Wednesday, December 24, 2014


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (12/20/2014)


          Those of us with memories past yesterday may remember Sgt. Joe Friday of TV’s Dragnet say, “All we want are the facts.”  While many people may not know it, facts are what Flagstaff’s National Weather Service gathers in addition to forecasting the weather.  The facts are accurate while the forecasting, as with all predictions, is occasionally, though seldom, iffy.  Since the future doesn’t exist, it’s unknown, and forecasting is a step into the unknown, a leap of faith.  Belief isn’t an act of knowledge, but rather an act of anticipation.


Just as predicting human behavior largely relies on past behavior, so forecasting requires knowledge of the past.  The NWS’s facts are on its website  It offers all manner of statistics on Flagstaff’s climate.  It’s the “NOAA Technical Memorandum NWS WR-273 Flagstaff, Arizona (Revision 6) 2009.”

Getting the facts right is important in gardening.  Amongst the facts of gardening are soil, fertilizer, water, and climate.  This is especially true about onions, the world’s second most popular vegetable.


          The soil needed for onions is easy, friable, as in easily flowing through the gardener’s fingers.  The fertilizer is also easy.  Since onions are really a bundle of leaves, such as grass and lettuce, they need a high nitrogen fertilizer.  As for water, they need plenty of it so it’s best to grow them in trenches so that the water won’t run off but rather run down and sink in.


          The bugaboo is climate.  The word climate covers a multitude of sins, such as temperature, sunlight, snow and rain, monsoons, drought, and what-have-you.  As for onions, the issue isn’t temperatures, but sunlight, actually the hours of sunlight in a day, and this is where the NWS’s facts are not only useful but also imperative.


          One of the unpleasantries most frequently practiced by farmers, ranchers, and gardeners is whining.  It may be because they’re often the victims of the vagaries of the weather, a problem over which they have no control.  In Flagstaff, they whine mostly about the short growing season by which they mean days free of freeze and frost.  Sometimes, when it hails, they’re whining turns into cursing, a worse unpleasantry.


          Growing onions in Flagstaff isn’t limited to 90 days free of frost and freeze.  Onions depend upon the hours of sunlight in a day.  The right number of days with enough sunlight start about the Ides of March, the 15th, and this is where the National Weather Service comes in.


          Generally, there are two types of onions, short-day, which require 14-16 hours of sunlight a day, and long-day, which require about 10-12.  The 36th parallel is the demarcation line used to distinguish short-days and long-days.  The 36th parallel runs along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Flagstaff sits on the fence between short-day and long-day, horticultural mugwumps with our mugs north of the 36th and our wumps south.  So we are left with what some call “intermediate” onions. 


          The easiest and most productive onions to plant are onion sets    

which are really immature onion bulbs.  Seeds

are chancy.  The sets can be

purchased locally or on-line, such as Brown’s of

Omaha at   Plant

them about one inch deep and five inches apart. If spring onions are desired, plant

them three inches apart pulling every other one in the spring.


Some of the “intermediate” sweet onions are TX 1015-Y, Super Sweet, and the long-day Walla Walla which does well for the “intermediates.”  If loneliness is not a disadvantage, sweet onions can be eaten raw, like an apple, carrot, or tomato, once the outer leaves and dirt have been removed.  


          Heroically compiled by Mike Staudemaier, Jr., Reginald Preston, and Paul Sorenson of the National Weather Service, the memorandum sets out on page 70 the exact facts on hours of sunlight in Flagstaff for every day of the year.  This is where a gardener can find March 15 for “intermediate” onions.  It also may mean planting onions sets in the dank and drear of mid-March with cold-numbed fingers in frigid mud mixed with left-over snow.  But what the hell?  It means extending the growing season by three months.  No pain, no gain.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2014

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


Monday, October 27, 2014


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (10/20/2014)

          Sitting with Pam Neises on her front porch, we weren’t only looking at her front yard, we were also enveloped in its beauty.  We weren’t observing.  We were experiencing.  When I returned home, I realized that the garden reminded me of Van Gogh’s “Ladies of Arles.”  There was a low gracefully curved wall running along the left side of the yard, and above the wall a bounty of colorful flowers and grasses, filled with Van Gogh’s “no blue without yellow and without orange.”


