Monday, January 30, 2006


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (7/5/05)

The design of the gardens at the Tozan Tea House begins with tea, more accurately, the experience of drinking tea. First, there is the tea bowl, then the kiln to make the tea bowl, then the tea house in which to drink the tea, and the finally the garden embracing the tea house. For the Japanese, the experience of drinking tea is not just consuming a pleasant beverage, as in having a "cuppa", but an experience of rootedness and connectedness within oneself, a getting one’s bearings, a regaining of one’s temper after having lost it.

Coffee is for energy, tea for composure.

Since the tea is served in a bowl, rather than a cup, drinking tea is a two-handed experience. Unlike the cup which is kept at a distance and raised to the lips as though it were a foreign object akin to a knife or fork, drinking tea from a bowl requires that people draw the bowl to themselves, warming their hands, encompassed in the experience.

Now, to an American eye the garden at the Tozan Tea House is not yet developed, but to a Japanese eye the garden is already there in the way the land lies, the grasses, the bushes, and the trees, and, oh yes, the rocks and critters. Rather than impose a foreign, geometrical grid on the land, a Japanese design draws its form from the lay the land. Much as a wise parent rears a child, the gardener cultivates the land’s gifts, drawing out rather than an imposing upon.

The design’s purpose is lucidity. Form and economy are the means used to accomplish the lucidity. The lines of the design reflect the contours of the land, not merely replicating them, but enhancing them, using the old principle of compare and contrast, rather than duplication and contradiction.

Since Japan is a group of small, heavily populated islands, land is used economically, drawing from it, rather than replacing it. Unlike the Western experience in which land is thought inexhaustible, as in a housing subdivision in which the land is cleared and regimentally planted, the Japanese conserve the land knowing it is finite. The tea house’s garden is indigenous, the tea house and its garden reflecting the land’s contours, flora, and fauna. Instead of being a beautiful picture painted by the designer at which people look, the tea house garden is an experience.

William Temple, the late, great Archbishop of Canterbury, in his commentary of the Gospel of John wrote of lucidity, "To life steadily and to see it whole." Seeing life steadily and seeing it whole is the heart of the experience of tea at the tea house and its garden.

The garden is brain-child of Dr. Don Bendel, professor emeritus of ceramics at NAU and his alter ego, the late Yukio Yamamoto, master potter of the Tozan Kilns in Japan.

Located at the bottom of a hill just off Lonetree Road on the NAU campus, the first step into the Tozan Tea House’s garden is a few paces from the giant, wood-fired kilns where the tea bowls are fired. The garden encloses a rising path past the ceramic studio where the bowls are thrown. The path then crosses over an earthen and wooden bridge and on up to the Tozan Tea House.

Since the Tozan Tea House is set on a rise, it offers vantage from which people can see not only the trees, but also through them, and beyond them to the forest.

The lintel of one of the doors into the Tozan Tea House is low which by tradition was for the use of the samurai warriors. They could not get through the door with their swords forcing them to leave their swords outside. Similarly, a Navajo was once asked why the entrances into the hogans were so low. The Navajo replied, "So that when people enter our homes, they must kneel." Such is the tea house. No body armor. No pretenses.

The quiet experience of the garden at Tozan Tea House is necessary for lucidity. Since the garden is at peace with the land, people can be at peace with themselves and gain that lucidity to see life steadily and to see it whole.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2005

Sunday, January 29, 2006


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (7/20/05)

Beauty is often touched by tragedy, such as in the building of the Tozan Tea House and Garden. The tragedy was the death by leukemia of Aaron Macy, a promising young ceramics student at NAU who was coming of age as a potter. His father, Douglas Macy, a well-known landscape architect in Portland, Oregon, grieving his son’s death, wanted to memorialize his son with a legacy of beauty. At the suggestion of Don Bendel and Jason Hess of NAU’s ceramics department, he agreed to supervise the construction of the Tozan Tea House and Garden in his son’s memory.

With the 1989 blueprints of Hirotomi Ichikawa, the famous Japanese landscape archictect, already in hand, Douglas Macy began the cultural and horticultural translation of a tea house and garden from Japan to Flagstaff. Funded by Betty Peckard and other donors from Japan and America, the project lurched ahead over the years.

