A gardener profile of Paul Pilkington

Story and Photos by Dwain Hebda

When asked about his favorite flower, Paul Pilkington of Little Rock paused to ponder the question. “You know those plants that you can buy, the 4-inch pots of flowers?” he replied. “Anything where I can watch that little thing spread out to a foot and a half, those are the kind of plants I like.

“That and anything where after the bloom has spent and you can go through with a pair of scissors, collect the blooms, put them in an envelope, then replant and watch them come back up again before the frost comes.”

Paul Pilkington of Little Rock works flowers grown by his master gardener group in Little Rock. The group raises the plants for two yearly plant sales.

It makes sense that Pilkington’s favorite flowers are those that spread out or can be passed on or shared. After all, that’s been his modus operandi ever since becoming a master gardener six years ago. 

During that time, he’s not only beautified his own yard, but he’s lent his skills to the wider community in an effort to spread beauty and gardening knowledge to as many people and places as he can. At his parish, Our Lady of the Holy Souls Catholic Church, he’s part of the Garden Angels group, which keeps the grounds planted and manicured. “I saw a little article in our Sunday bulletin that they needed help with the yard,” he said. “I want to say we have about 12 or 15 in our group. Usually in the spring you’ll get a lot of people who want to join and everybody’s gung ho. But once that temperature gets in the 90s they say, ‘This may not be for me.’” He shrugs and continues, “It only takes an hour or two a month, although spring and fall are a little busier because things are changing. It’s peaceful; it’s a nice area here.”

Pilkington, a retired machinist, also pitches in on a greenhouse project through his local master gardener group. There, they grow seedlings that end up in the hands of gardeners throughout the community. “The greenhouse project is a group of about 25 of us and we have a lot of work days between December and March,” he said. “We order our seeds for the spring, watch them develop, and then we’ll sell to the public. We also have a big sale in the fall.”

Shade garden at Our Lady of the Holy Souls’ columbarium in Little Rock.

Pilkington estimates he’s been gardening for a quarter century and between his longevity and his experience with the master gardener program, he manages to add to his skill set every day. “You’re always learning. There’s always something new and things you didn’t know before,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll just ride around the neighborhood in my area and see what people have planted and what’s working for them. If it works well and it has a lot of eye appeal and easy to grow, I might try it.”    

Pilkington said the real benefit of gaining this gardening knowledge is that it comes with the opportunity to pass it on, which he does to anyone who asks. His best advice to new gardeners is simple and plainspoken: Start with good dirt. “Check your soil,” he said. “If a plant gets a foot high and you were hoping it would get 3 feet high, it may be the wrong plant, not enough sun, not enough nutrients. But check the soil first. That’s the number-one thing.”

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