Margaret Gratz is the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal’s “Earth Lady” columnist, Mississippi Magazine’s Garden Editor, a four-time author, a watercolor illustrator, nature photographer and Master Gardener. Above all, she is a nature-lover and a wellspring of knowledge on North Mississippi’s birds, butterflies and wildflowers.
Gratz grew up in Nettleton, but has resided in Tupelo’s Old Town neighborhood for most of her adult life with her husband Michael B. Gratz. They have two grown children and three grandchildren.
“I moved from one end of Town Creek to the other,” she said.
With all that she has accomplished, it is difficult to believe that Gratz did not start writing until she was in her forties. Her love of wildlife, however, can be traced all the way back to her childhood.
“My parents were birdwatchers, but I took it to a whole new level,” she said.
Gratz has identified more than 65 bird species in the area. What she loves, she studies. She is a self-taught ornithologist, horticulturist, journalist and artist. Her first gig was “Wildflower Watch,” was unpaid. It was a newspaper column that identified different wildflowers indigenous to the region, complete with photographs. In 2006, she compiled her columns—four years’ worth—and published her first bo\ok.
In 2007, Gratz published At Home in the Earth Lady’s Garden, an illustrated log of all the creatures that had visited her garden, including reptiles, birds, butterflies and insects. The book was a true labor of love, especially because the “Earth Lady” still commits her writings to pen and paper before typing them into the computer. Technology is not welcome in the Gratz garden. That is, except for her camera, which she must take out from time to time.
“Sometimes, I have to put the camera away and just enjoy my garden,” she admits. “Sometimes you just need to enjoy it.”
And her garden is built for just that. Tall walls surround the Charleston-style garden. There are fountains and spaces for observing the many visitors. Gratz’s approach to flowering plants does not discriminate. She has non-indigenous plants, but you wont find her doing much weeding or spraying for pests. Not only is she especially fond of wildflowers, she also knows they’re necessary for attracting butterflies, bugs and birds. One of the tree’s in Gratz’s garden feeds famished hummingbirds that have just made the non-stop trip North.
“All in nature’s time,” she says. “Nature has perfect timing.”
Gratz’s third book, Charlie on Safari, published in 2010. A children’s story written for her grandson, it was a detour from her typical writing style, but not from her favorite topic. In the book, the main character Charlie, finds that he does not have to travel to a far-away place to go on safari, because there are plenty of creatures to see in his own backyard.
Butterflies, At Home in the Earth Lady’s Garden, Gratz’s latest book, published in 2014. It identifies the more than thirty species of butterflies that frequent the Gratz garden. Like Wildflower Watch, it is equal parts field guide and true Southern storytelling, complete with photographs taken by her in her own garden.
Gratz also finds time to volunteer for multiple causes and encourage preservation. She prefers to be “persuasive instead of preachy.” She believes, however, that the natural beauty of our region speaks for itself.
“All you need is a field guide and a pair of binoculars,” she said.