Saturday, January 23, 2010

Kitchen Gardening... a Preppy's Puttering

Part of our lattice room's potting shed area

Our kitchen garden mid-spring last year
  • Pink/Rose, White and Green color scheme
  • English gardening accessories
  • Wellie boots by Hunter
  • Native plants and vines whenever possible
  • Pottager's mix-it-up style just for fun in the side garden
  • Roses and a cutting-flower bed
  • Herbs and some Veggies fresh-to-the-table
  • Plenty of Mint for tall, cold glasses of iced tea

After the Christmas and New Years holiday festivities have passed along and winter deepens its hold on us, there's always spring to begin looking forward to especially with all the gardening and seed catalogues now coming along in the mail.
Living once again in a southern climate where winter means a lot of rain, on dreary days or during long windy nights I like to peruse through the growing stack of these catalogues as well my favorite books about gardening- seeking inspiration and ideas for the upcoming spring plantings.
There are a plethora of seed catalogues but one of my favorites is The Cooks Garden. Of course Smith and Hawken catalogues provide as well plenty of style ideas and proffer great gardening accessories. My longtime favorite copper watering can came from one of their stores: a long-necked Haws made in England that has served me well over the years both outdoors and indoors with watering. And James and my "his and her" dark green Hunter wellies also were purchased there. I'm not a big Croc fan by any means however, with gardening in our humid coastal south here, I finally broke down and bought a pair to wear in order to keep my feet relatively cool. I couldn't do without them now. Beyond catalogues and large-scale purveyors, I also delight in stopping by our locally-owned nurseries and garden stores here as well and never seem to leave without something to add into the garden that's for sure. Or yet another orchid plant for the house but that's another story...
Basically, my gardening around our five acres out here on the island is kept as simple as I can possibly keep it. There's a lot of lawn to mow between the upper and lower lots plus plenty of woods lining the wide grassy areas and also a palmetto grove to keep me ever-busily picking up fallen tree limbs and palmetto fronds. Around the house then, it's (for now) a simple landscaping of lined garden beds that primarily feature rose bushes, lantanya aka butterfly bushes, some fading shrubbery (that I'd love to replace eventually), lots of native vines like Confederate Jasmine, Trumpet Vine, Morning Glory and pine straw bedding- a lot of which comes directly out from underneath our pine trees.
Around the side yard facing out into the marsh and ocean waters just beyond is the small, raised-bed kitchen garden that James and I installed a few years ago. Here's where I "do" most of my happy gardening puttering. And like a dyed-in-the-wool Southern Preppy, I've got my old wooden-handled trowl in hand and an equally old wooden English trug basket on my arm.
After much experimentation, we've discovered that the following does really well: tomatoes of all varieties, some lettuces, various peppers, almost any type of herb and cheerfully casual kinds of flowers such as sunflowers, zinnias, daisies and the like. What didn't fare well much to my dismay after repeated attempts were spinach, cucumbers and squashes. And nowhere around our place here can my all-time favorite flower, peony, thrive or even survive. So sad. I used to adore setting a vase packed full of peonies onto my grandmother's ornate mahogany dressing table which was passed down to me when I was a teenager. Those frothy peony petals always perched so prettily above the various perfumes, silver-handled brushes and pots of makeup scattered about on the table's top. Now I make-do with roses and my bright, meadow like kitchen garden flowers and... it's not so bad after all but I still miss peonies and bunches of fragrant lilacs as well which were abundant in my parent's backyard when we lived up north in an old renovated farmhouse for several years.
Sometimes I dream about having an English garden like the ones I've glimpsed on several occasions when being in that country. Maybe a small, stone or brick walled back door type of kitchen and herb garden graveled-lined that then leads out into a wider lush tumble of bright lawn expanse. A grassy swath of green that is beautifully lined with clusters of decorative trees and overflowing beds of flowers which eventually meet up against the boundaries of a deep, dark and quiet wood. Ahh.
Other times I think of the wilder, sea-wind swept coastal gardens in Scotland where I've also enjoyed some time around. There it's more about natural grasses and other hearty vines and wilder looking flowers that can take the elements and the cold in due measure. A more minimalist and yet oh, so visually striking way of gardening. And there are many other international garden inspirations I can pull ideas from and dream about of course.
Another way to enjoy vicariously gardening is to read about it. One of the best writers of all time to bring readers so wonderfully into his gardens (and the various homes he moved around to) was the late Beverley Nichols. His books like "Merry Hall" and "Sunlight on the Lawn", to name a few, are a true delight to loose oneself within. I first discovered them on the dusty shelves of a small library in North Carolina and since then have occasionally purchased one or two along the way whenever I find them at bookstores.
If a more American, hands-on and pragmatic style of virtual gardening is desired, then the witty yet ever so practical books of the late Henry Mitchell will definitely fit the bill. I also very much enjoy his writings and both "The Essential Earthman" and "One Man's Garden" stay by my bedside table year round. They're stacked there beside my personal gardening journal which is filled with quite sporadic quips, quotes and sketches detailing my gardening years throughout my adulthood in the suburban woods of NC, on the side of a mountain out in UT and of course now out here on this island off the coast of SC.
Here are some more great gardening books I continually enjoy re-reading that may inspire you too:
  • "The Meaning of Herbs- myth, language and lore" by Gretchen Scoble, Ann Field
  • "Pink Ladies and Crimson Gents- portraits of roses" by Molly & Don Glentzer
  • "Mrs. Whaley and Her Charleston Garden" by Emily Whaley
  • "The Cottage Garden" by Christopher Lloyd
  • "The Way We Garden Now" by Katherine Whiteside
  • "Green Thoughts- a writer in the garden" by Eleanor Perenyi
  • "The Writer in the Garden" by Jane Garmey