The curves of the wall and the textures of the plants and bricks all drew one into the experience of the garden.  Neises may have had such an experience in mind when she designed her front yard, factoring in spaces, colors, heights, and textures.  As she said, “It was all in my head” before she began sculpting it.  It is a work of art, as it should be, because Pam is by profession an interior designer and by avocation a landscape designer.  In college she majored in interior design with a minor in art history.


          But more than that, she’s a “hands on” gardener, inheriting from her mother a love of gardening.  As well as having the “eye” of an artist, she gardens with her back and hands.  She and her son, Chase, did all of the heavy lifting, and the soil has flowed through her fingers.  As with experienced gardeners, she understands the value of perennials.


But more than a work of art, her garden is a therapeutic experience.  She said, “The garden is my de-stresser,” as it often is for gardeners, and what better way to make a garden a de-stresser than to make it an experience in which one is drawn by the colors, shapes, and textures.  We release our stresses when we are drawn out of ourselves, such as petting a dog, enveloping our selves in music, experiencing a garden.  She has created such an experience with her garden.


          The eye is drawn along that long, curving wall holding back its masses of grasses and flowers, its greens, blues, yellows, and oranges, to a stand of trees, pines, maples and aspens, shielding the garden from the world, creating a haven of peace.  Secluded with a steep bank on the left, maples and pines in the front, a fence on the right, her front lawn is spread out as though it were a meadow, a meadow of thyme and grass.  Her front yard is an experience akin to being cradled in God’s arms.   


As with most of us, she has divided her garden in two parts, the front yard and the back.  Her back yard is for her dogs, two Australian shepherds, and her front yard is for her.  She has designed the back yard for the dogs, a safe place for them to play, sleep, and eat, and a place, as well, for her to take care of them and pick up after them. 

From her front porch as well as her kitchen window, her front yard is for her an experience in which she can touch base with herself and renew herself.   When she returns home from work and looks out the kitchen window, she is drawn into the private world of her garden, something akin to Claude Monet’s water lilies.


A garden has many purposes but paramount amongst them is tranquility.  It is difficult to imagine a calling more stressing in itself than that of an interior designer with all of the competing calls of the designer’s knowledge and sense of good taste and the customer’s desires.  It is a job that would require immense emotional stamina and a place where the designer could find herself again.


Her garden’s not only a spring through autumn garden, it’s also December garden.  She decorates her front yard much as most people decorate their living rooms at Christmas with large colorful balls hanging from those maples, pines, and aspens.  Ironically, she transforms her private haven into a community celebration.


Driving past her front yard any time of the year is slightly hazardous.  The impulse is to take one’s eyes off the road.   

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith

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





Saturday, October 11, 2014


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (10/8/2014)


          The other day a woman tried to comfort another woman who had lost her teenage son in a traffic accident by saying, “He’s in a better place now.”   Ever so slightly, the grieving woman pulled away and fell, sobbing, into the arms of a gruff-looking, burly man who had lost his wife of forty years to cancer.  He said nothing at all while he softly cried and gently stroked her back and shoulders, sharing her grief.  She was in one of those “dark places” where, as Saint Paul said, “our sighs are too deep for words.”

Life is full of dark places, empty places, where things don’t make sense.   When the absurdity is writ large, it’s called a tragedy, and we cry.  When it’s writ small, it’s humor, and we laugh.  Death is certainly one of those experiences that don’t make any sense at all, absurdities writ large.  For almost of all us death is a tragedy when there is nothing to say.  Knowledge doesn’t stand us in good stead.  Faith is what allows us to abide when there are no answers.


