I skipped Black Friday again this year. I shop at Christmastime only under duress, but as days grow shorter, my noose tightens. Yuletide suffocation draws nigh. There is no way I’m going to the mall, but I hate to be all Bah! Humbug!
This year I found a holiday remedy to please all those on my list: Augustus Jenkins (Jenks) Farmer’s Deep-Rooted Wisdom: Skills and Stories from Generations of Gardeners. I can’t think of a recent gardening book I have enjoyed more. Nowhere else could I have met so many wise gardening mentors or learned about a “sapro-entrepreneur” and “rose rustlers.”
Jenks, a native South Carolinian, is a plantsman, nurseryman and garden designer. He is also a gifted storyteller who has been nominated for the 2015 Reed Environmental Writing Award from the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Jenks explains how gardening grabbed hold of him—and never let go. “It was in the third grade that I became a gardener. My parents set me up in a paradise—an old farm of rocks, boards, and scrap metal; an ancient yard filled with crinum and red spider lilies, right next to a magnolia forest carpeted with ferns.”
Deep-Rooted Wisdom is a cozy and deeply informative read. “Enjoy the mystery and get your hands dirty, ” Jenks advises. The book draws you into a conversation with family, neighbors, old and new friends. The book is, by Jenks’s admission: an “environmental plea.”
We can do better, he writes. Here’s how: Each of the eleven chapters unearths new ideas on gardening, farming, art and sustainability. Watering by Hand, Handmade Structures, Finding the Spirit and Scavenging dig into conventional gardening practices and turn them on their head—or back in time. Yet the most interesting chapter is Stop the Tilling Cycle.
Jenks admits that it is not easy winning over converts to no-till gardening. “Take my mother, for example. She’s heard me preaching many times, but remains addicted to the satisfying purr of the rototiller and the rewarding view of a cleanly tilled bed.” Jenks breaks new ground with help from The Teachers: Linda Proffit and Tradd Cotter. It’s all about the magic of worms and mushrooms. Mycoremediation (revitalizing soil with mushrooms) was a new one on me. I was intrigued to read how Cotter, a sapro-entrepreneur, “…finds, grows and even ‘trains’ mushrooms for soil remediation.”
Over and over, it’s the fascinating characters Jenks introduces that keep the story so revealing. His mother Gloria and his neighbor Mr. Frank teach Jenks valuable lessons when he is a young boy.
Then there are others who, to this day, display common sense and lead him toward undiscovered beauty. Yvrose Valdez is “a wise soulful gardener in Miami.” Sue Ban, on Helena Island, near Beaufort, South Carolina, has an artful garden full of “fluidity and contrasts.” And the “quiet and unpretentious” Ruth Knopf, of Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, knows how to “spot long-lost roses in country gardens” anywhere she travels.
Now all I have left on my Christmas shopping list is something for my nearly eight-year-old granddaughter. She is a growing gardener, but this year Harry Potter may trump Jenks Farmer.
You can purchase Deep Rooted Wisdom directly from Jenks. If you order by December 16th, he’ll autograph the book and ensure it’s under your Christmas tree.