every great philosophy has been . . . . the personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir.”  So it is with gardens.  It’s the gardener’s personal confession and memoir.  And with Kristi, it’s the personal confession and memoir of her joie de vivre.

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



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