Sunday, September 26, 2010


Tam T. Nguyen

My Dad feed the soul with flowers in the front yard of our house. He planted flowers: roses, daisies, hibiscus, etc. He took care them so carefully. He watered them and picked up the aphids for them. There was a job which I did not like: pull off the weeds. There are Bermuda, nut, and honey grass. My Dad would like me to clean them up for him.

Under the heat of the sun, the heat seems like it killed me with the sweat. It made my eyes spicy. No fun at all! I am thirsty with blurry eyes because I pull a lot of them. I tried to tell my Dad: “Even the weeds, they also have their own flowers. They are green. Why do you try to kill them? They looked nice, too. Although, we give the flowers name, they were also the weed for many years ago.”

This way I negotiate with him that he would let me free to run out with my friends to the field playing with them. He seriously looked at me: “I want you to pick weeds!” He looked scary! Then he left me there.
After the dinner, he wanted to talk to me. He told me he was sorry he was mean to me. Pulling the weeds he want me do that. It is not hard for him. He could do that by himself. But he wanted me to know how to do gardening. I just paid by sweating, and being feel uncomfortable when I could not have fun with friends. My selfish and lazy paid the price for the messy look at the front yard. The weeds are good when they stay at the forest. The natural laws will decide which ones survival or which one will be disappears.

My Dad says the weed invasive to the garden, they will take the water, nutrient and grown out so fast. I might not understand whatever my father told me, but I will understand him some days by somehow, sometimes by tear drop!

Knowing things by working hard, that was a lesson my Dad gave me. It was not easy to understand at that time. It took me for a while to realize about my Dad. I did my job because he had a power to me. I was so busy think about playing game with the neighbor kids. I just was a little girl. I did not enjoy the beauty of flowers. The flowers were simple for my thinking: colors, no spirit.

I did not understand about my Dad well. He spent the earth for flowers. I helped him to gardening work. My job did not make money or extra foods. Because all of flowers at front yard, he never sold them to take money, change for foods. Just watching the flowers bloom, feeling the subtle of them. It was non-sense for me.

My Dad is a father of seven children. He just gave us our daily bread, small house. It was no television, motorcycle, any technology. I knew my Dad is smart man. He could earn more money. He could do some job better than he was a farmer. He could make the front yard with a vegetable and fruits instead of flowers.

My father feed my soul when I was a little girl. He taught me how to know the weeds, flowers, and the wind brought the subtle of the flowers. Many things are going on with the world. They help me think about my Dad again. I understand my father is not crazy man. I am lucky to have him as father. I need to learn more to have knowledgeable of subtle. The garden pointed out for me an interesting. Everything needs a purpose, and purpose depends on the person put on it. My Dad wanted to have flowers only. I just wanted to run out with the friends so I had to accept the weeds. The front yard was full of flowers and weeds before I pulled off the weeds. My Dad say fruit and vegetables for the body, but the flowers and wind are for the soul and its subtle.

Tam T. Nguyen is in the current Master Gardener Class as well as studying at the Literacy Center where Dr. Smith is her tutor.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (9/21/10)

Heather Bostian’s garden in Doney Park is showing signs of renewal after the devastating floods following the Schulz Fire last summer. As Heather said, “New wildflowers I’ve never seen before are growing in the front yard. They must’ve been washed down from the Peaks.” In a way, her garden is a metaphor for her life as a healer which began in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where her father was a psychiatrist.

However, the real genesis of her garden began at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre where she earned a Master of Fine Arts in acting as well as a M.A. in theatre arts from San Francisco State University. Her garden is theatre; theatre is the sense of Aristotle’s theory of drama as catharsis or cleansing from pity and fear. Heather’s abides herself as a healer, giving people the power to cleanse themselves of pity for their circumstances in life as well as a fear that their pasts will keep repeating their grip in their future.

Save for her house, her entire property was flooded and is covered with several inches of dried mud, caked hard and cracked. It appears inhospitable, and yet from its deathly gray surface between the cracks new life is emerging. For Heather it is a metaphor for her life’s work, new life emerging from destructive set-in-concrete patterns of the past. Ironically, that caked mud contains not only new seeds but also fresh nutrients, once e-coli have expired.

