Felder Rushing Does His Laundry Upside-Down
Cheval Force Opp of Cheval's Garden Tours, whom we partner with for our magazine's annual trip to the Philadelphia Flower Show, twisted my arm and convinced me I needed to attend the Historic Plants Symposium last week in the Jefferson Library at Monticello in Charlottesville, VA. I really felt I had too much on my long to-do lists to take a three-day trip south, but she convinced me in the end and I'm glad she did!
The talks at this biennual symposium were fascinating. I learned a great deal about what the American colonists actually grew and ate versus what you read in history books. (Note to self: when building a time machine and hitting 1780, pack lots of energy bars as you and your picky 21st C. self are going to starve.) We heard all about cider making, choice apples, and the attempt now to bring back the cider industry on the heels of locavore and slow food movements. Next, the techniques for lengthening the growing season using hot beds of manure, cloches, and heated orangeries were described. Finally, we had the myth of the colonial formal herb garden busted. Many other myths were busted that day as well including the misconceptions that Ginkgo trees are not native to our hemisphere and that bee skips should be placed in full sun.
The title and theme for this symposium was: "Fruits, Roots, and Leaves" from Jefferson's own division of his edible plant gardens, which I have to admit is pretty darn insightful. I had assumed the title was a clever play on the grammar best-seller, "Eats, Shoots and Leaves," but that was just my journalist background and lack of Jefferson immersion showing through.
By the end of the trip, I was steeped in everything Jeffersonian so much so that I could not even look at a nickel without feeling mental fatigue. I'm truly Jefferson-ed out now. Do I really care what kind of leaves he wiped his butt with at the age of 12? For some reason, even though he was a passionate gardener, I just don't feel the affinity for him that I feel for Ben Franklin, a non-gardener, but a greater intellect and influence on modern life, IMHO. It was kind of like attending an Elvis convention for a non-fan, which would be interesting to observe, but gets kind of on your nerves by the second day of nonstop minutiae and hero worship.
The Symposium ended with a catered reception on the West Lawn of Monticello (It's a hard life, but someone has to live it.) that included a quick garden tour and a talk by the irreverent Felder Rushing. Now, I have read his articles and knew that he is what we polite folks call a "real character," so I knew his chat would be both comedic and on-point. He delights in skewering gardening snobbery and elitism. For instance, he read off a Gardener's Bill of Rights that included the right to have as many wind chimes as you can afford and the right to prune or not prune your crepe myrtles as you see fit. He pointed out that if you pluck your eyebrows you are doing the same "unnatural" thing as pollarding a tree and you should get over yourself. That zinger seemed pointed straight at me and I had to laugh.
I found the most amusing part of his talk to be his description of wriggling into stiff-as-a-board shirts hanging on his laundry line and walking around proudly showing the two clothespin pinch marks on his shoulders as evidence of his greener-than-thouness. Far be it from me to tell Felder how to properly hang laundry, but my understanding is taht you put the shirt tails over the line and clip them so the sleeves hang down and dangle free. Sure as as result you don't get to sport your laundry line epaulets, but the shirts seem to dry quicker and less stiff this way.
The next day was the Heritage Harvest Festival. It was also the day Hurricane Hanna hit the East Coast. It was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it made it to Charlottesville, VA that morning. The fest went on, though in a much more dampened and abbreviated fashion. I was most interested in attending the "old timey seed swap" and had brought several well-labeled baggies of seeds. I wanted to compare how they did it to how we do our annual Seed Exchange. Well, it was quite different. At theirs, you basically show up with your seeds, then go around to others and ask what they have one-on-one. If you had none to trade or no seeds that others liked, you could purchase the seeds (usually $1 for a good amount). I traded for some unusual items that looked fun to try out like Tennessee Walking Pumpkins and ornamental gourds. I think I made the best trade of the day when I swapped a few baggies of my flower seeds for home-made peach butter from a Kentucky gal. I basically gave all the rest of my seeds away as I was not interested in selling them and most everyone there to seriously trade had field corn or heirloom beans in large quantity, neither of which I'll be growing in my small urban lot.