Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The man in 'Ellis' Garden'

Cover of the Songs of the Settlement CD
This double CD of Americana-folk
music is a fundraiser for the Pioneer
Settlement for the Creative Arts.
A song on the new Songs of the Settlement folk-music CD sent me scrambling for one of my old journalism clips. It was a bittersweet journey, well worth taking.

The Americana/folk-music double CD was created by multiple singer-songwriters as a fundraiser for Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts. Regular readers know I'm a fan - and a member - of the living-history museum that resembles an old Florida town. My fiction is set in pioneer Florida, and the Pioneer Settlement showcases that era and way of life.

Disclaimer aside, let's get back to the CD. I bought my copy at the Fall Country Jamboree last month, with full expectation of liking the songs because I like Americana music. What I didn't expect to find was Lauren Heintz's song "Ellis' Garden." It's a beautiful ballad about a man who once tended the large garden at the Settlement with the knowledge and dedication gained from a lifetime of living close to the land. The poetic song captures the essence of that gardener - whose full name was Ellis Price and whom I met and interviewed for a newspaper article in 1993.

Image of newspaper article by Gerri Bauer about gardener Ellis Price
I wrote this article about Ellis Price for
the West Volusia 'New Volusian' section
of the Daytona Beach News-Journal
in 1993. 
The resulting article is pictured here, but I'd like to quote a part that still resonates with me:
"Price spends most of his days plowing, cultivating or harvesting crops from soil that ranges from a sandy loam to the rich muck of a reclaimed lake bottom. He guesses he would tend the garden at night, too, but for the lack of light. But never on Sunday. And, sometimes, not when the fish are biting. 'My buddy says for every day you take off for fishing, the Lord gives you an extra day,' Price said ..."
At the time of our interview, Ellis had been growing produce for 60 years, since he was a child in the 1920s. He had first-hand knowledge of early Florida ways, and applied a blend of old and new approaches to his gardening - using hand tools at the Settlement, but tilling with a tractor at home. He always planted by the moon's phases, just as his father had done.

Old cultivars that rated high on Ellis' list included zipper cream peas and running conch peas. He also grew beans, greens, tomatoes, okra, sugar cane, pickling cucumbers, cotton, and corn. The corn was the hybrid sweet 'Silver Queen,' which I believe was the cultivar of Zellwood fame years ago.

The song "Ellis' Garden" closes by saying the Settlement isn't the same since Ellis is no longer with us. I thank Lauren Heintz for returning him, if only briefly. The artistry of the ballad's three minutes tumbled me back nearly a quarter-century. How well I  remember the bright spring day I and photographer Kelly Jordan met with Ellis Price at the Settlement garden. Time slowed for a few hours. And goes by much too fast today.

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