The basic structure of her garden has remained the same, the trees and shrubs. A thicket of Colorado blue spruce, elm, piñon, and elderberry reach out from the side of her house forming a wind break which along with the house itself protects the front yard garden from Doney Park’s winds. Behind the windbreak is another garden with a bird sanctuary, grape vines, and a cactus garden. In the midst of the windbreak is the remnant of a waterfall and pool which the flood damaged beyond repair as though there are some sorrows which are irreparable and are best quarantined, or as Jesus said, “leave the dead to bury their own dead.”

Heather’s understanding of both gardening and therapy is as an integrating coalescence in which all the elements are a part of a pattern. For instance, her plantings are either edible or medicinal or both with such plants as sage, garlic, wild lettuce, kale, red cabbage, and elderberries. At first glance, her garden appears random, especially after the flood, because there are no neatly defined beds. After a long look at ease, a pattern appears: the back half of the garden is for those plants that can survive without much help, but the front part of the garden is for healing and nutritious elements. She plants them where they seem to do best, not where they ought to be planted by grid.

Simply put, therapy is often a liberation from the trammels of the past, those imprints, grudges, tragedies, and slights that hold people back from a renewal of their lives. Since we often embed these psychic blights in our flesh with a stiff neck, an aching back, a headache, knotted hearts into knotted flesh, Heather fuses her therapy with massage and hypnotherapy, touching both the flesh and the secret self, the soul.

Therapy is not only a liberation from the lockups of the past, it’s also a leading out into the light of the new. The word “education” comes from the Latin, ēdūcĕre which means to draw out or lead out. Even with its devastation Heather is planning to transform the ugly sandbagged berms surrounding her house into lovely, meandering planters for her medicinals and edibles.

A metaphor for renewal in which life is neither a squirrel cage, repeating the same old things, nor a slinky with slow improvements over the years, her garden is a journey, transforming the old into the new. While sitting on a patio still encrusted with debris, one can see the old reliables in the yard, still abiding. Also, in the cracked and hardened mud a new and surprising life grows out of the calamity with new shapes and forms never thought of before. What a metaphor for life!
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (9/18/10)

James Boswell in his Life of Samuel Johnson quoted Dr. Johnson as saying, "Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." Indeed, it does. After my troopship foundered and split in half at the base of sheer cliffs on the Alaskan coast, I waited for rescue on a disintegrating hulk for a couple of hours, knowing that I wouldn’t last in the frigid water more than five minutes. My mind was concentrated wonderfully. Happily, I was finally taken off by breeches buoy.

The recollection of that experience always brings me back to essentials, fresh air, clear water, and the sun’s warmth, the things that make Flagstaff so desirable. Of course, this is about gardening, that marvelous and mysterious fusion of seed, soil, water, and sun. The prospect of running out of fresh water is akin to the prospect of running out of either air or sun.

In this case, the issue is grass, one of the loveliest aspects of a garden, and one of the most problematic in Flagstaff. The problem is Kentucky blue grass (Poa pratensis), the grass most people favor, consumes lots of water. Although some people seem to suffer from a prodigal son syndrome, everyone else knows that drinking water is precious. Not only is water scarce, it’s also becoming scarcer and more expensive. The city is hiking the water rates, especially for homeowners.

But the problem at hand is the front yards of Flagstaff. Some people favor gravel as a means of solving the water issue. The problem is that it’s ugly, especially when decorated with cattle skulls or rusted-out plows. Worse yet, it heats up the atmosphere, turning yards into a reflecting ovens.

Lawns can be beautiful, cool-looking, neatly trimmed expanses of green. Sadly, they’re, also, ill-used and waste water. Unless, someone is into playing badminton, croquet, or lawn tennis in the front yard, Kentucky bluegrass lawns are wastes.

When in doubt, go native because native works best. When the forest is left alone to do its own thing, it seems to do pretty well, like native grasses. During our dry spells, they need to be watered only once a week to be kept green, and this can be done by watering them with rain water saved in a barrel. They require mowing once a year with a weed whacker after their seeds stems have finally cast off their seeds.

Three very attractive native grasses are Arizona fescue (Festuca arizonica), sheep grass (Festuca ovina), and creeping red fescue (Festuca rubra).

All three can be planted from plugs or by seed. In any case, the ground should be prepared by turning compost into the soil a few inches deep as would be done with any grass. If sown by seed, anytime of the year is all right, save winter, but the best is during monsoon and the second best is early spring.

