Wednesday, January 15, 2014


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (1/9/2014)


          The first thing I noticed were the eyes, piercing blue-green, no nonsense eyes, eyes that mean business.  And what better place for those eyes than to head up The Arboretum at Flagstaff.  The Arb has several missions, each with its own advocates, and someone has to allocate its resources to accomplish those various missions. 


          Lynne Nemeth’s eyes reveal a complex and single-minded human being.  She hails from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, one of the most charming places in the United States.  She comes from people who were steel workers, farmers, and gardeners with the toughness of blast furnaces and rolling mills and the earthiness of people who till the land, reap its harvests, and turn the harvests into food.


          With a master’s degree in music from the University of Maryland, she is amongst other things the cantorial soloist at the local synagogue Heichal Baoranim (Temple in the Pines) which means that she leads the signing and chanting in services of worship.  The skills required of a cantor and those of an executive director are pretty much the same, pulling together different voices and skills into a harmonious union to fulfill a purpose.  As any musician can tell you, conducting voices means dealing not only with the voice but also the person behind the voice.  So the conductor, as with the executive director, deals with organization as well as people.


           The big difference between the two is money.  The cantor doesn’t have to raise money, the executive director does.  In short, Nemeth needs the strength of a steel worker and the touch of a gardener.  As we sat down to lunch at CafĂ© Daily Fare, she handed me a folder containing various promotional materials and an envelope for contributions and pledges.  She said, “You might like to give something to The Arboretum.”  I thought, “The Arb’s in good hands.”


          Nemeth has been associated with “Non Profits” for a long time, really working for “Non-Profits” has been her career, so she understands the need for money.  “Non Profits” need money.  Working for “Non Profits” also means something else.  She has been putting her shoulder to worthwhile wheels, wheels that carry a moral weight.  Her life has counted.


          As I listened to her, I concluded that she’s still making her life count as the executive director of The Arboretum whose purpose is “the understanding, appreciation, and conservation of plants and plant communities native to the Colorado Plateau.”  Since Flagstaff sits near the edge of the Plateau, The Arboretum can tell us a lot about where we live.


It does two things, research and education and some crossovers between the two.  The research is varied, beginning with collaboration with various governmental agencies and private foundations familiar to Flagstaff. 


          As the caretaker of 31 rare and an endangered species and a seed bank for native plants, The Arb is involved in the restoration of the Schultz Fire devastation.


It’s participating in the Southwest Experimental Garden Array with NAU by hosting two separate gardens.  By establishing ten different experimental gardens at various altitudes, the project plans to study the effect on the genetics of plants due to various elevations and thereby mimic the possible effects of changes in climate.


          Of course, The Arboretum hosts several well known educational programs for both children and adults, such as hikes and camps for children, and bird walks, raptor shows, and wildflower walks for all ages.     

However, it is not all serious stuff.  There are celebrations and festivals for herbs, mushroom*ms, and penstemons along with concerts and wine tastings.  What better way to taste wine and listen to music than in the midst of a beautiful garden?


          However, The Arboretum is up to something else.  In partnership with National Weather Station in Bellemont, it’s developing “Flagstaff Habitat Profiles” which will be maps of growing conditions in the Flagstaff area.  These maps will include types of soil, precipitation averages, wind speed and direction, and temperatures.  Now, gardeners will know what’s best, and with The Arb’s knowledge of flora that works in Flagstaff, the maps will make more likely that elusive goal of successful gardening in Flagstaff.


          I paid up.  

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily News.  Smith emails at and blogs at

Monday, January 06, 2014


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (12/22/2013)


          When we moved to Flagstaff from Southern California 11 years ago, we inquired about landscaping after we’d settled into the house.  With various moves throughout the years, I had developed six gardens from the ground up.  I thought that at 75 I would like someone else do it, especially since I was still recovering from a triple by-pass.  Getting the bids was a mistake.  They were exorbitant, and nearly everyone came with drawing boards, diagrams, T Squares, graph paper, curve templates, and rulers. 


Landscaping is an art, and artists don’t start with the tools of mechanical drawing.  They start with imagination and then use the tools.

As Walker Evans said, “Photography isn’t a matter of taking pictures.  It’s a matter of having an eye.”  The camera takes on the personality and character of the photographer.  As with the camera, landscaping begins in the eye.  We recreate ourselves in how and what we see and how and what we fashion.  


So I set about developing my seventh garden from the ground up, a decision which helped my recovery.  It has taken eleven years, and it’s still not finished, nor will it ever be.  I once asked an artist friend of mine, the late primitivist painter, Louis Monza, when he knew he had finished a painting.  He replied, “I paint my dreams.  Sometimes, in the middle of the night I’ll jump out of bed to sketch a dream I had so that I wouldn’t forget it and then begin painting it in the morning.  I never finish.  I stop and go on to the next dream.”  Life and painting for him was the space between the beginning and the end, a space for becoming rather than being.   Paraphrasing Heraclitus (540-480 B.C.), “No one can step into the same garden twice.  The garden’s not the same, and the gardener’s not the same.” 


Landscaping is a reflection of our environment as well as the creation of our eye.  Often we attempt to force favored plants from our past onto an environment where they won’t thrive.  I tried with a couple of plants but soon realized the futility of it all.  Since our environment is so spectacularly beautiful, I decided to cooperate with the inevitable rather than combat it.  We’re best off taking our cues from flora around us.  As the 17th century theologian, Jeremy Taylor, said, “If you are in Rome, live in the Roman style: if you are elsewhere live as they live elsewhere.”  


In terms of design the late landscape architect, James Van Sweden said, gardens should “move in the breeze and sparkle like stained glass” and “catch the flow of time and wind, of shadows and seasons.”  We landscape for the winter as much as we do for the spring, summer, and autumn. The architecture of a leafless Gambel oak in winter, a ponderosa pine with its boughs laden with snow, a red Oregon grape holly in a field of snow, and a leafless oak etching a steel blue sky, are as much a part of a garden’s landscape as are the burgeoning delights of spring, the lush exuberance of summer, and the deep fluttering colors of autumn.    


Better a lawn of native grasses bending to the wind than a flattened lawn with a military buzz cut.  Water-thirsty lawns and their dreadful substitutes, gravel yards, bear no resemblance to the dense green of our forests, the sweep of our meadows, and the crystalline blue of our skies.  Consider for a moment what a gravel front yard reveals of the householder!  The forest, the meadows, and the mountains are shaggy with surprising twists and turns.  Straight lines straiten the imagination while twisting and turning paths draw us beyond what we see and know.  Neat geometrical lines leave no place for our minds to wander beyond our frustrations and limitations allowing us to relax and renew.  It’s the meandering path that leads us beyond. 


Happily, at our door we have The Arboretum at Flagstaff (928-774-1442), where gardeners have living resources to help in landscaping their gardens for authenticity in the high country and with fidelity to their eye.       

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2014

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at and blogs at