She ripped up her manicured lawn and challenged the norms of gardening storiesNPR
“I love a person who talks kindly to plants,” poet Camille Dungy writes in her new contemplative memoir. And for sure, Dungy can be counted among those who do exactly that.
In Soil: The Story of a Black Mother’s Garden, Dungy describes her years-long project to transform her weed-filled, water-hogging, monochromatic lawn in suburban Fort Collins, Colo., into a pollinator’s paradise, packed instead with vibrant, drought-tolerant native plants.
It took countless hours of backbreaking work: clearing her garden beds of hundreds of pounds of rock, amending the soil with compost and mulch, and turning the soil with shovel and pitchfork until she was drenched with sweat.
Dungy and I have been on similar garden journeys. Like her, I’ve done away with sod and replaced our D.C. lawn with all sorts of native perennials, friendly to pollinators. On a recent morning, we connect by Facetime video for a long-distance, D.C.-to-Colorado, garden-to-garden tour.
When we talk, my garden is bursting with bloom, with beds of deep purple columbine, hot pink and lavender phlox, spiky white foamflower. Because Dungy lives at altitude, her garden is a couple of months behind mine and her plantings still mostly dormant.
She leads me on a tour of what she calls her backyard “prairie project,” which she’s filled with native grasses like blue grama and little bluestem, and with perennials that will flower later in the spring: penstemon, bee balm, baptisia, echinacea, Lewis flax.
Dungy shows me the tall dried grasses that she’s left standing from last season, along with the dead stalks from her milkweed and sunflowers. They stay up “to create winter interest,” she says, “but also a lot of the native pollinators will nest or plant their eggs and larvae under and around many of these native plants. So right now we have a very blonde garden!”
Such a wild, unmanicured garden was verboten in 2013, when Dungy first moved to Fort Collins with her husband and young daughter. The local homeowners’ association had a strict yard maintenance code that forbade anything that upset the homogeneous look of the neighborhood.
“In those early years,” Dungy writes in Soil, “a woman walked around the neighborhood with a ruler, measuring too-tall grass and what she considered unwieldy or weedy vegetation, reporting homeowners to the HOA board for review and possible censure.”
Now, those rules against “non-standard landscaping” have been eliminated: Fort Collins currently has an active initiative to encourage diversification of the landscape. “I was lucky,” she says, “in having moved to a town that created a space for that embrace.”
Dungy’s garden, in its glorious variety, attracts bees, butterflies, and all kinds of birds – goldfinches, pine siskins, nuthatches, chickadees – as well as mountain cottontail rabbits who nibble on her plants. (Her solution? Plant much more of everything.)
In Soil, Dungy draws a connection between diversifying the plant life in her garden and diversifying the canon of nature writing. There is, she writes, “a pattern in nature writing that confounds and annoys me.” Dungy mentions writers such as Henry David Thoreau, John Muir and Edward Abbey, as well as Annie Dillard and Mary Oliver. “The (nearly always white) men and women who claim to be models for how to truly experience the natural world always seemed to do so in solitude,” she writes. “Just one guy – so often a guy – with no evidence of family or anyone to worry about but himself.”
As she thinks about that pattern, “I wonder who is excluded,” Dungy says. “These are all writers who are important and fascinating and write really key texts, and yet the absence of family and community troubles me.”
For Dungy, building a sustainable world necessarily involves family and community, not just a solitary meander through nature. “As a mother, I don’t have the luxury of just leaving my child behind and tromping into the woods for days at a time!” she says with a laugh. “If I did that, I’d need to bring her along, and then I have to bring like a million snacks and stop every few hundred feet!”
Rather than tromping far away in solitude in search of some elusive connection with nature, Dungy focuses her attention very close to home. “I just enjoy the process of writing about my backyard with the same kind of rapture that so many of the canonical writers write about far-distant, unpopulated, sublime spaces,” she tells me. “And so why not normalize bringing the wild and the domestic closer together?”
As she nurtures her garden, Dungy – a Black woman living in a predominantly white city – says that thinking about land is, for her, inextricably linked with thinking about this country’s history, and about race. She’s constantly reminded of the labor of enslaved Black people who were forced to work the soil, and of the Native Americans forced from their lands.
“I can’t dig in my garden,” she writes, “without digging up all this old dirt.”
Yet that same act of digging in her garden also provides Dungy with welcome relief. For a politically-engaged person, “a garden can be a balm,” she says. “A garden can be a place of rest and beauty, and a retreat from that persistent, difficult work. But a garden also teaches me patience, and teaches me that … the work of a politically-engaged person often requires true patience. And the garden supports my belief that that patience can very frequently pay off.”
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.
Elizabeth Eden Harris, known professionally as Cupcakke, is an American rapper from Chicago, Illinois. She is known for her hypersexualised, brazen, and often comical persona
Elizabeth Eden Harris, known professionally as Cupcakke, is an American rapper from Chicago, Illinois. She is known for her hypersexualised, brazen, and often comical persona and music although she has also made songs with themes supporting LGBTQ rights, female empowerment, and autism awareness.
Acclaimed GRAMMY-winning multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello makes her Blue Note Records debut with the June 16 release of The Omnichord Real Book, a visionary
Acclaimed GRAMMY-winning multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello makes her Blue Note Records debut with the June 16 release of The Omnichord Real Book, a visionary and deeply jazz-influenced album that marks the start of a new chapter in her trailblazing career. Following her 2018 covers album Ventriloquism, Meshell returns with an album of new original material that taps into a broad spectrum of her musical roots. The Omnichord Real Book was produced by Josh Johnson and features a wide range of guest artists including Jason Moran, Ambrose Akinmusire, Joel Ross, Jeff Parker, Brandee Younger, Julius Rodriguez, Mark Guiliana, Cory Henry, Joan As Police Woman, Thandiswa, and others.
The Omnichord Real Book is introduced today by the expansive lead single “Virgo,” the mind-altering 8-minute centerpiece of the album which features Meshell on vocals, key bass, and keyboards, Younger on harp, Rodriguez on Farfisa organ, Chris Bruce on guitar, Jebin Bruni on keyboards, drums by Abe Rounds, Deantoni Parks, and Andrya Ambro, and additional vocals by Kenita Miller and Marsha DeBoe. The Omnichord Real Book is available for pre-order now on Blue Note Store exclusive color vinyl, black vinyl, CD, and digital.
“It’s a little bit of all of me, my travels, my life,” says Meshell. “My first record I made at 22, and it’s over 30 years from then, so I have a lot of stored information to share.” Reflecting on the impact that the forced stillness of the pandemic lockdown had on her, she says “I must admit it was a beautiful time for me. I got to really sit and reacquaint myself with music. Music is a gift.”
“This album is about the way we see old things in new ways,” Meshell explains. “Everything moved so quickly when my parents died. Changed my view of everything and myself in the blink of an eye. As I sifted through the remains of their life together, I found my first Real Book, the one my father gave me. I took their records, the ones I grew up hearing, learning, remembering. My mother gifted me with her ache, I carry the melancholy that defined her experience and, in turn, my experience of this thing called life calls me to disappear into my imagination and to hear the music.”
Milwaukee’s only Urban Alternative radio station features the full spectrum of Black music beyond R&B and Hip-Hop plus Milwaukee music. HYFIN connects the culture with the latest Black culture news, podcasts and more. Listen to best hip hop & R&B, dance, Afrobeats and more!
Our radio is always online! Listen now completely free!