Everybody here in the South agrees that this is one of the best falls ever. Usuallyf we go straight from summer into winter, but this year we’ve actually had the warm days & cool nights of autumn. The leaves are getting gorgeous, but there are other signs of fall. Such as scarecrows, as pictured on the left. And you thought that was a photo of me on my daily walk through the forest! You should know that I never would pair red devil horns with a red handbag AND red shoes — too matchy-match. No, this actually is “The Devil Wears Prada”‘s Miranda Priestly on the Huntsville Botanical Garden‘s annual Scarecrow Trail. Created by the Women’s Business Center of North Alabama, Ms. Scarecrow Priestly accessories her Halloween look with a zebra-print blazer — and until only a year or so ago I owned an almost identical blazer. You know you need a closet redo when your outfits show up on a devil scarecrow — albeit a stylish one. Fall also is the time when autumnal art work shows up on refrigerators. It’s been a long dry spell between our now 20-something-year-old daughters bringing home their falling-leaves pictures and our 3 1/2-year-old grandson Capt. Adorable adding to the collection. The Captain stayed with Husband JP and I a few days ago, and I went through his backpack a couple of his papers from Spanish class fell out of his backpack, so I claimed them. To finish off the refrigerator decor, Capt. Adorable arranged the alphabet magnets into a train, which I thought was very creative and brilliant of him. Genius baby!
We had a wonderful day at the Huntsville (Ala.) "Tanical" Gardens, as 3 1/2-year-old grandson Capt. Adorable says. The Butterfly House is his favorite, and his mom has trained him well in the delicate art of putting sugar-water on your finger and being patient. Of course, he still runs around yelling, "Hey, butterflies! Come get some food!" And he forgets all about the concept of a light touch by the time he gets to the box turtles. But still.
One of summer's perfect pleasures: Fresh strawberry shortcake topped with homemade whipped cream sweetened with homemade mint syrup and fancied up with a fresh mint sprig. This was dessert at Older Daughter's house recently. I'm headed back very very soon.
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.
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.
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!