Thursday, March 27, 2008


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (3/27/08)

Loni Shapiro is a serious human being, not that she doesn’t have a sense of humor which she does, but that she wants to make her life count. In the language of the Book of Common Prayer, she wants to make the world richer for her presence.

Making the world richer requires gumption. Happily, she comes from sturdy stock. Her grandfather, a German immigrant, farmed in Minnesota and Northern Illinois, and it was from him and her mother that she learned to garden and love gardening. However, it was during her years in San Francisco where she met her husband that she learned to love gardening in containers, yards in San Francisco being too pricey for the type of gardening she learned back in Libertyville on the Illinois prairie.

Also, in San Francisco she learned her other focus in life as an occupational therapist, and throughout her life she has fused the two, gardening and occupational therapy, into a life’s commitment. This is her serious, no-nonsense side, the other being a wit and a raconteur. Her life as a therapist has richly endowed her with a treasure trove of stories she has learned from the people with whom she has worked, particularly the elderly. As she says, “They’re the ones with the stories to tell.”

She tells the story of a woman in her nineties, who emigrated from Poland when she was nine, talking about the Russian invaders who took their food and livestock and the German invaders who took their tools and implements. And then there was an old sailor, also in his nineties, who was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, “the date which will live in infamy,” with stories to tell. The historians call it “living history.” There is nothing comparable to talking to the people who were there.

Between San Francisco and Flagstaff, she lived and practiced as an occupational therapist in Eugene, Oregon, where gardening “was plant it and it grew.” Sadly, what’s good for gardening is hard on allergies and so the move to Flagstaff where it’s good for allergies and hard on gardening.

After moving to Flagstaff, she became one of the early Master Gardeners, working at the Arboretum as a volunteer Master Gardener and eventually in the green houses in the winter and a docent giving guided tours in the spring and summer.

A tall, slim, attractive woman with a commanding presence, she is amongst other things, the coordinator of the gardens at the Olivia White Hospice. Beginning as Laura Davis’ assistant, she became the head honcho when Laura moved to Tucson, accomplishing with her many colleagues one of the most attractive gardens in Flagstaff. As she did, she also involved many of the residents at Olivia White Hospice in the gardens and gardening.

Her task as the coordinator of the gardens involves recruiting gardeners and craftsmen to help with the gardens, cadging materials out of many donors, organizing the platoons of gardeners, and throwing an annual tea and tour. And for this she gets no pay. As was said before, she likes to make her life count.

One of the garden’s highlights is its rose garden, a significant achievement in Flagstaff. As most gardeners know, roses, like tomatoes, are difficult to grow but rewarding. Just as the beauty and aroma of roses are incomparable, so are the tastes of tomatoes just off the vine. When asked about her secret for growing roses in Flagstaff, she replied, “Canadians, Canadian roses.” It turns out that Siberian tomatoes and Canadian roses are a good fit for Flagstaff.

As for the roses, she mentioned Griffin Buck at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, who’s developed cold hardy roses and High Country Roses, Jensen, Utah, which has both cold hardy and drought tolerant roses. She’s also been helped by local rose gardeners, Terry Schick, Marion Lopez, and Hattie Braun.

As with the military, she always needs new recruits, both male and female, for the Olivia White Hospice Gardens and is having on orientation on April 29. It’s a good way to learn about gardening in Flagstaff, hang out with some really nice people, and make the world richer for one’s presence. Fur more information email Loni at

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2008

Saturday, March 22, 2008


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

“The more you study mankind, the more you discover every man is playing a part,” so wrote Richard Mansfield, the great American actor at the turn of the 20th century. Of course, he was echoing Shakespeare’s As You Like It, but with a twist. Shakespeare wrote about the various stages of life through which everyone progresses while Mansfield meant the personalities we develop as we cope with life’s vicissitudes, the parts we play. The psychotherapists call them “presenting personalities,” the masks or dramatis personae with which we face others, the personalities we begin developing when we first become aware of others.

As mothers know, children begin with types of personality, what might be called temperaments, qualities of personality, but those temperaments are affected as the child develops and begins coping with life’s demands. “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.” Everyone starts out as a twig but is bent on the way to maturity, often by which way the wind blows. The plant that grows well in Flagstaff will be differently bent if set beside the sea. So it is with a garden and its plants. Every plant has a temperament, but depending on its environment it develops a unique style, even in a garden’s microclimates as in a family’s order of birth.

