Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mrs. Rosa's dahlias

This is the daughter of Mrs. Rosa Hicks of Banner Elk, N.C., standing next to her mother's dahlias at a family reunion. Rosa is the widow of famed storyteller Ray Hicks. Mrs. Hicks and her flowers are a treasure. I interviewed her for a 2007 magazine article, excerpted here:
Rosa Hicks, 76, who has lived her life in the high country of Avery County, was one of the North Carolina farm women immortalized in Lawrence's book "Gardening for Love: The Market Bulletins," published after the author's death. Hicks has advertised in the N.C. Agricultural Review for more than 50 years, and still sells dahlias through the mail and at her house on Old Mountain Road in Banner Elk. Her offerings from the 1950s and 60s read like an encyclopedia of North Carolina's treasured wildflowers: Dutchman's breeches, Ladyslippers, trilliums, bellworts, trout lilies, mayapples and galax.

"Mostly all the flowers we advertised were around the house on our place," she said. "But some we had to go to the woods to get." Back then, Hicks swapped plants with "other flower lovers" and sometimes bartered for printed feed sacks, which she used to sew pillowslips and children's shirts and dresses. Though she enjoyed trading plants and says it sometimes felt like a hobby, the money she earned was—and still is—a vital source of household income.

Elizabeth Lawrence also wrote a passage about Ray Hicks and his thoughts on snakebite.
"People don't understand snakebite," he said. "There are herbs for it, but turpentine and whiskey are the surest cures." He knows a man who has three scars on his face and twelve on his legs from being bitten when he was gathering ginseng. "He never goes where snakes are without taking three bottles of turpentine and a pint of pure good whiskey with him. When a snake strikes he pours the turpentine on the wound, a bottle at a time, until all the poison is drawn out. Then he drinks the whiskey and lies down. If you drink the whiskey first it will kill you."
You can read some of the memories of Ray and Rosa Hicks here.

Mrs. Hicks' flower trade is pretty informal. There are no fancy catalogs. I mailed her $15 last year and asked her to send me as many dahlia tubers as she'd like for that price. I received quite a few fat ones in great condition. They were mixed, so I had to wait for them to bloom to see how they'd look. I know that's not for everyone, but I like to be surprised. And knowing how long they've been in her family makes it extra special.

Should you wish, you may write to her to inquire about her flower sales: Rosa Hicks, 218 Old Mountain Road, Banner Elk, NC 28604.


sweet bay said...

Thank you for posting this. Her dahlia garden is incredible.

Carla said...

You're welcome. I hope I can one day visit her in person. I don't see any stakes anywhere. I wonder if the way to eliminate the need for staking is to plant them thick as thieves!

sweet bay said...

Maybe that is the secret. lol Mine go everywhere.

I ordered from her last month and she sends very generous amounts of tubers. I can't wait to see what they are.