Unusually Clever People

The world according to Felder Rushing

FelderGreenroofarbor
First take a gander at the front yard of garden writer/popular speaker/urban horticulturist Felder Rushing – surely a regional landmark in Jackson, Mississippi. There are 450 different species of plants and lots of “yard art”. There’s no turfgrass at all, but lots of “people places.” The photo above is the view from the street and below is the view from in Felder’s home looking out toward the street.
FelderFront

I heard Felder speak at Lewis Ginter Botanic Garden recently and took furious notes about his gardening style and philosophy.  Some highlights:

  • We’re a nation not of gardeners but of lawn-mowers…and that’s work,
    not fun.  He learned back in the ’70s to “Just say no to grass.”
    (Felder, really?) Though he did concede that a little bit of
    turf can make you feel like you’ve “got a grip”, which is the feeling
    his wife gets from making the bed every morning.
  • He designed his front yard to look good from the house, not from the street – because he doesn’t care how it looks to his neighbors.
  • He edges his garden not with “monkey grass” but with a little train that can carry two beers and some ice.
  • He scoffs at soil tests.  After asking the audience “Who’s actually tested their soil?” and getting an underwhelming response, he declared that “People aren’t buying this stuff we’re telling them.”
  • As an example of a good-looking, low-maintenance landscape, one with color and texture all year, he shocked us the sight of a McDonald somewhere in America, looking as good as promised..
  • He’s pro-dandelions. “Don’t call ChemLawn!” If you have weeds in the lawn just plant daffodils around them and call them companions.
  • Gardens should have accents.  His garden holds 10 bottle trees and one “rubber tree” – a big stack of tires, which he adorns for Christmas.
  • He loves ponds and the frogs and dragonflies they attract.
  • And he looooves outdoor fires, declaring them to be at least as interesting to watch as “people arguing and blowing themselves up on TV.”  No argument there – and way more relaxing.

Posted by on February 24, 2009 at 4:23 am, in the category Unusually Clever People.
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25 responses to “The world according to Felder Rushing”

  1. Brie says:

    I really like Felder’s relaxed approach! Especially about designing the garden to look good from the house instead of the street.

    Where it says “Gardens should have accents”, before reading the rest I imagined accents in the sense of “if a garden could speak, it would sound like this,” which is sort of fun to consider.

  2. I’ve never heard of Felder, but he sounds like my kind of guy.

  3. I love Felder’s yard. It inspires me to look harder at my own–maybe I should get rid of even more lawn.

    I agree that gardens should look good from inside the house. Too often the only thing you see from inside are the ugly backsides of overgrown foundation plantings. Gardeners should please themselves first.

  4. lawremc says:

    Felder is great! In the photo, I love the green roof of what appears to liriope and La. iris about the steps. I highly recommend his book Passalong Plants.

  5. commonweeder says:

    I never heard of Felder either, but I’m in agreement. I think it is very important to plan what we see out our windows. When working with landscape designer Walt Cudnohufsky I’ve seen him arrange it so no parked cars are visible from the main viewing sites.

  6. TC says:

    I’ve had the “privilege” of being a personal guest and being in Felder’s yard is like being in a micro-jungle. Felder is not your average “horticulturist,” as a matter of fact, I don’ think he’s an “average” anything. He taught me how to cut a tire planter and showed me how to make a frog’s belly out of a sedum leave. Two things I’ve passed along as well. I’m honored to say I wrote the foreword to Felder’s “Tough Plants for Northern Gardens,” if your a northern gardener, pick up a copy. And if you’re not doing anything else, stop by and read my post about Felder here: http://thewritegardener.blogspot.com/2008/09/mentors.html

  7. I’ve heard Felder talk and read two of his books. BTW, I love Passalong Plants. He’s very entertaining, and knowledgeable about plants, people, the south, yard art, etc. I’m sure it was fun.

  8. What’s wrong with making your bed every morning and keeping a bit of lawn to mow? It’s good to have that feeling like you’ve “got a grip” in this crazy mixed up world.

    And is there a vegetable garden in there somewhere?

  9. Cathy says:

    i want the train to come by with the two beers!

  10. Michele says:

    Oh my God, I LOVE him!!! Love him for attacking all the bull in gardening advice. Test your soil, indeed.

