September 2014
The Herb Farm

Gettin’ Back to My Roots

  “What am I?” Look beyond the flower. Last month the WAI was two spider bites on my leg.

Looking back on the many things I have seen in my years, sometimes it’s hard to process the breadth of it all. Is it just me or are we all really connected by two things: music and gardening?

Thinking back to a more energetic time in my life, I recalled some of the music I listened to while I worked the vegetable patch. It was only a small patch and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Back then, there was this one song that would pick me up when I felt blue, alone or confused. "Keep on Smilin’" by Wet Willie was and is still a deeply philosophical song that pretty much dictated how I felt back then, and it gave me the encouragement I needed to continue.

There’s this one line in that song … "Are you a farmer? Are you a star?" that made me smile, and it still does.

I followed that band around the South whenever I could afford time off from work and had travel money to watch them make audiences shake and dance. They moved people with their positive, upbeat music. They moved me. I wore out one 8-track and bought a second one of their third album so I could listen to it on my makeshift outdoor stereo.

Jimmy Hall and Donna Hall Foster of Wet Willie (Credit: Keith Necaise Photography)  

The folks in the band were just regular folks when you got around them while they weren’t working (performing). Most of the band members were from Alabama. Brothers Jimmy and Jack Hall and sister Donna Hall Foster are from Mobile. I believe their whole family has the music gene.

Recently, I spoke with Donna about gardening and flowers and stuff. She told me about how she became interested in the beauty of it all.

Donna’s late father Jack (Pop) was an avid gardener who loved flowers. He would build the beauty of his planting beds by sometimes transplanting native wild plants from the woods to his yard. She gleaned from his knowledge, paying attention to every detail.

Donna says her love for the pastime also comes from her mother’s love of the same. Momma Hall (Nanny) can not only play the piano and sing but gardens as well.

Her signature flower is the pansy. Donna says pansies, Johnny jump-ups and other violas are such happy flowers with their little faces. It’s hard not to smile back at them.

Queen Ann’s Lace is another of Donna’s favorites. That is one wildflower that, when in the right setting and nature has planted the seeds in bulk, makes a beautiful picturesque display.

  Typical close family gathering with Nanny Hall leading the music on her piano and singing her favorite Southern gospel songs.

I asked Donna about what is doing well and not so well in her garden this year. She said she has had trouble with Gerbera daisies in the past and this year is no different. I explained that I have the same problem. She said her bell pepper plants have produced tremendously this year. So much so, she has had plenty of fruits to share with friends and family.

We share an appreciation for one of my favorite flowers. Zinnias grow easily here at the farm and Donna made me promise to send her some seeds. Pop and Nanny grew zinnias at their home in Mobile and it was one of their favorites. Zinnias attract bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and American goldfinches.

It’s not unusual for the family to get together on the weekends. Donna and her sisters do a lot of the cooking. I asked her what her most requested recipe was. She said taco salad for a Mexican dinner and Nanny’s chicken and dumplings. Bisquick is the only substitute she uses in Nanny’s secret recipe.

We talked for the longest, catching up on garden talk and where the band will be playing. Brother Jimmy is on tour with Jeff Beck, co-headlining with ZZ Top. Stan Foster, Donna’s husband, still tours with his band, Rollin’ In the Hay, and also plays with other bands all over Mobile and Baldwin counties. Donna, with her dynamic voice, performs all over the southern counties from Mississippi to northwest Florida.

Wet Willie will get together for a performance this month in Fort Payne at Boom Days on September 20. I am certainly going to see them then. The whole gang will be there. My friends, Joyce Ramos and Ronny Neely (general manager) from the DeKalb Co-op stores, will be at Boom Days featuring one of the coolest grill inventions I’ve ever seen. Traeger grills are fired by wood pellets and … well. Just stop by their booth and let the experts explain how they work. But, take it from me, my Traeger cooks up a fine barbecue butt!

Speaking of DeKalb Co-op, I was talking with Ronny the other day and told him that Wet Willie was headlining at Boom Days. He said he hadn’t seen them in years and he and his wife Susan would definitely be there for the show.

I really wanted to get down to Mobile and take some pictures of Donna and her garden, but time did not permit. I called upon my friend Keith Necaise to see if he had any pictures of Donna I could use for this article. He generously offered one of Jimmy and Donna taken in Mobile last December at a Christmas party. Keith is an event photographer from Mobile who also shoots architecture, nature, landscapes and, of course, gardens. Look for him on Facebook.

The rest of the photographs here are provided courtesy of Donna Hall Foster, Buddy McQuillen, Cindy Hall McQuillen and Melissa McQuillen. Thank you!

That’s all I have time for today, but I’ll be back in October with some spooky Halloween recipes and some ideas for seasonal floral arrangements.

Until then, remember to watch your salt and sugar, drink plenty of pure water, and breathe in and out!

Thanks for reading!

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As always, check with an expert, like your doctor, before using any herbal remedy.