Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Mon, 26 Dec 1994

This seismic weather is crazy. Thirties two days ago and walking bundled up as if I was an ad for an outlet L.L. Bean store, walking today in shorts and without a shirt. So, continuing my summery thoughts about gardening and its parallels to teaching are more appropriate today than they were a few days ago.

I am a flower gardener, not of professional caliber or even of the over-serious flower-show variety. I don't hunt, fish, or play golf. I just talk with my flowers. It's a relaxing and invigorating hobby that beautifies my heart, ornaments the outside of our house, and decorates the inside. Neighbors stop by to admire the flurry of color, the arrangement of different sizes and shapes, mixture of smells, assortment of grasses, flowers, bushes, trees. "How do you do it," one neighbor always asks me from her car. "Your plants are always so beautiful!" And whenever I walk over and start to tell her, she interrupts with an exclaimed "Oh," a nonchalant wave of her hand, a "I'm not that serious of a gardener. I don't have that much time," and off she would drive.

How far I have come. When I first started gardening as a hobby about twenty years ago, I had a jet black thumb. I talked about different kinds of flowers, but I gardened as if my yard was populated by a single specie of flora called, "plant." I didn't worry about such things as soil preparation, availability of sunlight, feeding, watering, and all those other annoying details. I figured that all I had to do was to go to a nursery, buy some nice looking flowers, take them wherever I wanted into my backyard or front yard, dig a hole, drop them into in the ground, throw some any old fertilizer around it, put the hose to it, occasionally spray it with some smelly pesticide and pluck out a pesky weed or two, and then just passively lounge about in my hammock or watch a ball game, and cheer the plants on "to do their stuff," waiting for the rewarding explosion of color and diffusion of perfume. It usually didn't happen. In spite of my efforts, instead of green I got yellow and brown and black, instead of growth I got wilt and shrivel; instead of lush I got bare spots. My thumb was black. It was so black that there was a time I whimsically thought of establishing a business called, "Kill It", for those people with house plants going on vacations who wanted to mercifully and quickly put their plants out of their inevitable slow agony. But, enough plants survived and bloomed that I could easily point fingers elsewhere: the weather was uncooperative; the insects were heavy; the plants were weak; and always the nurseries sold me poor quality plants. Those few successes, however, also gave me encouragement that I could be a better gardener. Slowly as I began to ask questions from nursery owners, joined flower clubs, read books, and experimented, I understood how haphazard, careless and indiscriminate I had been with the plants. I learned that the plants which had survived did so not because I was a good gardener, but were those whose needs were compatible with my amateurish efforts. As I studied, I discovered some essential principles of gardening that offered my black thumb a chance to change its hue to green.

The first principle is that I had to get beyond the collective stereotypical word, "plant" as if the garden was populated by a single specie. To say that every flower had to be planted, watered and fed was not enough. Each plant had its own name for a good reason. It revealed its individuality, its own set of strengths and vulnerabilities, its own special needs, all of which I had to attend: some were delicate and tender while others were hardy and could be roughly handled; some needed the full brilliance of the sun, others partial shades, still others deep shade. Some could endure the chill of the winter and remain in the ground, some had to be protected with a thick blanket of pine needles, some had to be dug up and stored. For some the acidic level of the soil was critical for survival; for some the depth of planting was important; for still others soil texture and composition couldn't be ignored. Some flowers had to be watered heavily, some did not. Some had to be protected from the summer heat. Some flowers propagated themselves by seeds, some by rhizomes, some by bulbs; some could be grown by cuttings, some by division. Some flowers were early season bloomers, some were late season bloomers, some were mid-season. Some flowers stood tall, some were short, some were in between. Some flowers had to be planted in the fall, some in the spring. And it goes on and on and on with the endless variety and diversity of individual needs.

The second axiom that finally got through my skull was that the flowers had to have a voice in my gardening; that I had to put the plants ahead of me; that gardening was about the individual plants far more than it was about me.

Third, that to tend to them I had to have at my disposal an assortment of tools, fertilizer mixtures, times schedules for watering and washing, natural insecticides and fungicides and any other -cides to be used at different times for different purposes; and that if I truly cared, tended, and nurtured ny plants, they would naturally grow, thrive, and bloom.

My fourth lesson was that in the immediate and long run, the critical element to my success as a gardener was that *I* had to change *MY* cavalier approach to gardening; that it wasn't enough for me to want to be a gardener; I would have work hard to become a gardener; that "being a slave to a garden" was far more a state of mind that it was an actual situation; that *I*, therefore, had to change MY attitude towards myself, my efforts, and the plants; *I* had to change the purpose and course of MY efforts; *I* therefore had to change my responsibilities and performance.

And finally, maybe the most important, I learned that the perfect flower does not exist and that I should stop gardening as if it did and stop being disappointed if it did not appear in my garden.

I think these gardening offer lessons for us to bring into the classroom. After all, I don't do much gardening in my yard if not much growing, thriving, and blooming takes place. And, I don't do much teaching in the classroom if not much growing, thriving, blooming, and learning takes place.

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
Department of History                      /~\    /\ /\
Valdosta State University          /^\    /   \  /  /~ \     /~\__/\
Valdosta, Georgia 31698           /   \__/     \/  /     /\ /~      \
                            /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\
                          -_~     /  "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\
                             _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -\____

Return to The Complete Random Thoughts of Louis Schmier
Return to the Random Thoughts of Louis Schmier
Return to Arbor Heights Elementary School