Ralph, my wise, old garden gnome.  He sees all.

Ralph, my wise, old garden gnome. He sees all.

I have an article due later this week on the subject of peanuts.  I’m looking forward to writing it, yet I haven’t gotten the urge or the inspiration to get started.  The deadline will get me moving, I know, because I have a deep-seated need to fulfill my obligations to the best of my ability.  I still see my mother staring at me, arms crossed, with tapping foot and pursed lips.  It will be on time.  The Miss Joan in my head will make sure of it.

Tonight, I’m avoiding the article on peanuts by writing in my blog.  How convenient!  I know I am not alone…often, my dear, brilliant attorney friend, Catherine, has writer’s block with the briefs she must file on time.  She’ll finish in time and turn them in; meantime, she knits, and writes blog posts, and brilliant articles for magazines.  I get that urge to avoid when the writing “don’t come easy”, as Ringo Starr sang.

I’ve been feeling a little melancholy lately, for various reasons.  Steve and I just came off a wonderful, Summer vacation to Savannah, Beaufort SC, and St. Augustine FL.  More on the trip in another post (with Steve’s great photos); let’s just say it was hard to come home.  I’m still having dreams of moss swaying lazily in live oak trees.

It’s the “off-season” for me, also, so my days aren’t as crazy and I have time to fill as I see fit.  It’s kind of a crack in the wheel of the year for me because everything is in that lull between the end of Summer and the start of Fall.  I don’t have to think too much about appointments and installations and garden maintenance and schedules and deadlines (other than the article deadline, that is)–everything seems to be hanging in suspended animation until a switch gets flicked and time says, “Okay. It’s time for Fall.”  I’m working on redecorating a bathroom, reading, and just staring into space thinking about all kinds of things.  One of those things is time.  As much as I love Fall, I’m sad to see the Summer go.

I felt propelled to my bookshelf today and pulled down “Every Day in Tuscany” by my penpal friend, Frances Mayes, my favorite.  I was thinking about time and, sure enough, she discusses it much in this book.  I’ve been reading all day and stopped many times to ponder.  So many thoughts about time came to me today.

It’s funny how clients are so different from one another in terms of “garden time” (thank goodness–it keeps my job interesting).  Some are patient (they get that a garden needs to grow and can take years to develop), and some are not (they want the end product NOW).  We gardeners know the answer, of course:  great gardens develop over time.  I was having dinner the other night with my dear friend, Crawford, who will be 90 next year, and we were talking about gardens and time.  I told him about my impatient clients.  He said, “What a shame that they miss out on the joy and pleasure of watching their gardens grow.”  Indeed.  But I didn’t let him off the hook, either.  I said, “You are just as guilty!  You cajoled, fertilized, watered, and just about put stretchers on your Pieris to get them to grow, remember?!  You complained for three years or so, and the fourth year they doubled in size.  How quickly you forget!”  He said, “Welllll–it was all that encouragement I gave them that made them grow!!”  We laughed.  Even in your 80s, you can learn lessons about time.

Remember, with plants:  “It sleeps, it creeps, it leaps.”  And that’s not just about English Ivy, either.  In my experience, it’s pretty much across the board, at least in the Southern climates where I live and garden.  Seems like the plants take forever to grow, then one day you notice suddenly that they’ve doubled and need pruning.  Astounding!  What a pleasure to be a gardener with a few years under my belt…now, I sit back and enjoy the process because I know the reward will come soon enough, at a seemingly increasing speed.

Steve was up this weekend, and after a delightful evening with a dear friend and her nephew on Friday night, we had a full Saturday night.  First, we were privileged to be invited to a 50th birthday surprise party for our friend, Stephanie.  What a cordial group of people, and when Steph walked in and heard the “SURPRISE!!!”, she started to cry.  The crowd burst into a lively version of “Happy Birthday”, and in the amount of time it took to sing the song, I could feel the honest and devoted love for Steph.  Her years devoted to cultivating these loving friendships all came to fruit in that one instant.  A moment in time, and a lesson for all of us.  It’s very easy for gardeners to see the metaphor here.

After our quick appearance at Steph’s party, we went out to Wolftrap (which is a local venue set in a national park here outside D.C.) to participate in a sing-along viewing of “The Sound of Music”.  So much fun and so many memories associated with the film.  On the way home, we discussed how the huge crowd joined together, joyfully, as one big unit, to celebrate the fun of this film.  For those three hours, we all had one thing in common:  our experience watching the film–not our differences.  It was a congenial,  civilized and laughter-filled evening I will remember.  Yes, some melancholy there, too, for me–I was seven years old when “The Sound of Music” was released in 1965 and much in my life has changed.  But “The Sound of Music” has remained the same, even as my own life is flying by.

This time of year, for me, is a time of thought:  “What’s next?”  The seasons are changing, days are shortening, nights are cooling. What will you plant in your garden this Fall?

