I recently received my copy of The Liberty Hyde Bailey Gardener's Companion, edited by John Stempien and John Linstrom. I immediately read the preface because I knew that the Outdoor Learning Center here at North Shore Elementary was featured. That being said, I thought I'd read some of my already favorite essays and use this book as a reference for inspiration; but here's what really happened . . . I started reading it from the beginning and simply continued reading the book from cover to cover. Each essay held my attention and was filled with beautiful nuggets of knowledge, inspiration and truth. Liberty Hyde Bailey was a talented scientist, writer, artist, philosopher and teacher. His curiosity was endless and his ability to share that curiosity with his students was extraordinary. He wrote over seventy books in his lifetime, including books on specific plant species (ex. The Garden of Gourds) poetry (ex. Wind and Weather) and philosophy (ex. The Holy Earth). He is consider "the father of modern horticulture," was the founding dean of the New York State College of Agriculture at Cornell University, appointed by Theodore Roosevelt to serve as the chair of the national Commission of Country Life, was a world traveler, a beloved professor, and always, always an avid gardener. He was an amazing person and I'm so glad that his work has found regeneration in this book of Bailey's essential writings.
Here is what I think is really extraordinary about Liberty Hyde Bailey: he was enamored and curious by the most ordinary of things. This thread weaves throughout his writings. Here's a beautiful example:
"Every weed has a meaning in the universal plan. The proper objects of study are the things one oftenest meets. . . the teaching of geography will not begin with a book at all. But it will begin with the earth, and the products of the earth, in the very neighborhood in which the child lives. And it will include, with a certain sympathy, the weeds. . . .It is often said, that a weed is a plant out of place, but this is not so. Nothing is more in place than a weed! Wherever they are, they make themselves at home. . . I would rather see a good pigweed than a poor rose bush . . . The great views, the resplendent objects do not make a man at home in the world and content, not until the trivial and the common have a meaning to him." (pp. 218 - 219 The Liberty Hyde Bailey Gardener's Companion from the essay, Marvels at Our Feet)Liberty Hyde Bailey never ceased to be amazed and curious by that which was nearest at hand. I think that this perspective is exactly what our world needs right now (as it has always needed). . . this is the perspective that can give us hope. It's not about the large and overwhelming things we can't fix or change, but those common things around us that can teach us and inspire us and change us and ultimately change the world for the better.
"We are apt to covet the things which we cannot have; but we are happier when we love the things which grow because they must. A patch of lusty pigweeds, growing and crowding in luxuriant abandon, may be a better and more worthy object of affection than a bed of coleuses in which every spark of life and spirit and individuality has been sheared out and suppressed. The man who worries morning and night about the dandelions in the lawn will find great relief in loving the dandelions. Each blossom is worth more than a gold coin, as it shimmers in the exuberant sunlight of the growing spring, and attracts the bees to its bosom. Little children love the dandelions: why may not we? Love the things nearest at hand; and love intensely. . ." (pp. 14-15 The Liberty Hyde Bailey Gardener's Companion from the essay, General Advice)If we can learn to love the things nearest at hand, surely we will be better stewards of this earth. We will care for the habitats that are in our backyards and neighborhoods. Can you imagine if we all worried more about the insects and the birds that inhabited our backyards than the color and form of our lawns? As a teacher of young children, I have had the privilege of watching students become excited and inspired by the most common of things. . . a spider, a sprig of clover, a butterfly, a crow. If I can encourage that curiosity, I know that I am on the right track. And after over twenty years of teaching I am still learning, through my students, how amazing the most common things in life really are. I hope I never stop being amazed. I know that when I get excited by a monarch flying overhead, I am in good company. And maybe somewhere, Liberty Hyde Bailey is smiling.