Oftentimes the dragging months of late winter seem to need a little nudge in order to make room for spring. And because nothing says spring like the colorful imagery of a seed catalog, the Messenger was excited to sit down with long-time gardener Marilyn Moorman to chew the cud and plan for the warmer days ahead.
A morning with Marilyn
“The seed catalogs seem to come earlier every year,” Moorman said, sitting behind stacks of catalogs of varying vintage and wear. Although the snow was piled up high outside her windows, Moorman’s enthusiasm combined pleasantly with bright photos in the catalogs to create a forecast-defying optimism that seemed to cry “spring!” With this alchemy, Moorman proved that spring is as much a state of mind as it is a season on the calendar. She had already ordered her seeds at the beginning of February and intended to have many of her hot pepper cultivars nestled in seed flats before the first of March. She plants both common varieties, such as habanero, and other more exotic strains like the notorious ghost pepper, scientifically known as bhut jolikia. The ominous ghost pepper is well-known as the first pepper variety to test at over 1,000,000 scoville units (a rating scale for hotness), and if the six zeros aren’t enough alone to make you sweat, give credibility to the comparison that bell peppers typically score between 0-100, jalapenos between 1,000-10,000 and cayenne peppers (notably hot) run between 10,000 and 100,000. Does a million sound daunting, now?
So why does Moorman plant such an extreme (and likely dangerous) pepper? To engage customers in conversation at the local farmers market, of course. Moorman – energetic, eccentric and eager to share experience with others – explained that the specialty aspect of the pepper acts as conversation starter, giving her the opportunity to tell people that the pepper is so hot that they have to handle it with gloves, an strategy that shows Moorman is as effective a marketer as she is gardener.
Moorman’s kind face, signature glasses and small stature is well known around Isle, specifically at the farmers market. Equally well known has been her dark blue 1992 Jeep Cherokee, which was stolen just a few weeks ago. Moorman, who lives in the city of Isle, does most of her gardening on a friend’s property outside of city limits, which isn’t in walking distance.
“My garden is two miles away from here,” Moorman, who was born during the Great Depression, said. She pondered how she would get to the garden plot this summer if her vehicle hasn’t been recovered. “I don’t mind having a meager income, except for occasions like this, having a car stolen.”
She was recently contacted by law enforcement in Benton County who informed her that they found a pile of her gardening and farmers market items discarded on the side of the road, indicating the stolen Cherokee had been heading west on Hwy. 23.
“Life is rotten sometimes,” Moorman mused, a smile never having left her face. And shortly the conversation segued away from the stolen vehicle as easily as it had arrived at it, showing Moorman’s resilience and positive attitude.
Beyond peppers, Moorman has a deep affinity for tomatoes, squash and Brussels sprouts. One of her favorite squash varieties is pink banana, a large squash that she described as, “about 18 inches long, beige and then turning pink as it ripens.”
And similar to how a small, delicate seed will transform in to something quite different than when it began, Moorman described her own history with gardening.
From a young age, gardening was part of her life – even though she didn’t particularly want it to be.
“I didn’t like to weed, and I would run off instead of working in the garden,” Moorman recalled. Her family grew a multitude of vegetables and fruiting trees, and even tended their own victory gardens during World War II. “During the war years, gardening became the thing to do. It was our patriotic duty.”
Although Moorman frequently fled the scene of a weedy garden, she was happy that her father’s view of nature – reverent and awestruck – embedded, too, in her.
“I had a father who taught me to appreciate nature,” Moorman said. “I didn’t think about it so much at the time, but looking back, it was a great way to grow up.”
She told stories of playing with toads and handling snakes, learning how to hold a crayfish so they wouldn’t snap your hand, and the fun of playing in the neighborhood sand pit.
“I’m afraid we are in danger of losing that type of childhood,” Moorman said. She thought for a moment and then continued. “I’m not great at using a computer, and I think they are wonderful. But I know people who just live on the computer, like it’s an addiction. I don’t know that it is a terrific answer to modern living.
“I think we are creatures of nature, and it seems like we are losing our moorings. Nature creates peace in a person’s life and allows you to feel real and not so frenzied,” she continued.
When asked if she was optimistic about the coming growing season, Moorman chuckled.
“I think it’s intangible. You can’t ever plan on nature being predictable,” she said. “But yes, I always enter the summer with high hopes. And inevitably by mid-summer, the weeds take hold.”
And if one recalls, Marilyn Moorman is one who doesn’t like weeds.
On another note, if anyone has seen her stolen dark blue Cherokee, she’d sure like to get it back.