The list above is less technical and more inspirational... though "The Way We Garden Now" has many charming projects and watercolor illustrations throughout its pages. These are just a few of the gardening books I lug around with me wherever we live. I also cherish my Grandmother Wylly's various old gardening books as she was a member of Savannah's Trustees Gardening Club way back when and had a lovely yard full of camellia and azalea bushes along with stately magnolia trees.

Our place here is much more casual than what were, and still are, my extended family's various gardening spots in Savannah and also up in Charleston but that's what island-livin's all about... a freer, more happenstance and having-fun-with-it-all kinda ethos. If one lives on "island time" then perhaps it makes complete sense to garden "island wise".

Here's to looking forward to spring and spring plantings on the horizon!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Preppy Birds- some frippery regarding fine feathers n' such

Are parakeets less preppy than falcons and does it really matter...?

Just the other day I glimpsed two birds that made me pause n' ponder about whether some birds are simply just more elegant and distinct than others in a style/lifestyle methodology.

Hmm... IS something like a Snowy White Egret a bit more shall we say "preppy" than a Pelican?

Are Falcons then as well more preppy than say Hawks or, shudder, Vultures?

Out here in the coastal lowcountry, we are graced with quite a few really neat birds: from our cheerful resident yard-birds such as the bluebirds that utilize the bird houses we have up in the yard here and the cardinals who have a nest deep inside our lemon tree to the various egrets and herons who love the marsh grasses just off of our yard's perimeter. Once when out walking, I espied a tree full of Ibis who took flight as my dog came around the dirt road's bend; their white brightness interrupted by the black bands underneath their wings pulsing with each wing beat. Stunningly beautiful as well was the Great Blue Heron that seemed quite prehistoric as its long dark shadow blotted out the sun when it flew overhead during another one of my island jaunts several years ago. I learned later that the Gullah people call this bird "Job", as in the long-suffering Job of the Bible. After that, I wrote a poem about the bird which I'll share here:

Ode to Job

Job came down/in a/whoosh, outstretched/and gliding into the horizon;/ blueshadowed/flight/arrested by/the beckoning marsh./ His greatness bears/much/yet not/the anguish of ancient/woes. Situated grievances weigh/feathery/on this long,/strong back. Unconscious/emotion/numbs while/time drifts out/another/sun salted/day.

