(Pictured, L to R): Dr. John Floyd, Gary Bailey, Reid Pearlman, Mike Rushing, Bob Wendorf
Dr. John Floyd served as editor of Southern Living for 18 years. Today, he greets visitors to the Japanese Gardens as its anonymous, volunteer tour guide.
“How are you doing today?” he asks the parents.
“What did you come to see? The turtles?” he asks the children.
He sweats alongside two other doctors of eclectic practice – Dr. Bob Wendorf and Dr. Mike Rushing – the former, a psychologist and president of the Japanese Garden Society of Alabama (recently published in Alabama Heritage), the latter, a veterinarian who served the USDA. Each Tuesday, the three doctors groom one of The Gardens’ most recognizable, and one of the largest of its kind. Alone. These are “The Three Docs.”
“It’s an enormous garden,” said Wendorf. “Bigger than most in Japan.”
“Portland is the largest in the U.S. and they have 40 gardeners on staff,” said Rushing. “We have zero.”
Still, the three manage to maintain the beauty by practicing the art of “concealing and revealing” – creating lines of sight and allowing visitors to see glimpses of the Japanese Gardens most unique features (like the Japanese Tea House), while not offering complete views – a defining characteristic of Japanese Gardens worldwide.
“(Before we began work in the Japanese Gardens) there were places here you couldn’t tell was a garden,” said Wendorf. “Now you can tell its a garden.”
The three doctors have not spent an eternity together, despite creating a bond that feels that way. “It feels like ten years,” said Rushing. “But I think it’s been ten months.”
The lack of attention the Japanese Gardens received brought them. “Needs!” said Floyd, asked why this group chose this garden. “I was in the Kaul Wildflower Garden until they hired someone full time. I began working on another garden for a while, but then I saw that this one was in bad shape.”
“It was the squeakiest hinge,” said Rushing of the Japanese Gardens need for attention. “So they won’t let me leave. They know all of my embarassing information and I wouldn’t want them putting it on the Internet.”
Maintenance can be daunting. The garden’s grand scale can be difficult to manage for just three men. Still, they have managed to manicure one of the finest of its kind, despite its acreage far outnumbering its caregivers. Typically, similar gardens have at least one gardener per acre.
“In this garden, the problem isn’t grooming the thing we planted,” said Rushing. “It’s the plants that volunteered to be a part of our scheme.”
“Every rock that was put here was put here for a reason,” said Wendorf, uncovering a large rock no longer visible because of its surrounding growth.
Each have carved their own contribution. “Inspiration, education and perspiration,” said Rushing, of what brought these minds together. “And you can guess who’s who. You can learn a lot from these guys. They’re encyclopedias in sundry things.”
But it’s not all work. “We have to laugh,” said Floyd. “It’s good for our souls. They can always hear me laugh, so they always know I’m coming.”
Most visitors can’t detect imperfections. But the three doctors’ marriage to these gardens won’t allow them the same enjoyment.
“We can’t see progress,” said Rushing. “Our trained eye just sees weeds and weeds and weeds. The public just sees a nice garden.”
An education awaits. On this day, these three inconspicuous men are shaping the mind of Vestavia Hills sophomore Reid Pearlman. He can’t yet drive, but his effort to tend this garden affords him a collegiate education from men with doctorates from Illinois (Wendorf), Clemson (Floyd) and Texas A&M (Rushing).
“The Gardens is also an integral part in helping us do what we’ve done here,” said Floyd, crediting men like Nick Majors and Gary Bailey for their work in maintaining and clearing the doctors’ weedy mess.
The Three Doctors need your help. Volunteers of all ages are encouraged to join these unique men, absorbing their knowledge and enjoying their humor. The group currently gathers in the Japanese Gardens on Monday mornings. For more information on how you can offer your services, contact Mary-Bestor Grant at 205.414.3962 or firstname.lastname@example.org.