Of our nine to twelve emotions, depending on how they’re counted, surely fear, grief, and humiliation are the worst to bear.  The thrust of these emotions is inward, and they’re negative and debilitating.  Sometimes words of advice can ameliorate the stings of humiliation and fear, but for grief there are no words.  Grief is the emotion without answers.  Only those who want to avoid their own grief distance themselves with platitudes and empty words.  To sympathize one must touch his or her personal grief, and since it is so painful, many resort to platitudes.


This is one of the reasons why we love dogs.  They sense our emotions, sidling up to us, letting us pet them as though they were absorbing our pain, giving us a sense of relief.  One can feel the stress ease while stroking the back of a dog or feeling the muzzle with its wet nose brush our hand.


Years ago after I returned home from a triple by-pass, open heart, operation, for the first time in my life, I felt fragile.  Our dog, Roxie, was offended by the residual odor of the hospital still clinging to me and kept her distance.  After a few hours, she overcame the offensive hospital odor and lay down beside me, nuzzling me with her cold, wet nose, as if to say, “I’m here.”  I sighed a sigh of relief.   


Touch is the fundamental way we communicate with one another.  The communication begins in our mother’s arms and at her breasts.  Both children and animals wither without touch, and part of the sorrow of touch nowadays is that it is so disused in our cyber and digital age.  We actually believe that an email is enough.  A hug is far better than “how ya doin?”


Releasing the stresses of grief through sharing our pain with others who’ve touched their own grief is the beginning of renewal.  There is never “closure” on grief.  Only fools think that.  Its sting may lessen with time, but there is no closure.


One of the elemental qualities of a garden is releasing the pain of our grief.  Jesus repaired to the garden at Gethsemane as he faced the grief of his coming death.  A garden is a matter of life and death, how plants come to die, and how they are reborn out of their deaths.


A garden begins with touch, the feel of the soil, the texture of the plants, holding life in our hands and an overwhelming sensory experience of seeing the colors and shapes.  Then there are the scents of life, hearing the rustling of leaves and twigs, and tasting the fresh fruits and vegetables.  The feel of a garden is closely akin to the embrace of someone else who shares our grief.  In the midst of death there are signs of renewal and life in the embrace of someone who in touching their own grief has touched ours.

Albert Camus wrote:  “In the depth of my winters I finally learned that there was in me an invulnerable summer.”

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2014

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




Thursday, October 09, 2014


 Dana Prom Smith


          In early spring when the stunning white of the snowdrifts gives way to patches of mud and dirty snow, bright, cheery daffodils are amongst the first to bring the promised beauty of spring.  The bearded irises are next.  One of the most complex and beautiful flowers ever to grace a garden, the word “iris” is a Greek word meaning “rainbow,” “halo,” or “messenger of the gods.”  The plural in Greek is irides from which we get the word iridescent.  John of the Apocalypse writes:  “Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire (10:1).” 


Irises are both tough and beautiful.  Tough means they’re hardy, but it doesn’t mean they can be neglected.  They need care, such as nutrients and bedding, and if cared-for well, they will return the care with a nonpareil beauty.  Care begins with bedding.  The makings of good bedding are aplenty in the high country, clay, cinders, and compost.


          If a gardener is clay, add cinders, and if cinders, add clay.  Irises like a soft, friable bed.  They also like lots of compost.  The best bed has good drainage because they don’t like it soggy.  But who does?  Irises will tend to rot if swamped out.


          With irises it’s important to start out well because unlike annuals the beds can’t be enriched with compost each year.  Those rhizomes are going to be stuck in that bed for several years.  One of the big items in caring for irises is giving them a low nitrogen and high phosphate fertilizer (6-10-10) six weeks before they bloom and right after they bloom and super-phosphate or bone meal (0-10-10) in the fall.  Since irises are all root, they need phosphorus to promote root development.  With too much nitrogen, as in lawn fertilizer, they will tend to rot.


