Coconino Master Gardener Association

Currently, warblers of several species are migrating through Flagstaff towards Canada and beyond. The Yellow Warblers, like this little guy are often an exception. They frequently choose to remain in Flagstaff throughout the summer. All of the warblers are busily searching the innermost branches of shrubs and trees for insects.
Photo by Cindy Murray.

Welcome to the Coconino County Master Gardeners' Association Blog. The mission of the Coconino Master Gardener Program is to support the University of Arizona by providing researched-based information on environmentally responsible gardening and landscaping to the public. The program creates a corps of well-informed volunteers, and delivers quality horticultural education programs adapted to our regional high elevation environment. The mission of the association is to provide support for those volunteers and Master Gardener graduates, continuing education, and opportunities to participate in community programs that increase the visibility and participation in the Master Gardener Program.
On this site you will find gardening news, links, a calendar for local events, volunteer opportunities, book reviews, agenda/minutes for our association monthly meetings, and association documents and contacts.
The Coconino County Master Gardener Association was founded in 2009 by a small group of master gardeners with the help of Hattie Braun the Director of the MG Program. After several small meetings it was opened to all master gardeners on May 21st, 2009. Meetings are held monthly on the 2rd Thursday of each month from 6:30pm - 8:30pm. We meet at the Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church (1601 N. San Francisco). The agenda usually includes continuing education and a short business meeting. Watch this blog for the agenda and minutes for all meetings. Contacts for the association (officers and committee chairs) are listed at the bottom of this blog.

Reporting Master Gardener Hours

All master gardener trainees and certified master gardeners need to report their hours.
Beginning in 2010 certified master gardeners need to have 6 Education hours and 12 Volunteer hours in order to maintain certification.The on line reporting system allows you to report Education or Volunteer hours.
If you have any questions or concerns about the new reporting system, please contact Crys Wells or Hattie Braun. Their contacts are listed at the bottom of the blog under
Link to reporting

Ideas for hours------
--Attend monthly meetings
--Work on an association committee
--Work at an informational booth for the Master Gardeners
--Be a speaker about gardening topics at a variety of venues

--Host a garden tour
--Work at the home show
--Work at a MG site (Olivia White Hospice, the Arboretum, Riordan Mansion, or school gardens (many others)). Check out the Assoc. Doc. & Forms under Volunteer Sites.
--Work in the Extension office
--Write an article for the newspaper column -Gardening Excetera
-Volunteer with the Seed Library
Be creative! There are many ways to fulfill your hours. Just remember for volunteering it needs to be a non-profit endeavor or an approved for profit site.

Change in Contact Information

Have you moved or changed your e-mail address, but would still like to be contacted about high elevation gardening information from the Extension? The Coconino County Extension Master Gardener Program has a site that will let you change your information on-line.

Click here to change your contact information!

Event Calendar

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Daily Sun Gardening Etcetera 8/27/11

Dana Prom Smith

Suzannah and Andrew Libby’s garden recalls Vincent Van Gogh’s Gardens at Arles. Serendipitously, Van Gogh is Suzannah’s favorite painter. When I first saw the garden, the morning was clear. The sky was one of Flagstaff’s breathless blues, deep and true, and the temperature was comfortably warm though slightly chilly around the edges. Sitting under a canopy seemingly suspended in midair, we drank tea and talked. And a pleasure it was to talk with an intelligent and gifted woman: an artist, a gardener, and a lover of children.

Suzannah envisions her garden as a canvas on which she has created a series of isles, not just plots, but raised islands floating in a sea of green grass amongst stream beds of smooth pebbles. Looming above the canopy is a venerable maple and toward the back of the garden are some fruit trees and an immense willow.

Near the front is a fairie garden surrounded by a mud and wattle fence, the mud concrete and the wattle thin sticks of bamboo. Looking like a primitive dwelling with walls slightly askew and out of kilter, the bed is filled with berries, herbs, and flowers, a pot-pourri of tastes, sights, and aromas of lavender, mint, and lemon balm.

Further down the garden isles of color are strewn with yellow primroses and black-eyed Susans, others day lilies and red poppies, and still others harebells. A wandering path draws a person into anticipations of something new just beyond the next turn.

