Category Archives: Alabama home gardens

Other Windows

Front porch display

It’s still mild enough for the potted pansies and violas, left over from the winter, to flourish a little longer before the heat gets to them. They are joined now by the green and sprouting abundance of spring. In the midst of what is turning into an extended house hunt, opportunities to breathe deep and think hard are welcome in the ever-changing landscape of an assertive Spring.

Over the years, it has become my habit to plant declining Easter lilies in spots in my parents’ back yard. They have come back and bloomed over time to the point that the backyard flower beds have an ancillary “lily season” each April. A pink calla lily, a Mother’s Day gift to my mother from my brother’s family a few years ago, surprised us last year when it popped up amidst a pot of fading pansies. This year it’s sprouting again, in a pot all its own.

Easter lily

The dogwoods took their Easter cue and had their brief peak a couple of weeks ago. Red roses in the back have sprung forth while the rose bushes in front are taking their time.  The crape myrtles and Rose of Sharon are revving up now for blooms throughout the warm season.

Out the back window, lavender wisteria cascades among the foliage down the mountain. Three fresh bird feeders await discovery by the many birds that come and go; so far, they’re being ignored. We’re trying to discover why the mourning doves, so plentiful in the past, have disappeared. Several cardinals have become regulars in their absence. A hummingbird feeder perches in a window, replacing the one that succumbed to old age several months ago.

More variety is available at the farmers’ markets that reopen and spring up everywhere. Strawberries now mark the procession of fruits that help to gauge the season. The lengthening of days and warming temperatures always give me a lift.

I try to be even more aware than usual of nature around me as I continue reading a new Library of America volume of three books by naturalist E.O. Wilson. I am not very science savvy, but I appreciate nature and always find Wilson’s explanations of the evolutionary processes all around us to be well-written and accessible. He explains a lot of what we’re seeing, if we will just pay attention.

Wilson, an Alabama native, is considered the world’s foremost expert on ants; his expertise seems equally astute on other flora and fauna of the world. He has been repeatedly named as one of the most influential scientists in history. Reading Dr. Wilson at the same time that I install a fieldstone and pea gravel walk in my parents’ side yard gives an added dimension of curiosity for every stone that’s overturned. Wilson is a formidable companion and guide to the wonders of the back yard and the world beyond.

A more nonsecular companion on the reading nightstand is one I just discovered. Recently, while writing a review of the latest collection of essays by writer Rick Bragg, I ran across a title that was new to me. Wooden Churches: A Celebration (1999) has an introduction by Bragg; the bulk of the book, however, is black and white photographs of (mostly old) wooden churches and services with literary excerpts from a long list of writers.

Since my annual Christmas card usually features a photograph of a wooden Alabama church, I was curious to see what this book has to offer. It’s a charming book to browse. Some of the photographs are familiar, by noted photographers, and others are more personal and obscure. There are several haunting old photographs of churches in the aftermath of Civil War battles.

Any period of life that involves real estate is a challenge. These days, while I’m neck-deep in house-hunting, the simple pleasures outside the windows, simple projects outdoors, and compelling reading are welcome distractions in brief interludes. Prospects of change become somehow less daunting in the views through other windows.


In a Summer without Peaches

This year’s first trip down to Chilton County to get peaches at Jimmie’s Peach Stand on Highway 82 was delayed a couple of weeks; it usually happens on Mothers’ Day weekend but when I arrived at the stand near the end of May there were few baskets left for the day. Mrs. Harrison and her son, Lynn, told me their peach crop was going to be truncated this year.

According to news reports, the same sparsity occurred throughout the 2017 Southern peach crop.  I had worried about the effect that a late brutal cold snap might have on this year’s peaches but the Harrisons assured me that it had not been that but the lack of enough cold weather in the 2016-17 winter.

So, I bought all of the peaches the stand had left that day to try to satisfy the promises I had made to people in North Alabama.