Serendipitously, Brad Blake and Phil Patterson from the NAU Research Greenhouses, discovered the project and offered their services in securing plants apropos to Flagstaff. As with any good translation, the garden’s design and plantings had to be faithful to the original as well as to the new. Now, some cognoscenti are likely to say, "Something’s going to be lost in the translation," as though there is no plant indigenous or adaptable to Northern Arizona that would quite do the trick as well as a plant native to Japan. However, often as not, something is also gained in translation. So it is with the Garden of Tozan Tea House.

One of the principles of Japanese landscaping is using plants native to the site. Thus, the Tozan Tea House Garden is not a tit-for-tat, literal translation, but rather a faithful adaptation. Happily, much of the garden’s land is undisturbed so that the garden is covered with native ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), pinyon pine (Pinus eduliis), and Gambel oak (Querius gambelii). The understory includes various penstemons and wildflowers along with native grasses, such as mutton grass (Poa fendleriana), muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillariis), and spike muhly (Muhlenbergia wrightii).

The land immediately around a Japanese tea house is planted with grass. The land around Tozan Tea House which sets atop a knob has been planted with Arizona fescue (Festuca arizonica). A hedge customarily flows in parabolic curves through the grounds of Japanese tea house garden as though to draw the eye beyond a tight defensive circle of fear and to shield it from the distractions of the huly-burly. Since hedges are not native, a hedge cotoneaster (Cotoneaster lucidus) was used. A low water plant, it hails from Siberia, Eastern Asia, and the Caucacus, a hardy horticultural immigrant for the Colorado Plateau. Finally, along Lone Tree Road a line of New Mexican Locusts (Robinia neomexicana)and Riles Roses (unknown) from the NAU campus will buffer the garden.

A good translation always begins literally, but then transcends into style. The gain for Flagstaff is not in the plants, that is, in the content, but in the style or process. Ultimately, reality is in process, not content. How a thing is said is more important than what it said. The Tozan Tea House and Garden give everyone the opportunity to see the familiar in a new and different way, to see life steadily and to see it whole, to take the parabolic curve beyond the perimeters of paranoia into the journey of freedom, to travel into the outer reaches of inner space.

The Tozan Tea House Garden is Japanese in essence in it’s form and economy, and Southwestern in it’s horticultural language. It offers the lucicidty of simplicity, as in Occam’s Razor and Robert Browning’s "less is more," remembering that profusion leads to confusion. The Garden also offers that lucidity in the beauty of the Colorado Plateau.

The Tozan Tea House and Garden are located on Lone Tree Road, south of Pine Knoll Road and the right hand side of the road.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2005

Monday, January 16, 2006


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (9/22/05)

The spice of life is closer than most of us think, as close as window sills, backyards, patios, decks, balconies, or garages. It can be in pots, planters, window boxes, tubs, plots, under grow lights, and hydroponically in water. It’s in our herb gardens.

"Variety’s the very spice of life\That gives it all its flavor" wrote William Cowper, an 18th century English poet, sometime lunatic, marginal theologian, and avid gardener. A variety of herbs spice our food from eggs to babybacks. Of course, fresh herbs are spicier than dried, commercially-packaged herbs, just as living human beings are more piquant than mummies and a lot less expensive. One of the delights of an herb garden is picking the herbs, rubbing them between our thumbs and forefingers, and savoring the aroma.

While most people don’t grow their own vegetables, they can easily grow their own herbs. As for growing herbs, there are three kinds, perennials, biennials, and annuals. As with children they are better off in separate beds in different bedrooms. Annuals mature in one season and then die. Their beds should be replenished each year with compost and other organic material to lighten the soil. Fertilizer should be used sparingly. Highly fertile soil produces excessive foliage with poor flavor.

Biennials live for two seasons, coming of age the second year. Their beds can be renewed every two years. Perennials return every year. Their beds cannot so easily be renewed. The whole bed has to be dismantled, digging up everything and replenishing the soil, and then replanted. Renewing a perennial bed is arduous and should only be undertaken every few years.