At the beginning of the garden, the light is bright and clear as though there were a giant hole in the sky. Slowly, as the eye tracks toward the rear, the light becomes more dappled, and finally in the back it is shaded and dark. It is as though one were being gradually drawn into a shadowed mystery.

Suzannah, herself, is something of a mystery. Her life has not been a straight line, but one resembling her garden. Raised in Las Vegas, her father was general contractor with an artistic flair, building their swimming pool with a huge red rose painted on the bottom of the pool. Her mother’s life was infused with the arts. From there she went to the University of California at Santa Barbara to study art and then on to the Parsons School of Design in New York City. After a peripatetic and painterly journey as an artist, she landed in Portland, Maine, where she met her husband, Andrew, an artist in wood and music. Their daughter Lovenia was born in Portland.

Wanting to be near her family, they settled on Flagstaff which recalled the woods of Maine. They also sought a place where they belonged. After a life of wandering exploration, they wanted rootedness.

Close to completing her bachelor’s degree in Integrative Art from Prescott College, she has found her purpose as an artist as well as a place to fulfill that purpose. She created a children’s garden pre-school, called Gartendale, modeled after the Waldorf approach to education of Rudolf Steiner. Small children learn by experience, instead of concepts and ideas: thus a garden becomes a school room in which a child experiences nature at every turn.

What better place for this kind of education than a child’s garden of isles, an education through touching, feeling, smelling, seeing, digging, and exploring. The happiest memories of many adults are often those explorations as children of gardens or a wilderness along with family members. Those early experiences are also the shaping ones, ones that began lives of exploration, of finding out, of taking care, of traveling through the shadowed mysteries. A garden is where we connect with the fundamentals.

Suzannah and Andrew’s garden leads the eye from light, touch, color, and aroma to those of shadows of what is yet to be known of outer space, inner minds, and the immensity of life. Flagstaff’s Chapter of the Arizona Native Plant Society designated it “Flagstaff’s Most Delightful Garden for Children.” What better grounding for such a journey is there than smelling herbs, picking the berries, enjoying the flowers, and playing in the dirt?

See for more information.
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2011
Dana Prom Smith edits GARDENING ETCETERA and blogs at His email address is

Friday, August 26, 2011

Highland Center for Natural History

Photo by Elizabeth Vogler

As a docent at the Arboretum at Flagstaff I participate in monthly Educational Brown Bag lunches during the touring season. We have a variety of lectures, garden visits and field trips. This past week we had an interesting field trip that I thought I would share. We went to Prescott to visit the Highlands Center for Natural History. I have been to Prescott many times but did not know they were there. The mission of the Highlands Center for Natural History is to help children and adults discover the wonders of nature and become wise caretakers of the land. The facility and their programs are a wonderful addition to the Prescott community that should not be missed. The main building, the James Learning Center, is LEED certified, which means their utilities are off the grid, all powered by the sun. Part of our tour was to see all the components involved in being certified. It is a difficult and brave process in this day and age of electronics, but worth the effort in fulfilling their mission of being wise caretakers of the land. We spent our day looking at the features of the LEED building, eating lunch, and then walking the nature trail with a guide. Needless to say the flora and fauna have similarities to our elevation (ponderosa and Abert squirrels), but also differences with manzanita common and a variety of oaks I haven't seen before.

They are very involved with the schools of Yavapai County, providing education at the center, and through school nature gardens (not vegetables) that teach, inspire and connect them to nature. In addition they provide adult education on the natural history of the Central Arizona Highlands. They have 2 miles of nature trails to walk and learn in, on 80 acres of property near Lynx Lake. Twice a year they do native plant sales. Their next project is a small arboretum. If you are interested in visiting or learning more their web site is

Loni Shapiro

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Gardening Excetera Column 8/20/11


As I walk to the greenhouse to rest, worship, and sort out my life, it is not long before I am on my hands and knee’s checking out the mysteries of the plants. I realize that there is not enough time in life to cover all of the properties and uses of the gift of plants. From the lowly shepherds purse, reportedly useful for hernias, to the exotic black cohosh, which can be used for stress, there are valuable uses for everything that has been provided for us. I separate the black cohosh in the fall and harvest its root for medicinal use and then pot a root for study in a warmer environment through the winter months.
I found the shepherds purse in the field of weeds that is called my lawn. I transferred the plant and seed of shepherd purse to the greenhouse for the winter so that they would be watered regularly and produce through the winter for healing purposes.

