Maverick Gardeners: Dr. Dirt and Other Determined Independent Gardeners by Felder Rushing

A review of
Maverick Gardeners: Dr. Dirt and Other Determined Independent Gardeners
by Felder Rushing
University Press of Mississippi

Maverick Gardeners celebrates gardening offbeat, on purpose

By Jessica Russell
Special to the Mississippi Clarion Ledger

At last, Mississippi’s favorite offbeat horticulturist takes us behind the vine-wrapped gates of some of the funkiest private gardens in the South. Suffice it to say, this is not your mama’s garden guide. 

With a profusion of interesting and unexpected themes planted densely together, it reads rather like a cottage garden grows: A memoir here, a tribute there. Some history. Some recipes. And plenty of good laughs in between—thanks to Rushing’s signature narrative style.

Nestled among eye-popping photographs of unconventionally beautiful gardens are personal stories of the maverick gardeners who tend them. Between these fanciful encounters, like a well-placed garden bench, the author provides space to pause and reflect. To think. And to learn.

How-to’s are ripe for the picking, both from the author and the “Determined Independent Gardeners” we meet inside the pages (including the one and only “Dr. Dirt”). You’ll find design tips from a liberated landscape architect, detailed instructions for DIY tire planters, and a host of simple ways to savor the joys of “slow gardening.”

Throughout the book, Rushing invites us to reflect on our personal connections rooted in dirt. When I came upon Rushing’s list of the world’s most tried-and-true passalong plants, I felt strangely moved. Each plant in the list evoked warm memories of the people who passed their cuttings to me. 

Perhaps the biggest treat for readers is to get a rare glimpse inside one lush private oasis after another, no two remotely the same. The styles, the plant choices, and the driving motivations are all as unique as the gardeners themselves.

For many of the gardeners featured, the author provides a historic record of the plants in these vernacular gardens—an important account that is all too often missing from the traditional garden history conversation. Also included: the legends and lore of bottle trees, tire planters, flamingoes, and other iconic elements of left-of-conventional garden décor.

Above all, Rushing emphasizes that “Maverick Gardening” is more about attitude than style. His message reminds me of the motto of the “Night Blooming Cereus Club” that Pulitzer Prize-winning author Eudora Welty founded with her Jackson friends: “Don’t take it cereus, life’s too mysterious.” Those who know Welty as a gardener won’t be a bit surprised to find her mentioned more than once within these pages.

In “Maverick Gardeners,” we are reminded that we all have permission to live, and garden, outside the lines. Unapologetically unpretentious with a sturdy, homespun feel, this book itself is a true passalong, just waiting to be shared.

Felder Rushing will be at the Eudora Welty House & Garden Sunday, May 2 from 1 to 3 p.m. for an Heirloom Plant Swap and Lecture. Bring up to two plants to swap. Registration is required at 601-353-7762 or email

Jessica Russell is the Garden Projects Specialist at the Eudora Welty House & Garden in Jackson, Mississippi. Her home and ever-expanding garden are filled with plants passed down from family, friends, and neighbors.


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