Annuals and biennials tend to be more shallowly rooted than perennials. The perennials’ roots explore the earth more deeply in search of moisture and nutrients than annuals. Annuals like moist, not wet, soil and perennials good drainage which means that the best beds, as all beds, are raised off the garden’s floor.

Most herbs come from softer climes, such as the Mediterranean Basin, which means that herbs on the Colorado Plateau like warm beds, such as beds of rocks which hold the heat during cool nights. Happily, on the Colorado Plateau there are plenty of hot rocks.

Not only are there perennials, biennials, and annuals, there are many classes of herbs, culinary, aromatic, ornamental, and medicinal. Our first concern is oft-used culinary herbs, such as the popular biennial parsley (Petroselinium crispum) and the perennial sage (Salvia officinalis).

Other commonly used culinary herbs are the perennial chives (Allium schoenoprasum), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus), oregano (Origanum vulgare), lovage (Levisticum officinale), peppermint (Mentha piperita), and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis).

Widely-used annual culinary herbs are sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum), dill (Anethum graveolens), sweet marjoram (Marorana hortensis), cilantro/coriander (Coriandrum sativum), cilantro the leaves and coriander the seeds, fennel (Foeniculum dulce), and summer savory (Satureja hortensis).

Rosemary, a tender perennial, does not winter well on the Colorado Plateau and is best potted and taken in the house when cold weather looms. Also, peppermint is a control-freak with no sense of boundaries and is best restricted in a pot. If not, for all of its aromatic and gustatory charms, it will take over and become a noxious weed.

Esthetically, herb gardens are best encased in rock gardens. Better yet, herb gardens as rock gardens are best set on slopes of land. Slopes allow for good drainage with different degrees of moisture from top to bottom. The result are gardens delighting the eye as well as the nose and palate.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2005

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (12/10/05)

Now that the spade bounces off the dirt with a ping, there’s no denying winter has set in. In addition to skiing, it means the time has come to trick Mother Nature a smidge, not so that she’d notice, but enough to plant an herb garden indoors. Some people wait for spring to plant, but with a little bit of luck we can not only get to the church on time, but also have an herb garden while ice is still on the pond. If a greenhouse isn’t available, horticultural tricks can be played on south-facing window sills. If there aren’t south-facing windows, then west-facing or east-facing will do with help from florescent and/or grow lights.

Unless there are an endless number of sunlit window sills, the first step for indoor gardening is selecting a few cherished herbs. Some cherished annuals might include sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum), dill (Anethum graveolens), coriander (Coriandrum sativum), and parsley (Petroselinum crispum). Coriander doubles with seeds (coriander) and leaves (cilantro). Fresh cilantro and parsley are relatively cheap in the market so probably aren’t worth the effort except for cilantro or parsley freaks. That leaves the pricey fresh sweet basil and dill herbs. They are best started with seeds.

Some cherished perennials are chives (Allium schoenoprasum) and mint (Mentha piperita). At first they don’t take up much space on the window sill, but mint likes to spread. Happily both can be divided. Chives are propagated either by seeds or cuttings, but mint is best by cuttings. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and sage (Salvia officinalis) are woody, requiring too much space for a sill. Both are propagated by seeds and cuttings. Cuttings are faster.

Herbs like temperatures between 55 and 70 degrees F, a nightly hazard for window sills. Next to a window pane temperatures might go below 50 degrees F. The trick is to protect them or move them away from windows at night. The daytime temperatures are best kept at 65 to 70 degrees F.

Potted herbs require good drainage or else the roots will rot, the plants wilt, and the pots stink. Avoiding this calamity means holes in the bottom of the pot along with a basin to catch the runoff. After a few minutes pour off water in the basin to avoid root rot. A good soil for drainage is part potting soil and part perlite. Herbs should be thoroughly watered when the surface of the soil is dry. Light watering often kills plants. The herbs should be fertilized with weak fish emulsion once a month. If a day is warm, letting in a little fresh air now and then helps make the herbs think they’re outside. Winters require patience. Tricked herbs grow slowly.

Most herbs require at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. The window sill has to catch as much of the sun as possible from early morning to late afternoon. Happily, the intense sunlight in Flagstaff is a plus, but again sometimes a florescent or grow light helps. Mint, rosemary, and parsley require less light and can be placed at the edges of the sill.