The wildflowers in this mountainous weed patch, serve to bring peace as I rest before a bowl of flowers floating in spring water. Journeying with the flowers helps to renew strength, gain rest, and to learn of the healing gifts of each flower as a healing flower essence is created.

When sleep eludes us because of problems in the world for which we have no answers, the flower essence of morning glory helps to relax our state of mind, and we are able to drift into a restful slumber. Because most of us tend to encompass with great zeal too many activities in our lives, we exhaust our energy and cause extreme tension in the musculature parts of our bodies. The beautiful golden flower essence of dandelion is quick to balance the soul, release extreme tension, and bring balance back into life. The juice of the dandelion flower stems is used to balance blood sugar levels. By chewing 10 flower stems daily, when in bloom, we can manage to keep our blood sugar balanced.

The chast berries of the vitex tree, when tinctured down, saved my sanity and helped bring me through the change of life naturally without any of the disagreeable symptoms that women are faced with in this most difficult time of life.

Scientific research has found the plant life juices are the closest substances that have been found to human blood. Is it any wonder that plant life is so healing for our bodies? Just by breathing the essential oil of lavender flower, our nervous systems are relaxed and headaches are banished. The spasms of sciatica are alleviated with a massage of rosemary essential oil.

It is a well known fact that the oil of the garlic bulb helps in warding off cancer. When our immune systems are compromised, that is when disease takes over. But the four herbs in the essiac formula, have been proven to boost the immune system to the point of fighting off disease. And then we have the black cumin oil which has been touted to “cure every illness except death" and is especially helpful in problems of asthma. As I was browsing thru Bookmans one afternoon, I came across a small 90 page book that caught my attention. It was called; "Black Cumin, The Magical Egyptian Herb for Allergies, Ashma, and Immune Disorders". I was overwhelmed by what I learned from this small book.
If we drink the healing herbal teas or massage our bodies with essential oils, we have started a healing process that will begin to meet the needs of our bodies without relying entirely drugs with dangerous side effects. The healing properties of flower essences are gentle enough for our children, but powerful enough to make life changing differences for us. They are, also, easily affordable.
There is no end to the healing properties of our plant kingdom if we are willing to look into all of the possibilities that are offered to us. We would all do well to return to our weed patch for a healthier, simpler, more peaceful way of life.

NancyLouLaBelle Hendershott graduated from the Master Gardening class and lives in Parks. Dana Prom Smith edits GARDENING ETCETERA, blogs at http://high, and can emailed at

Sustainable Home and Garden Tours

Check out Flagstaff's Sustainable Home and Garden tours for September 10th from 9am-4p. Follow the link to their poster. They begin at Willow Bend Enviromental Center. With a $5 donation you will receive a map of the many homes and gardens to visit. It also provides a bus route if you choose to visit that way.


For questions contact:
Amanda Acheson, Coconino County Sustainable Building Program Manager 928.679.8853 or

Loni Shapiro

Monday, August 15, 2011

Garden Club Garden Visit

I am enjoying the diversity of the gardens we have seen this summer and hope you are also. There's more! We have invitations for August 20, August 27 and September 10

Plant sharing: Are the rains bringing you more abundance than you want? Are you relegating plants to the compost pile? Bring your 'extras' to any garden tour to share. And thank you!

Invitations needed: The success of our summer garden tours depends upon YOU. Invite us to visit your garden, or secure an invitation to visit another garden in August or September. email with your invitation. Thank you.