Arizona fescue is a bunch grass, that is to say, it doesn’t form a smooth sod but grows in clumps which can be grown closely enough together to form a continuous green lawn. As such, it is not a turf grass which will bear lots of foot traffic, but generally front lawns are not heavily trod upon. It throws off a bluish haze.

The sheep fescue is also a bunch glass that forms attractive mounds and swirls, much like a turbulent pond. It’s green. A very interesting variation of sheep fescue is blue fescue (festuca ovina var. glauca.) It is distinctly blue and is best planted in plugs. Its uses are in edging and plots and even randomly scattered.

Creeping red fescue (Festuca rubra) is not a bunch grass, but a turf grass which spreads by seeds and rhizomes. It tolerates shade. If left to grow, it forms, as does the sheep fescue, whorls and cowlicks which are far more attractive that the usual military buzz cut from which front lawns suffer.

There you have it: more interestingly beautiful lawns on less water, less work, and at less expense. Less is more, go indigenous!

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010


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

It all began when “Jimmy went crazy,” as Nancy De Blois describes it. To be sure, there was a garden in their backyard before Jimmy took leave of his senses. It was un jardin ordinaire, unconventional, mind you, a haphazard affair, just what one might expect from a differently wired couple. You see, Jimmy’s a well-known musician and performance artist, and Nancy, just as well-known, is an artist who fashions eye-catching mannequins and creates intricate luminaries, those lanterns designed to beckon a visit from the Christ Child at Christmas. To be sure, there were tomatoes and flowers, a circle with chairs and a table, and various things hanging from the limbs of old trees, but nothing to mark it as un jardin extraorinaire.

That is until Jimmy had his vision. It was no grand design accompanied by fiat, “let it be done,” but a vision evolving from looking at fifteen foot high metal leaf. From that a garden began to unfold, an evolution in which one thing led to another as though it were a garden fashioned without adult supervision.

Before we proceed much further, we have to understand that Jimmy and Nancy, as grassroots sustainers and renewers, create out of that which other people have cast-off and rejected, the new out of the old. With the exception of one or two items, everything else in their backyard is either a throw-away or a reject.

They had picked up the begetting leaf at ERIC’S. Now, don’t ask why they would buy a rusty fifteen foot steel leaf. That would require a study into the whirly-gig minds of people who’ve tipped over from conventionality into creativity. At any rate, it was leaning against the trunk on an elm tree when he awakened out of his dogmatic slumbers to creatio ex purgamentum (create out of cast-offs.) He set about removing the rust after which Nancy painted in the veins, and then he attached a Noah’s Ark of refrigerator magnets of various creatures both great and small with sharks at the base. Setting in his “garden theater” are figures of deer from Las Vegas, masks, female figures topped with military helmets, and pots and plants.

Once he had fashioned his masterpiece, he had to create a fetching path from the front yard to the back which he lined in ground with old-fashioned glass insulators from a telephone line which had been strung from Seligman to Lake Catherine, California, in 1929.

As the path rounds the corner into the backyard, it bifurcates into a short path that leads into a delightful, covered patio with chairs, table, and fire pit, surrounded by a low wall topped with containers of flowers and vegetables. These are largely Nancy’s doing. At the divergence are large containers of various types of tomatoes on some kind of jerry-rigged irrigation and fertilization system.

The other path, “less traveled by,” leads to Nancy’s studio past a huge dead tree trunk about twelve feet high with a mannequin perched in the tree’s crook. The dead tree trunk marks a point of privacy beyond which is the door into Nancy’s studio on the one side of the path and a large flower bed on the other. Nancy often sits outside the door creating her intricately beautiful luminaries out of discarded tin cans of various shapes and sizes while listening to classical music. Listening to a Strauss waltz, she felt she was dancing with the asters and cosmos as they swayed to the wind.

Her studio is a wonderland of mannequins, all shapes and sizes, all sexual persuasions, in various states of repair and renewal. Nancy is one of a select group of artists who repair and renew mannequins.

Jimmy’s favorite haunt is the patio where he can play his classical guitar while watching the ants scurry along the patio’s floor made of tiles from a closed-out retailer.

Not only are Jimmy and Nancy beguiling artists and conscientious custodians of the earth, they are also custodians of people. Nancy recently gave a kidney to her sister.

As Paul Jones, the city planner and educator, said, “This is the most creative garden in Flagstaff,” un jardin extraordinaire.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010