Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine, Online

Garden writing gets you to the greatest places

Garden writing gets you to the greatest places
Enjoying the buffet at Grandma's, above, writer Reba Mize.

Garden writing gets you to to the greatest places

I received a telephone call from a friend saying she had saved every issue of Entertainment Fort Smith since it started back 15 years ago. “Do you know anyone who would like these? I don’t have room anymore to keep them.” Of course, I have my own pile of them, too.

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What fun adventures I’ve had these few years writing for the magazine. Story writing has given me a great excuse for country rambles down dirt roads and interesting conversations with all manner of extraordinary people. I feel as if those of you who read this are coming along for the journey.

Some of my favorite story ideas come from friends, such as the phone call I received last year from my friend Pattie Hooten White.

“Reba, you’ve got to come over a see this plant that’s blooming in my yard!”

When I arrived at Pattie’s house, I could smell the plant before I saw it – and not in a good way. Thus began my research on stinky plants. This was a great excuse to speak with the staff at several arboretums, which is how I found out Pattie’s smelly plant was a voodoo lily. My search also led me to the fascinating plant “Big Stinky,” as it affectionately known at the Huntington Botanical Gardens in California. This malodorous monster plant causes quite a stir when it “blooms,” bringing literally thousands of visitors to experience the rare sight and odor.

Speaking of rare sights and country roads – one of my favorite stories included hugging Lucy the 700-pound pig at Cedar Creek Farm, whose owners I first met at the Fort Smith Farmers Market. The Prater families, who are the caretakers of this farm, have flattered me and Vernon with our own namesake pigs. It is an honor.

Speaking of Vernon, my partner in these adventures is a good sport and participates in many of the activities. Vernon recently received a private lesson in water witching, dowsing or doodle-bugging from world renowned Gladys McCoy of the Ozark Research Center.

We have eaten red and green chiles in New Mexico, at least eight different pies at Grandma’s House Restaurant and a good old-fashioned hamburger at the Dairy Dip in Mulberry, Ark. I try to include food in all of my research – it is an important part of the process.

I have figured out how to make filé from sassafras leaves and how to make our own mosquito repellant and that blueberries are good for your memory and are a natural antidepressant.

In a fascinating interview with Professor Dorothy Matthews of Sage University, I confirmed what I knew all along: Getting dirty is good for you. The mycobacterium M. vaccae found in soil improves vitality and cognitive ability.

We solved the mystery of the Van Buren courthouse chestnut trees with a visit from self-professed tree nerd Carol Guffy, a forester with the UofA Forestry Service. The trees are Asian Chestnuts, by the way, not the endangered Chinquapin.

Ozark Chinquapin Foundation member Hershel McClurkin shared his childhood memories of the delicious Chinquapin nuts. Some called them the Ozarks’ first free lunch program, as children would carry them to school and eat them for lunch.

Oh, and remember the bluebird lady Susan Cox who took me along on her quest to help in the recovery of the bluebird population? Susan tends bluebird houses on the golf course at Hardscrabble Country Club and allowed me to tag along for the process, from setting the bluebird houses to watching the birds choose a home and lay their eggs. It was an incredible experience to see the fledglings leaving the nest and making their first flight.

As you can see, the column gives me a chance to look at the world differently. Many things go through my mind when I begin the process of putting together a story. One of the most important is how I can make it interesting and fun for you, the readers.

Gardening is broadening and widening and deepening. So fasten your seatbelts for a great ride and the hope of more fun storytelling trips and interesting people in the future. And, of course, I brake for lunch.

This article appears in the July 2015 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith magazine. 
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Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine, Online