Mid-winter musings

Thinking of some of my Middle Tennessee gardening buddies, who surely spent time on this sunny, 70-degree day outdoors, at least to walk around and reminisce about last year’s garden and to consider this year’s season, which will be here soon. A look back (the slideshow requires Java script. If it’s not running, click on the title to go to the site)…

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I spent an hour out back today pulling chickweed out of the loose soil in the Great Wall bed, cutting the brown stalks of last year’s peonies, and trimming the dead stems of the black-eyed Susans. Less than a week ago I was shoveling seven inches of snow off the front walk. Is this the new normal?

Peonies at Turning Toward the Sun

Peonies at Turning Toward the Sun

The pink peony out back at Turning Toward the Sun was one of my favorite blooms last year. I’m looking forward to seeing it again soon.

Escape route

SidewalkTo be honest, it’s nice to have a reason to stay indoors and enjoy some down time, with six inches of snow snuggled up against the porch and all around the house. But after a couple of days, some of us begin to yearn for an escape route. We may not need to use it, but it’s nice to know we can see our way clear if we need it.

Which is why I spent about a half-hour in the bright sunshine this morning clearing the front sidewalk. I probably won’t have to get out and go anywhere, we have plenty of food and we’re safe and warm. But it’s good to know that if I just have to get out of the house, I can.

ShovelThis is how you shovel snow when you have a bad back, but your knees are still more or less okay. Hands and knees. (This is also how I garden much of the time.) A metal dustpan does as fine a job clearing snow as the nicest show shovel. Notice that the bright blue foam garden knee pad can be put to good use in all seasons.

I’m pretty sure I’m getting a reputation as the neighborhood eccentric – that crazy lady on her hands and knees who shovels snow with a dustpan. Oh well. The front walk is clear and dry. I can rest easy indoors for the rest of the day.

It’s HOW deep?


Six inches and counting.*

For people in parts of the country where the snow is measured in feet, six inches of snow is no big deal. But The Tennessean reports that it’s the biggest snowstorm to fall on Middle Tennessee in 13 years, and here in the Mid-state, we’re just not used to this kind of thing.


P1040765I captured these images on our front walkway about 2:00 this afternoon.

P1040767A couple of hours later, I put on snow boots and several thick layers and went out to have a look around the neighborhood. The snow was still coming down.

Finally, a real snow day.

*Wise words from a vintage wooden ruler: A Good Rule: “Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You”

hellebore 3The large, healthy hellebore by the front walk began to turn brown early last summer, and finally died out in the middle. I cut away the dead foliage, but enough green remained that I decided not to dig the whole thing out just yet. I would wait to see what happened.

A couple of weeks ago I began to notice new growth from the middle of the plant, and yesterday I saw that one bud has formed and should open soon. There are hellebore seedlings pushing through the pine straw all around the old plant.

Later, I will try to figure out what caused the decline, but for now it seems appropriate to see the new growth as a sign for the new year: the cycle of the seasons, a reminder to look for beauty in the midst of uncertainty, a promise of new beginnings.

Happy New Year!


This is a throwback to a time when everyone sent Christmas cards – actual cards, with hand-addressed envelopes and a Christmas stamp – to friends and relatives across town or across the country.


card treeI found the Christmas Card Tree a few weeks ago, as I was sorting through boxes of stuff that have been stored in Mom’s basement for more than 40 years. The tree, cut from balsa wood, is about 18 inches tall and consists of two flat triangles that are slotted to slide together to allow the tree to stand. Each triangle has 50 notches along the edges designed to hold cards horizontally.


In my memory, the tree holds a place of honor in the living room on top of the TV during the Christmas season. By Christmas Eve, it is thick with colorful, glitter-sparked greetings from near and far, all 100 slots filled. The cards in my memory are from friends we see often, and those we hear from only once or twice a year but that we cherish nonetheless. My mother has, no doubt, sent a corresponding number of cards out into the world, so the exchange is complete. My sister and I have a place in this part of the exchange. In my memory, Gwen and I dampened a lot of envelope flaps and licked a lot of stamps.


