Birney Imes: Waiting for spring

February 5, 2011 8:38:00 PM

Birney Imes - [email protected]


Friday, at the end of an afternoon of weeding and rearranging flower beds, Linda Spearling went inside her house and warmed her hands over a wood stove. 


Linda is a gonzo gardener, whose yard in April and June is a crazy quilt of fragrant color, an overcrowded classroom of squirmy kids all with their hands in the air. Her house is on Sixth Avenue South, a half block from what was Barrow School. 


For Christmas I got a calendar featuring watercolors of plants bees love. Since then I''ve been steadily putting post-it notes on the pages of seed catalogues. Soon enough the plants will be abundant in local nurseries, but the idea of 100 seeds for $1.95 is irresistible. For $40 you could fill a greenhouse, assuming you had the time, patience and know-how. 


Linda, who comes from a line of Noxubee farmers, credits her grandmother Clara Spearling and maternal grandfather Fred Long of Popular Grove, Ill., for her gardening know-how. 


"Gardening is something that''s just in you," she says in her lilting voice. Spearling''s off-hand manner and childlike wonder mask a knowledge of plants that is as ingrained in her as the ABCs are for the rest of us. 


Spearling fell in love with her neighborhood while earning a teaching degree in social studies at The W in the mid-70s. After graduation she taught as a substitute and then took a job in the gardening center at the Starkville Lowe''s. When she got the chance, she transferred to the Lowe''s in Columbus and bought a house on Southside. 


"I wanted to own an old house and plant old flowers around it," she said. 


When asked to name examples of old plants, she rattles off a half dozen: "larkspur, old fashion narcissus, peonies, phlox, byzantine gladiolus, cannas." 


"I''ve always loved the Southside," she says. "It''s a community. There''s different folks, there''s different houses. People are doing all sorts of things." 


These winter days Spearling is weeding and devising her spring planting strategy. 


"See that, those little things that look like a carrot," she says pointing to a green, weed-like ground cover. "That''s larkspur. It comes up about 3-feet tall and puts out a blue flower. It puts out a tennie brown seed and where that seed falls, you get a plant." 




Last weekend we happened to be visiting with friends who run a photography gallery in the French Quarter. At the mention of gardening and beekeeping, one of them, Eddie Hébert, perked up. Hébert, who spends his days talking about the photographs of Sebastiao Salgado, Helmut Newton and Jessica Lange, whipped out his iPhone, and, with the enthusiasm of a grandfather showing off the grands, began flipping through pictures of his garden. 


I was intrigued by his loofah (also luffa or lufah) plant, which for years I had thought was some sort of sponge from the sea. The fruit, which resembles a zucchini, can be picked before ripening and eaten as a vegetable or, ripened and dried, can be made into sponges or even combined with recycled plastics and used to build furniture and houses. 


Eddie, with iPhone pictures as evidence, says the stuff spreads like kudzu. He offered to bring seeds at an event we would both be attending later. That night, good to his word, Eddie slipped me a white business envelope containing what looked to be about 40 dried watermelon seeds. 


Feeling a bit like Jack and the Beanstalk, I folded the envelope and put it in my coat pocket. A day later, arriving home, I added it to a box of wildflower seeds that had come in the mail while we were away. 


Birney Imes is the publisher of The Commercial Dispatch. E-mail him at [email protected]

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