Bailey’s mother, Sarah, died from diphtheria when the boy was only four. After that, he learned to care for his mother’s garden of pinks, or dianthus, in the front yard, and from that year forward to the age of 96 Bailey always kept a garden. One could say that gardening was the passion that fueled all his other pursuits—it represented the simple, individual connection to the natural world that underlay the most profound elements of his philosophy.
Part of the Bailey Museum’s effort to tell this part of Bailey’s story is in our living collections. The grounds feature a series of garden plots dedicated to the genera of plants to which Bailey devoted so much of his lifework of classifying, breeding, growing, and publishing. Experienced volunteers from the community help plan and tend the gardens, and weekly weeding days bring a variety of skilled and unskilled gardeners together for work and fellowship, making the Bailey Museum a gathering place for our community’s green and greening thumbs. We garden based on current USDA organic standards that we believe Bailey would have embraced if he were gardening today.
Garden Talks under the Black Walnut Tree
Every summer for the past decade or so, the Bailey Museum has developed a reputation for bringing in great presenters to talk about various topics that are of interest both to garden-lovers and also to people interested in any of the many issues to which Bailey was so devoted—conservation, landscape architecture, sustainable agriculture, country life and culture, the arts, etc. We gather under the Baileys’ old black walnut tree behind the museum to engaged these speakers in a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. In recent presentations, we have learned about the history of blueberry farming in southwest Michigan, how to keep honeybees, the current efforts at small-scale agriculture around South Haven, the power of children’s gardening and the recent history of that movement in the United States, the basics of spinning and weaving with wool, and “what Bailey would plant,” among many other topics. It’s one more way that we strive to keep Bailey’s ideals alive in a world that is ever-changing and yet that never seems to lose interest in the good activities that put people into close contact with the natural, growing world.