What a nice surprise in March to be driving along a street and round a corner and come across an otherwise empty space that’s bursting with cheerfully waving daffodilsbuttercupsnarcissuspaper whites yellow and white flowers of some type. Thank you, city of Tupelo, Miss.
This is our backyard. Oh, okay, that’s a downright lie. You know that our backyard actually is about the size of this patio table. And even if it were bigger, I still wouldn’t have the talent and skill to make our outdoor space look this cute and inviting. I mean, don’t you want to just pull up a chair and pour a nice cool drink? Love the bright red and green tablescape with lemon-yellow accents. So summery! This was only one of the dozens of inspiring “rooms” on this past weekend’s Corinth (Mississippi) Home & Garden Tour. Sponsored by Verandah House Friends, the annual tour raises money to restore Corinth’s 1857 Verandah House, a Greek Revival beauty where Confederate officers planned their Shiloh campaign. The tour included a flower show, a silent auction of amazing local art, a bake sale and a plant sale. But the stars, of course, were the homes and gardens. Three houses in one of Corinth’s historic districts were open to visitors, and it was a constant stream of admiring “ooh’s and ahh’s” as we peeked into interior rooms and wandered through outdoor spaces. I especially was impressed with the way the owners combined respect for their homes’ authenticity with modern individual touches — beloved family heirlooms were cozily comfortable sharing with cheerful 21st-century details. But, you know, that’s how we do it* in the South.
* I was going to say “that’s how we roll in the South,” but since that invariably would lead to “Roll, Tide!” references I went instead with a less inflammatory phrase. After all, this is a free and open space where we tolerate all opinions and where differences are welcome. On the other hand: “War Eagle!”
To: All the Other Flowers —– From: The Pansies ———- Subject: What’s Taking Y’all So Long????
Look, guys, y’all need to speed it up a bit. I mean, we’ve been holding down the nursery fort here for months already, and people are starting to talk. There are murmurs and whispering. We can hear it. We can feel the unease and impatience as people bring their station wagons and SUVs and pickup trucks looking for … well, impatiens. Folks are ready to load up and take all y’all home and settle you in to some nice warm dirt, and all they get is us. And we’re good — pansies in February rock, don’t get us wrong — but we’re getting tired already. And old. We really don’t need to be carrying the whole front-yard landscaping thing anymore by ourselves. We had some support a month or so ago, but those showy ol’ tulips have toddled away and those daffy daffodils have ducked out by now, leaving only the irritating iris to help us out — and we all remember what happened the year they thought they were in charge, don’t we? Do we want a repeat of that debacle? No, we do not. So, c’mon, you coleus. Get going, geraniums. Make tracks, marigolds and pick up speed, petunias. It’s time for you young kids to take over. We pansies are ready for our long summer’s nap.
Less than a week ago around here, schools were closed and cars were sliding off roads and we were all hunkered down for about the third or fourth time that ice and snow had come to the South this year. Today, however, when you step outside in the sunshine and the semi-warm breeze, I swear you can hear the flowers growing and the tree branches starting to bud. Or I would hear flowers growing if I actually had planted any in our yard. While Southerners love spring and its reinvigorating warmth and gentle unfurlings of fresh color, the season’s arrival exposes pathetic non-gardeners such as me who can hide their lack of green-thumb talent behind winter’s freezing temperatures. I’m perfectly content to spend January and February and even March curled up on the couch in front of the fireplace and watching basketball on TV. But once March Madness kicks in, the gardening guilt follows close behind: When everybody else is energetically outside, enthusiastically wielding seed packages, trowels and watering cans, it’s difficult to justify lounging around in your jammies. So, while I certainly don’t want anybody to get hurt and everybody is oh-so-tired of snow days and school closings, I wouldn’t mind a little more winter before spring arrives for good. I’m not ready to give up lazy weekend afternoons wrapped up in my cozy blankie and yelling at the TV screen, “What are you talking about? That was NOT a foul! Check your eyes, ref!”