Selecting trees, shrubs, plants, flowers, and vegetables is
something like choosing the types of people we want around us, a kind of horticultural family. Sometimes, they are an aide-mémoire, a memorandum of things past, which invariably brings to mind personal relationships out of the past. A geranium may bring to mind many remembrances of things past, a mother on a Middle Western winter’s day baking a birthday cake, the blue ribbons a father won for his geraniums at the county fair.

But our horticultural families are more than remembrances, they are reflections of the gardeners. Just as we are reflected in the friends we choose, so we are reflected in the plants we choose. Neglected yards reveal people who’ve been neglected and have neglected themselves. Ugly yards signify emotionally distorted people animated by repressed rage. The happy face of a pansy more than likely reveals the joy of the gardener. Pumpkins often reveal gardeners who relish their children.

Everyone has their favorite trees, bringing to mind images of colorful change, comfortable shade, and enduring stability. While the ponderosa pines bring to mind strong sentinels capable of enduring harsh climates, solid and enduring, akin to those strong, reliable friends or relatives who’ve held things together when nearly everyone else fell apart. Sometimes remote, always dependable, yet with the poignant awareness of the bark beetle, they are felled by the silent killer who can destroy even the strongest. A dead ponderosa standing silently in the forest is a poignant testimony life’s fragility, the fragility of the strongest.

How different are the images of the quaking aspen with its vertical limbs and the colorful maple with its great spreading limbs, one pointing, the other sheltering, one golden, the other red. As with of timbre of human voices, each one of these trees has its own voice in the breezes and winds, some whistling, some fluttering, some rustling. All the different voices evoke in us different emotions, sometimes recalling long-forgotten experiences.

Choosing a tree is like choosing a friend, only trees, like dogs, don’t disappoint us if we take care of them. The maple will shade us whether or not we are in a foul mood. The aspen will always be elegantly slim, a tree reliably attractive with which to grace a yard even though we may have turned sour. In short, trees have a sense of continuity. The word “treeless” sounds forlorn, “in full leaf” abundant.

Daffodils and tulips peter out too soon and leave the gardener with sere, flaccid remains, but after a winter grim in the early spring “daffodils,” as Shakespeare wrote, “come before the swallow dares, and take the winds of March with beauty.” They are always there, require little attention, and give the gift of cheer and beauty before anyone else as arisen from winter’s sleep, good friends although their time is short-lived. For the “cabined, cribbed, confined,” they beckon for a stroll on a crisp, clean, crystalline day in the spring.

And tomatoes, who would not welcome their cheery, round, red faces, hiding amidst the foliage, like small children peeking out from behind the curtains? Unlike the daffodils and the elegant bearded iris, tomatoes takes lots of attention, are easily offended, and sometimes inexplicably wilt away, but in the moment, as the existentialists would say, they are a moment of truth.

Ultimately, as any gardener knows, at the heart of gardening is a sense of beauty, and with that sense there is always a sense of fragility which underlies all beauty. Involved as they are in dirt, gardeners live with a sense of the surpassing mystery of beauty and with that Rudolf Otto’s “mysterium tremendum et fascinans.” As with friends,the garden is always at heart an unknown, behaving in ways the gardener didn’t expect. As much as we think we know about nature with our tidy, secular syllogisms, we actually know very little, just as we don’t know the heart of those closest to us any more than we can comprehend God, the author of it all.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith

Monday, March 17, 2008



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

A summer on the sand beside the bay,

the burning sun, the pounding surf, the wisps

of wind-blown dunes, the spindrifts tingling spray,

the lotioned bodies recall times of lips

tasting of salt, of fair and teasing slips

of flesh limning a tawny skin, of traced

and secret gifts, of passion’s private taste.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 1982


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

A lonely crossroads tree bronzed by the crisp

clean snap of frost, slender, crystalline skies

hazy from fields threshed, a smoldering wisp

from musty leaves betray smoky sighs

of dusky harvests, summer's coppered thighs

yielding succulent fruit from fall's tart sweet

trysts when we washed our dust and eased our heat.

Copyright (c) 1982 Dana Prom Smith


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

A line of poplars bare defines the field,

a whitened grove’s leafless oaks etch in black

the winter sky’s blue steel but nothing yield

to winds, raw, cold, a chill-wrapped hearth, bring back

salt roasted nuts, simmered spiced applejack

musk-savored flesh afghaned by your fired vault

when you softly twined my hard, hot assault.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 1982


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

In the innocent, freshing green of spring,

when warm and gentle showers wash anew

dead winter’s icy murk and heralding

crocuses beside a pathway debut

the budding time of life, we slew

our innocence with weapons forged of fire,

pillaging terrain ravished by desire.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 1982

Friday, March 14, 2008


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (3/15/08)

Basil, as the French would say, is une herbe royale, as well it might be, the word basil deriving from the Greek basileus, meaning king. Grown throughout the world, basil is native to India and other tropical regions of Asia on Rudyard Kipling's "On the Road to Mandalay", having been grown there for over 5,000 years. Widely used in various cuisines, Italian, French, Thai, Vietnamese, and Laotian, it's the king of the herbs.

