Gardening according to Felder

Felder Rushing is an eighth-generation Southern gardener hailing
from a place called Jackson, Miss. I met Felder more than a decade
ago from our connections with the Garden Writers Association. We’re
both on the horticulture organization’s Board of Directors.
Felder Rushing is an eighth-generation Southern gardener hailing from a place called Jackson, Miss. I met Felder more than a decade ago from our connections with the Garden Writers Association. We’re both on the horticulture organization’s Board of Directors.

To meet Felder is to like him instantly. He has that down-home Southern hospitality you read about in books. He even looks like Colonel Sanders except Felder’s hair isn’t white and is six inches longer than the fast-food king. He talks in a slow Southern drawl, and spouts garden philosophy that is clear, concise and refreshing.

For instance, Felder hates the term “horticulture,” preferring instead “gardening.” He says simply, “Gardening is not by the book. Horticulture is all by the book.”

“Have you ever fried Spam?” he asks, as if this might clarify the point. “It curls up. Anybody who has fried Spam knows, instinctively, you gotta cut the edge to keep it from curling. You don’t read that in a book, you just know it. Well, I heed the cooking-Spam approach to gardening.”

Felder is definitely a no-frills gardener. He believes in gardening by the gut. Stupid rules take the fun out of gardening.

As evidence, take Felder’s instructions on how to plant a plant. Grab a pen because you don’t want to miss this: A. Dig hole. B. Insert plant. “Green side up,” he reminds, lest that point pass you by.

Pretty much leave things alone after that, according to the Gospel of Felder. At least in the roundup of plants he’s after. Among Felder’s favorite places to accumulate plants (make that steal) is beside crumbling headstones in long forgotten graveyards. Felder maintains, “These are plants that even dead people can grow.”

Some other Felder-isms:

There are only two rules for composting, he says: stop throwing that stuff away and pile it up somewhere.

Paying someone to mow your lawn is out-sourcing your pleasure.

Native plants are the Helen and Thelma Lou of Mayberry; they fit right in and are dependable. Hybrids and exotics are the Party Girls from Mt. Pilot who come and go.

Felder believes home gardeners fall into three categories: prissy silver people (“I don’t want them setting the standard for me”) who prefer formal plantings and know all The Rules; blue people who are basically crazy and tend to over-accessorize (like creating a giant beetle sculpture out of a rusted Volkswagen shell); and the red people who use the best of both approaches in their gardens.

Felder’s own garden in Mississippi is a cross between gaudy and tacky. Felder maintains that a gaudy garden is something people may not like, but it’s OK because you think you know what you’re doing. Tacky is when you don’t know any better, and bless your heart, do it anyway.

Stay tuned for next week’s column as we explore some of the wacky ways Felder decorates his garden.

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