“I heard the bells of Christmas Day,
Their old familiar carols play.
And wild and sweet the words repeat,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Yes, I know it isn’t time yet for Santa and his reindeer and elves, but I could not let this anniversary pass without a mention. What anniversary? Well, two days ago was the 53rd anniversary of the “Garden Path,” which my grandmother, Lucy Cowan Williams, initiated Sept. 6, 1968.
I succeeded her in 1984. Between the two of us, there has been a garden column every week here with not a single missed deadline. May be a record. Anyhow, her column of Dec. 3, 1971, was headed with the words of the above poem by Longfellow.
In all those years, my ornamental gardening interest hasn’t waned, and I seem to be able somehow to come up with something to say every Wednesday. The question is beggared: has it been worth it? You decide.
In any event, I get quite a few questions from time to time on the art and craft of gardening, which subjects engender said questions. Without a doubt, ornamental gardening includes both the craft of growing plants and the art of arranging them in a pleasing manner on my or your home grounds, garden design, it is called.
I would guess that most of the questions proffered have to do with negatives, to wit: moles, voles, bugs, weeds (mulberry weed being the most notorious), chiggers, diseases, et cetera. Not to speak of deer, which draw the most vociferous curses of all, simply because a deer can damage more crops in less time than any bug that ever walked or flew.
But there are, also, other queries with some nebulous hope of success on the plus side, again to wit: how to keep roses alive (I have no idea), how to keep a sourwood tree alive (I am on my fifth try), what to do about those infernal horned rats (deer). I have some suggestions, but you won’t like most of them.
One of the great pluses in our 47 years at Tennessee Dixter has been a total of four visits to some of the finest gardens of the world in the British Isles. They make you sick at first, knowing you can’t approach a fraction of what the Brits do, but then after some weeks with daily doses of sedatives, a turn toward sensibility comes along and you realize that, by golly, I can do a little of it.
Reality sets in and you realize that your (our) 1974 stick house is not a 1460s Great Dixter or a somewhat later Sissinghurst, or an even later Hidcote. You get the idea. Even if you can achieve a modest scale model of one of the English gardens, you may be years ahead of the pack, stateside gardeners, that is.
Another unmeasurable package of good gardening fortune has been my acquaintance over the years with Carol Reese, who has long been employed by the West Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center in Jackson. Carol has been in the upper echelon of garden cognoscenti and spoken practically all over the nation. West Tennessee gardeners owe her a ton of gratitude.
Carol retired a few weeks ago and lives several miles from Jackson on a hilltop accompanied by two or three dozen dogs and a few cats. After just a few years, her garden looks like it has been there for much longer. A big part of what I might know about ornamental gardening has come from Carol. Here’s wishing her a long and peaceful retirement digging in the dirt.
JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Monday mornings at 642-1162.