Monday, October 15, 2012


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (10/14/2012)


          My father was a man who loved bacon, the taste of bacon and the smell of bacon frying in a skillet, of coffee brewing, and of the fragrances of a wood-fired stove.  Happily, my mother preferred cooking on a wood-fired stove, said she could control the heat better.  As the daughter of the fading years of the frontier, she was taught to cook on a wood-fired stove with cast iron cookware.  The aromas of breakfast on fishing trips into the High Sierra are some of my fondest memories as a child.


          It wasn’t only the aromas of those early morning breakfasts, it was also the sounds, sizzling raw-fried potatoes and onions and eggs frying in the bacon fat, sunny side up with crinkled edges, and the crackling of a wood fire.  Carcinogens, cholesterol, and saturated fat aside, it’s hard to beat those breakfasts.


          My father relished his senses.  He savored his “wee dram” of single malt Scotch, caressed my mother’s shoulder, watched the colors of a sunset at the beach, listened to my mother play the piano, and delighted in the aromas of his roses.  He was connected to himself because he was connected to his senses.  Sadly, nowadays, much of gardening has been dogmatized.  While sustainability is right on, it suffers from being taken over by the politically correct and morphed into a purse-lipped ideology.  A pinched correctness takes us outside of ourselves into artificial world of dogmas.  Gardening isn’t an intellectual pursuit.  It’s a sensual experience.


          It begins with the feel of dirt running through our fingers sans gloves.  It’s pleasurable as well as a necessary.  Good soil flows, and as it flows we can check it contents.  It’s also important to smell the dirt, sticking our noses close to it, checking out whether it smells fresh or not.  Sour soils or alkaline soils aren’t happy soils.


          The tactile sense is the first sense by which our parents communicated with us, holding and caressing us.  No ideas or dogmas, just touch.  Also, it’s the first sense we use in gardening, not only letting soil flow through our fingers, but also touching the plants, even caressing them.  Plants need to know we care for them.  A garden is not a world of disparate, external entities as in a machine, but an organism where members are related to one another internally.  We relate best by touch.  Kale doesn’t grasp ideas, and as anyone who has grown kale knows, it’s not always correct.  If not touched, roses need to be smelled.


          The aroma of a garden is the aroma of life.  For most of our external lives, we live in sterile environments.  We scrub and wash everything to death.  At work we are usually encased in steel, glass, asphalt, and concrete, all of them dead.  Walking through a garden in the still of the evening, there are the aromas and sounds of life, a scent-laden moisture in the air, the whirr of life unseen, and the moldering of fallen leaves, all signs of fertility.  Sometimes, we’ve become so accustomed to the harsh artificial sounds of civilization that we can barely hear the softer natural sounds of life.


          A breeze rustling through a garden, the songs and chirps of elusive creatures, and the skitterings of fleet-footed foragers are all the sounds of life.  We hear these sounds only in a garden or the forest.


          Gardening is a great way to connect with ourselves because a garden isn’t an idea or an ideology, it’s an experience of sight and taste. A beautiful red berry or a tomato plucked from a vine, a snap bean stolen from a bush, and a bright green of a leaf of lettuce freshly picked all connect us with ourselves.


          Of all the people I know who think they possess the truth, be it religious, horticultural, or political, I seldom find a happy one, so busy are they in defending and attacking one another.  They're seldom at ease with themselves.  The astemiously correct are worse, conjugating everything by a grammatically correct ideology.  Relishing life, sensualists are connectd with themselves.  On loan from God, a garden is a sensualist’s paradise.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2012

Gardening Etcetera is edited by Dana Prom Smith along with Freddi Steele.  Dr. Smith can be emailed at, and he blogs at


Sunday, October 07, 2012

THE ANSWER MAN: Family Gardening

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (10/1/2012)

          Question:  I’ve a secret I’ve kept from my children.  I don’t like to pick weeds, not even as a boy.  Once, I was sent to bed without my supper for refusing to pick weeds.  Now, I want my sons to pick weeds.  Should I tell them about my behavior as a boy, or should I keep it a secret?  My wife doesn’t even know.  She’s a Master Gardener and an enthusiastic weed picker.  What’s your opinion on full disclosure, like weeds and income taxes.

         Answer:  Well, full disclosure is always the right thing, unless you want to keep a secret, like smoking pot in the boy’s restroom at high school or cheating on your income taxes.  Then you keep secrets.

          The problem isn’t so much honesty as it is a division of labor, and that would allow you to be honest with your sons.  Deceit, denial, evasion, and obfuscation never work.  As politicians find out, cover-ups often bite them in the butt. 

A friend of mine told me about picking weeds as a boy in California.  The weeds were geraniums.  His father sent him with a hoe and shovel to chop geraniums.  They exuded a sticky, whitish gunk that got all over his skin and itched something fierce.  His father got in there with him, and together they hacked geraniums.  Often, he took him on expeditions along back country roads all over Southern California looking for oak leaf mold.  They’d come back home with large gunny sacks filled with the stuff.  He loved those trips.   Don’t use your boys to do just the scut work of gardening, or your daughters, for that matter, if you have any.  Include them in the fun times of gardening.  They’re not your employees.


          Question:  That’s all well and good, but my wife, Doris, is a speed demon at spotting weeds.  She even uses their Latin scientific names.  When she spies some cheat grass, she’ll say, “Harry, pick those Bromus tectorum over by the sidewalk” or “Get Centaurea diffusa before it goes to seed.”  It’s like I’m some kind of employee.  If she really loved me, she’d know about my aversion to weed picking without me having to tell her.   I don’t know what to do.  I feel so alone and confused.


          Answer:  Buck up!  Don’t be a weed wimp.  It sounds like Doris runs your family.  You’re probably resisting her.  I doubt she really likes to pick weeds but does it because it’s the right thing to do.  She sounds like “a-right-thing-to-do” personality.  Never ask your children to do something you’re unwilling to do yourself.  In short, confess your sins and pick weeds with your sons, even making a game of it, like giving them the names of people you and they dislike.  I give my weeds the names of several plutocratic politicians.  That way you can dig out the weeds, roots and all, with gusto.


Question:  But what about Doris?  What should I tell her?  I mean this whole feminist thing has really taken hold of her.  It’s almost like she’s possessed.  She’s so assertive.  I don’t know what’s happened to her.


Answer:  Look, buddy, Doris has found her voice.  Be grateful that she’s got some gumption and stop whining.  What do you want?  A woman who thinks she’s an assistant male?   Tell Doris first.  She’ll want to hear it from you, not second-hand from them.  I can tell you one thing, “if mamma ain’t happy, nobody ain’t gonna be happy.”  You could tell her about your childhood trauma of missing dinner.  She might even sympathize with you.  Then you can use her considerable energy to get in there and pick the damned weeds.  Never resist someone else’s power.  Always use it.  The only way to get over your aversion to picking weeds is to pick weeds, even the dreaded Scotch thistle or as Doris would say,"Onopordum acanthium."  Cowboy up.  Doris might fall in love with you all over again.  If you want a happy wife, smiling children, and a beautiful garden, you need to pick weeds.  A famous horticultural shrink told me: “Families that garden together stay together.”  Well, bucko, picking weeds is just the shadow side of gardening.        

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2012

Dana Prom Smith along with Freddi Steele edits Gardening Etcetera and emails at  This article appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun, 10/13/2012.