As with tender emotions and fine crystal, basil is fragile and of surpassing value, a “many-splendoured” herb, as Francis Thompson might’ve said, “clinging Heaven by the hems.” The varieties of basil delight a chef’s imagination. Beginning with the familiar sweet basil, the list includes other sweet basils, Genovese, Large-leaf, and Mammoth and the purple basils, Dark Opal, Purple Ruffles, and Red Rubin.

And this is only the beginning because the land of the basil stretches beyond where the eye can see to where the spirit can fly, to exotic climes of singular cuisines. Indeed, “The sun never sets on the Basil Empire,” save for the frosty north where it thrives on window sills, in greenhouses, and on brief summer flings.

Basil is low and tender, a perennial in warm, tropical climates, but in Flagstaff’s cold, wind, and sere, an annual, comfortable outside only in the summer. Best started indoors from seed in mid-spring on a south-facing window sill or purchased from a commercial nursery, the seedlings should only be set outdoors when all danger of frost has past about June 15 or with walls of water and the plant has four true leaves.

Before it’s transplanted it's best to harden it gradually by placing the seedlings out of doors several times on warm days. Basil should be given plenty of time to develop into a vigorous plant before transplanting outside.

Also, it can be grown indoors on south facing window sills year round, using potting soil with some perlite added. Starting them from seed or bringing some plants indoors in the autumn, the enjoyment of basil can last all year. As a matter of fact, basil plants are quite lovely, and since there are a variety of colors, the sills can be "many-coloured,” as well as aromatic. The fact is that basil adds class as well as taste.

As with many herbs, basil is a quadruple threat, aromatic, culinary, attractive, and medicinal. Its essential oil offers anti-oxidant properties, is anti-bacterial, and as a gargle soothes sore throats.

The soil in an herb garden shouldn’t be rocky nor clay bound, as is much of Flagstaff’s dirt, but deeply tilled with plenty of vintage organic matter, such as compost. Some basil enthusiasts add perlite to the soil to lighten it.

Since the value of basil is in its leaves, not its blossoms, the fertilizer should be high in nitrogen and low in phosphorus; however, basil is not a heavy feeder so fertilizer should be used penuriously. Fish emulsion, blood meal, and soy bean meal are excellent organic fertilizers. If addicted to commercially synthetic fertilizers, choose one of the “slow-acting,” releasing nutrients slowly. As with many high maintenance élégantes, basil’s diet bears watching.

Once plants are established, it’s best to pinch off the top to encourage a bushier plant. Frequently harvesting the outer leaves will prolong the plant’s life. Basil leaves have the best flavor just before the plant flowers, and better yet, flowering can be delayed by pinching or clipping off new flower buds, a little nip and tuck for basil prolongs its youth.

Basil should be planted smack dab in the middle of an herb garden where the soil is moist, the plant protected, and the leaves are easy to reach. A rock garden is especially desirable for basil because rocks, especially malapais, volcanic rocks with the little holes, absorb heat and water during the day to release during the evening hours.

An herb garden is well-served by the "many-splendoured" varieties of basil, adding culinary as well as aromatic delights. Geoffrey Chaucer said it well: "Out of ev'ry seed springeth the herbe so that ev'ry wight (creature)" "waxeth glad and light."

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2008

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (3/11/08)

As a friend of mine once said to a kith

Of the southern insurrection now called

The Civil War, “Our sympathies were with

The Union.” I, too, remain unenthralled

With okra, a pod from Africa auld,

A gift of the slave trade. Said when prepared

Well, "It is tasty." Not so, it’s impaired.

Monday, March 10, 2008


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

An ode to an onion, I chance to write,

Praising its virtues, for this splendid orb

Of goodness full, of taste a tanged delight,

Is a bulb which gives and doesn’t absorb,

Imparting savory flavors to bland

Cuisines. In climes where the growing time flees

Early and starts late they are set in sand

And soil, cold but thawed, snow patched, in degrees

Cold, four months before the last frost in June.

Savored in springtime as green onions slim,

Then summer’s great globes, next the harvest moon

When they’re stored during winter’s interim

So chefs might pluck this genus allium.

