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Literature and gardening have long gone hand in hand. This weekend, and for the past five years, literature in Siskiyou County gets a helping-hand from the annual Mt. Shasta Garden Tour – organized by Katie Jessup, owner of Spring Hill Nursery and Gardens – the starting point for the tour. All of the costs of organizing and holding the tour are absorbed by Spring Hill Nursery and Gardens and ALL of the proceeds go to the benefit of the Friends of the Mt. Shasta Library, a branch of the Siskiyou County main library. As a result of on-going economic struggles, Siskiyou County is considering closure of their library system. An event that is “inconceivable” to Katie Jessup – who sees a library as an integral part of any town. And so this year, the garden tour takes on a slightly more pointed urgency. “But a library of some sort will always exist,” Katie states reassuringly- to herself (and me). “People will make it happen one way or another no matter what the county decides.”
We are all called to do certain things in life, whether we hear those calls or recognize them as such when they come. Katie Jessup turns 60 this year and in her lifetime thus far she has had many callings, and lived many places – from Manhattan to India, but two touchstones have always been constant: Mt. Shasta where she grew up coming with her family for summers and vacations, and plants. “Even living in Manhattan, I had a little planter suction cupped to my window,” she recalls, looking around the nursery and display gardens she began 14 years ago now. “When I decided it was time to settle, I asked myself: where do I feel most at home?” Mt. Shasta, memories of floating in high mountain lakes, and plants were the answers that called to her. What in her mind was going to be a tiny little pocket nursery has over the past 14 years become a fairly expansive and intriguing full-service nursery chock full of interesting perennials, annuals, edibles, trees and shrubs -with a sales yard and open display gardens that extend across the open ground of an old dump, around gnarled old fruit trees, whose survival always makes Katie happy when she sees them, beneath sheltering white fir, cedars and black oaks and all around Katie’s home and garden adjacent to the nursery.
Spring Hill Nursery sits just to the left of the entrance to the famed Mt. Shasta City Park – location of the Headwaters of the Sacramento River and from which Spring Hill derives its name. When Katie first looked at the property on which the nursery and her home sit, the entire site was “distressed – a pot belly pig lived and ate everything in sight below 12 inches, wolves had been housed on the site.” Everything above 12 inches was overgrown, a dump pile had accumulated in one open area and in a small fenced area obscured by shoulder-high grass, Katie could see (and hear the constant ticking of) a rainbird sprinkler head – on continuously for maybe six months as far as she could tell – but she could not find the turn off for it. A boy came by one day and told Katie that he and his family used to live in the little house. “Do you by chance know how to turn off the water to that sprinkler?” she had asked, and lo and behold he did. Without water, the tall grass subsided and eventually was cleared and beneath it Katie discovered what is now referred to as the Circle Rock garden. A rising circular spiral formed from many, many different stones, that look to have been collected all over the world, set in concrete and forming a sort of small planter-like mountain. It looks very purposeful and symbolic. When I first saw it, images of Dante’s circular spheres of heaven in the “Divine Comedy” or Thomas Merton’s “The Seven Storey Mountain.” (You were wondering when I was getting to the literary part, weren’t you?)
As many of you know, I am a firm believer in the idea that gardens and plants are (and should be) part of our cultural literacy. I have actually written that “good community nurseries often serve a purpose akin to small community libraries.” When I asked Spring Hill Nursery staff, including Manager Donna Wolfe, what they see the nursery’s specialty as being, the immediate response was: “information, education.” Not sales. Not price point. Not even plants. Every year, Katie and her staff – who have all felt “called” to work there – open the growing season on the vernal equinox with a dawn bonfire, they crack coconuts over each portal on the 2 and half acre nursery and grounds – the laugh and welcome the new season. When six years or so, Katie felted called to do more to reach out into the community, it was the library that called to her most movingly.
Once you start looking, other spiritual, worldly and possible-literary references can be found throughout Spring Hill Nursery and Gardens, from the cutting and demonstration garden laid out in the form of a leaf, to the deer resistant demonstration garden laid out in a sunken grove with a Shinto shrine at its center (deer are considered messengers to the gods in the Shinto beliefs). Kwan Yin – the Buddhist bodhisattva (a revered holy person) of compassion, appears at numerous entrances from one space to another around the nursery. The check out cabin reminded me of “Heidi,” and I would be remiss if I did not touch on the auspicious symbolism of the nursery’s proximity to the headwaters of the Sacramento – the life-giving artery running through our region. Books and writing go hand in hand with a love of gardening and gardens, when asked about her favorite gardening related books or author, Katie says without hesitation: Penelope Hobhouse! “You can hear the sparkle in her words and her passion for plants is contagious! Her work “On Gardening” is a favorite.” Take a look – the library might have a copy to check out.
Besides the annual Mt. Shasta Garden Tour, Spring Hill Nursery and Gardens regularly hosts general information gardening workshops including ones this season on vermiculture, compost tea and the fall and winter garden. In our walk around the garden, Katie mentioned several times the idea of “right livelihood,” meaning the fit of the right person to the exact right calling in life. I feel sure that she has found her right livelihood and all of the Mt. Shasta region is more richly storied for it.
The annual Mt. Shasta Garden Tour to benefit the Friends of the Mt. Shasta Library will be held on Saturday, June 19, 10:00 a.m. -3:00 p.m. Sponsored by Spring Hill Nursery and Gardens, the tour will feature five remarkable and diverse gardens as well as three outstanding community gardens. Even if you can’t make the tour this Saturday, Katie Jessup’s home garden, adjacent to the nursery, is always available to view and it has a very nice collection of plants in appealing combinations: tree peonies, calceolarias, ligularias, hostas, an akebia vine wending its way up an arbor at the entrance. The other three community gardens on the tour are also always available. To make a donation and pick up maps for the tour start at Spring Hill Nursery located at 1234 Nixon Road, Mt. Shasta (across the street from the city park) Questions about the tour? call 530 926-2565.
Jewellgarden.com’s luscious little note cards are ready to enjoy at local fine shops near you – see Jewellgarden Shop for more info. As spring turns to summer and summer to fall, look for Edibles in the Garden blank journals, note cards featuring fruit and nuts and squash, and 2011 calendars. A portion of all sales of the Edibles in the Garden note cards goes to Slow Food Shasta Cascade and the many projects it supports. All of Jewellgarden.com’s cards are printed in Chico by Quadco printing using 100% recycled paper and vegetable-based ink. Yum.
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In a North State Garden is a weekly Northstate Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum – Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell – all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In A North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday mornings at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time. Podcasts of past shows are available here.