Like many retirees, Hiram Stuart “H.S.” Stevens Jr. didn’t quite know how to quit working. Fortunately, he found a second career even more fulfilling than his first.
The onetime sewing-machine store manager blossomed as a gardening columnist for the Dallas Morning News from 1985 to 2006. Stevens, who passed away June 14 at age 89, did more than advise readers how to spread mulch or when to water their gardens. He enriched his writing about cultivating flowers and vegetables with vivid literary and historical references, and enlightened thousands of readers about the therapeutic mind-body benefits of gardening.
In this 1994 column, for example, he tried to explain his passion for evangelizing to others about the benefits of growing plants:
There is a close, natural relationship between humans and the soil. Learning to work with the soil and grow food was the foundation on which modern civilization was built. With that knowledge and ability, humans no longer had to spend most of their existence searching for food. They had time to think, to invent, to improve on their lifestyle, and to relax with their families and enjoy the natural beauty that God had provided. Today, however, much of our population is concentrated in urban areas. Children grow up with no understanding of how food is produced or of our dependence on nature. We forget to teach them that there is wisdom to be gained from the simpler things in life.
Born in Hattiesburg, Miss., Stevens attended the University of Mississippi before serving in the U.S. Army in World War II. When he returned home, he got a job with the Singer Co. in Waco. He went on to run Singer stores in Fort Worth and Dallas before taking early retirement to avoid a transfer to another city. After that, he turned his focus to teaching and writing about gardening, his lifelong passion.
Stevens also worked for a time as a vegetable-gardening specialist with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, a job he found after his wife told the rest of the family, “You all have to find something for him to do — he’s driving me crazy.” Over the years he taught gardening skills to children, older people and the disadvantage and disabled, often helping novices into the evening hours.
Photo credit: Dallas Morning News