Imagine: 100 Christmas cards, and not one of them from your mechanic, your accountant, or the realtor who wants to sell your house!


We sent (and received) plenty of Christmas greetings by email, text and phone this year, along with a couple of cards sent in envelopes with stamps. I assembled the found-again tree and hoped a few cards would arrive in the mail; by Christmas, we had collected less than half-a-tree’s worth. Most of them were from friends, but more than a few of them came from businesses.


I appreciate those who still practice the gentle art of sending Christmas cards, and promise to do better next year. Maybe then we’ll get a few more in return, filling up the card tree once again.

Many of our neighbors’ homes have been suffused in the glow of Christmas lights since Thanksgiving, but it was just this morning that I decided to string lights on the little hollies flanking our front porch. It seems a fitting way to celebrate the return of the light.

solstice lights

I also set a couple of intentions for this week: to lower the volume and turn up the joy. Instead of tuning in to the latest political clashes and ugly commentary, I’ll listen to the NPR music station in the car, where we’re more likely to hear Christmas music. If we need to be out in the evening, I’ll suggest insist on taking the route with the highest probability of exposure to Christmas lights. I’ll try to find peace, embrace the joy of our first grandchild’s first Christmas, and make a space for the inevitable sadness that will find us this first Christmas without Mom.


Some years, I wrap the evergreens in tiny white lights. This year I decided on the multicolor strings, which seem more festive. Those hollies are still small, so it didn’t take long to get them on. It left plenty of time to rake out a few leaves, take down the pots of dead ferns, sweep the spider webs from the porch and do some general tidying up around the sidewalk.


flowering quince decemberWhile I was out there, I discovered a couple of other surprises: the flowering quince has popped open several pink blooms, and the branches are lined with buds about to burst open.


It was not until I cut back the dead foliage in the pots by the front steps that I petunia decemberfound it’s not all dead. Among the dried, brown branches there is a stem that holds green leaves and a tiny cluster of petals, that, given enough time and warmth, may open into a purple petunia. I don’t expect it to survive, but even so, I receive it as a solstice gift, and a sign that even in the time of long nights, there is still the chance for color and light.

How do you celebrate the solstice?

Christmas mantelA couple of weeks ago I talked with Nashville’s Rhonda Taylor for a story I was writing for The Tennessean about decorating a mantel for Christmas. She owns Nashville Home Staging, so she has a lot of ideas about how to make a house look like home. For families who celebrate Christmas, those ideas can naturally spill over into the holidays, when all the fresh greenery and twinkling lights make everything more festive.

When we talked, it was after my deadline, so not all of her decorating tips made it into the story, but many of her ideas are right in line with some of the things we do at our house to make things merry for the holidays.

“I always tell people, start with what is most sentimental, and go from there.” After that, she says, what you choose to display above the fireplace is a personal, meaningful choice.

“We use a lot of natural elements – not faux greenery or evergreens,” she says. “I like the natural woods and berries, and then add anything glitzy.” She is fond of the warm look of Carrara marble, and uses a collection of figurines that give a holiday spirit, she says. Other ideas from Rhonda:

∙Keep the mantel simple, but use something that’s sentimental and that says “holiday” at the same time.

∙Mix metals: bring in the polished chrome, the silver and gold are all back in full force, style-wise. “It really makes a pretty display when there are a variety of metal categories.”

∙Use lighting – tiny white lights, or the glow of the candles, brings in a warm, golden glow to long, dark nights.

My own mantel is a mix of faux greenery (a sort of base layer, strung with white lights) covered with greenery I bring in from the yard: boxwood branches, magnolia leaves, holly, nandina leaves and berries. We use a mix of crystal and silver candlesticks, slender crystal bud vases and small water-filled glass vases tucked among the greenery to keep berries and leaves fresh as long as possible. (Even so, I always plan to replace some of the leaves and berries as they dry out before the holidays.) It’s the best way I can think to bring the outdoors in for a few weeks in winter.

The story I wrote for The Tennessean ran in the paper several days ago, but it’s still available at Tennessean.com if you want get more tips from the experts.



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