My mother Lula Bell gardened for the table, she taught me how to hold a hoe, and work a row at a tender age. While we worked, she’d share her philosophy on life in the form of illuminations, “hoeing a tough row is hard work, and hard work is the only way to get ahead in life” with a rythm in her voice that came from the pace of hoeing as she spoke.
At age sixteen, my first job was at Marvaso’s Greenhouse for $2.40/hr. I worked from sunrise, to sunset, and learned commercial gardening fundamentals through hard work with hands-on experience. My interest for gardening carried me to the landscape program in high school, and my next several jobs as a young man were with various landscape companies in the area, even laying sod one summer in downtown Detroit.
All of my training and experience as a gardener was under a Victorian paradigm. Nature is to be controlled, ornamental plants are to be collected, gardens are to be sculpted, and grass is to be mowed into turf.
There was an afternoon I was discussing my plans for the gardens with my friend of forty-five years, Kevin Sharp. He too is gardener, and has been working to restore a tallgrass prairie on his acreage he’s named “The Gay Prairie” also in Manchester.
I mentioned my intent to plant bamboo, canna, and elephant ears around some of the pheasant aviaries, to create a tropical look. He challenged me with the notion that bamboo can be an invasive, and should be avoided in the gardens. He asked in a mildly disgusted tone, “have you thought about planting natives?” That was the nudge that set me on the course of a paradigm shift in my gardening aspirations. As I studied, I learned less than 4% of America’s tallgrass prairie remains, I understood how native plants support wildlife, and my interest shifted to restoring native plant communities rather than planting ornamental cultivars that could be invasive species.
Kevin and I grew-up together in Flat Rock. In September 1988 after I had accepted the accounting position at Johnson Controls Uniloy Division in the Village of Manchester, I took Kevin for a drive around the township to show him what a beautiful area I would be living. He agreed with me so completely that eventually he and his husband purchase their Manchester home in 2002 and have been part of the community ever since. Its a blessing to be neighbors again.
Sara Ciotti-Nickerson says
Wow, that is awesome! It’s so nice to see more people planting natives! I do what I can on my small yard, and I’ve already been seeing some reward for my efforts. Keep up the great work!
Two of my favorite people that I’m so fortunate to call friends. You both are doing a great job with your projects and every time I visit I fall in love a little more. Oh and Kevin being an incredible cook gives me even more reason to visit!