Donna Stringer 1947-2018

The Memphis Horticultural Society’s Award of Horticultural Excellence is given at the discretion of the President.  The winners, from the beginning of the award, are listed in the Member Directory each year. As one reads thru the list there are educators, designers, horticulturalists, nursery owners, citizen gardeners, community organizers and garden writers. These people contributed to and elevated the art and craft of gardening to make it more accessible to the public at large. (And I just have to say here, when I won in 2012, I rewrote my obituary so that this honor lead off the whole story. )

A love of gardening and gardens is both personal and civic. The winners of this award join a fraternity of like-minded people who are honored at no other time, in no other way for this distinction of honor.  This is the only honor that I know of in the Mid-South that calls out individuals who support horticulture.

I can assure you that the thought and analysis that goes into this selection is not easy or quick. I have thought about the people I know who honor gardens and gardening above the normal ‘hobby’. Most people in this room qualify by their dedication.

I kept coming back to the person who promoted horticulture with her whole being. She walked the walk and talked the talk. She single-handedly encouraged more people to take classes, volunteer, attend organization meetings and plant or grow. Her week was filled with volunteering at 3 or 4 different institutions that could depend on her to show up and work hard.  And while working she would discuss gardening opportunities coming up that we should all attend. If a newbie was around she usually had them signed up for Master Gardening Classes before the bed was weeded.

As you might have guessed by now our person is a woman, retired from a career as a flight attendant. She’s married to a pilot, and they came to Memphis with FedEx. She has an extensive career in gardening in Memphis. No one I know crosses so many gardening organizations and helps to knit us together by example.

When I was at Lichterman Nature Center, I first met Donna Stringer.

Donna is refreshingly honest and unfiltered. She promotes Memphis Area Master Gardeners with a passion that is true and evangelical. She participates in all aspects from Spring Fling, the Behind our Garden Gate to the Garden visits? to Hort Therapy for a nursing home? She recruits, interviews and mentors classes each year.

Donna’s list of accomplishments are unmatched by anyone I know.

Some of her stats:

  • Master Gardener for 10 years and founding member of Through Our Garden Gates, donating over 400 hours every year
  • Started the horticulture therapy workshop at Applegate.
  • Urban Forestry member and on tree team at the Dixon and the Memphis Botanic Garden
  • Naturalist at Strawberry Plains
  • Ikebana International, Memphis Bamboo Chapter #44
  • Volunteer at Lichterman Nature Center, Dixon Gallery & Gardens and Memphis Botanic Garden

When anyone is so passionate about planting and growing, I encourage them to take up the fine art flower arranging. I asked Donna to take Ikebana, the Japanese Art of Flower Arranging. She took to it and like all of her endeavors she shined. She now is working her way through the levels, with Neil bringing her to classes.  The joy that Donna has is contagious and it effects all those who are in her presence.

I think all of us know Donna Stringer and admire her. I want to share a few times that are distinct memories with Donna.  One day we were tackling a weeping yaupon holly that was in dire need of pruning after years of neglect. We knew this particular shrub was the director’s pet and he was most protective. We decided we would do what is right by the holly in spite of the fussing we would get for being brutal with the pruning. We agreed that next year when it started to grow again, it would thank us. Donna is a do what’s right person.

Another day while working at Lichterman, she told me that The Dixon was her favorite place to volunteer. She said she learned something every day she was there. It made me want to have my volunteers say the same thing. I learned that volunteers need to feel vital and appreciated.

And those little plastic dog food containers she saved and brought in for recycling. We must have found a hundred different uses for them. What a dedicated environmentalist Donna is! Right down to the recycling bin.

She and Neil also attend plays and concerts. They have traveled all over the world. Donna’s cards are so welcomed for their sweet notes and beautiful images on the front, usually flowers and gardens.  They have had many shelter dogs that are lucky to be owned by Donna and Neil. Whenever Donna is given a task, she takes it to heart and does her best. Whether weeding a bed or ordering and selling flower carriers, she is earnest, honest and tenacious.

We all know that Donna is very sick and her time is short. It is our opportunity to honor her before she leaves us. It is our way of thanking her for all she has done for our horticultural community. But we also want Donna to know that this award is well deserved and if she were extremely healthy she would still be getting the award. Sorry Donna, You are a winner!

Donna’ enthusiasm for all things horticulture is absolutely unmatched. I admire passion for a particular art in a person. but when those passions are wrapped around a gardener, that’s just the person who deserves to get the Horticultural Excellence Award for 2018.

Suzy Askew
2018 President, Memphis Horticultural Society
Presented December 4, 2018
Accepted by Donna’s husband, Neil Stringer
Donna passed away on December 14, 2018