This site is for people who like plants -- growers, enthusiasts, aesthetes, novices and professionals, those who appreciate wild things and those who appreciate the cultivated. I garden in Chelsea, and I've been visiting people's yards for 20+ years in the course of my work. My goal is to make this blog a community project, so if you share my interests, please consider becoming a participant and contributing content -- Guerin. Info:

Thursday, February 9, 2012

In memory of Bob Stewart, genius behind Arrowhead Alpines in Fowlerville

Bob and Brigitta Stewart
If you have been a reader of the voluminous and hugely entertaining catalog of Arrowhead Alpines, you would have known that co-founder Bob Stewart had been battling with cancer for several years. It came as news to me recently that he passed away in December.

A most excellent profile of this fantastically knowledgeable, highly opinionated and reliably ornery individual was posted by the Human Flower Project. I recommend it to you.

For now, a little about me before I return to Bob. When I initially discovered Arrowhead Alpines, I was so wowed that I made a herculean effort to become associated with the owners. Bob had put together two catalogs -- one for seeds and the other for plants. There were thousands of items offered in each, an almost incomprehensible number of taxa, as far I was concerned. Back then the people who used the internet would access it via AOL and telephone modems. My big plan was to take Arrowhead Alpines on-line. It was going to be a big generous surprise to Bob and Brigitta and they were going to adopt me and teach me everything about plants and plant propagation. That was my hope. So without consulting them  I scanned all the pages of the catalogs and used character recognition software to translate the images into numbers and letters. All the scientific names had to be in bold face and italicized, of course, so for each entry I manually added the formatting code. Ditto with the prices. It was tedious work.

When the job was complete, I drove up to Arrowhead, told Bob what I had done, and gave him the discs. He put them on a shelf. And that's the end of that story.

I became familiar with a lot of Latin names from that exercise. The next time I visited Arrowhead, I tracked down Bob and asked him if he could recommend any good 'andro-sackies.' I thought I could impress him, but my hillbilly pronunciation of Androsace blew my cover. 

Bob would be the first to admit that he did not 'suffer fools gladly.' I was one of those fools. So were the 'master gardeners' who would visit the nursery and comment on the strange or unorthodox ways he grew his plants. Or maybe they complained about all those foreign species he was housing. It wasn't always recognized that his understanding of the plant world was a universe beyond theirs. He knew that, and he was never coy about it.

My final association with Bob came when he was involved in some very heated on-line exchange in a public forum. As I recall, I e-mailed him and suggested that it would behoove him to tone it down a bit. He replied with a rant, which I then forwarded to a friend after appending my own snarky commentary. But I clicked the wrong button. Instead of 'forward', I clicked on 'reply.'  Oops.

People, BE VERY CAREFUL when communicating on the internet. It's fast, and there is no 'undo' button. And don't ever be hard on yourself when it comes to gardening. As Bob Stewart would say repeatedly, "you buy them, you kill them, and that's how you learn."

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