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!”
We think we in the 21st century invented green living? Huh. We’ve got nothing on our parents’ generation. My folks, both born in 1934, each grew up with the Depression-era philosophy of “why buy when you can make do?” And they’re still following that directive. My mom saves plastic butter tubs and bread bags for leftovers, my dad turns paper over to print on the other side and they would never think of going out and buying tomato stakes. This is their backyard garden in Tennessee, and you can see that they definitely reuse and recycle — from the rusted metal fence posts to the strips torn from old cotton sheets to the outdoor artwork of flags decorating the iron headboard from a vintage bed. And they water the flourishing tomato and pepper plants with leftover ice. When the ‘maters are ready to eat, my dad probably will put a salt shaker out there for the freshest possible eating. I just hope they share.
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.
I drive by this house in Tuscumbia, Alabama, practically every day — and admire it. The other day Younger Daughter was with me and as we passed it and I said how cute it was, YD said, “Why don’t you get out and take photos of it for your blog?” Since I’m not a fulltime newspaper reporter anymore I’ve sort of hung up my snopping-around hat — not that I did much of it as a full-time journalist — but I figured I could just walk around the house on the sidewalk and snap a few shots. Luckily, I don’t think anybody was home. And I did not go up on the porch, no matter what the neighbors say. I just think it’s an adorable cottage that the folks who live here seem to love, too. Tuscumbia is full of houses like this. Just come on over, park your car and wander around. People probably will invite you in for some tea — and that’s a long tall glass of iced tea in our part of the world, you know.
This is why I love Christmas in Mississippi. Look at this gorgeous old house, with its classically festive holiday decorations of red and green — enlivened by the riot of pansies planted in the front yard. It’s like, “Christmas is here, but spring is coming!” Although I have to say that the past few days here in the South have been sort of wintry — chilly with a chance of freezing. Younger Daughter has been in Maine visiting her uncle and aunt there in the Frozen North, but I believe it’s been only minimally colder here. Then again, what do I know? Anything below 85 degrees is sweater weather to me.
A couple weeks ago my friend Polly offered to teach a bunch of us how to make herb vinegars — using fresh herbs right out of her garden. I had never been to her house, and when she said we could hang out in the “shack” behind her house, I pictured … well, some sort of little lean-to propped up next to her garage or something. Uh, no. Polly’s Herb Shack is the sort of place I’d pay good money to go stay in. It’s so calm and peaceful and cute. Couldn’t you just while away a whole afternoon on that porch swing? Inside, Polly’s decorated in a retro style with sweet touches such as red gingham on a vintage white kitchen table, antique photos, old lamps and a typewriter that looks exactly like one my grandmother had. And then, after Polly gave us a quick lesson on herb vinegars, she turned us loose in her herb garden and let us cut all we wanted. We brought jars and vinegar (and food and wine, of course, for sustenance while we worked — being creative and culinary is exhausting!). You can heat the vinegar and measure things out and be all methodical and scientific about it, but basically we just stuffed jars full of herb and spice combinations — with other goodies such as lemon peels and garlic cloves — and poured vinegar over our concoctions and took them home to hope for the best. We’re going to let them steep for several weeks (if you heat the vinegar in the first place it doesn’t take as long), then strain and decant into pretty bottles and impress everybody with our homemade gourmet know-how. I’m anxious to see how the herb mixtures turn out. While we were creating in The Shack, we were saying things like “Does coriander go with basil?” and “How do you think lavender and oregano would be together?” Who knows??? My jars are 1) lemon and lime thyme with cloves and cracked whole nutmeg and apple-cider vinegar; 2) orange and chocolate mint with cardamon and white-wine vinegar and 3) chives, garlic chives and garlic cloves in red-wine vinegar. I also added some lemon peel to a couple of the jars but I can’t remember which ones now. What do you think — did I make some good picks?
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!