BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - Now that Mississippi lawmakers have voted out the old state flag, plenty of people are weighing in on what they hope will be its replacement, and that includes one of our state’s most well-known horticulturists: Felder Rushing, host of “The Gestalt Gardener,” one of National Public Radio’s most popular gardening programs.
Felder Rushing has been all over the world, but Mississippi is never far away.
“Everywhere I go, people ask me where I’m from, and when I say, ‘Mississippi,’ it’s a positive thing,” he said. “People think of Mississippi, they think of the blues, they think of the romantic stuff, the river, the music, the food.”
He said now the state has a chance to solidify that image.
“It’s really unusual to have an opportunity to create a positive brand for a whole state,” Rushing said.
Being an 11th generation gardener, Rushing is sold on one image that he said would be fitting for a new state flag.
“We’re the Magnolia State, so why don’t we have this as the brand on our state flag?”
He said the magnolia flower isn’t his personal favorite, but it has qualities that describe the character of his state.
“It’s a dependable, enduring, beautiful, evocative, cemetery-tough, great plant. Other than the rose or maybe the iris, it is the most recognized flowering tree in the country and even overseas,” he said.
His daughter came to know the flower at an early age just by its aroma, and it left an imprint that will last her lifetime.
“Everywhere she goes, she’s going to see a magnolia tree,” Rushing said. “And, in her mind, she’s going to smell it. And in her heart, she’s going to be back home and thinking about her people.”
Now he’s begun an official campaign in hopes of persuading the flag committee.
“When you talk about something that has no connection to anything people can object to anywhere, that says a lot about simple and bold and beautiful and fragrant, we’re talking about the magnolia flower.”
He’s not afraid to be controversial.
“We could put the mockingbird on there,” Rushing said with a smile. “But let’s face it, mockingbirds are kind of irritating.”
A flag committee of nine people will be challenged to have a suitable replacement flag ready by Sept. 4, so it can appear on the ballot in November. If the new flag does not get a majority vote, it will not come up for a vote again until 2021, and there would be no state flag in the interim.