Pests are best treated with insecticidal soap on both sides of the leaves. The herbs can still be eaten when the insecticidal soap is washed off, but if a systemic poison is used, the result is poisoned and poisoning herbs. Culinary homicide is a big time no-no. If a plague of white flies or the like occur, dump everything in the garbage pail pronto.

Harriet Young, retired adjunct professor of political science at NAU and chair of the Coconino County Democratic Committee, sticks #2 pencils in her pots, as do the Cajuns, theorizing the cedar in the pencils offends pests, just as it does moths.

Since the air indoors during the winter is dry, a squirt bottle of water is helpful in creating humidity by misting around the herbs but not on them. Tricking Mother Nature is always tricky, and sometime fatal, but the hazards of indoor gardening are so trivial that the gustatory delights of fresh herbs make the risks worthwhile. The alternative is hunkering down until spring.

Copyright (c) Dana Prom Smith 2005
DEBBIE GROSSHAUSER, a Walking Green Thumb

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (11/9/2005)

Debbie Grosshauser’s a walking green thumb. A tall, slim, fair-skinned attractive woman with three small children, she transformed her front yard from a hole in the ground into a garden sanctuary. With occasional help from her artist husband, visiting relatives, and a rock-hauling day laborer, she developed a beckoning rock garden with a small lawn and a inviting bench.

Beginning with a bleak moonscape akin to a miniature Meteor Crater, she’s been creating her garden gradually, not creatio ex nihilo all at once, but, more dauntingly, slowly out of a contractor’s leftover antimatter. Put simply, she made lemonade out of a lemon.

Her secret is creating by evolution, not by the fiat of a pricey professional landscaper. She said, "You know, you can tell a professionally landscaped garden. It looks like all the other professionally landscaped gardens. They must all follow some kind of geometric formula rather trusting their creativity. God didn’t make geometrical landscapes." Creatively, Debbie didn’t speak and it was so. Rather, she’s been working at her garden piece by piece over several years with the result that her garden reflects her image.

She said, "As I was working away on my rock terraces, a neighbor who moved in about the same time I did came by and told me triumphantly that her garden was just about finished. I thought, ‘poor woman.’ The joy of gardening is in the gardening. Happily, it’s never finished."

Debbie’s intelligent design has evolved as her garden has evolved. In the beginning, when she and her husband moved to Flagstaff from Helena, Montana, she bought some plants at the Arboretum’s plant sale. They were still staying in a motel at the time awaiting the completion of their house. "I just wanted some beauty in that dismal mess the contractor left us." After planting her horticultural treasures, she went down into her front yard pit and found herself envisioning a terraced rock garden.

Ironically, she’s grateful for Flagstaff’s longer growing season compared to Montana’s. When she hears Flagstaff’s horticultural whiners complain about Flagstaff’s short growing season, she rolls her eyes because Helena’s is about a month shorter with ground freezing in October and thawing in June. She said, "I had such a beautiful garden there that I was anxious to make one here. I missed it’s beauty and the pleasure of gardening."

Her colorful garden has evolved as she has moved from annuals to perennials, especially water-wise perennials. She says, "Most people don’t realize the beauty and drama of drought-tolerant plants. Take, for instance, a Russian sage, it’s so bright, easy to grow, and arresting. You can’t miss it. " The myriad of flowering plants cascading down the rock terraces of her front-yard garden puts the truth to her statement.

She doesn’t mind transplanting. She said that good gardeners have to transplant for several reasons. Evolutionary gardening allows for mistakes which fiat gardening doesn’t. First of all, the plant just may not work out. "Like an eraser of a pencil, sometimes we have to admit we made a mistake. We just may find that as our gardens evolve, plants will do better and look better in different places."

Debbie is not only an evolving creator, she also collector of plants. She cruises the local nurseries, looking for new plants. As a collector, she finds the personalities of her friends in her collections, each new plant calling to mind a friend. As she tends to her garden, she is also working amongst friends.

Although her front yard was mass of rocks, she brought in more. Of course, finding rocks in Flagstaff is a cinch, but bringing more rocks into a already rocky yard is a mark of creative genius. It allowed her to develop a sense of sanctuary as she evolved her front yard from a pit into a semi-circle of cascading terraces.

