Down to Earth

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Illustration by Gayle Ford

Romance blooms, even in the garden of a curmudgeon.

I answered the phone one day and heard a sweet voice on the other end. The young woman said, “I saw an article about your farm in Southern Living magazine some years ago and I kept the clipping.” She had kept the piece because she hoped to get married in my garden. “We really don’t do weddings,” I said, but she wasn’t to be deterred.

Her name was Jennifer, and she had seen the article while she was living in another state; she didn’t even have a boyfriend at the time. But she had decided that if and when she found her mate, they would tie the knot amidst the sage, rosemary, and thyme of my garden.

She was now a student at a nearby college, and she and her boyfriend, Hal, were planning their wedding. “It will be very small,” she said. “Maybe a dozen people, just our relatives. Can we come and visit and talk to you about it?” I reluctantly agreed.

Over the next months Jennifer visited several times. She wanted to embellish a few flowers from the florist with some fresh things from the herb garden. They planned to say their vows under my old bentwood gazebo in the center of the garden.

Despite my initial reluctance, I found myself tending the garden with the wedding in mind. I thought about how ivy, a traditional herb for weddings in previous times, would look good in her bouquet. It’s recognized in the language of flowers as the symbol of fidelity, constancy, and friendship.

I made sure the rosemary, used for fond remembrance, thrived, as did the roses, the traditional symbol of modesty and beauty. I made up a mental list of plants to suggest, based on Flora’s Dictionary: The Victorian Language of Herbs and Flowers by Kathleen M. Gips (Village Herb Shop TM, 1995): oregano, for joy and happiness; lemon verbena, which connotes enchantment and delicacy of feeling.

I grow around 400 varieties of herbs, along with vegetables, edible flowers, and lots of other plants. They looked pretty good by the week of the wedding. When Jennifer arrived to decide which herbs she would snip for her bouquet, I simply stood back and watched; she seemed fully focused and confident about her choices.

The night before the wedding, Hal called to tell me that the wedding party would arrive at 5:30 a.m. and they would get everything ready quickly for the dawn wedding. I yawned at the thought, not being an early morning person myself.

The next morning at 5:30, it was pouring down rain. Not just a gentle shower, but a determined, long-lasting downpour. The wedding party arrived late, at 7 a.m., still full of enthusiasm, and quickly ran back and forth from their cars with the festive wedding paraphernalia. And the rain continued, growing harder, not just a downpour now, but a thunderous torrent.

We all waited restlessly: 8, 8:30, 9 a.m.–but the rain wasn’t letting up. The rustic, moonvine-covered gazebo that had looked so inviting and perfect the day before looked like the worst place on earth for a wedding.

I sought out Jennifer, fearing she would be nearly in tears about the change in plans. “Oh, no,” she said. “I’ve been looking forward to this day for years. We’re going to have a wedding in the garden. I’m a gardener. Rain isn’t a disappointment to me. It’s a sign of bounty from the heavens. Let’s just have the ceremony here on the garden porch.”

So that’s what they did. Recorded music started and the flower girl scattered petals in a path all the way through the herb shop onto the porch. Jennifer was a stunningly beautiful bride, glowing with life and excitement, about to marry the man of her dreams. She carried a bouquet of the freshest herbs and flowers, chosen for the meaning they conveyed for her. As I took pictures from a quiet distance, I felt deep pride that someone had seen my garden, a creation that came from my mind and heart, as a place where she wanted to begin her married life.

The spicy fragrances of the scattered herbs and roses wafted through the group. The fresh scent of the newly washed, rain-clean air drifted in. As the couple said their vows, the sound of the summer rain still falling on the porch roof made it one of the most beautiful weddings I have ever witnessed.

Jim Long enjoys hosting visitors throughout the summer months at Long Creek Herb Farm in Oak Grove, Arkansas. He also welcomes readers’ questions or comments; you may e-mail him directly at

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