(sorry about the line-endings "/" where normally there'd be a new line starting underneath the previous one but I haven't figured-out completely how this blog formats spacing within the text's body. Some times it gets my posts' paragraphs right and sometimes not, oh well)

Birds such as ibis, egrets and herons just seem a lot more artistically aesthetic than pestering seagulls and clunky pelicans or even the busy, ever scampering and scattering across the beach cute little groups of sanderlings. Likewise, Falcons and Eagles connote more distinction than Vultures with perhaps Hawks being sort of an in between. And as much as Martha Stewart has tried to bring class, er couture, to having a side yard of chickens, "ah, joli poulet, oui?" well, the verdict's still out on that particular stylizing, hmm. To be honest, Martha Stewart's ever-striving working and posturing towards elegance and appropriateness actually works constantly against her desire to be thought of as a true Preppy; preppies aren't "made", they rather just, "are born to"... but anyway, back to birds.

The Official Preppy Handbook has a section within in its chapters about preppy dog breeds but birds aren't bothered with at all and maybe that's because they aren't really easily-categorized into Prep or non-Prep purposing. However, when anyone is inside a traditional preppy house, one can espy a bird image or two usually around whether it's in the splashy toile' print of a loveseat tucked in the sunroom, as a framed watercolor hanging in the study or within the patterning of the bone china plates being put to use out on a diningroom's sideboard. When I started looking around our own house here, I found a plethora of bird images. I knew we had some bird-imagery around decor-wise along with our very lively two pet birds, Beau and Brummel, but wow, oh indeed, yes, we DO have a bit of a bird theme going on here. Inside and out, it's quite bird-motif'd out here within this small corner of our island.

I'll end this mulling-about-birds with a description of the picture above which was taken when Beau and Brummel decided to go on a jaunt around our house one evening and ended up perching atop our diningroom's china cabnit for quite awhile. They have a daily-run out within our river porch's screened room but find it a riot to dart out of their cage and roam around inside the rest of the house every so often. I'm not sure if I'd consider, or classify, parakeets as particularly "preppy" but they sure have been a lot of cheer to have here within our household.