For years, I have tried to save a Jimmie’s peach to have on Labor Day night. The people at Jimmie’s said this year’s crop would likely be finished by mid-June; it usually lasts until the end of July and has been known to go deep into August. I promised to make one more trip to Chilton County before the stand closed for the season; I never made it back down but the one basket of Jimmie’s peaches I had this year was as delicious as always and quickly gone.

In the meantime, I tried to satisfy my peach cravings with the offerings of the Tennessee River Valley closer to my house and by trips to the Saturday morning Pepper Place Market and the Alabama Truck Farmers Market in Birmingham. Often, when I got to Pepper Place, the vendors with peaches were sold out early in the day due to smaller than usual supplies.

And the prices went up – sometimes drastically – for what peaches there were.

My favorite Tennessee River Valley peach vendor, Isom’s in Athens, was a no-show this year at the Thursday evening Greene Street Market that I frequent in Huntsville. I settled for a couple of other Greene Street vendors with peaches but was disappointed in the product. So far I’ve had the best luck with Reeve’s Peach Stand on highway 36 outside Hartselle.

I haven’t seen a single local fig this year but that has become commonplace. My friends with fig trees have been lamenting the lack of figs for several years now.

My time spent in my own yard has been limited during the warm season due to travel back and forth to Birmingham but the drought ended this summer and my back yard, which is usually pretty hopeless by the heat of August, is still lush and green. The grass is being cut weekly and needs it more often than that.

That very late freeze in the spring killed off some of the house plants that had already been moved outside and many of the outside plants were already in bud and bloom when the freeze got them so the schedule has been off this year. The Brunson begonia, an ancient begonia that I grew from cuttings friends gave me several years ago, was a casualty of the freeze as were a schefflera and nine-foot ficus, but other things sprang back to life, I acquired new plants, and “volunteer” plants filled the gaps.

My grandfather’s wild rose took the freeze as a minor setback and then took off with a vengeance. Its blooms and buds have occupied my back yard and occupied a small bud vase on the coffee table in the living room all season. Another wild rose at the back gate that my friends Scott and his daughter Cecilia foraged with me from the lake across the street from their house has had to be pruned back several times already; it produced exactly one bloom this year, which is exactly three less than it produced last year – but it is still a welcoming and lively green and thorny thing outside the gate.

The small beds and containers in the front yard recovered quickly after the freeze and have reemerged more prolific than ever. A pony-tail palm that I have nurtured for almost twenty years in the same concrete container given to me by my Granddaddy Harbison almost thirty years ago lives in the house most of the year and had just been moved outdoors when the freeze hit while I was out of town. I had given up on it but now it seems rejuvenated by its near-death experience and is coming back even more elegantly than before.

The four crape myrtles outside the back door were flourishing until the freeze killed them back; they have only just now recovered and begun to bloom. The Rose of Sharon – which has become a tree – is still full of white blooms but is cowered by the neighbor’s towering cherry tree which encroaches on its sunlight. My Rose of Sharon seems to be dying away slowly. I sit and wonder how to address the situation: My neighbor loves her cherry tree and it puts on a magnificent show for the two or three weeks it is in bloom in early spring. I appreciate the opportunity to share the view and shade as it overhangs my back fence.

But it is becoming very evident that my Rose of Sharon can’t compete much longer and I contemplate how to fill in the gap in the back corner of my yard that its loss will create.

The season’s greatest surprise, though, is the redbud that I picked up at a plant giveaway at Mother’s church over a year ago. It was essentially a stick in the ground with one struggling leaf when I got it. I put it in my back room with a lot of light and nursed it through the winter with no success. I moved it outside and it was trying to bud until it became another of the casualties of that late freeze.

It sat there, in its container, in the corner of the yard by the house like a dead stick because I didn’t have time to get rid of it. The guy who cuts my grass assured me that there was no hope. By June the little redbud began to bud and now it’s flourishing. I think I’ll let it winter inside for one more year and put it in the ground next spring. 

My time enjoying my little postage stamp of yard has been limited this year, but it still has provided hours of stolen pleasure with many weeks to go. I’m already hatching plans for next year’s improvements and looking forward to next summer being one with an abundance of peaches to savor; I will have to make up for my summer without peaches.