At first, gaining access to her front yard sanctuary was a little rocky, but then on a visit from Texas her father-in-law pitched in and with a little concrete put in a series of rock steps down into her garden.

The one dead end creation in her evolutionary gambit was her Cro-magnon irrigation system which her father-in-law also helped put in, apparently thinking he was irrigating a field of sorghum in Texas. A Rube Goldberg contrivance of above ground hoses with sprinklers and soakers, it needs help every time she waters. Of course, as the plants grew, they blocked the sprinkler’s irrigating circumference and lost water by evaporation. From now on, she plans to irrigate with various deep percolation systems with different systems for different beds depending on the plants’s needs.

In addition to her father-in-law, her mother, Margaret, a veritable weed-picking machine and another walking green thumb, occasionally flies in from Montana to visit Debbie and her family and to help clear out the yard.

As inviting as is her front yard, Debbie wanted to make the path to her backyard also inviting. Her husband, Peter, along with her father-in-law, borrowed a truck and picked up a load of flagstone from an outfit in Ash Fork for a pittance. With the flagstone Peter is gradually making a welcoming path of stairs along the side of house down into the backyard.

A great deal of her creativity as been in identifying the various micro-climates in her yard. Her front yard faces to the southwest and it receives sun all morning long and well into the afternoon. The backyard is lower than the front with the cold sliding down into the back yard. The rock in the terraced rock garden helps warm the soil. Also, the backyard receives less sun as well as being shaded by pine trees. All of these considerations have affected the types of plants she uses in her beds and in her front yard sanctuary garden.

A graduate of the Master Gardener’s course, Debbie’s evolving garden isn’t finished by a long-shot. From her backyard deck, she sees a partially developed safe playground for her three small children and envisions beds where they can grow their own flowers and vegetables.

Beyond that, using compost and kitchen scraps to enrich the soil, she plans to develop new beds to enhance the backyard’s beauty. Also, she has far-reaching plans to develop a vegetable garden and even to raise vegetables amongst the flowers. "Why should we separate vegetables from flowers. The leaves of beets are beautiful and a bed zucchini with their lovely leaves just seems to float in the air. As a matter of fact, one of my plant friends is a zucchini."

As a gardener, rather than a being Debbie is a becoming.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2005


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D.

A touch of class, a hint of civilization, a love story, and a tragedy, these are the themes entwined in the tale of the McCormick Rose, a cutting of which graces the bottom of the steps into Old Main at the North Campus of NAU. The first McCormick Rose was brought as a cutting by Margaret Hunt McCormick, the bride of Richard McCormick, Arizona’s Second Territorial Governor, to Prescott in November 1865. A French Boursaid (rosa gallica), an ancient French hybrid, this pink rose was the first cultivated rose in Arizona.

The McCormick Rose at Old Main is the granddaughter of the grande dame original McCormick Rose. It was a cutting of the McCormick Rose at the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott which was in turn a cutting from the original rose planted by Margaret McCormick by front door of the Governor’s Mansion in Prescott. The Class of 1934 planted the third generation cutting at Old Main. As one of the three campus roses of the Alumni Rose Collection, it is also a part of the Arboretum at NAU, which will be offering rooted great granddaughter cuttings or fourth generation McCormick Roses for sale through its gift shop in the Autumn of 2005.

The McCormick Rose began its journey in Margaret McCormick’s trousseau luggage as she and Richard made their way to Arizona. First, the cutting accompanied them by steamship from New York to Jamaica and thence to Aspinwall at the Isthmus of Panama. Next, the cutting went with them overland on muleback to the Pacific Coast where they and the cutting again boarded a steamship for Acapulco. Richard and Margaret spent a couple of days touring the deserted city (the French Army had chased the Mexicans out of their city). Finally, the cutting went with them to Los Angeles.

After a few days rest in Los Angeles, they and the cutting took a stagecoach to Yuma where they boarded a steamer for a trip up the Colorado River to Ehrenburg. Then as Margaret described the last leg of the journey, it was "two ambulances, six government wagons, and two private baggage wagons" crossing the Mohave Desert to Prescott. Needless to say, the McCormick Rose has demonstrated itself a hearty cultivar and flourishes today after years of benign neglect in Prescott, at Old Main, and at Cline Library.

