I love living in the south. I have lived at some point in just about every coastline state between North Carolina and Maine, and most of my later childhood through college was spent in Connecticut. But nothing compares to the country pace and friendliness of Virginia for me. It’s a state of big breakfasts, dripping with sausage gravy, biscuits, and grits. It’s a state with a vineyard around every corner, open daily, waiting for you to drop in and taste some of their fruits. A state with great diversity…with beaches and mountains and lakes, withkite flying competitions and tractor show and country fairs. I admit, I used to be a Yankee. I never knew what a “barbeque” was at a street festival until I was offered one. My response was “barbeque what??? Chicken? Pork chops?” Followed by, “ Oh my God, they put coleslaw in the sandwich!”
I promptly recovered from my shock after eating my first barbeque, and now I know well enough to ask for extra napkins.
My first house in Virginia was a monstrous thing, built back in 1870. It had low ceilings, a maze of additions added on with no logic or order, and a overgrowth of boxwood hiding the paint peeling siding and broken porch steps. But it also had heart pine floors, a huge kitchen, three fireplaces, and a big barn in a field showcasing two mulberry trees. The trees offering our horses some daily shade, perhaps placed there to feed the birds their sweet fruit.
That first house taught me how to turn a house into a home. It taught me to cook and garden and paint. It taught me how to be a hostess for visiting family. It taught me to slow down from the fast northern lifestyle, and appreciate the slow rocking of a porch swing on a hot summer day.
I ripped out the boxwood and replaced it with daylilies spilling over a rock wall. I gave away all my northern contemporary furniture and found a new appreciation for quilts. I went strawberry picking and soon discovered that I was a master of strawberry pie making. I made ice tea with mint and drowned it with sugar, in true southern style. I planted an herb garden, carefully at first…trying to emulate the formal gardens of Montpelier and Monticello that I’d visited nearby.
And I promptly gave up on trying to maintain its sense of order and renamed it a “cottage” garden, planting rose bushes and tulips everywhere they would fit. If there was a bright flower to be found, I bought it, and planted it, and crossed my fingers it would live. Some things died, I’ll admit it. I have a black thumb, and houseplants are doomed in my care. I didn’t know anything about zones and shade and sun when I first planted my gardens. I just liked the plants I saw and wanted them. But I learned each time, and found out what works and what doesn’t. And I was always surprised when the next spring something I’d completely forgotten about or given up on came back to life to bless me with another season of color.
I am long gone from that house, and although I miss it tremendously, I now have a tiny yellow cottage on 5 acres with a creek. I gave up the horses for pet chickens, and I gave up the maintenance of an older house for one that I can manage to afford to repair. My gardens are small, and better planned now, though equally colorful when in full bloom. Deer roam my back field, and the neighbor’s guinea hens often visit, strolling around the yard eating bugs, chattering to each other the entire time. My home now better suits my informal cottage style, with glass bird feeders and grape plants winding up my pergola. Rose bushes are still planted, but I’m more discerning with my choices now, and I buy for color and hardiness.
It’s been a long, cold, never ending winter, and I have spring fever. And I hope to bring you the bright colors of my favorite flowers in my upcoming work. I have a hankering to see fuchsia pink and lemon yellow together. Peridot and jade will be my foliage, garnet and chalcedony may be my beloved tulips. Amethyst may be my iris, and coral agate may be my cosmos. It’s time for spring. And I’m feeling inspired.