Some disparage these white, purple, and taupe

Spheres of leaves spare a core. With tongues numb

They complain, as would a misanthrope,

The taste is too severe, leaving the breath,

After eating so nourishing a root,

With its fumes and vapors reeking of death.

“Ah!” The pilgrim said, “Never dispute

Another’s breath,” because this ancient corm

So varied in taste from pungent to sweet,

So laden with life, would a meal transform,

Making it fit for a person complete.

Throughout the year depending on one’s food

There’s always an onion to fit one’s mood

If the cook is culinarily shrewd,

Frying rings, souping French, and even stewed.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2008

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (3/9/08)

In the Rape of Lucrece Shakespeare asks, “Why should the worm intrude the main bud?” and answers with the couplet, “But no perfection is so absolute/That some impurity doth not pollute.” Such is the perennial question asked by all gardeners as spring arrives only to find aphids swarming over a rose bud or, worse yet, little holes in the bud drilled by the rose weevil. Actually, Shakespeare was writing about the “tragic flaw” in fallen heroes and heroines, but he began quite appropriately with worms and bugs.

If not tragic, there’s always a flaw of some kind in the garden that “doth pollute.” Theological speculations about the problem of evil from the asylum ignorantiae don’t help. Turning to friends is more useful when the afflictions seem overwhelming, friends such as ladybugs and green lacewings. They eat aphids, mealybugs, thrips, whiteflies, leafhoppers, mites, scale, and insect eggs, and so it’s difficult to find better gardening friends than these predators.

Lady bugs are far more charming than green lacewings which are cannibalistic and aren’t as cute. No one makes green lacewings into pets as with ladybugs, but both are marvelous predators, especially their larvae. Actually, the phrase “lady bug” refers to the Virgin Mary. During the Middle Ages, when insects were destroying the crops of the farmers, they prayed to the Virgin Mary for help. When the ladybugs arrived to eat the insects and save the crops, the farmers called the insect eaters "Our Lady’s beetles,” the phrase eventually becoming ladybugs.

One of the ironies of affliction is that both the ladybugs and lacewings need the pests to eat, and without them they will either leave or perish, especially their larvae. As Shakespeare observed, “from creation to general doom” affliction is always with us. In every garden, aphids, mealybugs, white flies, and their kindred lie in wait. Not to worry! The pests haven’t left but are waiting hidden as eggs to strike again.

Actually, green lacewings don’t eat the garden pests. Their larvae do. However, adult ladybugs and their larvae are both predators.

The life cycles of green lacewings and ladybugs are similar. Beginning as eggs, they hatch into larvae. The larvae are the voracious eaters. After getting their fill, they become pupae which eventually become adults. The whole cycle takes about a month.

Pesticides are lethal for ladybugs and green lacewings, killing them along with the noxious insects. If gardeners spray their beds with pesticides, it’s “Shock and Awe” carpet bombing, taking out everything in sight, killing friends as well as enemies. Nowadays, it’s called friendly fire. Also, pesticides “doth pollute” the environment, human beings being the only animals who befoul their own nests.

In addition to avoiding pesticides, creating a congenial environment for these two friendly predators will more likely assure that they hang around the garden. Apart from aphids, ladybugs and green lacewings need other sources of food, such as pollen and nectar, after they’ve been successful knocking off the aphids. The specific types of plants they like have umbrella shaped flowers such as fennel, dill, cilantro, and yarrow. They are also attracted to cosmos, coreopsis, and scented geraniums.

Unlike human friends, ladybugs and green lacewings can be bought over the Internet or from a local nursery. There are four watchwords with these bribed friends. Release them in the evening because like a lot of purchased friends, they tend to wander and fly off. Make sure they have water. Refrigerate them before releasing them so that they won’t fly off so easily. If the infestation heavy, drape the plants, making a tent in which they will be confined to eat up the nasties.

Finally, as with all friends, sometimes they can be too much of a good thing. If they’re set loose in the house, they’ll leave little yucky, foul-smelling spots on the walls which are actually spots of their foul-smelling blood designed to repel their adversaries. They have to be given that, but not in the house. As with endangered trout, it’s catch and release, only with lady bugs it’s vacuum and release.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2008

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (3/4/08)

Disparaged by some, used by many, kale

Is a versatile vegetable, spurned

By the uncouth, relished by the canaille,

Scots, Siberians, and Tuscans. Discerned

Sweeter than spinach, it is no fakir

Begging nutrition, beta-carotene

Aplenty, anti-oxidants inhere

In leaves, crinkled, spears, plain, red tinged, and green.