When: Saturday, August 20, 10 a.m.
What: Visit the garden of Debi Stalvey
Where: 513 W Fir Avenue

Details: Debie writes: I formerly had a front lawn, but have gone to more natives. I am told it seems park like in the front.
Since I have dogs, the back is kind of a free for all, with lots of ivy, vinca and Virginia creeper. It is quite lush despite the challenges. My side yard features two vegetable gardens-mostly tomatoes, but includes pumpkins, potatoes, acorn squash, zucchini, peas and whatever seeds germinate from the compost. We usually have a few unknowns.
Driving Directions: Beaver street north past the hospital all the way to the very last street. Turn left (only way you can go). House is almost at the end on the left. It is a blue house. People should also check out several of my neighbors who have very nice yards.
Debi's phone number is 699-3504

When: August 27, 10 a.m.
What: Visit townhome gardens.
We will meet at the home of Martha Brady and Judy O'Dea and then go to the gardens of Debbie Shepard and Eunice Bromerg.
Where: Martha Brady and Judy O'Dea, 1148 Flowing Springs Trail
Debbie Shepard and Eunice Bromberg, 2340 and 2348 N. Earle Drive.

Details: Martha and Judy have been working on their duplex backyard for a few years. Martha writes; We have grown to know each rock personally and damaged our rotator cuffs as we tried to create something viable out of the rocky soil that is left in our shady backyard. Our efforts are beginning to work. We would love advice - or laudits.
Debbie writes: We are renovating our gardens which are in front of our townhouses and facing a golf course. Our renovations are catching on as other owners are also greening up. In the front, we have been removing junipers and dying Aspen and replacing them with more varieties of trees and shrubs. The golf course side is a perennial garden where we attract the birds with seeds, shelter, nectar flowers and bird baths.
Driving Directions to Martha and Judy's garden; From Route 66, go south over the Fourth Street Bridge, past Soliere. Turn right on Waterside and then left on Flowing Springs Trail.
Martha and Judy's phone number is: 928 821 0057.

Driving Directions to the gardens of Debbie and Eunice: From Solier Avenue turn onto Elk Run (near Butterfield Apartments. Turn left at the third street on your left which is Whispering Pine. (enter into Elk Run Townhouse Development. Watch speed bumps. At the stop sign, turn right, go down hill. The gardens are located opposite the island planting. Look for pop-up tent and park opposite the garages.
Debbie's phone number is: 928 607 0731

Note: Debbie Shepard is an artist member of OPEN STUDIOS of The Artists' Coalition of Flagstaff which runs August 27-28. We will visit as a group immediately following our visit to the garden of Martha and Judy. We are also invited to visit Debbie's garden at any time during the weekend.

Two additional artists have invited us to see their gardens during OPEN STUDIOS. They are Karen Myers at 213 S Dunnam Street, Studio #18 in the OPEN STUDIOS brochure, and Nancy Deblois at 3008 E Pine Drive, Studio # 24 in the brochure. Karen and Nancy have both incorporated their art into their gardens.

When: Saturday, September 10, 10 a.m.
What: Visit the garden of Gurdarshan and Haring Khalsa
Where: 2976 Pebble Beach Drive
Details: Gurdarshan writes: This garden has been an ongoing "project" for 25 years. It is never finished as all gardeners will understand. We have incorporated rock work in the landscape plan. My style is country rustic with a leaning toward the English garden. I grew up in Seattle and it has been difficult to leave the water loving plants behind. The focus is on flowers as our yard has become more shady over the years.
Driving Directions: I-40 to Country Club Road, Exit I-40 at Exit 201 onto Country Club Dr - head S, Continue S through the traffic light at Cortland Blvd - turn right onto Oakmont (no traffic light), Follow Oakmont as it winds around to Olympic - turn right (intersection is Y-shaped),Olympic ends at a 'T' - turn left onto Meadow Brook Turn right onto Pebble Beach Dr, Turn right into the very first cul-de-sac
East Butler, Follow Butler E past the traffic light at Fox Glenn
Turn left onto Continental Dr (no traffic light), Turn left onto Timberline Rd, Turn right onto Augusta Dr, Turn left onto Oakmont, Turn right onto Meadow Brook, Turn left onto Pebble Beach Dr, Turn right into the very first cul-de-sac.
Gurdarshan and Haring's phone number is 526 5831

About Flagstaff Garden Tours
The Flagstaff Garden Tours occur when we have an invitation to visit a garden or to hear a presentation on a gardening topic. There are no membership dues.
To receive email announcements of events send the following message to LISTSERV@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU


If you have an auto signature, include the word end after your name. Here’s an example:

To unsubscribe to announcements about our garden tours, send the following message to

If you have questions or problems subscribing, please email Hattie Braun at

If you have questions or suggestions about the garden tours, please email Jean Hockman at

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Riordan Mansion Workdays

There’s another work day coming up soon at Riordan Mansion. If you have yet to find a volunteer opportunity, give Charlotte Dodgson a call about joining this project. She can be reached at or call 213-0187.