          Irises do best in a sunny location with at least six hours of sunlight a day.  As far as water is concerned, they’re a xeriscaper’s dream.  In the high country, they need water when they’re planted until the new center leaves appear.  During dry spells, they’re best watered every 3 to 4 weeks, and again in the spring before blooming.  Also, they’re best mulched before the snows of winter with the mulch removed after the last hard frost.


          The best time to plant iris rhizomes in the high country is in the early fall, giving them enough time to get their roots established before the winter freeze comes.  After the soil has been enriched, make a shallow hole in the soil about twice the size of the rhizome with a small mound of soil in the center.  Put the rhizome on top while draping the roots down the sides of the mound.  In Flagstaff because of our cold winters, the soil should slightly cover the rhizome.  Do not plant them deep.


          Irises can be attractively planted in groups of three throughout a yard, 12” apart, with the toes pointing inward in a triangle.  If planted in rows, all the toes should point in the same direction to avoid crowding, spaced 18” apart.  Remember to keep the soil in which the rhizomes are planted moist for two or three weeks until the first news leaves appear.


          After blooming, the stalks on which the flowers appear are best removed, not to drain energy from the plant.  Every three to four years, irises should be replanted to prevent overcrowding and to encourage renewing.  This is generally best done a month or so after blooming.  Clumps can be renewed by removing the old center of the clump or by digging up the entire clump and removing the old plant and replanting the newer rhizomes with the fans attached.


          Irises come in many sizes for many tastes.  The tall bearded irises when planted in a circle or triangle appear as though they were a lush aureole of exotic colors hovering above the garden betraying their name “rainbow” or “halo.”  When studied, one can even hear the messengers of the gods.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2014

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






Thursday, September 25, 2014


As Told to the Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (9/24/2014)


          By way of introduction, my name is cut leaf viper’s grass or, if you’re given to formalities, Scorzonera laciniata.  My formal name probably comes from the Italian, scorzone, meaning “venomous snake,” and laciniata, meaning “fringed.”  However, I’m definitely no “fringed venomous snake.”  I’m easily mistaken for a dandelion.  I picked up the venomous snake nonsense because my roots were once used in Italy as a remedy for snake bite.


          Many think that I’m a recent visitor to the high country, but I’ve been here all along, unnoticed, because I look a lot like some other Scorzonerae, such as black salsify (Scorzonera hispanica.)  Black salsify is grown in Europe as a vegetable, its black roots are said to taste like oysters as if that were desirable.  Ugh!


          At any rate, Jan Busco introduced me to Dana Smith when he toured the SLLUG Garden at NAU.  I understand he’s always had an eye for pretty women.  His mother outed him as a heterosexual in 1940 when he was thirteen, having caught him squirreling away his big brother’s girlie magazine.  All you have to do is take a gander at his wife, Gretchen, to know that he likes bright, shiningly beautiful women.  I think I caught his eye what with my beautiful bright, yellow hair.  He’s not drawn to the grey and beige, but then who is?  Why camouflage yourself like a mouse?  He thinks lots of men are grey and beige because they’re in hiding while grubbing for money.  He has a quaint phrase for them, “greedy bastards.”


          Jan told him I was a weed, but she hesitated to pluck me because I was useful, giving pollen to the bees and seeds to small birds, both of which are necessary for the garden.  I was surprised when Jan called me a weed.  Dana asked Jan why she thought I was a weed.  She said, “Exotic,” which means that I’m not native to the high country.  It’s not a botanical term for “pole dancer.”


          I must say that although Jan didn’t pluck me for which I am grateful, I resent the term “weed” and especially the word “exotic” because when I hear the word “weed,” I think of destructive plants, such as, cheat grass (Bromus tectorum.)  Now, there’s a really bad customer, masquerading as oats, that’s what Fromus means, using up all the moisture, drying up fast and creating fire hazards, and shoving out the natives, kind of like a foreign aggressor, maybe a communist.  Just say “No” to cheat grass” and pluck it when you see it, especially in the spring when it first pops its ugly heads.  It’s given a bad name to weeds.  It’s almost taken over the state of Nevada which isn’t surprising.


