Headed to Horticultural Heaven

A friend passed away last week. She was an integral part of the native plant scene for over a generation here in Louisiana and in the region. Charles Allen said of her, “she was a great friend of Louisiana Botany”.

She was a great friend of a lot of folks, too. She knew just about everybody who did just about anything with Horticulture in the South …and beyond. She knew nurseries and the folks who run(ran) them and the plants they all grew.

She was also a good friend. And Marion didn’t take any guff.

Her daughter Laurie, at the very informal memorial, had a group of us in stitches, laughing because the Marion’s evil-eye could burn a hole in steel, and Laurie imitated it a few times for us. She did it perfectly! Looked just like her Mom!

Marion was a one-woman force and when she made up her mind to get something done, you could count on it: bet the bank. It got done.

In the early nineties, when we all were certain we would change the world with native plants, Marion was there, stirring it up. She was the assistant Director of the 1993 Gulf Coast Regional Plant Conference, assisting Bill Fontenot, to produce one of the seminal Native Plant conferences of the last thirty years in this area. For me, this conference was where I met some of the great plant folks of the day and later became friends with many of them.

Charles Allen goes on to say in his note, “She served as President of the Louisiana Native Plant Society, organized and led a Cullowhee Native Plant Conference in Baton Rouge, and attended and assisted many of the native plant activities in our area.  I recently gave a talk on edible plants to the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference in North Carolina.  To my surprise, Marion was there also and was thus one of the few Louisiana people in the audience for my presentation.  It gave me a wonderful feeling to see her there in the last few days of her life.”

That was Marion Drummond. She wanted to learn…   …and then she wanted to teach. I think she was successful in both of those endeavors.

She may have been in her eighties, but her gardens were always youth-inspiring, super-contemporary, and always contained the finest, most cutting-edge of the horticultural touch. I drove with my friends John and Charlotte to the memorial and on the way back, John said that if we got three or four of the right folks together, they might be able to head-scratch enough to figure out what-all was in her gardens. Her gardens were(are) always full of horticulture: packed full.

A horticultural who’s who showed up to pay respects. Pretty sure she’d have been proud of the simple event because people were mostly laughing and talking plants.

And I will not soon forget the 1996 Gulf Coast Regional Native Plant Conference in Baton Rouge. It was quite the Native event. I had the honor of picking up famed native plant landscape architect Darrel Morrison at the airport and chewing the fat on the way to the Conference as we crept through automobile infamy: Baton Rouge traffic. We had a stellar line-up of speakers and then post-conference, I lead a field trip to the Crosby Arboretum satellite property, my old stompin’ ground, the Hillside Bog. I don’t remember most folks who made the field trip but I do remember that native plantsman of Arkansas, Carl Amason was there because he found and showed us all the blooming Michaux’s Milkweed (Asclepias michauxii). a tiny, beautiful and sweetly-fragrant thing. I was so impressed with Carl because I believe he said he had never been to a pitcher plant bog but had studied the plants all of his life and had an strong admiration for botany and really, he lead the field trip, I followed the leader. I had studied this site for years and had not seen the Micheaxii before. Amason knew his stuff! After that, I made several trips to visit Carl and his partner-in-native-plant-crime, Thera Lou Adams. Carl lived about fifteen miles from my Grandma’s house. I remember bringing my Grandma Rogers and my two sons to visit Mr. Carl once. That Marion-inspired field trip to the bog turned into several years of mail-generated correspondence of letters that I hold dear today and a friendship that lasted until his death.

I remember taking trips with Marion to destinations near and far.

Once, me Marion and Margie Jenkins took-off to Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the Southern Nurseryman’s Association meeting. Afterward was most a most memorable trip to fourth-degree-black-belt-nurseryman Don Shadow’s place.  Several things I saw there are etched forever in my memory. Don showed us his menagerie of animals, including the one I was most impressed with, his Cassowary, a rare, pteradactyl-looking and very dangerous six-foot-tall Aussie bird that can disembowel you in a second. Crazy!!!! We proceeded on to one of his many nursery fields where we saw an amazingly-magic tree grafting crew doing their work. Their hands moved so fast that Don had to ask them to do it in slow-motion so we could actually see the grafting technique. Then it was off to his new acquisition, a virgin timber stand just purchased a month before. On the way, Don told us the story of how he got his first bank loan at age thirteen so he could buy a hog he had his eyes on. We arrived at the timber property and I remember like it was yesterday, looking up and seeing the sun gleaming through a heaven-reaching forest canopy that had never seen a saw.

