A profile of Arkansas gardener Talya Tate Boerner
Story and Photo by Joyce Mendenhall
Talya Tate Boerner was born in Arkansas and raised on a cotton farm near the Mississippi riverport town of Osceola, a Main Street Arkansas Community. As the author of the book The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee, Talya relies on her childhood memories of growing up in this rural delta community in the 70s to make the story come alive. Also known as Delta Child, Talya’s stories appear in Front Porch magazine published by Farm Bureau. She says everyone has a story and she believes in the importance of telling your story.
She is proud to be known as a Southerner. Being from “the best cotton-growing place in the U.S.,” cotton holds a special place in her heart. She often uses cotton to decorate her home. She has even been known to compare okra, which fills our bellies, to cotton, which covers our bellies. She also believes that everything goes better with collards. Another sign that she is all things Southern is the fact that she reads Garden and Gun magazine.
Finding humor in everyday life, such as comparing overly aggressive plants to childhood bullies, is her way of dealing.
In addition to being a published author, Talya likes to blog, cook, read, and garden, sometimes combining all four. When she says, “I garden” what she really means is, “she crawls around on her hands and knees looking between flowers, pulling weeds by hand, and studying the landscape for changes.”
After living 30 years in Dallas, Talya is happy to be back in her home state of Arkansas. While living in Texas, she joined a community garden where she experimented (another word for overplanted) with many kinds of vegetables. Since moving to Fayetteville, she prefers to rely on the local farmers’ markets to provide her produce, while she spends more time taking care of her yard full of annuals and perennials.
Talya’s favorite flowers are Iris, which her grandmother grew. She is happy that she now can grow reblooming iris and can enjoy them for a longer period. She grows herbs to use for cooking. Purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) are also favorites because of their long blooming seasons, and of course, milkweed (Asclepias spp.) for the monarch butterflies. She is particularly interested in growing plants that attract butterflies. She once delayed a trip she was planning and cancelled a workman she had hired to power wash her house so she could monitor several monarch chrysalises until they emerged.
Sharing plants and seeds along with stories is something Talya does on a regular basis. She has even set up a “little free library” with an added seed drawer in her neighborhood. She has found that people really enjoy sharing their seeds as much as their books. In her book, Talya tells the story of Gracie Lee’s momma letting her and her sister pick out a packet of seeds at the Savage Crossing Hardware. Gracie Lee selected patty pan squash because the seeds reminded her of spaceships. Talya will often share some of these “spaceship” seeds with people who attend her book signings.
Trees of all kinds are important to Talya. Because even dead trees provide habitat for many wildlife, she has tried to keep others from cutting them down. One of her future goals is to visit every Champion Tree of Arkansas. She has already met many interesting people in her quest to do this and undoubtedly there will be tales to tell about these experiences.
Finding humor in everyday life, such as comparing overly aggressive plants to childhood bullies, is her way of dealing. A mystery that remains to this day is how dozens of volunteer tomato plants appeared in her flowerbeds, especially since she had not planted any tomatoes (seeds or plants) since moving there. She says it was like party gnomes took over while she was away. Like a true gardener, even though she did not plant them, it was hard for her to pull them out. She even credits her massive display of purple coneflowers as saving her life when she fell off her front porch breaking her left wrist, second toe on the right, and busting both knees because her head landed on a soft bed of coneflowers.
Talya’s favorite quote is from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, “If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden,” which pretty much sums up her personal philosophy.