          Also, I resent the word “exotic” because it implies “bumps and grinds.”  Certainly, those botanical types could’ve found a better word.  One wonders where their minds were, probably not where they should’ve been.


          One of my favorite hangouts is what the “in crowd” calls disturbed soil, hardly a place where exotics ply their seductive wiles.  My favorite is the gravel on the side of railroad beds and beside highways because there I can shine.  While not quite as pretty as a dandelion, I’m still very attractive with my yellow hair, and then when I go to seed, I turn into a puff ball and scatter my beauty through the land carried by the winds.


          My point’s simple.  I don’t cause much of a problem, not like the havoc caused by the Dalmatian toadflax, a snapdragon wannabe, trying to fake it as a flower, meanwhile shoving all the natives out like some kind of jihadist.  Now, the snapdragon stands upright and produces lots of flowers while the Dalmatian toadflax sprawls like an ungainly, spaced-out, unkempt adolescent.  If you see them, pluck them out straight away.


          I’m told that a weed is an unwanted wild plant.  Cheat grass and Dalmatian toadflax are weeds, but they sure ain’t exotic.  Even though you might not want me in your yard, I’d like to be left alone beside the railroad tracks and highways.  I’m fed up with being unwanted.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith (2014)


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

Thursday, August 28, 2014


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (8/28/2014


          The SSLUG garden at NAU meanders down a draw between a parking lot and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and then pausing for a moment, it makes a left turn down a deep descent to a pleasant greensward bordering McConnell Drive.  At the pause is a shelter with several benches for outdoor meetings and rest.  In its descent it passes between the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the College of Business Administration.


A deft example of redeeming wasted space, with the blessing of the university the garden was created by a group of students led by Ian Dixon-McDonald to bring forth wealth out of detrital poverty.  Paradoxically, artichokes thrive next to pumpkins while nourishing their differences in the same soil.  Also, the garden is productive without profit while renewing the land.  In short, the SSLUG garden is a statement.


          The garden’s name is one of those artificially contrived acronyms in favor nowadays.  It is Students for Sustainable Living and Urban Gardening.  Slugs are garden pests found in warmer climes, but never mind, this is a college garden.


          The buildings for the two colleges are handsomely nondescript.   Straight lined, they reflect the academic attempt rationally to understand the irrational, that is, human behavior.   


The garden’s not rational.  Like Topsy in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it “just growed.”  It wasn’t designed.  It evolved out of a vision by students who understood that education if just cerebral is incomplete without engaging gardening and the land.  At first glance the garden starts at the top, but it grew from the bottom, gradually climbing up the wasted slopes, reclaiming them as it went. 


The SSLUG garden in many ways is a return to the primitive farming methods of composting, plowing leftover organic matter back into the ground.  Along with that it is a rejection of modern industrial fertilizers and pesticides in favor of the organic.


At the very top of the garden are the composting bins, apparently made out of scrap lumber, scrounged from somewhere around the university, but then again compost bins are seldom gleamingly straight lined. 


All through the garden, even up on balconies, are various tanks and containers in which rainwater is saved for use in the garden.  Composting and saving rainwater are a part of the sustainability which is better called renewal because we are all playing “catch up” rather than sustaining.


There is no apparent design to the hundreds of small beds nurtured by the various students or to the bizarre juxtaposition types of plants.  It appears haphazard to the eye, but useful to the gardeners who want to grow the fruit, vegetables, and flowers.  In short, it makes sense to anyone connected to the land.  Designer gardens are tidy.  Productive gardens aren’t.  Practicality is as much a test for truth as is coherence. 


          Jan Busco, the current COG (Campus Organic Gardener), oversees and manages the garden.  She knows more about gardening in the high country than anyone else I have ever met, and added to that, like the land, she nourishes plants and humans with a smile that envelopes the whole of her face.  If anyone craves an interesting, ironic, funny conversation, she’s the person to go to.  She’s a beauty in jeans. 