When you walk up to my friend Sharon’s house in Madison, Alabama, you can tell a gardener lives there by the gorgeous landscaping and flowers in her front yard. But it’s the backyard that shines. This is a gardening paradise and I could move right in and live there — and Sharon’s an easygoing and generous sort of friend so she probably wouldn’t mind. Much, that is. This is the kind of backyard where details delight everywhere you look. I’m not a gardener so all I know about her plantings are that they’re beautiful. I was more drawn to such treasures as benches tucked away in quiet little corners, paths angling off into green adventure and a chandelier hanging from a tree lighting the table. “We wanted it to be a series of outdoor rooms,” Sharon said, “like an extension of our house.” And the thing is that she and her husband did this all themselves over the past 15 years, working on one project in one spot at a time. The result? A backyard paradise that anybody can duplicate. In face, Sharon’s garden is on the Huntsville (Alabama) Botanical Garden’s Spring Garden Tour, 1-6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, June 5-6. Her goal is to convince folks that you don’t need money and a team of landscapers and gardeners to create something wonderful. I think she’s succeeding. Call 256-830-4447 or visit www.hsvbg.org for details about the garden tour.
My friend Polly has one of the most beautiful home gardens I’ve ever seen. She’s a retired teacher, and most of the work she’s done in these photos has been in the past three years. Can we say “incredible energy?” She and her husband travel around the world, but I think I would just park myself in the backyard if mine looked like this. I especially love her zen approach to gardening: It’s organized, but not formal or structured — the plants, flowers, herbs and vegetables just sort of spill out in exuberant joy. And she’s got such whimsical touches everywhere: Birdhouses, sculptures, yard art, chairs, gates, fences, stepping stones, arches. It’s a treasure everywhere you look. Polly and her husband live within the city limits of Florence, Alabama, but with the deer grazing in the front yard and the creek dancing over on the side and the abundant shade trees cooling everything off, you feel as if you’re at a wonderfully isolated woman-made Eden — yet bustling civilization is just at the end of the driveway. To my mother’s eternal frustration, I remain ignorant of all things gardening. I mean, I can tell a rose from a daisy (that’s the yellow and white one, right?) but that’s about it. Yet even a non-garden person like me can recognize and appreciate a green paradise such as Polly’s garden. I’m just glad there are folks like her in the world who know what they’re doing with seeds and dirt so folks like me can enjoy.
There is nothing like a gorgeous spring day in Alabama, especially if you can enjoy it in a backyard such as this one. My friend Evelyn and her husband love digging in the dirt — and it shows. They created this backyard paradise from scratch, and it’s the perfect spot for some peaceful reading and bird-watching — two of Evelyn’s favorite pastimes. (She is one of the few people I know who gets excited about seeing things such as a broad-billed hummingbird, which is why I love her so much.) There’s also a lovely screened-in porch perfect for relaxing. In fact, I think I need to go over to Evelyn’s house right now for a dose of stress-free garden serenity. Y’all come, too!
Welcome to day No. 5 in A Week of Spring. Here in Alabama, spring means gardening and yard work and those first wonderful blooms. I am not a gardener — the best I can do is just sort of maintain, although I am a fierce and thorough weeder (even though I spy a few I missed in these photos, drat it). However, even the non-green thumbs like me can appreciate the beauty of April’s rebirth and renewal. These azaleas are in a corner of ourback yard where nobody can see them, of course, but the lush front-yard pink extravaganza shouldn’t be too far behind. Dogwoods are blooming, irises are up and even our winter-battered hydrangeas have optimistic buds, although freezing temperatures predicted for the first of next week might wreak more havoc. I even am sort of inspired to go to the garden store and pick out some more flowers — or I could just sit back and admire what I’ve already got. Hmm … Check back tomorrow for more in A Week of Spring.