A headless cabbage with some tryptophan,

It grows in varied soil, in climates cold,

With a history antediluvian.

In chicken soups, it is as good as gold.

Ease of growth everywhere, good for health

Kale’s laden with flavors of savored wealth.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2008

Monday, March 03, 2008


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (3/3/08)

Some are slim, some full-figured, always smooth

To the touch, silken, lustrously rich,

A vegetable with charm to bewitch

Carnivores with a meatless meal to soothe

Their savage breasts. The word eggplant so uncouth

Sadly isn’t elegant enough a niche

For a deeply purpled aubergine which

Is beautiful to behold and a sleuth

Of tastes and flavors it subtly receives

From herbs and cheeses fashioning entrees

Worthy of fine chinas, savory cuisines,

Soaring culinary recitatives,

Silver and crystal and settings to please

Those given to fine linen damascenes.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2008

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (3/5/08)

Dr. James Mast likes dirt, just as did his father and his grandfather before him, hailing from a long line of Ohio gardeners. However, his love of gardening is not merely a matter of his fondness for dirt. He relaxes gardening as well he might. He’s a dentist.

Dentistry is zero tolerance, like microns. In addition, he doesn’t practice his zero tolerance theoretically in a physics lab, but on a moving target, a person’s gaping, salivating maw with all its jerks, gagging, squiggles, and squirms, a real bacterial pit. In addition to practicing dentistry in his office, he also practices at the County Jail gratis once a week on Friday mornings.

Now, some dentists work on fine jewelry and clocks as a way of relaxing and honing their fine motor skills. Not Jim Mast, he goes for the dirt. It’s simple psychologically. Sensory experiences, such as petting a dog, tying into a cheeseburger and fries, smelling a rose, hugging a loved one, and caressing dirt are relaxing.

Good gardeners like dirt, the feel of dirt flowing through their fingers, clods disintegrating in their hands, and especially the smell of dirt. And there is something else, they like having a hand in growing things. They love the natural process. Philosophically, their reality is becoming rather than being, process rather than product. As Jim said, “I really like watching things grow more than harvesting.”

And grow they do. As much as Jim likes and grows flowers, his heart is in vegetables, and as a Middle Westerner, particularly in corn and tomatoes. His corn is not “those little designer ears of corn, but the real ones about a foot long.” As any red-blooded American knows, you can’t beat a dinner of sliced, fresh garden tomatoes sprinkled with sugar and freshly picked corn, briefly boiled and slathered with butter. It’s enough to strike up the band, make a person stand and salute the flag.

Recognizing the hazards and pitfalls of gardening Flagstaff, he grows from seed, and his favorite seeds for corn are a variety called “Incredible.” As he says, “It grows well in Flagstaff.” Enough said.

However, his heart and mind are in tomatoes. His favorites for Flagstaff are the old reliables, Early Girl, Roma, Celebrity, Yellow Pear, plum, and currant. He starts them inside from seed, then transplants the small seedlings, still inside, into pint-sized pots, and finally into quarter-sized pots which he gradually introduces to the outside. This all begins the latter part of March so that he can plant the seedlings outside early in May.

When he takes them outside permanently, he plants them in five gallon black containers in walls of water next to the house in a sunny, yet protected location. He uses planting soil and puts the seedlings in the bottom of the container with only a few inches of the seedling showing above the soil. This way they will develop a more extensive root system and become more productive. He uses new potting soil each season to cut down on earth borne diseases, using last season’s potting soil elsewhere in the garden.

He says that there are four things to remember about growing tomatoes in Flagstaff. First, they need extra heat, thus those ugly black containers. Rocks, particularly malapais, old milk containers and gallon wine jugs full of water, and even heat producing old-fashioned Christmas tree lights will help to keep the plants warm at night. If the tomatoes are in cages as they should be, a sheet or blanket can be thrown over them.

The second is protection from the wind. They don’t need to be enclosed, but rather protected from Flagstaff’s aeronautical winds.

Third, they need fertilizer and moisture. Jim fertilizes his tomatoes weekly with a small scoop of Miracle Gro for tomatoes and waters them daily during the dry season.

Fourth, he emphasizes variety. “There’s no point in having just one variety because there are so many tastes and uses for tomatoes.”

Doubters, skeptics, non-believers, agnostics, and outsiders often ask, “What’s all the fuss about home-grown tomatoes?” “Ah!” Jim replies, “The taste.” If people have ever savored the taste, they would never ask the question.