She pointed out several examples of a slick use of the military tactic of diversion, planting a strong plant or weed next to a weaker plant so as to draw predators away.  A large purple amaranth with several holes dotting its leaves sat cheek by jowl with some fragile lettuce.  An unwanted cut-leaf viper grass gave pollen to the bees and seeds for small birds.


          As we passed a couple of purple artichoke plants, she noticed that one of the artichokes had been picked.  She said, “One of the reassuring things about the garden is the gardeners.  They never take more than they need.  They always leave something for someone else.”


          When so many are on hell-bound drives for success, what better words to describe the garden than that “they always leave something for someone else.”  The SSLUGGERS are not only sustaining the earth but also one another.  Talk about quality!

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2014

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







Saturday, August 09, 2014


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (8/9/2014)

          On a cold, wind-swept, winter’s day in the parking lot of Dillard’s, Mike Frankel, the general guru and factotum of the Artists’ Coalition, along with his dog, Satchel, a pit bull mix, asked me for a favor.  He said that the Artist’s Coalition was thinking of sponsoring a tour of several gardens.  Putting his hand on my shoulder as Satchel sidled up to me, leaning against my calf, he said, “Hey, Dana, would you be willing for your garden to be a part of the tour.”  As a member of the Artists’ Coalition, meine Űberfrau nodded, and I replied, “Sure.  I don’t see why not.”  Little did I know.


          I heard nothing for a long time, and then Colleen Tucker, a member of the Artists’ Coalition and a Master Gardener, asked me again, this time saying that the tour would be sponsored by the Coalition, the Master Gardeners’ Association, and Viola’s.  Once again, I innocently said that I would.

          The tour itself was a delight.  On a Saturday from 11:00 to 4:00 about 250 to 300 people roamed through our front and back yards.  Nothing was pulled up or stamped on.  No one was untoward.  Everyone was well-behaved.  Our dogs, Katrina and Petite, stayed upstairs, out of the way and held it in until the last couple left.  As Colleen Tucker said, “The people were mellow.”  I have never been amongst such as pleasant and warm-hearted group of people as those with whom Gretchen and I shared our garden.  We compared notes on gardening, failures, successes, and bafflements.  In spite of being an old introverted curmudgeonly Calvinist, I enjoyed everyone.  Meine Űberfrau said to me afterwards, “See, I told you that you’d have a good time.”

          Years ago while standing in a bait shop at Convict Lake, California, at the end of fishing season and the beginning of deer hunting season, the place was a mix of fisherman and hunters.  What a contrast of personality types!  The hunters were more on edge, aggressive and the fishermen easy going, laid back.


          Gardeners are much like fisherman, save for the fact that they don’t spin elaborations on the truth.  Of course, some tomateers tend to brag too much about the early date and size of their tomatoes, but they can be forgiven that since growing tomatoes is an intense love affair betwixt the gardener and the tomato plant.  Worse yet, it is always fraught with the possibility of heartbreak so that tomateers are always on the edge of grief.  Carrots and beans don’t promise the possibility of catastrophe.


          While in the army as a young man, I was a Sergeant/Major in a unit of hunters.  We hunted human beings, such as saboteurs, deserters, and criminals, usually with the admonition of bringing them back alive.  It was called counter-intelligence.  We had the aggressive mentality of conquest, of getting someone.  Not so with fishermen and gardeners.  Fishermen engage in a battle of wits with the wily trout, and it says something about human intelligence the frequency with which the trout wins.


          Gardeners are not in a fight with anything or anyone, save malicious bugs.  Gardeners are cooperating with God’s creation.   Instead of referring to God’s creation, some people call creation by the word “nature,” but that’s like thanking your mother-in-law for your wife.

          The fact is that gardeners are fuguing on God’s themes embedded in the creation.  They’re not conquering or mastering it, much less destroying it.  They’re elaborating.  This fact shapes their personalities.  They are a happier lot.

