Felder Rushing, host of "Gestalt Gardener" on MPB, turned his truck bed into a rolling garden. Photo by: Courtesy photo
May 12, 2018 9:58:22 PM
I drive an antique pickup truck all over, and often get asked about the flowers planted in the back.
Some 30 years ago, someone was whining about not being able to garden, not having a place, or something along those lines, spurring me to find a way to turn frustration into hope.
I pulled it off by growing stuff in the worst possible conditions for gardening -- in the back of my old pickup truck. I mean, if I can grow vegetables, herbs and flowers in that version of Horticultural Hades, anyone should be able to do better somewhere more suitable, like on a porch, deck, or balcony. Right?
I started with a bag of potting soil stuffed with a few plants and some fertilizer, pushed up against the cab in that little windless eddy that anyone who ever rode in the back of a truck knows about.
By the end of the summer, with only an occasional fill-up of water, the little "pillow garden" produced flowers, tomatoes and peppers. And for lagniappe, it was too windy for bugs!
The next year I went with a larger bag of potting soil and more plants, though a few got pushed around a bit by the wind, and some couldn't take radiated parking lot or driveway heat.
I finally went whole-hog by having a metal box custom-fitted to the truck bed, with holes along the back edge so water would drain easily. Filled it with a lightweight soil mix and began experimenting with what can take the harsh conditions. Whenever something did poorly, I simply pulled it out and stuck something different in the hole.
Over the years I have found small evergreen shrubs, flowering and foliage perennials, succulents, and annuals including compact vegetables and culinary herbs that can take extreme heat, deep freezes, sparse watering and gusts of wind.
With only occasional replacements, a little weeding, and twice-a-year swapping out heat-loving summer basils, peppers and little zinnias with cold-tolerant winter kale, parsley and violas, the garden has remained completely packed with plants of all shapes, colors and textures. I've seen butterflies supping there, had a nest of little black ants for several years, and found earthworms churning my mulch into rich compost.
Oh, and because I tend to over-accessorize, in addition to a pair of custom-made bottle tree sconces, I added an old garden gnome, a copper frog, birdhouse, nicely-shaped little boulder and a Slow Gardening sign (ironic, huh?). Even the sideboards of my truck are festooned with a row of Sunflower County license plates, a gift from the mayor of my truck's hometown.
Over the decades, the garden has accumulated well over 300,000 miles, crisscrossing the eastern half of the US -- 34 states -- and every county in Mississippi. It's probably been through your hometown a time or two.
A couple of years ago, in a sort of windfall incident, the truck was stolen but quickly recovered after a public uproar; however, it had been stripped of everything except the garden box and dirt. The president of Holmes County Community College had the instructor and students in the Auto Collision Repair Technology program restore it, including taking out all dents, straightening the steel bumper, and painting it John Deere Green in honor of its agricultural roots.
You can see before, after, and in-process images on my blog, and a link to the video of the whole affair including the replanting of the garden, done by Mississippi Public Broadcasting's "Mississippi Roads."
With its new lease of life, the old truck and its vibrant little herb and flower garden continue merrily down the road. Hope to run into you someday. Not literally of course.
Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the "Gestalt Gardener" on MPB Think Radio. His email address is [email protected]