Wednesday, September 11, 2013


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (8/23/2013)



 Karen Sorensen of Thornagers says that one of her blessings as a gardener is the horses next door.  She’s right.  Having horses next door is a big asset in gardening, especially in Flagstaff where the dirt is so inhospitably rich.  It’s rich in nutrients from all the volcanic debris scattered around the place, but inhospitable because the nutrients are unavailable to the plants.  The problem is that the soil suffers from a want of organic matter, and organic matter not only makes the dirt far more rich and friable but also hosts organisms, especially those strange creatures the botanists call “mycorrhizae.”  Mycorrhiza in the singular, it’s botanically mangled Greek with Latin endings meaning root fungus.


          Mycorrhizae are middlemen, transferring the soils’ nutrients to the plant’s roots, and without them there is no transference.  The technical definition is “a symbiotic association of a fungus and the roots of a plant,” which means they’re not really an object, like a wrench, but a relationship, a dynamic.  Unseen with the naked eye, under the microscope they’re weird looking, like that diaphanous fluff used at Halloween.  Whatever they are, they’re essential which is where the horses next door come in.  Mycorrhizae flourish in compost made of hay.

          In Karen Sorensen’s composting paradise she can use the spoiled hay, bedding, and manure and mix it with the coffee grounds and green kitchen waste for a devils’ brew of compost, and she has lots of coffee grounds and kitchen waste when she caters events.  The nitrogen in the grounds, waste, and horse urine break down the carbon in the spoiled hay and bedding, releasing all manner of botanical goodies for the garden, including mycorrhizae.


          As anyone knows who has eaten the delightful cuisine served by the staff at Thornagers, the main dining room is a splendid baronial affair with a massive fire place, but our concern is what might be called “the outback,” for want of a better term.  It’s a sunny clearing in the forest behind the dining room.  The pleasant and enjoyable surroundings of the baronial dining room and the “outback” are so lovely that they draw denizens all the way from urban Phoenix and points beyond for weddings, receptions, and “every fancy ball.”


          However, our concern is with a green house, a large hoop house, and several raised beds in the outback.  Because of the massive volume of vegetables she uses at her events, she cannot grow all of the vegetables she needs, but she knows where they come from.  So, she focuses on herbs, flowers, and some vegetables hard to find, and, as any foodie knows, herbs are the difference between “plain eats” and fine cuisine.  Something like mycorrhizae, herbs makes things happen.


          The greenhouse and hoop house are set over to the side of the outback.  However, the raised beds, bounded by logs, are scattered throughout the clearing where guests, strolling amongst the tents, sipping champagne and nibbling on canapés and crudités, can savor the beauty and aroma of the flowers and herbs.


In an age of substitutes, modifications, and fillers, authenticity is one of the rewarding experiences in eating the cuisine at the Kilted Cat.  The herbs and flowers have the finest of composted beds, thanks in part to the horses next door.  There is a world of difference between sweet basil freshly picked the morning of its use and a limp leaf which has been hanging around for days in a store after having been processed and shipped from afar.


          One of the consistent themes of modern society is replacement and substitution with the result that we become further and further removed from the natural process.  Industrially produced tomatoes whose only distinction is an astringent taste are not the same fruit as home-grown tomatoes, such as those grown in the Karen’s green house.  Also, there are Karen’s flowers in baskets, planters, and pots.  Food is as much a matter of the eye as it is the tongue.  Karen says:  “Good food starts with good, raw ingredients.”  One sure fire way to get “good, raw ingredients” is to grow them or know where the come from.   

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2013


Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun in which this article appeared 9/14/2013.  Smith emails at and blogs at


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