    And love him for his playful attitude to his garden. Southerners can be just so much more sophisticated and civilized than all of us twitchy, anxious Northeasterners.

  11. I listen to Felder all of the time (via podcast). I love his approach to gardening…the “it’s not that big of a deal” philosophy. I have no doubt that it helps alleviate the fears of many new gardeners.

  12. My mom and I spent an hour of one-on-one time (two-on-one?) with him last year at a local garden show (http://tinyurl.com/aqaqvl), besides hearing him speak. What a treat!

    You forgot to mention the garden in his truck! LOL

  13. Andrew says:

    Awesome. Grew up in MS reading him, and so glad he’s still around after all these years. I can’t count the times my parents would be all, “That Felder Rushing! He’s such a loon!” and I’d be thinking, “He’s onto something here…”

  14. Jonah says:

    Susan, you did a great job sumarizing Felder’s light-hearted style.
    If anyone wants to hear Felder’s entire “performance” we’ve put up a podcast, and his colorful nature certainly shines through in the audio recording.
    http://lewisginter.wordpress.com/2009/02/17/gardening-for-love-and-nostalgia-podcast-with-felder-rushing/

  15. Just Jenn says:

    Love it – and not a scrap of lawn in sight.

  16. Sounds like a wonderful guy and I love MOST of his comments, except for his dismissal of soil tests. Now he’s dumbing down, right back to the, “Oh, if it’s work, involves learning some things from the report, why bother” mentality.

    85 percent of your success or failure in gardening will be because of your soil. I never speak to a group without telling them to get their soil tested, and have the websites and phone numbers of their county extension service and soil lab up on the screen. Yes, when I ask how many in the audience have had their soil tested, five people out of a hundred raise their hands. And afterward, 20 more people go out and do it, and those 20 are immediately better gardeners!

  17. greg draiss says:

    Outrageous garden(s)
    The type of cool nut we all should be
    The TROLL

  18. chuck b . says:

    I got a soil test. It was fun! I learned my soil has a lot of zinc.

  19. trey says:

    I am with chuck b. and Renegade Gardener on soil tests. Just because the audience he spoke with hadn’t tested their soil doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. My sales of pH testing equipment has exploded as we have made a point of recommending people test their soil. Maybe if you live in Mississippi, or Iowa you don’t need a soil test, but here in northern California it’s a must.

  20. Kathy J says:

    And Lead is one GOOD reason folks here in DC should test their soils before planting edibles.
    Overall though, I concur with all of Felder’s point and agree that life is too short to fuss over what you SHOULD do. But hey, if you enjoy grooming the lawn and making your bed – no one is judging you if you do :-)

  21. felder says:

    actually, felder grows quite a lot of his own food, with an entire area dedicated to JUST herbs and vegetables – all grown in containers and a raised bed. it’s just not visible from the street…
    and he teaches a college class on growing food in small spaces.

  22. felder says:

    sorry renegade, i am NOT dumbing down… in fact, i’m the retired consumer horticulturist for our state’s extension service, and have personally tested thousands of soil samples over the years. but the truth is, for MOST gardeners, soil testing is simply a tool for TWEAKING a garden’s results, not a requirement for success.
    too many folks are daunted by all the “stuff” they “should” do, and simply give up.
    soil testing is fine, but certainly not NECESSARY.

  23. felder says:

    sorry trey, but even though i’m the retired consumer horticulturist for our state’s extension service, and have personally tested thousands of soil samples over the years, i know that, for MOST gardeners, soil testing is simply a tool for TWEAKING a garden’s results, not a requirement for success.
    too many folks are daunted by all the “stuff” they “should” do, and simply give up.
    soil testing is fine, but certainly not NECESSARY.
    unless, of course, you are selling soil testing kits…

  24. Matt says:

    Sorry Trey. I’m a gardener in Northern California (Sacramento) and can’t say soil tests are a must. If there was a serious problem, you would now about it from your neighbors, etc. I grow plenty of weeds so my soil must be good enough to grow plants.

  25. ddigger says:

    i’m new to this site, but not new to felder’s felderisms. i came to south florida from new jersey believing i would be gardening in paradise. not so my friends. against felder’s advise, i tested my soil and found it to be two parts sand and one part fire ants. now i wear sneakers instead of flip flops and i don’t test my soil because the solution is always lots of organic matter and using plants that are happy in the existing conditions.

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