Sunday, October 23, 2011


Tam Nguyen

Every season has a various beauty. The color of leaves changes so fantastically. Fall season has many leaves which fall off. It looks like a rain of leaves! Anyway, once in a while there is a tiny sound of the leaf that does not fall to the ground, the leaf that hangs on when others fall. So quite, so silent, so still. Because the leaf is so light, it seems to have no weight.
In a garden with many plants in spring, everything looks so green, smell so fresh. The new bulb is going up. Then the time comes for the leaf to change color, light green, dark green, gold, brown, and then falls off the branch.
Day by day, the leaves take the light from the sun, make energy for tree, and make free oxygen for the earth. The silent work is every moment. Then when the leaf fall off, we call it going home. After it finishes its job, it begins the new traveling to begin the new story.
It’s almost the shock of the spirit. The leaf broke up my spirit because the leaf makes my mind look at life from another angle. The human being, the earth, and the tree become a one thing. The spirit is in everything, everywhere. The beauty of life becomes a thing named by love. The fluttering leaf becomes the music with the melting melody. Nothing can stop it. It survives all over the time. The leaf touched the ground, played with wind. It is flying, and the flying never stops.
Deep inside the person, there is the empty space to fill with the beauty of life, for love, for trust, and hope life will be better. These are on our horizons, the sky bordering the mountain and the leaf changing its color. It is so deep in color, so close for anybody to touch, yet far enough for some people try not to understand about spirit. The leaf still is there. It is attending everywhere even in a quite village or a busy city. The leaf helps the spirit fly higher, further and faster, than the human can imagine about the time and space.

When the leaf falls from the branch of a tree, it begins a new travel tour. The wind will flow it up, and it will fly on the air. It is a time for leaf to find out the real world after it heard from the sun, clouds, and wind. The leaf will tour wherever the wind pushes it. It is not only the forest, village or city, it also expand all over. The leaf brought the song with the artist to make the life better. Just as the artist feels the melody and sings the song, so the blowing wind sings a melody.
Often the only person who is the artist can feel the melody of song and sing out loud. Gold color reminds him that the late evening for life, ready for everything, knowledge, experience and passion for life somewhere. Nothing can survive forever, just one moment will be forever. The end of tour, the leaf will drop on the earth and go back to root. It will change to organic nutrition of the earth. The earth will be porous for the plants. All the story of leaf’s tour, nobody knows exactly, but it makes the mystery for life. Often people do not understand the experience of
nature. They think the leaf is without meaning for human life, without caring or paying attention to the leaf.
Many forests disappear or turn into the desert when the leaves are gone. The green leaf brings hope for everybody. I wonder how many people ask for the gold leaf. Is it for dying or beginning new things, to do something or begin come back? The leaf is the reason we breathe every day. Even the good day or bad day, people need the small leaf to clean the air without touching or smelling it.
My tutor told me of Albert Camus’ words: “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”

Tam Nguyen is a Master Gardener and a student at NAU and The Learning Center where Dana Prom Smith, the editor of GARDENING ETCETERA, is her tutor. His email address is

Tuesday, October 18, 2011



Dana Prom Smith

A narrow, well-worn graveled lane leads to Casa Escondida, the “hidden house.” Finding the lane means meandering through three county roads, several ambivalent junctions, and some missteps. Several miles from the village of Chimayó in northern New Mexico, it is off the beaten path. While no one can completely get away from it all, Casa Escondida comes close: no telephones, no television, no radios, peace and quiet in what is a “rustic elegance.” Sadly, there was a wireless internet to check the stock market, a disquieting experience.

The quiet is the quiet of nature. A couple of crickets near the patio carried on an undecipherable dialogue. Soon, a whole chorus of several hundred chirping voices joined in the conversation. While sipping a glass of cooled chardonnay to smooth out the kinks from sitting on a long drive, my ears begin to hear the silences of nature: the winds rustling the leaves of the cottonwoods and whistling through the junipers. The birds were still singing as the sun began its descent.
Although dusk had settled around the patio, the sun was still shining on the tops of a couple of giant cottonwoods (Populus fremontii) in the distance. Bright with seemingly small red and golden Christmas tree lights, they glittered against the backdrop of the deepening blue of a New Mexico sky. It is the kind of scene which evokes a tension-releasing sigh.

A dinner at Rancho de Chimayó was an authentic taste of northern New Mexico. Nestled in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, the people of the villages are largely descendants of the Conquistadores, some identifying their lineage to the seventh and eighth generation. Flavored by the people of the region, the cuisine is often more Spanish than Mexican.
After dinner, the chirping of the crickets slowed while the yipping of the coyotes took over in a bloodthirsty ferocity euphemistically called the balance of nature. I was grateful for not being born a field mouse.

