Cedar Rapids native uses Stone City as setting for gardening book

Author goes back to his roots

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March 28, 2014 | 9:40 am

One of Grant Wood’s most famous paintings brought author David Wood back to his Iowa roots to provide a setting for his latest children’s gardening book.

Author David Wood’s new book will feature a “quarry garden” set in the Jones County valley hamlet of Stone City in the 1930s.

Wood (who is no relation to the artist) was considering a plot for his latest children’s gardening book about the Zone 5 plant hardiness zone, of which Iowa is part.

“I’ve got a bucket list, and this is one of them,” said Wood, 82, of Crossville, Tenn.

Wood grew up in Cedar Rapids, living for many years in the former Ellis Park mansion, before moving to Michigan for much of his working life as a horticulturist for Ford Motor Co.

All along he kept his a reproduction of one of Iowa native Grant Wood’s most famous landscape paintings, “Stone City, Iowa.”

“I have never been to Stone City, although I’d heard of it,” David Wood said. The small valley hamlet on the Wapsipinicon River 22 miles northeast of Cedar Rapids once had several active limestone quarries and still has one working quarry. Much of the inhabited portion is a National Historic District.

Wood liked the idea of a quarry garden because of his familiarity with The Butchart Gardens, a group of floral display gardens built in a quarry on Canada’s Vancouver Island. It is one of the world’s most famous floral gardens.

Wood’s three previous gardening books combine fact with fancy. Wood uses the device of telepathic “gardening fairies” to direct landowners in the design and layout of gardens.

The plants and growing conditions in the hardiness zones are realistic and thoroughly researched.

Writing the books “was kind of a mission,” Wood said.

“My goal in life is to get kids out from behind their computers and video games,” Wood said.

“I do it because I love to work with kids. I have three books in the series: One on Florida, one on Ohio, one on Georgia and now the Midwest.”

When Wood contacted the non-profit Stone City Foundation to learn more, he found himself stepping back in time. He was placed in contact with Robert Hatcher of Stone City, who heads Jones County’s tourism office.

“We found out we were both from Cedar Rapids,” Hatcher said. “We later found out we lived two doors apart on Ellis Boulevard, we both went to the same school and we both had five brothers and five sisters.”

The book discusses gardening at a time “when there was still a lot of hardscrabble farming going on in Iowa,” Wood said. It discusses sod houses, arboretums, Boy Scout tree planting projects, barbed wire and tractors.

Wood has gardening in his blood. His father was a professional gardener from England, who oversaw Ellis Park in Cedar Rapids. His wife is a gardening author, who wrote the Lasagna Gardening book series. His son, Tim Wood, is an internationally known horticulturist and author.

Wood joined Ford Motor Co. in 1956 to help a European gardener who was designing rooftop, indoor and ground gardens for a new 12-story office building Henry Ford II was having built. He became well acquainted with the “whiz kids,” a group of 10 U.S. Army Air Force veterans of World War II who became Ford Motor Co. executives in 1946.

The whiz kids all rose through the ranks to high positions in Ford, partly because of their Air Force background in management science and logistics.

Hatcher was surprised when a “small gift” that Wood had offered to send the Stone City Foundation turned out to be $5,000. The small foundation wasn’t used to receiving gifts so large. The donation will be used to pay for electrification of the old Stone City blacksmith shop, he said.

The fund, Wood said, came from a philanthropic foundation set up by former Ford President Arjay R. Miller of Nebraska, who wanted to thank Wood for helping with his personal arboretum project.

Wood also did some work for another person with connections to both Ford and Cedar Rapids: J. Edward Lundby, a major benefactor to Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids.

Hatcher said he’s hopeful that having Stone City featured in the book will bring more visitors to the county. Even though the real Stone City has no grand gardens, it has natural beauty that has lured visitors for many years.

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