If you happen to be driving through Hendersonville and notice an emerald-green, two-seater, convertible 1993 Honda Del Sol, you could only be looking at Julie Gordon’s one-of-a-kind goodwill garden on wheels.
“If you don’t have time to stop and smell the flowers … take them with you,” reads the custom bumper sticker on the back. Gordon has been doing just that for more than a decade with the built-in box garden situated in her rear window, and it’s had the surprising effect of not just soaking up the sunshine, but actually spreading it around.
Working long hours as a training consultant and manager for a Fortune 500 company in Chicago didn’t give Gordon much down time. While she never considered herself much of a flower gardener, herb gardening was one of her best stress relievers. One day while driving back from a garden center with some new additions to plant, she noticed the strong, persistent aroma of herbs surrounding her, wafting from the little flats she’d just bought. She decided to try keeping those soothing scents in the car all the time for those long, traffic-clogged commutes on the Edens Expressway.
Gordon started out with small planters velcroed to a rack behind the seats of the car. Since the Del Sol is a convertible and the rear window rolls down, natural sunshine and rainwater came easy. The planters were stocked with such fragrant specimens as chocolate mint, basil and rosemary. While the original idea could be described as mobile aromatherapy, Gordon, who moved with her husband Marshall to Hendersonville six years ago, found that it turned out to be much more. A conversation starter, certainly. A curiosity, no doubt. But Gordon says the car garden also turned out to be a kind of antidote to road rage. “People on the road smile when they see it,” she says.
At her office, even the top-level executives got a kick out the car, and in 2001, a co-worker told a reporter friend about it. A piece about the garden that ran in the Chicago Tribune was picked up by the wire services and within days she was contacted for an interview by the Today show. Al Roker flew out to interview her, asking if she needed a “soil change” for the car every 3,000 miles. After the Today show appearance, people started to recognize Gordon and her car. At one stop, someone left a note on the windshield saying that everyone was talking about the car at garden centers in Seattle and that she’d be welcome to come out there with it anytime.
Gordon’s car garden changes seasonally: in the spring, it might be Gerber daisies, daffodils, and herbs; lemon verbena and lavender in the summer; mini pumpkins in the fall; and, around the winter holidays, little decorated evergreen trees. She has successfully grown cherry tomatoes in the car, which have been known to cheer up grumpy tollbooth workers. She even left a note next to them, along with salt-and-pepper shakers, inviting passersby to help themselves. When tomatoes aren’t in season, she often posts a sign that says: “Life is a journey. Make the most of EVERY moment! Help yourself to a twig. :). ” She’ll also list the “weekly specials” in the garden.
Through the years, the garden has undergone “continuous improvement,” says Gordon. Last fall, when she took the car into Dwight Oates Body Shop in Hendersonville for repair, the team there designed and installed an irrigation system, allowing excess water to drain onto the road. They also built a custom window box planter and bolted it into the car “so it will last for another 17 years — which is how long I plan to keep it.”
A peace activist who teaches workshops in nonviolent communication, Gordon says that the garden is just one way to live out her ideals: “Peace begins with being the change we want to see in the world.”
Julie Gordon’s workshop “The Power of Listening” happens June 5, 12 and 19. To register, call (828) 891-7366 by May 27. Other courses offered through the Academy For Peace of Henderson County include the interactive study “Beyond War” and “A Force More Powerful,” a documentary series about people who have accomplished nonviolent victories in violent situations. See www.academyforpeace.org for more information.