Wood sorrel from my grandmother's house.
The Seed and the Story is a weekly column exploring folklife, sustainability, oral history, human rights,and community in Yell County, Arkansas. The column is published in the Post Dispatch and is syndicated in the Courier. Please remember to support your local paper and independent media! The Seed and the Story column is just of many features you can find on the Boiled Down Juice. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. If you enjoy our posts, please tell a friend. And thanks for reading.
As the days grow (unseasonably) warmer, the wood sorrel in my front yard is beginning to bloom. Often called false shamrocks, wood sorrel comes in hundreds of varieties and is sometimes considered a weed. Sometimes referred to as Oxalis, the little pink or yellow flowers shoot up from the three-leaf clover-like base of the plant. In the variety I have, the plants grow in fat, round clumps. My plant comes from a cutting of a plant that once grew along the walkway leading to my grandparent’s house on Second Street in downtown Dardanelle. After they died my mother dug up some of the roots and planted them in her yard. After she died I dug some up and planted them in mine. When I moved to Little Rock last year, I dug some up again and took them with us to our new home where they now grow along our walkway leading up to the red front porch. Come to find out, as one of my cousins informed me this week, the plant originally grew in my great grandmother’s yard, long before I was ever born. And who knows. Maybe she dug it up from her own mother’s yard in Cardon Bottoms. We invest so much memory and meaning in our plants.
For a few years now I’ve become increasingly interested in the way plants carry our stories, and I’m especially interested in how gardens play a role in this part of Arkansas. Seeds passed down through families often bare the name of family members or geographical locations. Recent immigrants bring with them seeds from home, their gardens a marriage between a former home and a new one. And if you take a walk though just about any flower garden in the area, the gardener will likely tell you stories of friends or relatives who once gave them a cutting of the lilac bush or the four o’clocks which now cover their yard. Last year I wrote a piece about my grandmother’s love for irises and soon discovered just how many other people had similar connections to the plant, family members treasuring both the bulbs and stories passed down through the years. You can learn a lot about people, I’ve discovered, by asking them about their plants.
Along with the help of a few other people, I’m working toward the creation of the McElroy House: Center for Folklife, Oral History and Community Action, an intergenerational and inter-cultural organization working to document and discuss folklife and oral history in our region. Gardening is a tradition that’s alive and well in our area and it transcends racial, geographic, even linguistic, boundaries. Our first project for the Center is putting together a publication about the stories behind plants and gardens in the river valley and Yell County areas. Gardening knowledge is instrumental as is seed saving, and thankfully other groups and publications are filling this need. What we hope to do with this project is focus on the stories behind the plants and the relationship between the gardener and their gardens. So, do you have a plant or plants that carry special meaning, perhaps a link to past generations? If you’re new to the area, have you brought seeds or cuttings with you from your home state or home country? Why are these plants important to you and what meaning does the garden hold for you? After all, gardening can be hard and is a labor of love. We’d like to hear why you love it and what brings you back to it year after year. It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned gardener or someone’s whose just started. It’s your stories we want to hear. Please help us spread the word. If you know of a gardener who you think should be included in this book, please let us know.