This coming Friday, Aug 12th is our next work day at the Riordan. We will work from 8:30 until 12:30. Please bring your work tools and join us for a fun time finishing up (hopefully) the work in the area just outside of the visitors center.

The next work day will be Saturday, August 27th. Dave and I want to thank all of you for all the hard work you have put in on this project.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Wildflower Walk at the Arboretum

Visitors to The Arboretum at Flagstaff can join a special Wildflower Walk through the gardens to learn about species that are in bloom. On Saturday, August 20, author and AZNPS member Susan Lamb Bean will lead the walk and share information about work she has been doing over the years studying "phenology", or bloom timing. Find out how you can also get involved in this type of study in your own yard. Please sign-up in the Visitor Center upon arrival to secure a space in the program.

There are actually two walks. The first is from 9:30 to 10:30 am, the second is from 10:30 to 11:30 am.

Susan said, "The Arboretum gardens are looking really gorgeous right now. I was out there ten days ago and was really impressed. They've cleared some trees to show the gardens to full advantage and give them sunshine to grow. They've done a lot of work to spruce up all the different "subgardens" and the rains have everything looking healthy, vigorous, and colorful."

I hope you can make it.

Posted by D. Lamm

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Meeting Minutes for August 8/11/11

Master Gardener Meeting Agenda 8/11/11
Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church
1601 N. San Francisco

Attending: Jim Mast, Sheryl Houston, Nick Lipinski, Carol Burris, Bea Cooley, Crys Wells, Loni Shapiro, Ed Skiba, Julie Holmes, Charlotte Dodgson, Galen & Andrea Gurrette, Ann Eagan, Linda and Malcolm Moriarty, Ron Hiebert, Joe & Susan Harte, Leslie Pennick, Debi Stalvey, Valarie Bryant, Marjorie Whithrow

6:30pm-6:40pm Welcome – Agenda Jim Mast
Brief review of agenda for the evening
Introduction of speaker

6:40pm-7:30pm Continuing Education
Speakers: Panel – Nick Lipinski, Carol Burris, Jim Mast, Galen & Andrea Guerrette, Ron Hiebert
Topic: Preparing entries for the Coconino County Fair
Nick and Carol reviewed the basics of fair entry in Horticulture and Floriculture. Both departments require entries that are clean, attractive, free from bugs, without blemishes and uniform in size. Nick stated that this is a competition and the entries need to look good. With vegetables they need to be a size normal for market, not giant zucchini unless that is the category. Don’t forget to indicate what the specie is, such as Early Girl tomato. Make sure you have the right number on the plate. They do have plates but you can prepare your own if you wish. Carol emphasized that you need to read the requirements for entry, such as 1 stem, 1 flower, or a certain size flower head. If you don’t your entry will not be accepted in the category. Cutting should probably be the night before or that morning. She suggested using floral powder, ½ lemon lime and ½ water, or warm water to prepare flowers. The fair provides containers if you need them and the lemon lime water. Carol added more ideas about transporting so your product gets their safely and looking good.

Both departments need help sitting in their buildings. If you want to help please contact Carol or Nick. Their numbers are in the fair books provided today. Entries are due in the office at the fairgrounds tomorrow. Not postmarked tomorrow, but in the office. If you do 5 entries you will get a free pass for entry to the fair. If you sit you will also get a parking pass.

Jim Mast and the Guerettes added ideas from their experience in competing. Ron and Marjorie also added the need to get entries in on time.

