Susan Morton brings the wit and wisdom of her career as a forensic scientist to her endeavors as a Master Gardener. Whether she’s playing the role of “Bee Czar” in organizing the Beevent Pollinator Conference, teaching new gardeners to grow produce on a budget in Seed to Supper, or serving on the board of the Linn County Master Gardener Association, Susan always shares a dry and delightful sense of humor. Susan has been a Linn County Master Gardener since 2011 and shared her story in winter, 2019.
A way for non-literate people to read nature
I grew up in the small town of West Point, Georgia, on the banks of the Chattahoochee River about 100 miles south of Atlanta. My father was an engineer, but he came from a long line of farmers and loved to garden. We had about half an acre of fruit and vegetables which we enjoyed all summer. His mother also lived with us and she, too, liked to work in the garden. I was their chief assistant. My job was picking, watering and keeping an eye out for pests. One of my fondest memories is sitting with my grandmother after I had been out picking shelling beans or peas for my mother to cook. My grandmother had very little education, but she knew how to plant by the signs. When I got older, I realized there was nothing magical or superstitious about these signs—they were a way for non-literate people to read nature to know when it was time to plant or harvest various crops. So, if you are in Georgia, plant your sweet corn when the wild dogwood is in full bloom.
A philodendron named Arthur
When I was deciding on a major in college, I was drawn to biology. I had to pick either botany or zoology and picked botany. I figured at least I would not have to chase my specimens. I attended a small women’s’ college which at the time had a very strict policy about students going out at night unescorted, with a male escort being much preferred. I had a philodendron named Arthur which my friends and I would list as an escort on our sign-out forms. And, of course, we took Arthur with us to theaters and concerts so as not to be dishonest. Arthur was cultured as well as cultivated.
In the early years of my career as a forensic scientist, I lived in apartments and could not do much gardening. I always managed to have at least a few house plants. Later on, I bought a small house with a large yard near the San Francisco airport. After years of deprivation, I gardened frantically.
When I put the house on the market, the real estate agent went through the house and made suggestions as to how to stage it. Then I took her to the back yard. It was a wonderland. Didn’t have any trouble selling that house even in 2009 when the real estate market was in the dumpster.
As I neared retirement, I realized I had to do some introspection to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I had never been big on introspection. Considering what bubbles up on its own, I was not keen on looking in there on purpose. But I did it. To my utter amazement I discovered that what would complete my happiness was chickens. CHICKENS. I decided to move out in the country so as not to have to deal with chicken laws. I came up to look at properties in this area.
After a couple of days of trudging through very gloomy places, I came to the place I am now. I got out of the car and fell in love. Lots of room to garden, but not too much land to take care of. Deer fence. But best of all was the view—over a waterfowl refuge pond with Mary’s Peak framed perfectly between trees. The real estate agent asked if I wanted to see the house inside. I just waved her off and said that if it had indoor plumbing, we were good.
So I got my chickens installed in their fancy coop dubbed Cluckingham Palace, and they give as much joy as I had hoped. After years of being cross-examined in court by lawyers, I find the chickens to be refreshingly noble and intelligent.
I grow some things that remind me of my southern roots. I have to have butter peas in the summer and turnip greens in the winter. I also have a sweetshrub, Calycanthus albus. They grow brown flowers that look like loafer tassels and smell like Jergens hand lotion. Actually, it is the other way around. Jergens Lotion is scented the shrub’s flowers. When I was growing up, everybody had a sweetshrub planted by their trash cans. Trash cans do not smell nice during August in Georgia. The shrubs were supposed to mask some of the aroma.
Master Gardeners & Seed to Supper
As soon after I moved in as my life permitted, I became a Master Gardener and have made wonderful new friends. I find helping others to enjoy their gardens as much as I enjoy mine gives me great satisfaction. I also like to think I am keeping pesticide use down by showing people better ways to manage their gardens. Seed to Supper is the type of program that is the reason I became a Master Gardener. Life has been good to me, and I want to give something back and to help those who have not been as fortunate as I have.
Now I am supposed to tell something astonishing about myself. Well, I have already confessed that I dated a philodendron in college. Not sure what I can say to top that, but I will give it a try:
- I have been to Antarctica, Pago Pago, Timbuktu, and Tbilisi, among many other unlikely places
- I have driven a locomotive
- I spent an afternoon appearing before the Supreme Court of the Federal Republic of Nigeria impersonating a barrister
- I single-handedly destroyed communism in Russia by explaining to a Russian housewife the benefits of having shopkeepers competing for her rubles rather than getting a salary, paid out of her taxes, whether they sell anything or not. The Soviet Union fell two years later
- I won a Russian speaking contest in St. Petersburg. No idea what I said since I do not speak Russian. I may be engaged to be married. In my defense, several vodka toasts had taken place before the contest.
Seed to Supper is a comprehensive six-week beginning gardening course that gives novice, adult gardeners the tools and confidence they need to successfully grow a portion of their own food on a limited budget. CLICK HERE to learn more.