A life spent exploring nature

by Jan Spann

Jane and Frits Druff enjoy life to its fullest, whether on the deck of their home on Greers Ferry Lake or from on-the-road adventures. Their passion is nature, which they’ve actively embraced on jet skis with dogs and grandkids or while sitting patiently at a bird migratory spot in High Island, Texas, waiting for the right moment to capture via camera.

Originally from Amsterdam, Frits Druff went to college in Memphis, with many weekends spent on Greers Ferry Lake at his parents’ cabin. As an adult living in Memphis, he worked at the IRS, which had an active social group that often went to his parents’ cabin on the lake. One of those work friends would eventually become his wife.

Jane and Frits were friends, and that friendship eventually grew into more. On one of their first serious dates, Frits took Jane to look at lake property, 14 acres that had already captured his heart. He hoped she would feel the same. Thirty-three years later, he remarks that she loves the property more than he does.

The couple married in 1981, and weekend after weekend they traveled to the property to clear the dense forestation between the Diamondhead and Tannenbaum peninsulas. They first stayed in a tent and then moved up to a shed with a small kitchen.

The couple finished the house in 1994 and it has more than doubled its size in years since.

In 1987, the couple moved with Jane’s two sons and the couple’s daughter to Little Rock, where Frits eventually worked for the Small Business Administration until his retirement in 2004. Jane retired in 1996 and immediately enrolled in the Master Gardener training in Pulaski County. She served as the county’s president as well as at the state advisory board level, where she was also instrumental in helping to revise the program management guidelines. Frits progressed from being a master laborer to a Master Gardener when he retired in 2004, which is also when the couple moved to the lake.

“Jane jumped into the MG program with great enthusiasm, and she is a walking encyclopedia of plant knowledge,” said Frits. “She won a contest in the American Horticultural Society’s magazine, The American Gardener, correctly identifying a plant. For this she received a cookbook, which ties in to another of her many hobbies — cooking.”

Photography has been a constant passion for the couple, and these days with Frits somewhat sidelined with rheumatoid arthritis, it has become a way for the two to explore gardens they visit and the ones on their property. The two helped found the Cleburne County Shutterbugs three years ago, and the club takes field trips, like recent ones to the old Dogpatch property near Harrison and the Pioneer Village at Searcy. The group has also held scavenger hunts, with a list of items to photograph. The club is a good mix of young and old, and it is open to others in the area interested in sharing this avocation.

Their love of photography has been passed on to their daughter, Katrina, who picked up their habit in high school. Frits also began photography as a teen, learning darkroom skills and later moving into digital photography. Their current cameras are Lumix, preferred because of better computer programming options.

“Nature photography requires patience when your subject is moving,” said Jane. “You take several shots to find that one that captures just the right moment.”

To better find that scene, Frits has begun to focus on computer and camera editing advanced techniques, some of the same skills used by professionals to tweak a great photo into the perfection range. For example, the raw shot might include a person or a vehicle around an otherwise scenic vista. Now with computer editing, those objects vanish. Yet another trick is to capture something in your view that lets you appreciate the perspective — like a kayaker in the water at the base of a glacier.

Another Shutterbug pal, Dorothy Ford, has been experimenting with bleached backgrounds and creating layers, topics covered in the club’s programs. One of the most recent programs was about drone photography, a controversial subject because of privacy and airspace issues.

For Jane and Frits, photos include family vacations, which often take them to national and state parks and to garden locales. Both have earned photography awards. Photography is a great hobby to combine with nature, as you can identify plants that gain your interest while visiting public and private gardens. Their involvement in the Audubon Society also takes them on birding excursions as well as bird watching on the lake.

Their gardens include blueberries, blackberries, plum and pear trees and grapes, which Frits uses to make wine. Japanese beetles also like the grapes, so the couple sprays the vines with soapy water and then pick the insects off.

They also grow tomatoes, eggplants, beans and onions, as well as herbs like rosemary, tarragon, oregano and parsley. When asked about her favorite flowers, Jane smiles and notes a comment from Arkansas expert Gerald Klingaman, “I prefer drifts of one because there are too many wonderful plants to pass up.”

On this hot summer visit, the Harlequin Glory Bower vine was in bloom, awash with fragrance that wafted across the grounds. A new adventure for Jane and Frits in the garden is container gardening with Japanese maples. A large deck facing the lake gives them ample opportunity to rearrange the containers.

Jane works on Master Gardener projects around Cleburne County, including the greenhouse and the courthouse. “I’m also making plant identification labels so visitors will know what’s growing in our projects,” said Jane.

The Master Gardener program is open to anyone, and its primary purposes are to educate the general public and to beautify public spaces as well as to educate its members and provide opportunities for fun and gardening service to others. It is under the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, which has offices in every county in the state and Master Gardener programs in most counties.

Like other baby boomers, Frits and Jane recognize that we have to accept our aging bodies’ limitations. For this couple, however, they’ve learned to embrace what they can do and forge ahead with new hobbies
that keep them close to nature, their family and each other.


A Conway resident, Jan Spann has been gardening for 20-plus years and has been involved with the Faulkner County Master Gardeners for 11 years. She and her husband, Randy, have five children and eight grandchildren.