While asleep later that I night, we were awakened by the piercing screams and coughing barks of a bobcat, similarly engaged in the balance of nature. It was not more than ten yards from our patio in a thicket of trees and bushes. Sometimes, the wilderness comes too close.
At dawn, I heard a rooster. I realized I hadn’t been awakened by the crow of a cock since I was a boy. My job was to feed the chickens and gather the eggs, sometimes fleeing an irate hen. It was a very pleasant homecoming. I lay abed relishing the moment and the memories.
While sitting on the patio enjoying a pot of hot tea, fresh fruit, sausage, and a green chili omelet, I caught a flash of fire out of the corner of my left eye. Steeled by the drought that had plagued northern New Mexico, I turned to check to see whether or not a disaster was in the offing, but, no, it was the rays of the rising sun striking the tops of the cottonwoods in the distance. They glowed for one glorious moment and then no more.

Looking straight out from the patio lay a small cultivated garden fit for a dry climate, then a lawn of mown weeds and grasses, and finally a wild thicket of Siberian elm saplings, junipers, piñon pines, a maple emblazoned in red, and finally in the background those giant cottonwoods. It was a panoply of colors, sizes, and shapes. A truth dawned on me. A southwest garden is as much about the wild as it is about order and pattern. What doth it profit to study a world we know when the mystery of the unknown is before our eyes?
In the small strip of a cultivated garden were honeycomb butterfly bushes, two small yuccas, and a couple of stonecrop bushes with their burgundy flowers in full bloom.

To the right of the patio was the center piece of the garden. Like a time-worn obelisk, an ancient juniper abided, its age-roughened bark, hacked and pruned, a few tuffs of new life emerging here and there. I had found a compadre.

Copyright 2011 © Dana Prom Smith

Dana Prom Smith, editor of GARDENING ETCETERA for the Arizona Daily Sun, emails at

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


THE ANSWER MAN: What’s Your Problem?

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (10/3/2011)

This time of the year, many people ask questions about planting bearded irises.

Q. Spent big bucks on iris bulbs. Missus told me to fix up the front yard. Told me I was gonna get cold sardines for breakfast if I didn’t get a move on. Said that old, rusty plow “just doesn’t cut the mustard anymore,” least ways not since some Master Gardener moved in next door. Kinda scowls at my yard. Anyways, all I got was green spikes, no flowers. Told me they didn’t need much care, and that’s just what they got.

A. Your sentences don’t have subjects, just verbs and objects, like imperatives and commands. You must’ve been traumatized by your drill sergeant. They never use subjects, either. Anyway, they aren’t bulbs, but rhizomes. “Little care” doesn’t mean “No care.” If those rhizomes were your children, you’d be charged with child neglect and tossed in the hoosegow. Here are some guidelines about parenting rhizomes.
You feed children. Irises are fed about 6-8 weeks before they bloom and after their blooms are gone. No lawn fertilizer. Too much nitrogen. Nitrogen for iris is like candy for children. It rots their rhizomes, instead of their teeth. Use bone meal or super-phosphate because phosphorous makes for root growth. All root, they need lots of phosphorous.
Next is potassium. You need potassium for your cardio-vascular system just like irises need it for their health and growth.
I’m sure you make your children clean their rooms and make their beds. Irises need clean beds and rooms. They need weeds picked, just like you don’t let your children hang around a bunch of delinquents.
Finally, you don’t want your children wasting their energies in frivolous pursuits, like video games. Children need discipline just like irises. After the irises have bloomed, cut the flower stocks close to the ground. This is allows their energy to go back into the rhizome instead of frittering it away.
Your wife is right. That rusty old plow is an eyesore. You aren’t a farmer anyhow. The proper plural for iris is irides. Iris is a Greek word meaning rainbow. Dress up your front yard with rainbows, and your wife won’t serve you cold sardines for breakfast. Maybe, even that Master Gardener with the creepy hat will give you a hand.

Q. My name is Abigail. My husband, Rusty, thinks that a front yard of gravel, weeds, and a rusty old plow is the cat’s pajamas. He says it celebrates the early days of Flagstaff when “men were men” whatever that means. I threatened him with cold sardines for breakfast, just like early cowboys ate, if he didn’t get off his big, fat behind watching “Ice Road Truckers” and fix the front yard. Our new neighbor just shakes his head. His wife is real nice and friendly and suggested that the easiest thing to grow were bearded irises. Said they were quite beautiful. She even said that they could be planted in groups right in the middle of that damned gravel. Rusty dug’em in, but they just kind of pooped out. What do you suggest?

A. I fear that Rusty didn’t plant them the right way. You don’t dig’em in but settle them in, just like you’re putting your children to bed with a light blanket over them and just their heads sticking out. First, prepare the bed, by digging in compost, phosphorus, and potassium, and then let it sit for a week or so. Then make a small mound and settle the rhizomes into the bed, covering them with a thin layer of soil while leaving the leaves above the soil. Then for the first few weeks water them so that the soil is damp, but not wet lest the rhizomes rot. This should be done toward the last of summer or the beginning of fall so that the rhizomes will have time to develop roots before winter sets in.
Cold sardines may be better for Rust’s health, but biscuits and gravy, bacon and eggs are better motivators. Napoleon said, “An army marches on its stomach.” Don’t let the Master Gardener’s hat put you off.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2011

Dana Prom Smith edits the column GARDENING ETCETERA for the Arizona Daily Sun and can be emailed at