7:30pm-7:45pm Refreshments
Guerrettes and Leslie Pennick

7:45pm - 8:30pm Business Meeting – Jim Mast
7:45pm – 8:00pm Overview of recent Executive Meeting – Jim Mast
Jim emphasized the need for people to step up and consider being an office. The current slate has served for 2 years and Loni and Jim would like to step down. Nominations are due in Oct. and voting in November. A list of duties was circulated for the group.
Val Bryant, the historian, reported that work has occurred on putting the history of the organization together. She has also been looking into what to put the information in. She will meet with Loni to copy important documents on acid free paper.
Monthly door prizes will be accepted. If you have something garden related that you don’t want – such as a plant, bring it for a door prize. Loni brought plants from Olivia White last meeting.
Jim Mast was on KNAU for a story about growing tomatoes in Flagstaff. There will be future gardening stories. This is a good way to publicize our organization.
Julie Holmes agreed to host the Christmas Party this year.

Financial – Ed Skiba banking/memberships
Monies spent recently on calendar deposit ($365), grants for MG Projects ($250), and the Arboretum newsletter for the fall ($250). Current balance is ? and we still have a final payment for the calendar (about $800) and the check for the church facility ($250).
Secretary – Loni Shapiro calendar
The calendar should be arriving in the next couple of weeks. Several people have agreed to sell for us. Native Plant Society (monthly meeting), CSA Store, Sunday Market when we are there (Art Babbott), Native Plant & Seed, MG Conference in Prescott. Hattie will not sell at the office due to low staff and inconsistent record keeping. More sites may be available. Loni will post that they are available at Olivia White on Mon/Thur mornings while the workdays continue. She will check with Warner’s and Violas.
We will again give out free calendars to the County Board of Supervisors, to each participant in a photo as well as the photographer, and to our speakers for 2011.

8:00pm – 8:20pm Committee Reports:
Continuing Education – Dana Prom Smith (see schedule for future meetings)
Community Programs – Molly Larsen/Julie Holmes
Wednesday markets continue until the first part of September. We are doing the 1st and 3rd Wed. of each month. Molly will contact Art about participating in some Sunday markets in Sept./Oct.

Coordination of MG Projects – Linda Guarino
In Linda’s absence Loni reported on changes to the requirements for projects. The change is in the wording regarding for profit groups. They will get MG help with certain stipulations (see handout) but do not qualify for any grant funding from the association. The list of approved projects has been revised (see blog for new list).
Volunteer Support/Social – Hattie Braun & Crys Wells
Crys – membership/volunteer and education hours
Hattie – Recognition Picnic – Sept. 11, 4-6pm
Location, food, awards, door prizes
Crys reported volunteer hours for 7/1-8/11 694.25 and education 28.5
Hattie has reserved space for 9/11 at Fort Tuthill. It will be held from 4-6pm. The extension will provide meat and those attending will be asked to bring a side or dessert. We received a door prize from MNA – 6 passes for two, and Loni will bring plants and iris from Olivia White. We are looking for more door prizes – contact Crys or Hattie. Hattie will send out the invitation.

8:20pm – 8:30pm Garden questions?

Next meeting: September 11, 2011
Recognition Picnic
Future meetings:
October 13 Pollinators and Honey Bees – Joel Kefuss
November 10 Arboretum at Flagstaff - Steve Yoder
December 8 – Christmas Party
January 14 – History of Farming in Flagstaff – Meredith Hartwell

Educational and Volunteer Opportunities from the Blog (

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Weed Warriors


The Grand Canyon Trust, Museum of Northern Arizona, Arizona Native Plant Society, Coconino County Master Gardeners, and other organizations in the neighborhood of north Flagstaff have teamed up this summer to tackle the growing populations of invasive, non-native plants in the historic area of Fort Valley Road and Highway 180.

If we would like to see more beautiful native plants growing in our neighborhoods, we have to see fewer invasive species growing in our neighborhoods!!!!

Please join our growing team of volunteer weed warriors and plant enthusiasts to eradicate invasive weeds on Thursday, August 11, 2011 from 8 am-11am. This will be the second of three weed pulls along Fort Valley Road.

We are looking forward to great success with your help! It's fun, good exercise and so-o-o-o-o satisfying. Bring all your friends.

