Only in Arkansas

Story and Photo by Mary Russell-Evans

Container gardening has been popular since the beginning of time. Containers have changed somewhat along the way, but have remained popular and necessary. For our purposes, a container is “anything that holds soil.”  

Many years ago, while traveling along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, we stopped at “Popcorn’s” place. Popcorn’s was beautifully situated, clinging to the edge of one of those steep ridges. The view was spectacular! Popcorn had every manner of junk for sale in his store, most of it rusty. An oversized sign that said “Boiled Peanuts” stopped us in our tracks. Popcorn was cooking them all day in an old moonshine still. James bought some boiled peanuts while I wandered through the rusty junk. We didn’t buy anything other than the peanuts, but I really wanted to take some pictures. Apparently there was a problem with folks stopping by just to take pictures and taking up Popcorn’s parking spaces. There were very large signs, tacked up everywhere outside, prohibiting photography unless you bought something. One sign said, “No exceptions or I’ll shoot yer ass!” (Everything was misspelled.) I wondered if our boiled peanut purchase was enough.   

Ol’ Popcorn was selling hens and chicks (Sempervivum spp.) He had them in everything: plastic whipped cream bowls, margarine tubs, coffee cans (most of them rusted,) car parts, dishes, cowboy boots, etc. My favorite “container” was an old pair of black and white Converse high tops. I really wanted a picture of that. I had James pull up next to them so I could get my shot. I don’t recollect if he peeled out or not when we left, but we didn’t get shot. However, we did go back the next day for more boiled peanuts.

Back to Arkansas: My maternal grandmother lived in Newark, a small town east of Batesville in Independence County. She was one of my garden mentors. Though she “said” if you couldn’t eat it, it wasn’t worth growing, she was well known for her huge flower gardens. Since she and her brothers lived through the Great Depression, perhaps she felt flowers were frivolous. 

My favorite of her brothers, Uncle Bill, was the well-known sheriff in town. He loved the flowers too. He lived in a giant old house on a large corner lot with a wrap-around porch. Deep, undulating beds full of every kind of flower surrounded the house. My favorites were the tall, old-fashioned cockscombs (Celosia argentea) with giant scarlet “brains” that were bigger than my head. Amazing! I loved touching them … they felt like velour. 

Uncle Bill’s idea of “curb appeal” was the ultimate in containers. Remember he had a huge corner lot. Two sides of his yard were lined with glistening white porcelain toilets, right along the curb. This was “curb impact!” They stood side-by-side, dozens of them. I thought they were beautiful! He had each one planted, both tank and bowl, with every kind of flower. There were no two alike. My Grandma would have yelled at me, “Don’t touch those!” I would yell back that I was “only touching the flowers!” I’m sure they were clean enough – after all they glistened and surely Uncle Bill washed them. The only thing that could pull me away was the corncob jelly inside the house. I always wondered where Uncle Bill got all those toilets. Maybe once everyone saw what he was doing, they started dropping them off for him. You know… like kittens.

Featured Photo: I have no pictures of Uncle Bill’s glistening toilet planters but I spotted these porcelain beauties on a roadside near Corsicana, Texas, “planted” with fake flowers.

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