Saturday, April 25, 2009


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (4/25/09)

"She should've kept her old nose," meine Überfrau opined as she inspected photographs of her fellow retired flight attendants from the glory "champagne and chateaubriand" days of first-class on TWA. When asked what she meant, she said, "She went too far." Apparently, the poor woman in her zeal for a pert, upturned nose ended up with a flute too small for her face, a puny button on a fine, full-figured, glamorous Mediterranean mug. "It's too bad. She was really a beautiful woman." So much for rhinoplasty.

H.L. Mencken, the Sage of Baltimore of several generations past, made the same point in The American Language about the Anglo-Saxon dominance of American culture, only about first names instead of noses, such as Wendy Liebowitz, Eric Balabanian, and Chauncey Gallucci, but not Ermentrude Smith or Yankel Johnson.

The theory behind the Anglo-Saxon cultural dominance is that immigrants, after the arrival of the initial British immigrants, wanted to fit in and tried to adopt the facial characteristics and names of the first-arrived, adapting by adopting. Ironically, we now have a mixed race president with three non-Anglo-Saxon names who speaks in elegant English and thinks with the sophisticated complexity of an Oxford don.

Gardening on the Colorado Plateau speaks to the same complexity, what fits in and what doesn't or the wrong horticultural nose on Flagstaff's cultural face. In extremis, a friend sports a plastic palm tree on his back deck, decorating it each year with Christmas lights. For him it's a memory of things past and, I suspect, a modest defiance of Flagstaff's horticulturally correct.

Pity the poor person who paid big bucks for a nose that didn't work cosmetically, and for the gardener who bought a plant that didn't work horticulturally. Rhododendrons come to mind. All that glitters is not gold.

Plants have minds of their own and are stubborn about it. If they don't like where they're put, they'll pull a tantrum, withering rather than thriving. Nearly everyone knows people who are inclined dig in their heels no matter what, suffering their own peril to prove a point, however modest. Lots of plants are like that, especially the ones we love.

Ponderosa pines apparently thrive in lots of places, but not
rhododendrons, camellias, and azaleas. I know, I bought a rhododendron five years ago and, since then, have watched it gradually wither while my ponderosa thrive. The ponderosa didn't cost me a dime, either.

As always, there are the purists who want nothing but native, opposed, as they are, to horticultural immigration. They want concrete walls topped with razor wire, and they have a point. Everytime a foreign plant is introduced into a balanced eco-system, of necessity, it changes the system for either ill or good, sometimes sending it into a tailspin. Of course, the irony is that if the purists really wanted to go native, they wouldn't be here in the first place because there is no species quite as invasive as human beings. Purity may mean "get outta town."

Oddly, many think of Hopi corn as a native because it has been grown on the Colorado Plateau for a several centuries which is to raise the question of the length of time it takes an import to go native or adapt.

Socrates in the Cratylus quoted Heraclitus to the effect that all things are in motion and nothing is at rest, comparing them to a river or stream, and saying that no one can go into the same river twice.

In Flagstaff, the first thing to consider is a native plant or a plant that can adapt to the High Country, no matter how much a plant has been loved elsewhere. Noses don't always travel well. Secondly, choose water-wise plants because guzzlers are threats to balance, sucking up everyone else's fair share. And, finally, don't mess around with plants that look good but insidiously want to take over. "Frienemies," they're invasive species, the opiates of gardening, invading, corrupting, and weakening a garden and with it the eco-system. As long as human beings have intruded, we're responsible to keep an eco-system in balance while it evolves.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2009

Friday, April 17, 2009


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (4/18/09)

My grandfather, Brynjolf Prom, was a Norwegian ship's master who left the sea after his brother washed overboard during a Caribbean hurricane. Using his skills as a navigator in the late 1800's, he surveyed the route for the Great Northern Railway across the northern plains through the Rockies and Cascades to the Pacific.

I remember him vividly when he was about my age. On a family vacation to Lake Arrowhead, he watched me swim. I stayed in the shallows, telling him that I felt safer when I could touch bottom. Under a thicket of eyebrows his deeply set, steel-blue eyes fixed me with a laser-like gaze. The old Viking said, "Ach, Dana, you'll only be safe when you can't touch bottom, when you're beyond your depth, else you'll run aground and founder."

On hearing my account of the day, my mother said, "Poppa, you'll only be teaching Dana to swim, not circumnavigate the globe." He replied, "Well, do you want the lad to play in the shallows the whole of his life." At that she touched him on the arm, "No, I don't, but he's just learning." The next day under his fixed gaze I swam beyond my depth.

Gardening in the High Country is not for those who want to garden
in the shallows at gravel depth. It's for those who want to go beyond their comfort zones, who see challenges as times of opportunity, and adversities as occasions for ingenuity. If the growing season is too short, extend it. If water is scarce, save it. If the soil is inhospitable, enrich it.

Enriching the soil is a matter of depth, fertilizing deeply and organically. Generally, there are two types of fertilizer, organic and synthetic. Organic includes compost and manure, but only from grain-fed animals. Compost is best made at home in the yard. Commercial compost often has filler, such as sawdust, just like "store bought" meat balls are often heavy on bread crumbs.

