Three Gardeners — Given that our first summer session is nearly over, I have a sense that we are already half way through the summer of 2019, but this sense is nonsense. In reality, the summer of 2019 started on June 21, which was just last Friday. The start of summer, after all, is dictated by the summer solstice, not by the Registrar’s Office and its academic calendar.
The arrival of summer reminds me of my early attempts at planting a garden after moving to Charlotte in the summer of 1984. My parents loved gardening, and I grew up helping them in our family’s various gardens. However, when I tried to replicate my parents’ approach to gardening here in Charlotte, I failed miserably. I remember, for example, planting snow peas in June, just like my parents always did, only to see them wither up and die in the intense heat of July without producing a single snow pea. I gradually realized that my parents’ approach to gardening worked perfectly in the cold climate and high altitude of my childhood home in the mountains of Colorado, but my parents’ approach was not at all suited to the growing conditions in Charlotte.
The person who attempted to teach me how to garden in the South was an English professor named James Hedges. Jim, as he was generally known, was an avid gardener, and he often brought home-grown vegetables to share with everybody in the department. Jim told me what plants grow best in our region. He also told me when to plant them and how to prepare our dense, clay soil to make it more conducive to cultivating plants. Jim was a linguist by training, but he also had an expertise in American folklore and occasionally taught courses on this topic. He knew all sorts of folktales and folklore related to plants. For example, when I mentioned to Jim that pokeweed grew in my backyard, he told me about several folk remedies related to the perceived medicinal qualities associated with pokeweed. He also told me that I could use the purple juice from the pokeweed berries as an ink, and I actually did this with my son when he was little. Jim died many years ago, but I still remember how he combined his love of gardening and his scholarly interest in American folklore.
Like Jim Hedges, James Hathaway (the husband of Dean Nancy Gutierrez) has a passion for gardening. I always enjoy talking with James about his garden and his amazing successes at growing unusual plants, such as rare peppers and exotic flowers. James is also a poet, and he draws on his interest in gardening in his poetry. He often writes poems about the life cycle of plants. His poems usually include specific details that are grounded in botanical science, but they also can be read on a metaphorical level. His poems tend to be about the rhythms of nature and the interrelationship between life and death, growth and decay, summer and winter.
Jen Munroe also has a passion for gardening. She has a large, organic garden, and she enjoys including the produce from her garden in the meals that she prepares. For Jen, gardening relates to her scholarship in the area of ecocriticism. She often writes about the cultural and historical significance of gardens. An example is her book Gender and the Garden in Early Modern English Literature. In this book, she not only examines practical gardening books published in England in the 16th and 17th centuries, but she also discusses how images of gardens figure in the literature from this period.
For all three of these gardeners, their passion for growing plants has connections to their scholarship and writing. As the examples of Jim, James and Jen demonstrate, gardening is about more than growing vegetables and flowers; it also relates to aesthetics, cultural history, and the living planet that we call Earth. As Voltaire once wrote, “We must take care of our garden.”
Kudos — As you know, I like to use my Monday Missives to share news about recent accomplishments by members of the English Department. Here is the latest news:
Dina Massachi, a graduate of our M.A. program, recently presented a paper titled “‘Things haven’t been the same since that house fell on my sister’: MGM’s Sister Witches, and the Post-MGM Ozs That Love Them” at Oz, the National Convention, in Gray, Louisiana.
Upcoming Events and Deadlines — Here is information about upcoming events and deadlines:
July 1 — Final grades for the first summer session courses are due by noon on Monday, July 1. July 1 —The first day of classes for the second summer session is Monday, July 1.
Quirky Quiz Question — What is the title of Voltaire’s famous work that includes the passage about caring for gardens.
Last week’s answer: Alabama
What state serves as the setting for To Kill a Mocking Bird?