The Theosophic Turtle

10 interconnected large rain barrels, with an approximate 98,000 gallons capacity, supply all of the water needs for the Turtles and their farm.
10 interconnected large rain barrels, with an approximate 98,000 gallons capacity, supply all of the water needs for the Turtles and their farm.

Adam Turtle may have been restless at times, but I doubt he has ever struggled much with boredom. The résumé of the Tennessee nurseryman and farmer is not a record of a dull life. Turtle has been “a boy scout, cowboy, fisherman, truck driver, chef, homeless bum, woodworker, sculptor, preacher, theosopher, and general trouble maker.”

I’ve known truckers, preachers, cowboys and troublemakers, but I don’t often run into intelligent theosophers while visiting nurseries.

A sampler of Turtle’s “theosophy” can be found on the Earth Advocates Research Farm’s website. “Nature bats last. Spirit of course informs, unifies, motivates and sustains us all.”

Turtle is an original.

Some of his thoughts—current and right on—came pouring out when I met him last week. “What’s despicable is Washington…You can’t cure stupid.”

The nitwits on Capitol Hill could learn a thing or two from the Turtles about sustainability. Adam and his wife, Sue, have been busy nurturing their 48-acre farm near Summertown in middle Tennessee for 35 years.

Turtle has always had a lot of irons in the fire. The flame still burns brightly at age 73. In spite of a gimpy knee, he can work a long-handled, all-steel nursery spade. His creative mind turns like a water wheel.

Sasa lesterona
Sasa lesterona

I stopped by the Turtles’ farm on my way back to Louisville after a whirlwind trip to Birmingham, Alabama. I’d gone south to visit Weesie Smith, the great gardener, with my pals Mike Hayman and his wife Leslie Pancratz.

The Turtles’ crew was digging a large order of bamboos headed to Kansas City. I’d called ahead of our visit and asked about a low-growing bamboo called Sasa veitchii minor. (The Turtles don’t mail-order. Plants are hand dug for pickup or for delivery on larger orders.

Instead of Sasa veitchii minor, I saw another low-growing bamboo that caught my eye. Adam Turtle called it Sasa lesterona, a species uncommon in the trade and scarcely found on Google. Turtle filled two large plastic bags. I planted them the next day along the foundation of the north side of our farm house in Salvisa, KY, in semi-shade.

Turtle, dressed in overalls, his head covered with a do-rag, was up to his eyeballs in spring orders that needed to be dug.

Adam Turtle's Mudan Gansu-type tree peony seedling.
Adam Turtle’s Mudan Gansu-type tree peony seedling.

I worried that we might wear out our welcome, but Adam wanted to show off his beautiful tree peony breeding and share wisdom about nurturing Mother Earth.  “We’re not really a business—we’re a non-profit research farm. We’ve got no bank account, no stocks or bonds. Everything goes back into the land.”

Danny, a friendly 30-pound Royal Palm turkey, followed us. He loved to be petted. Judy Blue Eye (the terrier-Australian cattle dog mix with one blue eye) wanted petting, too.

Danny, Adam Turtle and Judy Blue Eye.
Danny, Adam Turtle and Judy Blue Eye.


It was time to hit the road. We’d been with Turtle for an hour. It was a bittersweet departure, like leaving friends at the end of summer camp.

We said good-bye to the Turtles, their turkey, and the dog with one blue eye and drove off past thick groves of bamboos.


  1. A *turkey* that wants to be petted? That’s a new one!

    My knowledge of bamboo is pretty well restricted to: do not plant in ground, as it spreads invasively if not contained. This is true for most of the landscaping bambo I’ve ever seen. I’d love some black bamboo, but can’t afford it just yet.

    Mr. Turtle sounds like someone I’d like to know around here, in The Valley of Heart’s Delight.

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