Manure is best measured initially with the nose, not in the manure, but in smelling its aroma. Good manure stinks. As Samuel Johnson said to the woman who complained to him that he "smelled," "Nay, madam, give me leave to correct you: you smell, I stink." Chicken manure at first stinks big time but begins to lose some of its stink with the passage of time, as the uric acid decomposes into ammonia. It's expensive commercially, so count as a BFF anyone raises chickens.

The same can be said for steer and horse manure, horse manure being the most plentiful and least nutritious. In the High Country nearly everyone knows someone who has a horse or horses and a stall. Steer manure can be bought, but it's pricey. Cattle ranchers are harder to find than chicken keepers as BFF.

All manure should be vintage. Fertilizer, as with wine, should never be "served before its time." The reason is simple. Animal urine and feces are mixed together and need time to be leached. Wine softens as the tannins are precipitated, and manure matures as the harsh elements, such as salts and uric acid, are precipitated by rain, snow, and air. Desiderata: smooth wine and maturated manure.

Two expensive but useful organic fertilizers are blood meal and bone meal. Blood meal is high in nitrogen and useful for onions, grasses, and other leafy plants. Bone meal is great for bulbs.

And then there are the ambiguities of synthetic fertilizers. If used widely and often, they impoverish the soil, obliterating the microorganisms, such as mychorizzae, needed in a nourishing soil while dehydrating the soil with salt. Used sparingly, they can increase productivity, such as a synthetic fertilizer high in nitrogen makes for large onions, but, sadly, it makes for abundant tomato foliage with little fruit. Synthetic fertilizers are useful if appropriate to the plant and used frugally.

In the "Allegory of the Cave," Book VII of The Republic, Plato drew the distinction between appearance and reality, appearance being the shadows and reality in the sunlight. In gardening, appearance is in the sunlight while the reality is hidden deeply in the soil's darkness.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2009

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (4/14/09)

Rachel Edelstein of The Aboretum is a bit of a foodie as well as being a fungivore. As a fungivore, she's an herbivore, and, maybe, a carnivore, too. However, when she goes hunting, it's not with a gun, but a paring knife, stalking fungus, edible mushrooms in particular.

This coming August she will even help throw a sumptuous feast of crepes with mushrooms and chicken in a cream sauce at the Wild Mushroom Retreat at the Hart Prairie Lodge. Sponsored by The Arboretum and the Nature Conservancy, the Retreat features fine cuisine prepared by French chefs Nicole Bauge and Rachel while another chef, Gay Chanler, offers appetizers of sautéed mushrooms, shallots, and herbs served with cream cheese on crackers.

In addition to fine dining, the Retreat also offers a program led by two local wild mushroom experts, Mary Lou Fairweather of the Forest Service and Ed Smith of The Nature Conservancy. The program will consist of finding, identifying, cooking, and eating wild mushrooms. Hart Prairie is thought by many to be the wild mushroom capitol of Arizona. Beginning on Friday evening and ending on Sunday at noon, the Retreat is a weekend of forays into the forest, education about mushrooms, cooking demonstrations, and culinary adventures for budding fungivores.

Neither haute cuisine nor nouvelle cuisine come immediately to mind when thinking about The Arboretum, but the fact is that The Arboretum also offers another gustatory event. It's the elegant Summer Soirée on July 11 which celebrates the life and food of the Southwest.

The Wild Mushroom Retreat and the Summer Soirée are but two of the many programs offered by The Arboretum. Tucked southwest of Flagstaff down Woody Mountain Road, The Arboretum is a cornucopia for those who want to know more about the land on which they live so that they may enjoy it all the more.

With attractions not only to the palate, it also offers something for the ear as well with a series on concerts sponsored jointly with Flagstaff Cultural Partners during the summer on the first Saturday of the month.

Beginning with the simple pleasure of walking, The Arboretum offers programs for those who want to look while they walk. In addition to treats for the palate and ear, The Arboretum's offers treats for the eye with guided bird walks and wildflower walks, teaching walkers when and where to look. This means that The Arboretum needs volunteers and docents so that it may offer many of its programs.

One of the most exciting programs is the Live Birds of Prey Demonstrations every day from April to October. It's an up close and personal experience of raptors, not an everyday experience.

The gardens expand the consciousness of gardeners in Flagstaff by demonstrating plants that work. The Arboretum offers classes in gardening as well as offering the experience of working in the gardens. For beginners, these classes and experiences are some of the best ways to learn how to garden successfully in the High Country.

With its birds, wildflowers, mushrooms, raptors, gardens, haute cuisine, music, and walks, there's no better place to have classes in painting en plein air than The Arboretum. Happily, it has them.

Two of the events at The Arboretum which gardeners in Flagstaff anticipate are the Plant Sale and the Penstemon Festival in July. It's a time to open the pocket book to get real bargains while learning about the varieties of a plant that does well in Flagstaff.

Behind all of these programs is the heart of The Arboretum, research. It is a first-class horticultural research institution.

But back to Rachel, the fungivore's favorite foodie. Her day job is the Director of Public Programs at the Arboretum. Raised in Quebec, a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa, and a school teacher on the Hopi Reservation, she's a graduate of Northeastern University and has an M.A. from NAU. For old-timers and newcomers in Flagstaff who want to know more about life on the Colorado Plateau, The Arboretum's the place to go and Rachel's the person to see. Her telephone number is (928) 774-1442, ext. 110 and
email address is

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2009