          Getting ready to welcome the gardeners meant time and money spiffying up the joint.  Also, we called in two friends, Freddi Steele and Tam Nguyen, to help as hosts.  They were indispensably gracious.  It was something like getting ready for a big party.  The place had to be cleaned up, weeds pulled, everything trimmed and fertilized, new gravel put down, and what-have-you.  It was quite an undertaking, but it was worth it.  The party was successful, especially with such guests.  They were not only mellow, they were enjoyable.  As a place to meet people, I’ll take a group of gardeners, like the Master Gardeners, any day over habitués swilling at a bar.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2014

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








Wednesday, July 23, 2014


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (7/21/2014)

        After spying aphids on my red elderberry, I took my nozzled hose to blast them with a merciless torrent of water.  As I was making sure to aim at the underside of the leaves, our Legislature and Governor came to mind.  The aphids had attacked the tender new leaves, not from the top of the leaves where they can easily be seen, but on the underside, hidden from the eye.  A Superior Court in Phoenix had just ordered the Legislature and Governor to pay revenue to the public schools in Arizona that they had for years quietly diverted to their own pet projects.  They are naturally squeaking and jibbering as though they had been caught with their snouts in the public trough.


          The aphids were covertly attacking my red elderberry at its new growth, certainly trying to stunt it and eventually even destroy it.  By taking money the voters had taxed themselves for education and siphoning it off for their pet projects, the Legislature and the Governor   were stunting the growing edge of our society, the public schools, by sucking the sap of education.  They’ve been engaged in such shenanigans for a long time, gradually reducing support for our three universities and community colleges, slowing sucking the sap from the new growth of our society.

          As with aphids, they hide on the underside to suck away at the juices of society.  Finding aphids on one’s plants, bushes, trees leads to a feeling of an impotent rage at these parasites who are surreptitiously trying to destroy a garden.  If the aphids get the upperhand, then a garden’s future is dismal.


          If repeated and frequent blasts of water don’t work, then insecticidal soap is the ammunition to use.  Just spraying the infected plants won’t do.  One has to get down and spray upward to get the underside of the leaves.  More often than not, the gardener gets a good soaking, too.  A little soap never hurt anyone.  This is one reason not to use a poisonous spray for fear of afflicting oneself.  The other reason is that it’s not too bright to use poison because it kills everything, the good and the bad.  Also, it’s best in a fight never to become that which one despises.  The aim is to get at the underhanded and hidden, one might even say, the closeted malaise in the garden.

          One of the disquieting aspects of gardening is that the battle against aphids and white flies is never over.  As in defense of our freedom, one must be eternally vigilant.  Sad but true, gardeners must always be on the prowl to check out the undersides of their gardens if they want to enjoy their beauty and bounty.  In gardening as in politics, it pays to snoop.


          We have friends in this battle of the undersides, lady bugs and green lacewings, to name a few.  Lady bugs, which incidentally were named after the Virgin Mary, can be purchased at commercial nurseries and let loose in the evenings to devour both the aphids and white flies.  Happily, both the lady bug itself and its larvae find aphids and white flies particularly tasty.

          Green lacewings can be purchased either as larvae or as mature insects and hung out in the garden to destroy aphids and white flies.  Generally, they are sold in thousand insect lots.


          Also, an astute move is to develop gardens friendly to ladybugs and green lacewings.  Dill, yellow yarrow, coriander, cosmos, and Queen Anne’s lace are a few of the plants favored by both of them.  To the contrary, zinnias and nasturtiums are seemingly offensive to the aphids and white flies.


          Sometimes, gardeners and citizens lose a skirmish, but that’s no reason to give up the battle.  Particularly in household plants, a white fly infestation in dangerous because unless thwarted they can take over the whole house.  If a plant is badly infected, the best thing to do is throw it out encased in a plastic bag and put in the garbage can and sent to Environmental Services.  As with all things, it’s important to know when to keep and when to throw out.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2014

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