Birney Imes: Don't worry what the neighbors think

June 13, 2010 12:40:00 AM

Birney Imes - [email protected]


Saturday Felder Rushing introduced the crowd at the Hitching Lot Farmers'' Market to Don Featherstone. Gonzo gardener, radio personality and author, Rushing is something of a rock star on the gardening speaking circuit. And, on this morning he showed why, going full tilt for two hours in front of a standing-room-only audience, most of whom wore smiles the entire time. 


Featherstone, as it happens, is the fellow who in 1957 created the pink flamingo. 


"This was during the Cold War; people had bomb shelters; he wanted to make something to make people smile," said Rushing. "Before plastic, only rich people could afford poor taste." 


Rushing has spent a lot of energy redefining what is and isn''t poor taste in the garden. 


A tireless champion of landscaping with bottle trees, tire planters and, yes, pink flamingoes, Rushing Saturday touched on subjects as varied as economics, heirloom tomatoes, composting and esthetics. 


"Gaudy is when you do something on purpose," he laughed. "Tacky is when you don''t know better. 


"I had a woman telling me my bottle trees were tacky and she''s standing there with holes in her ears and things hanging from them." 


He calls bottle trees poor man''s stained glass. To fully appreciate Rushing''s bottle tree obsession, check out his website: 


Rushing drives a one-of-a-kind Ford pickup that sports a raised-bed herb garden, two bottle trees, a tire planter and various figurines that look as though they might have been flea market gimme items. 


"I''ve got two plastic hula girls (on my dashboard), don''t make me use them," Rushing told a highway patrolman, who stopped him one recent evening. The patrolman was not amused and all but took apart the truck looking for nonexistent contraband. 


Rushing is a tireless champion of farmers'' markets and eating locally. The term is "locavore." Locally grown food tastes better, is healthier, better for the environment and supports the local economy. 


About heirloom tomatoes, Rushing says, "they are what we call butt ugly." As for grocery store tomatoes, he calls them "winter cardboard." 


When asked the best tasting tomato, he replied, "The one you have in your mouth at the time." 


Let tomatoes ripen on the vine, says Rushing. When you put an unripe tomato on the window sill, they''re decaying, not ripening. 


A caller to his radio show took Rushing to task for the way he pronounced herb. "The French say ''erb'' and the British say ''herb,''" he says. Rushing sides with the British. 


Growing herbs, he says, is instant gratification. If you grow tomatoes, you should grow basil to chop up on them. 


He expounded on the ease and pleasures of growing rosemary--the sidewalk by the McKay house at the corner of Eighth Street and Second Avenue North is the best argument I can think of for embracing rosemary. Rushing has a four-foot cluster that originated from a sprig used for garnish on a restaurant steak. 


He makes a blend of oregano, rosemary and basil for salt substitute. He grinds the three herbs and puts the mixture in one of those sugar dispensers like you used to see in your favorite cafe. 


About composting, Rushing says there are only two things to remember: Stop throwing things away and just pile it up. Meat, too. He''s presently composting a raccoon. 


He also told of composting his 14 year-old-spaniel, who died last year. "I''m using him to grow tomatoes," he said. "I''m eating my dog." 


Brandishing a cement chicken that belonged to his grandmother, Rushing encourages gardners to place things in their gardens that connect them with cherished memories. 


If he has an overriding message in gardening (and in life), it is, be who you want to be and don''t worry about what anyone thinks.  


Decorating maven Martha Stewart has famously quoted Rushing: "Doesn''t matter what you do, or how you do it, your neighbors are gonna talk about you anyway." 


For me, flower gardens are a bit like elaborate Christmas light displays, little love offerings intended to lift our spirits -- at least that''s the interpretation I''m giving it. 


If you want to see what I mean, cruise by these four Southside homes: 124 Fourth Ave. S. (Rob and Helen Hardy''s Bloom Cottage), 310 Third Ave. S. (Joyce and Tommy Hunt''s Storybook Cottage), 106 Seventh Ave. S. (Tommie and Paul Mack) and my favorite, 712 Sixth Ave. S. (Linda Spearing). 


Tacky? Gaudy? Who cares; they''re all beautiful.

Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.