KJ Hannah Greenberg

Pampas Grass

Across the street from my parents’ home, a neighbor had carved out a portion of her lawn for a small garden. Within that square grew a variety of flowers. She had orchestrated her space such that from early spring to late fall something was always budding.

I was enamored of her project. My mother and father, akin to most adults of their generation, cultivated ornamentals in neat rows, regardless of any circulated knowledge about microclimates or botanical allies (they, likewise, made gelatin-encased salads and thought that “children should be seen and not heard.”)

Annually, my family potted geraniums and cockscomb in the two jardinieres that soldiered on either side of our front door. No one rotated those sprouts with other species or in any other manner replenished the dirt. Progressively and understandably, each year, the occupants of those containers fared poorer and poorer.

To wit, my neighbor’s front yard garden with its healthy variety, consideration of natural soil amendments, and three full seasons’ worth of beauty was fascinating to me. Even from as far away as my living room window, I enjoyed the sight of the sundry birds that lit on my neighbor’s bounty and the sound of rain falling on her varying-sized and hued leaves

Up close, however, I mostly adored her pampas grass. Those long-lasting, textured towers rising from her greensward, moreover, drew other neighborhood children’s notice. I’m ashamed to write that many of us, when my neighbor’s car was absent from her driveway, stole stalks of those flowers.

While her bee balm, milkweed, black-eyed Susans, and cardinal flowers were delightfully colored or scented, we thieved only her stems of inflorescences and then used those clusters to tickle or otherwise torment each other. Alternative blooms, at best, could be torn into petals that could be thrown at each other’s heads. Even pinching rocks from each other’s milk box-based collections was nothing relative to appropriating my neighbor’s feathery shoots.

Fortunately, that good woman only occasionally scolded us and when she did so, she used a sweet, soft voice. I suppose that she knew that the magic of posies was incomparable to the preciousness of children’s growth.

I’ve long lost track of the other children and the extent to which my neighbor’s inspiration touched them. Nonetheless, I have yet to slough off her sway and that of her pampas grass on me. I still foster indoor gardens and I sow outdoor ones whenever my husband and I own land. To boot, I’ve become a certified herbalist.

Perhaps, my neighbor’s green sagacity could cure a lot of what’s wrong with society. Maybe, if contemporary children would stop and smell the roses, per se, or steal  tufts of “tickle feathers,” consistently and predictably, our world would heal. Sadly, “older strands of social connection [have been] abraded-even destroyed-by technological and economical social change” (Putnam 382). It’s no secret that while elementary school-aged youngsters are still “a little bit wild,” they’d rather be glued to their electronic devices, inside, than play outside, let alone commit minor crimes involving dirt, sky, and greenery. As well, it no surprise that their parents, who work long hours, “have no time” to take walks with them or else create private Edens.

At least, my grandchildren are still young enough to appreciate playgrounds. At least, my children are wise enough to use their scant free time to take my grandkids to farms, parks, and similar vegetal fonts.

I’m increasingly convinced that most minors, excluding young ones raised in rural locations, are unfamiliar with and unconcerned about vegetation and its importance. Their portable apparatuses, loaded with today’s convergent media’s content, make scarce reference to herbs, flowers, or trees let alone to places where they’re nurtured. As such, children, these days, would rather watch TikTok videos than hike through abandoned lots, play Minecraft or Fortnite than raise peas or tomatoes, and chat on social media that rake leaves.

Broadcasts impact our reality construction in three ways: they alter the character of our symbols, the things with which we think; they alter the structure of our interests, the way in which we think about things; and they alter the nature of our community, the things we use to weigh our communication processes and products (Postman, 1990). We ought not to let those transmissions destroy our relationship with or our stewardship of flora. It’s not so much that civilization currently lacks people like my childhood neighbor as it is that our present, shared expressions puts more emphasis on influencers than on physical environment.

Sure, my childhood pampas grass had sharp-edged leaves that were potentially harmful to humans and wildlife. Sure, foliage can be invasive. It’s also the case that kalmia is toxic.

On balance, beyond green friends such as lunaria, i.e. “money plant,” and roses, few other garden members ever inspired pilfering, let alone a lifelong attentiveness to horticulture. It’s a pity that we’re not more focused on teaching the newest generation about botanical wonders.


Postman, Neil. “Technology and Ideology.” International Communication Association Convention. U. Dublin, 1990.

Putnam, Robert D. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Simon & Schuster, 2000.

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.