recalls his first encounters with horticulture, and Horticulture
IN MY CHILDHOOD, Shreveport, Louisiana, was a small town and not the raw, sprawling urban mass it is today—at least so it seemed to me, in the way that children measure spaces and geographies against their own small stature and experience. When I was seven, the houses of my grandmothers bounded Shreveport at its extremities, and its center was the house I lived in, on Unadilla Avenue. I could walk to school, and almost anywhere, though I had to take the trolley to visit my grandmothers, and then thread through the maze of alleys that were common in old Shreveport. They were wonderful, like country lanes, where guinea hens and banty chickens pecked in the rough gravel, huge green-and-white-striped ‘Cushaw’ squash tumbled out of back gardens, and fig trees grew beside the garbage cans. Every half block showed a different canna, growing rank along a back fence. I was a trusty little boy, and since I was never likely to be with any other children who would get me into trouble, my mother was mostly content to let me wander about alone. So I walked a lot, particularly in summer, which seemed endless.
There were still many vacant lots in my section of Shreveport, where people tended to dump their garden refuse, resulting in some quite surprising finds—bamboos, yuccas, crinum lilies and amaryllis, cast-off tulips—all free, just for the toting. Once I even found a whole hill of little potatoes, about which my mother and the cook had strong reservations.
Beyond rambles, I also had destinations. Given an early start, I could make it on foot to Lambert’s Nursery, one of the most stylish in the whole South, where I saw my first espaliers and topiaries. They were wonders, and the place itself, for all its obvious elegance, was very friendly to me, a curious, gardening child.
My favorite destination, however, was the Big Chain Grocery Store, located about a mile from my house, in the South Highlands Shopping Center. The walk was easy for me, if I left before the heat, and went through residential neighborhoods whose very blades of grass I knew by heart. Once at the Big Chain, there was air conditioning—a stunning luxury in my childhood—an ice cream fountain, and a superb newsstand. I had to be careful about the fountain (though its very name gave me shivers of pleasure), for the newsstand held one burning interest—the gardening section. There I could get the old Flower Grower magazine, defunct for many years now, and Horticulture. Both, as I remember, cost about 65 cents, put together.
I always tried not to look at the pictures until I got home, for the promise of heat in the morning would by then be realized, and the walk back was longer. But once home, lying under the window with the attic fan on, I gave way fully. Often, after reading all the articles, I wrote to request almost everything at the back (although I was not keen on mowers). Schreiner’s, the venerable iris nursery, accepted my childish hand and sent back a catalog, every time. I am still grateful to them, more than 50 years later. And I am grateful to Horticulture, which did so much to encourage a passion which my world then considered at best a bit odd. Still does, perhaps, in a little boy.
Horticulture has reached the great age of 100, which seems extraordinary. But to me it seems even more extraordinary that for more than half its life I have been reading it, and for the last 15 years, writing for it. Fate does have queer twists and turns. These days, no child could be left to walk alone through Shreveport, two miles going and coming, to buy a magazine. And I, as that child, could never have dreamed that I would spend the best years of my life as a professional garden maker, or that I might be writing this page. Though I am still going strong, I could wish another 60 years for me, though I doubt the wish would be granted. I do not think, however, it is too much to hope for Horticulture, which is, too. H