That was a typical Marion trip: an introduction to great people and great plants.

We journeyed together once to the Holy Grail of Southern Native Plant wisdom, the Cullowhee Conference, at Western Carolina University. After, it was on to Chapel Hill to see the North Carolina Botanical Gardens to get a personal tour from Ken Moore and then to Tony Avent’s Juniper level Botanical garden went, ooh-ing and ah-ing along the way. and then on to visit the very-spectacular North Carolina Sate University Arboretum(before it became the Raulston Arbo). On the way home, half out of breath, we ducked in finally to Head-Lee Nursery in Seneca, South Carolina, on a Sunday, just because we could(Marion was at the wheel!). There was lots of plant talk on these trips. Lots and lots of laughter was had by all.

She was a person who, as Director, helped the LSU native plant arboretum, Hilltop Arboretum, get wind under their wings enough to lift-off. With the help of lots of people, she began the very popular and successful October Hilltop Plant Sale: an annual gathering of plants and plant people like no other in the state.

But most importantly, regarding horticulture and landscape design, she promoted nursery folks that were blazing trails: people on the cutting-edge of the trend in native plants and natural landscaping. She worked tirelessly to make sure she did what she could to make it known that there were people out there doing incredible stuff with plant production, horticulture and landscape design.

Don’t drink much of anything when riding with Marion because she didn’t stop much. “We have a schedule to keep!”, she’d say. She was really good about schedules and being at the right place and at the right time. And on time. If the Blues Brothers were on a mission from God, she was on a mission from God, too, but of the horticultural nature. I think her maker would be proud of her work here on planet Earth.

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I attach a copy of the note her daughter sent and was forwarded to me, of her Mom. I had no idea of most of the things she says within. What an amazing woman.

Mother turns 83 today. And what an amazing life she has had.  Did you
know that she used to go skeet hunting in South Dakota with her
father and a group of men from the time she was 14 until she left for
college? She was the only female.  Did you know that she fired her
gun at a man who was breaking into the isolated farm my parents lived
on, on the day I was brought home from the hospital as a newborn–and
evidently hit him based on the blood on the fence he cleared before
he disappeared into the woods?  Did you know that Wallace Steigner,
the great writer and the grandfather of creative writing programs,
invited mother to join a graduate creative writing program he was
starting at Stanford, the first such program in the country (she
turned him down because she’d just become engaged to my father),
which is still the premier writing program in the country?  Did you
know she used to be a competitive downhill skier?    Did you know she
was one of 15 women who had tea with Jaqueline Kennedy at the White
House and that she worked with Lady Bird Johnson on the
beautification project in Washington, D.C. that resulted in massive
plantings of flowers through the city?  Did you know she travelled
around the world–3 months– with my father (a business trip) while
she was 5, 6, 7 months pregnant with Finlay, and she just told us the
other day that her guide in Cairo made a pass at her, and she thought
it was flattering that he’d make a pass at a 7-month pregnant woman.
But she didn’t like the toilets in Japan, where the stall doors only
covered one’s face when you sat?    Did you know that my mother
answered the phones for 3 days straight at the Smithsonian in Boston
when the Soviets first sent Spuntnik up into space, (my father worked
at the Smithsonian as part of the satellite tracking program). Did
you know my mother was a master horsewoman throughout her teen years?
(click on photos to enlarge)
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above: historical relict t-shirt from the gravity-defying Fontenot-Drummond-inspired Lafayette Native Plant Conference of 1993
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above: a fourteen footer Almond Verbena (Aloysia virgata) in Marion’s garden scented up the entire neighborhood, on the big day.
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above: her garden at the street, with the fine-textured, light-green Bamboo Muhly  grass (Muhlembergia lindhiemerii), on the left
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above: just inside the garden from the street looking out, limey-green Bamboo Muhly, in the background 
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above: lawn grass isn’t allowed but just a path’s width in Marion’s garden
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above: Drummond friends Landscape Architect Julius Furr and retired nurserywoman Tina Ried try to figure out what plants they are admiring in Marion’s puzzle-gardens 
Godspeed, Marion.
……………………………………..

2 thoughts on “Headed to Horticultural Heaven

  1. Thanks . . . she touched more folks than most of us ever knew. She was truly unforgettable and made us all better by being Marion.

    Dick

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