Meet at the Grand Canyon Trust homestead, 2601 N Fort Valley Road, just north of the new fire station. We will introduce ourselves and distribute tools and materials needed for a fun day of weed removal.

The Trust provides a light lunch and some snacks!!

Please wear closed-toe shoes, and bring rain gear, a hat, gloves, water and sunscreen.

Go to for more information. Then, click on "volunteer" and sign up to participate. Sign up late or have time open up last minute? No problem, volunteers welcome day of, just be sure to fill out the registration form upon arrival.

Posted by D. Lamm

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Gardening Excetera Column 8/2/11

Dana Prom Smith

A clump of pampas grass was purloined from the Olivia White Hospice Gardens. So far, the usual suspects deny any participation in or knowledge of the theft.

One thing is known. The theft was accomplished by sophisticated botanists. The pampas grass was removed with surgical skill. The hole left by the death of the pampas grass was expertly filled, and a buried drip line was carefully restored. Thus, the search is focused on horticulturally trained thieves, botanical burglars adept at thievery in the dark of night.

One thing is certain. The purloined pampas grass was not an inside job since all of the volunteer gardeners at the Olivia White Hospice Gardens have expressed dismay and disappointment at its removal. One person who was formerly active in the gardens and had previously expressed displeasure with the pampas grass has been questioned but has firmly denied knowledge of or connection with the theft.

The issue of the pampas grass gets to the heart of one of the vexing questions about gardening in Flagstaff and the high country: invasive, exotic species. Was it, to quote Asa Gray, the famous American botanist of the 19th century and friend of Charles Darwin, one of those “intrusive, pretentious and self-asserting foreigners?” Was the pampas grass a magnificent, toxic weed?

It fits the definition of weed. It’s invasive. It sucks up scarce water. It overtakes defenseless native plants and grasses. It is a threat. Richard Mabey, the English botanist calls weeds: “Shape-shifters” with speed, ingenuity, and “almost supernatural resourcefulness.”

However, it’s alleged that this particular pampas grass wasn’t guilty of these crimes. Several horticultural experts claim it was sterile. One wonders how grass is emasculated. Sitting in its corner of the garden, it was much like a castrated male lion lounging in the shade of an acacia tree on the veldt sporting his splendid plumage. Was it such a clear and present danger to the gardens of Flagstaff that immediate covert action was required by horticultural “black ops”? Many think so.

Like many clandestine black operations, these “black ops” may have been ignorant of the alleged impotence. They clearly thought that the pampas grass was an immediate threat, especially now that Flagstaff is overwhelmed by toxic, invasive, exotics. If people dig up plants at will, chaos will ensue. No gardens or gardeners would be safe. Gardeners would have to ride shotgun on their gardens.

The case of the purloined pampas grass raises the issue of non-native plants and grasses. Do people have a right to grow toxic weeds? Apparently, they do. The City claims to be impotent, asserting that people are free to do what they like in their yards, except growing very high weeds. How about marijuana? HOA’s seem more concerned about derelict garbage cans than they do toxic weeds. Does the list of targets include water hogging grass lawns, such as at City Hall, NAU, or the golf courses in sequestered communities of the rich?

Since black operations presuppose deniability, there is a long list of denials and know-nothings. A person who wasn’t authorized to speak but spoke nevertheless on condition of anonymity said that there must be a vast horticultural conspiracy of silence, reaching to the highest places. The culprits may never be identified.

The “black ops” apparently took to heart Barry Goldwater’s famous nostrum: “Extremism is the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” So, is botanical theft a moderate virtue or an extreme vice, or, as Saint Augustine would’ve said, “modest virtue” or “splendid vice”?

Martin Luther King, Jr., said that if people choose to disobey an unjust law, they should own up to it. One of his great pieces is a “Letter Written from Birmingham Jail.” Since the perpetrators already covered themselves in darkness, it is unlikely they will come into the light. If they do, they can write a manifesto.

So far no one has. We are left with a missing clump of pampas grass, threats from “intrusive, pretentious and self-asserting foreigners,” and the possibility of botanical “black ops” digging up plants wherever and whenever their fancy suits.
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2011

Dana Prom Smith whose email address is, edits GARDENING ETCETERA and blogs at