Prescott had barely become Prescott at the time. Before that it was a single hastily built, ramshackle log cabin on the banks of Granite Creek, called Fort Misery by John Goodwin, the First Territorial Governor. The Governor’s Mansion to which Richard McCormick brought his well-bred, well-educated, New Jersey bride was a long cabin with dirt floors and windows without glass. Happily, Margaret was the first First Lady and was given carte blanche on improvements, furnishings, and decorations. She had furniture made from pine logs.

The McCormick Rose was but a symbol of the civilization and class Margaret brought to Prescott. She transformed the rude log cabin into a frontier mansion where she made a home for Richard and herself, an office for him, and accommodations for guests. She threw levees, entertained quests, bade visitors and strangers welcome. Margaret wrote of her "own dear home" to her friend Emma in New Jersey, "We danced in the house" and "served cold roast beef & veal, pies & cakes in variety, almonds, raisins, jellies, coffee, lemonade, & wine."

A considerable horsewoman, Margaret accompanied Richard on many of his trips throughout the Territory, becoming acquainted with many of the pioneers, impressing them with her grace. Well-loved, she touched the frontier settlement with her charm.

Prescott at the time was a jumping off place for what Richard McCormick called a "terra incognita", an unknown and unmapped land, a land fit for only "daring trappers and adventuresome gold seekers." The log cabin Governor’s Mansion was a mansion only in comparison to the tents, shacks, lean-tos, and wagons making up the rest of the settlement.

In another letter to her friend Emma, she wrote that she "was never so happy in her life," and that Richard "acts much more the ‘lover’ now, than he did before we were married."

On her return from a trip with Richard to San Francisco, she gave birth to a stillborn child. Thought to have been recovering well, she suddenly lapsed into a violent sickness and died one day short of her 24th birthday. She was buried with her stillborn child in her arms in the forest near the mansion. Her grave was strewn with wildflowers.

The Prescott Arizona Miner in May 3, 1867 wrote that Margaret was "a greatly loved woman," whose death had "cast gloom over the community," adding that "no woman in the Territory was more happy."

So when is a rose a rose? When it has a story to tell.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2005

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (10/12/05)

Gardens and gardening appeal to many people for various reasons. Some like to work the soil and watch things grow. They like flowers, vegetables, herbs, trees, and bushes. They like to sniff the roses and herbs, eat ripe tomatoes off the vine, prune bushes and trees, feel well-worked soil drift through their fingers. They like physical work in pleasant surroundings.

Others not only like to work the soil, they also love of the beauty of a garden. They feel as though they are painters with a palette, limning textures and colors, designing beds and walks. For them gardening is an art in which the gardener gives voice to the mute melange of soil, water, sun, and air. For garden artists design is the heart of gardening. They appreciate the shape of a bush, the dangling tendrils of a climber, and the colors of leaves, flowers, and stems . They even cherish the rocks, their shapes, patinas, and colors.

The reason is simple. Gardens and gardening are therapeutic. They’re good for the soul. They draw the mind away from the hurly-burly of everyday life. They allow people to regain their temper for having lost it. The physical sensations of taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing beckon them to those simple pleasures of the senses. The deep purple of an eggplant, the fragrance of a rose, the songs of birds, the architecture of a tree, the shape and texture of rocks, all draw the mind away from persoal internecine conflict to the immediacy of beauty. The beauty of a garden soothes the savage breast lurking in everyone. Without it, people are often Shakespeare’s "Poor Brutus, with himself at war" who "forgets the shows of love to other men."

One of the great pleasures in life is sharing rewarding experiences with those for whom we care. Gardens offer those communal experiences. Beautiful gardens cause passersby to stop and chat and bring friends together to share their delights. Gardens bring an ease of communion.

Still others experience gardens as sanctuaries, places set aside in which the mind can not only find peace and ease but also take flight on journeys of the spirit. The curved lines of walks and foliage free the mind "cribbed, cabined, and confined" by the boxes and straight lines of society. As people embrace the discrete sensations of beauty, they often touch the fringes of eternity. The physical pleasures of the garden release the heart and mind as the garden sacramentally becomes an "outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace."

