A Level-Headed Gaze

On a blustery day, Christine Smith (completed MG Level 3) and I met over coffee. She serves as the Treasurer of Yellowstone County’s MG Assn., and that role could not be in better hands, since accounting is what she does professionally as a financial consultant for a national bank. What struck me as the strongest about her is a no-nonsense approach to gardening and about anything else we discussed. With a steady, straightforward gaze, perhaps borne from flat Midwestern plains, Chris faces reality
head-on, in blunt language. She consciously attempts to be objective in both
her work and gardening.

“Don’t be afraid to dig things up and move them around.” Her theories include the notions that gardening is a path, a process, in which we never reach our goals. Having raised two boys, she neglected houseplants but “employed” her sons to garden when they were growing up, and they still garden on their own as adults. The practices keep filtering down from her grandmother, a pickler, who “picked all the baby ones.” She finds pleasure in eating the products of her efforts, Chris’s greatest joy in gardening. However her appreciation doesn’t stop there. She loves teaching children basics about gardening at Riverstone’s Healthy by Design Thursday afternoon markets in South Park during summer months. Chris helped develop the activities for that program, which is constantly being refined.

Chris waited until her boys were self-sufficient before taking MG classes in 2011, but her training started long before that. Her knowledge was fleshed out by more than grandmothers and her father. She took horticulture in high school, and the description of the content struck me as sophisticated for any age group. Her teacher introduced the concept of public and private spaces, illustrated by having front yards as aesthetically pleasing while backyards are the zone for clichéd statues and personalized memorabilia. And Chris grafted in high school. An advanced program seems reasonable in an agriculturally based economy such as where she grew up in Minnesota. Her quest to take MG classes was to learn the truth, plus she values the social aspects.

She is moving towards hardy perennial xeriscaping. Her skill set defies our region; Chris grows grapes and modified her grape jam from a chokecherry recipe. Even though her marigolds were eaten last year, and she recalls 2016 as a bust due to grubs, she is far from burnt out. Her tomatoes were fine, so hope keeps springing eternal. “I like experimenting. Learn something every day. There are no guarantees.” Working the Farmers Market booth gets tough when answers to questions are elusive, but she “only takes what I can do”, but that is a lot!

Not only does Chris serve as the Association Treasurer and Healthy by Design Coordinator, she also organizes with Gail Tesinsky the courtyard planter by the Courthouse, in memory of veterans of Yellowstone County. Both of her sons serve in the U.S. Air Force, a fact that Chris quietly shares. Anemones are reseeding themselves there. Yellowstone County would look and feel quite different were it not for the modest wisdom and countless contributions of Chris Smith.


Submitted by Bess Lovec