Felder Rushing doesn’t get hung up about the rules of garden design and step-by-step instructions in gardening how-to books. He is cussedly independent, contemplative, unhurried and unworried. He’s in it for the fun, and he is going to take his time about it.
Slow Gardening, like the Slow Food movement that the name comes from, is an idea, not a directive. The goal of Slow Food is to re-establish the connections between people and food by taking the hustle but not the sizzle out of eating. Slow Gardening does pretty much the same thing, Rushing says: It encourages gardeners at every level to forget chores and simply enjoy gardening.
Rushing, an enthusiastic gardener with an unapologetic penchant for whimsy, loves bottle trees and garden gnomes; he planted a striking combination of pink gladiolus and plastic flamingoes in his front yard in Mississippi. If you don’t like it, that’s all right with him. Slow gardeners do not have much time for what the neighbors think.
“It’s not a style; it is a way of being,” Rushing says. Slow gardeners might be lawn fanatics, daylily collectors or people who just love to grow tomatoes. They’re not trying to get anywhere, since they have already reached their destination. “If it thrills you and you’re doing it, that’s Slow Gardening,” Rushing says.
Rushing, author of “Passalong Plants and Gardening Southern Style,” is the dominant voice in the Slow Gardening movement, but the concept has all kinds of support. Skyrocketing interest in organic gardening, native plants, sustainability and vegetable gardening shows that gardeners want to get back to basics. Garden designers hear from their clients that they want less to take care of and more to appreciate. Designers and gardeners are looking beyond flowers to all-season plants that attract birds and butterflies.
Slow Gardening is very up to date, but it has deep roots. Gardening has always been a process, a collaboration between humans and nature, and not something you can go out and buy. The passage of time is central: Planting a little tree is just a beginning. A new plant — and it doesn’t matter what you plant, as long as you plant something, Rushing says — gives you something new to check on and nurture, a new destination in your own garden, a new reason to keep an eye on the weather and to mark the passing seasons.
“Don’t be paralyzed by what you’re not doing right,” Rushing says, “or by what you think you ought to do.”
If you read rose-gardening books, Rushing says, you’ll learn “that when you prune your roses, you’re supposed to cut above a five-leaf leaflet, on a 45-degree angle, just beside an outward-facing bud.” This is far too much technical information for someone just getting into the game, he insists. “I’m not saying it’s bad, I’m just saying it’s not necessary,” he says. “The point is to grow roses.”
Once you get the hang of Slow Gardening, Rushing says, plants that flourish will please you all the more, and those that do not make it will not worry you so much. As you spend more time outside, you’ll get to know the sunny, shady, moist, and dry areas of your garden, normally by trial and error, which takes time. Eventually, your garden will be full of the right kinds of plants, the ones that thrive in your climate and local conditions.
In his garden, Rushing surrounds himself and his family and friends with plants. There is always something to inspect, to pinch or to prune, but it’s not all work. “We sit around a fire pit in our garden,” he says. “We sit there and talk about stuff that you don’t talk about when you’re sitting in front of the flickering flames of the television.”
Slow doesn’t mean lazy, Rushing says. It just means you’re not overwhelmed by your own garden, so you have the time to enjoy it. Instead of worrying about the exact dimensions a compost heap should be, or fretting that you simply do not have enough space for a three-bin composting system, make a leaf pile behind the shrubbery, he says. Then step away and forget about it. You’ll get your compost, all right, in the fullness of time. And time, in a garden, is what it’s all about.
Slow Gardening Tips
Slow gardeners are in touch with nature and the seasons, says Felder Rushing, a gardener, garden-radio host and author who coined (and trademarked) the term Slow Gardening. Rushing (describes slow gardening as “a way of being,” a way to involve your senses in nature and the seasons.
Here are some of his suggestions:
— Don’t try to get everything done at once. Take your time in the garden — that’s really why you’re out there.
— You can grow all kinds of plants without being an expert. Experiment.
— Don’t plant more than you can take care of.
— Shrink the lawn and cut back on fertilizer and pesticides. You’ll save time and money.
— Include art in your garden — it adds another dimension to the experience.
— Share your garden with your children and grandchildren. Sit down and run your fingers through the grass, and you’ll find something to talk about together.