Dixie-Fried Guys... Male Preppies Southern Style

Southern Portrait: Family with deer stand in back of truck

Yesterday afternoon James, his brother Keith and I took down one of James' portable deer hunting tree-stands out here on the island. It was a sad day... for James. The end of deer season strikes a deep bell toll of sorrow into the hearts of many a Southern man. Preppy, punkish or poppin' the Blue Ribbon beer kinda' Bubba-guy, southern menfolk alike enjoy many a thing that tends to blur the distinction lines between what is Prep and non-Prep in places below the Mason-Dixon line.
While northeastern male Preppies maintain a rather distinctive demographical and stylized existence, deep south versions tend to be a bit more blurry. Take for instance Brantly IV in his Brooks Brothers cords, Barbour coat and Hunter boots with a scotch in hand, a Boykin Spaniel by his side and an Ivy League MBA in his backpocket just back from some sport target shooting standing side by side with Bubba just in from his morning of deer hunting who's decked-out in Carthart and an old pair of snakeboots, has his trusty lab or faithful doberman nearby, clutches a half-eaten bag of fried pork skins and gets continually teased about his more plain-jane southern state college degree, strung-along Masters and finally that eventual PhD he did just for some more fun learnin'.
Out here where I live, those two guys could easily be brothers, best friends, cousins or even one-in-the-same with Brantly being the name proper and Uncle "Bubba" an affectionate nickname given to him by his nieces and nephews.
Southern men in general tend to resist firm labeling and solidified categorical definitions as to defining who exactly they are. Southern Preppy males especially seem to be many-layered and nuanced and usually also are multi-faceted in their experiences, educational degrees, careers and interests. (Southern Belle women are this way as well but that's another blog post a comin'....)
If you run across an adult male who's basically had only one general job definition throughout his life in such a thing as banking, law, business management, real estate development and the like, lives in an upscale suburb or tree-lined city neighborhood with well-tended neighboring houses he can see from his yard, has a wife who's majored in the MRS-degree and Junior League committeeships, kids who exist within playdates and passenger seat commuting between all of their copious planned activities meant to grace college applications eventually, never gets mud on his SUV and/or never has owned a truck and thinks that spending time outdoors is what is meant by being out on a golf course....well, he's either a yankee, i.e. a non-southener, or not really a deep-southern-fried kinda' homegrown preppy guy.
Of course the way a man grows up, the family he's sprung from, the culture n' colloquialisms and family traditions as well as family lore all develop him into being Preppy rather than being something else if that is his destiny. However... deep south men also have what seems to be a natural affinity for the outdoorsey-life that "Bubba's" them to some degree in an endearing way.
Deep South Preps, men and women alike, may try to "fit in" into an essentially (for them) alien culture of what constitutes for upper middle class living in places like Atlanta, Charlotte, Jackson, Richmond, Memphis and Montgomery as well as non-southern cities, suburbs and ex-urbs across the US but eventually they'll feel the fakeness and falsehoods such a cookie-cuttering kinda' social sameness and upscale mall mentality truly feels against what they know as their own life-essence, their vital right livlihood. It's not "better" than what fellow Preppies elsewhere are experiencing, it's just not what's authentic to the deep south preppy sprung from generations of landed gentry loving alike literature and landing a redfish alongside a johnboat.
The gentleman-woodsman incarnation so to speak as showcased by Archibald Rutledge's life and writings as well as the glossy lifestyle magazine Garden & Gun. It's also the way James and I happily live now after our foreign-fields-times living abroad-for-us within leafy suburbs, on the fringes of southern cities and also a fun sojourn out in Utah being ski bums for awhile.
Family caregiving brought us back into living within the deep-south environs of the Carolina Lowcountry but our enjoyment of being, "back where we belong" may keep us out here on this little shaggy, woodsey and oh so quiet island for awhile longer or forever.
We'll see where time and tide takes us further along life's pathways but for now, our Wellie boots, rifles, flyrods and walking sticks are all clumped by the front door on the front porch and our various days spent along our salt creek marsh waters and within maritime woods are treasured moments of authentically living... as it is authentic... for us.
Here's to all the great Dixie-Fried guys I know: family, friends and acquaintances as well! Ya'll keep life ever-interesting and I know that 2010 will continue to be another ever fascinating year to come with being out here around the islands of the lowcountry.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Here's to 2010 and some more blog posting coming soon....

New Year and Good Cheer...

Hello and Happy New Year 2010 everyone!
I'll be posting more on the blog soon with going into this brand new year but until then, here's wishing you all a positively "in the pink" (and kelly green) but not gettin' a pink-slip kinda' year ahead. It's continuing uncertain times and still a very uncertain economy out there but keeping a bit of positivity helps out everyone: sorta' like the usual fun-guy out there at parties who wears a pair of loudly-toned madras pants just for the heck of it- heck yeah! haha That's the spirit!
So here's to wearing some madras underneath our winter coats or, if you're like me, here's to enjoying pulling out a madras checkbook cover from one's handbag for a cheery kick of preppy positivism as one purchases items and also pays the bills.
Southern Preppies have learned since the War Between the States that even if one's in a position of say being Land-rich but Cash-poor (which many southern folks were after the North won and maybe still are) you can still maintain a smile, enjoy daily living and entertain with style. Both steaks and salmon down to simple burgers and humble cheese sandwiches can all be served-up on beautiful china plates. It's not what life brings to you but rather... how you choose to react...
Here's wishing a GREAT 2010 to you all and lotsa' fun livin' n' laughter throughout!