For many gardeners, gardens and gardening can become "moveable feasts" of the imagination. They can simply close their eyes, breathe deeply, and recreate in their mind’s eyes the feel of soil, the color of flowers, the shape of a branch, the aroma of life. As their spirits take wing and fly to the "uttermost parts" of the imagination, they journey into the outer reaches of inner space.

William Blake in his "Auguries of Innocence" said it best:

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

Copyright (c) Dana Prom Smith 2006

Thursday, January 12, 2006


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (1/06/05)

Sweet onions, as with Caesar’s Gaul, are divided into three parts, not by taste, but by parts of the country. Some are southern and are called short day varieties. They have the longest growing season, the shortest days, and are planted early. Some are northern and are called long day varieties. They have the shortest growing season, the longest days, and are planted later in the spring. The third group of onions is the intermediate day variety which includes most sweet onions except those suited for the deep south.

Flagstaff is smack dab within the boundaries of the intermediate day variety, but laps over into the short day and long day varieties. As with most gardening questions in Flagstaff, onions leave the high country gardener in a quandary. We can try almost any variety of onion except the deep south kind such as the Vidalia, a Georgia peach. The Walla Walla from Washington State works in Flagstaff but may not be as big and lustrous as the ones in the market. With a dollar or more a pop, smaller may be just fine. So what else is new?

The intermediate day sweet onions are all hybrids and descendants of the common onion (Allium cepa.) Our sweet onions descended from seeds of the Bermuda Hybrid onion brought to Texas from the Canary Islands in 1898. The hybrid sweet onions most suitable for the intermediate territory are the Candy Hybrid, the TX 1015-Y Supersweet H., the Cimmaron H., the Italian Red Torpedo H., the Stockton Red H., and the Walla Walla Sweet H. Bermuda onions are seldom grown commercially because of their low yield, but a Bermuda Crystal Wax H. may do well in Flagstaff.

Sweet onions aren’t sweeter than other onions. They have no more sugar content. They are less pungent because their sulphur levels are lower. For instance, the sulphur level of the soil in Vidalia, Georgia, is low. Thus, the fertilzer used in the preparation of onion beds is important.

Sweet onions can be grown from seeds, sets, and plants. Seeds are the least expensive and most unreliable with slow, sporadic growth. Sets are small onion bulbs that have been grown, harvested, and stored over the winter and then marketed in the spring. Sweet onion sets are difficult to obtain. Try haranging your local nursery.

Plants are onion transplants grown in the South in the winter, bundled in bunches of 50 to 100 plants, and shipped to garden centers in the North and West in the spring. They can be obtained from growers directly through the Internet by clicking on "sweet onions" or the name of the hybrid. They are the easiest, most reliable, and most expensive to grow. If ordering plants from the growers, the winter months are the best time to order them.

The soil for all types of onions, as with all soil suitable for vegetables, should be composted or amended with organic matter such as seasoned, vintage manure. Onions require a more fertile soil than most vegetables, and the soil should be prepared with an application of 10-10-10 or 10-20-10 balanced fertilizer. During the growing season a 21-0-0 onion fertilizer should be used. Ample water is important for all stages of growth.

The nice thing about onions is that they can be started as soon as the soil can be worked. Rather than hanging around while waiting for frost’s last icy blast, the high country gardener can plant about a month earlier than the average last frost. Onions are hardy down to 20 degrees which is good news for those who suffer the vagaries of spring temperatures in Flagstaff.

Raised beds are best for onions and just about everything else in Flagstaff. The rows should be about 10 inches apart with the plants 3 inches apart, 1 ½ inches deep. Every other one can be pulled for green onions leaving the remaining onions to mature.

Now is the time to order the plants. Plants can be ordered, to name a few, from Dixondale Farms, P. O. Box 127STK, Carrizon Springs, TX 78834, Piedmont Plant Co, P. O. Box 424, Albany, GA 31702, and Brown’s Omaha Plant Farms, P. O. Box 787. Omaha, TX 75571.

Sweet onions are easy to grow and great to taste.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2006