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Today is September 16, 2021

Felder Rushing

Mississippi’s maverick gardener

By Steven Ward

Felder Rushing

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Mississippi gardener and horticulturist Felder Rushing has lived in Jackson since 1980.

Known for his books, NPR radio show, magazine articles and newspaper columns, Rushing likes to tell stories about his urban neighbors and their unique takes on the home garden.

But Rushing was actually reared in rural Mississippi — Indianola to be precise.

“I am from a small Delta town, raised by four headstrong gardening women who had totally different styles. My ancestors have been in what is now Mississippi since the 1700s,” Rushing told Today in Mississippi recently during an interview about his new book.

“Maverick Gardeners: Dr. Dirt and Other Determined Independent Gardeners” is about nontraditional gardeners and the bond people across race, culture, language, and other social conventions share via unique plants and stories.

“But it (the book) mostly deals with why passionate gardeners do what they do, what makes them tick and where they get their rewards (hint: it is about gathering heirloom plants and lore and sharing with others),” Rushing said.

The book features some highly diverse people who have similar over-the-top garden spirits, including a guerilla gardener who shares food he grows on a vacant parking lot, a woman whose “grief garden” over a lost son is accessorized with countless birdhouses, a colorful Jamaican immigrant and a high-end landscape architect, all passionate individuals who love gardening and accessorizing and sharing that with others.

The “Dr. Dirt” in the book’s subtitle was a hardcore gardener who planted everything he could get his hands on, both flowers and edibles, and container plants without a lot of horticultural know-how or technology or sprays, Rushing said.

He also said “Dr. Dirt” over-accessorized and spray painted everything.

“But his open attitude, overwhelming enthusiasm, matter-of-fact style, and generous spirit gave countless people confidence in their own abilities,” Rushing said.

Rushing said maverick gardeners can be found all over Mississippi.

“I have visited and swapped plants and tales with maverick gardeners — who, by the way, aren’t rebels, aren’t pushing back from anything, they are simply doing their own thing and wishing others would just understand — in every county; they are in every community across the state and worldwide,” Rushing said.

Rushing said there’s no difference between maverick gardeners in rural parts of the state and city suburbs.

“Folks all over love their lawns, tend their flowers, grow their vegetables and herbs, dig in the dirt the same way. Garden style, including accessories, is a personality thing, not a location,” he said.

“However, there is less pressure outside the suburbs to ‘fit in,’ to be like others, so in small towns and rural areas people are more likely to express themselves freely,” Rushing said.

When it comes to garden tips, Rushing is one of the go-to experts in the Southeast. What tip is he asked about the most?

“Other than pest control (do any of us really know how to keep squirrels and aphids out of our gardens?), I get a lot of questions about pruning and weed control. The most urgent one right now is whether or not it’s okay to prune crape myrtles which is more polarizing than politics!”

“By the way, whether self-appointed tastemakers like it or not, pruning crapes is perfectly fine as a style; “fist pruning” (balls on the ends of branches) is done all over Japan, England, even at the headquarters of the American Horticulture Society. So, I tell people to mind their own business. It’s a personal decision like which way to pluck eyebrows or roll toilet paper,” Rushing said.”

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