Posted under Books, Garden Ornament, Gardeners, Random garden thoughts, Southern Gardens, The Fall Garden, The Summer Garden, Writers

The Tuscan Sun Cookbook

I just got my prized copy of ‘The Tuscan Sun Cookbook.’  My dear friend, Dean, graciously gave me a copy, which Frances Mayes promptly signed.  Here’s the cover:

Cover of 'The Tuscan Sun Cookbook'

Cover of 'The Tuscan Sun Cookbook'

What has a cookbook got to do with gardening? Everything.  Cooking is the culmination of gardening, especially if you grow your own food.  Or herbs.  Or both.  Cooking allows you to ingest what you’ve grown and share what you’ve grown with others.  And then there’s entertaining.  Entertaining!  You get to share ALL you grow–your garden, your vegetables, your herbs, your flowers.  Drinks on the patio? Your guests see your garden.  Mint julep?  Your guests taste your mint.  Supper?  They taste your home-grown veggies.  Table centerpiece?  They see your showy flowers.  And that’s just the beginning of it.

I’m not Italian and I’ve never lived in Italy longer than a month at a time, yet I think I was Italian in a past life.  Italy resonates with me.  I love the countryside, people, food…I love it.  I’ve been there many times, though not in awhile, I’m sorry to say (I need to resolve that issue, right?)  Tuscany is where I’ve spent the most time:  Florence, Chianti, and all through the Tuscan countryside.  This cookbook brings it to us.  It really does.

I’ve met Frances and Ed a few times.   We’ve gotten to know each other through our blogs, mostly, and then, luckily, we’ve been able to meet face-to-face.  Steve and I visited them at their home here in the States.  They are charming, relaxed and hospitable.  The conversation flows delightfully through many subjects.  While I would by no means presume to call them good friends–we don’t have the history and time spent together behind us–they make us feel as if we are old friends.  That’s their way.  Even with their insanely busy schedules and travels, they stop and make us feel like they have all the time in the world.  So Italian.

And I buy their Bramasole extra-virgin olive oil.  Liberally.  And I USE it liberally!  They’re right:  good olive oil and fresh ingredients make the food.  And that gets us back to gardening:  they grow their own olives, make the oil, which goes on the food they grow.  And then they eat it.  What a yummy cycle.

Over twenty years ago, supervising a landscape job that was going in that day, the owner (an old, dear friend) said to me, in passing, “Have you read ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ yet?  I think you’d really like it.”  I listened to her advice, and wow, am I glad I did.  I’ve worn my friends out, talking about every, single one of Frances’ and Ed’s books.  I’ve read them, again and again, during the busy seasons, because they take me to another place and lifestyle, one which profoundly relaxes me.  They started my yearning and love for Italy.  They’ve influenced my house (it’s a stuccoed bungalow; my dining room even has a fresco), my decorating, even my garden.  They’ve made me look at things differently, or at least they remind me to stop, take a breath, and relax a bit more.  I don’t think I’m exaggerating or being overly dramatic by saying they’ve touched my life in more ways than I can count.  And I can’t thank Frances and Ed enough for keeping them coming for over 20 years!! Memoirs, novels, movies, cookbooks…constantly bringing on something new, something to look forward to (with great anticipation!)

Which gets me back to gardening (okay, okay–EVERYTHING in my world gets me back to gardening, I know…).  Isn’t that really the essence of what gardening is all about, anyway?  ANTICIPATION.  And Ed and Frances are serious gardeners, both here in the U.S. and in Italy.  They get it.

I sat down and read through this cookbook, cover to cover (though not each recipe ingredient and instruction, I’ll admit), and it sent me to the kitchen.  The recipes are simple, with few ingredients, and mouth-watering.  They bring the taste of Italy back to me.  Yum.  Can’t wait to cook my way through it.

Go buy their book and get cooking!  (and then go out to your garden to work it off!!)

Posted under Cooking and gardening

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on March 19, 2012

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Nancy Goodwin’s Montrose Garden in Hillsborough, NC

I noticed Anne Raver wrote a piece in the New York Times recently about Nancy Goodwin and her garden in Hillsborough, NC, “Montrose”.  Here’s a link. Nancy wrote a book about her garden and her experiences there, Montrose: Life in a Garden.  It’s a lovely, informative read.

The garden at Montrose in late Summer

The garden at Montrose in early Fall

Steve and I visited there two Winters ago, and we had a personal tour through the garden with Nancy.  It was magical.  I wrote about it here.

The garden at Montrose in late Winter

The garden at Montrose in late Winter

Hillsborough, NC, is the American home, also, for Frances Mayes, (“Under the Tuscan Sun”) and her husband, Ed.  They’ve just completed a new cookbook, The Tuscan Sun Cookbook, which will be released next week, on March 13th.  Can’t wait!  Following the book’s release, they’ll start their book tour.

Posted under Garden Tours, Garden Travel, Gardeners, Media, Southern Gardens, Writers


Sometimes, things just work out for the best. Like last Thursday. Steve and I got in the car in Wilmington, on a rainy, nasty, cold morning at 7am. We were headed to Montrose in Hillsborough, NC, to tour the gardens. Hillsborough is northwest of Durham, so we went through Raleigh on the way. It’s really a straight shot up I-40 from Wilmington. When we got close to Raleigh, it started to snow…the snow was covering everything but the road…and I started to fret that I wouldn’t be able to see anything in this garden we were traveling almost three hours to see. But then, on the other side of Raleigh, things opened up and the snow magically just disappeared.

We got to Montrose at the stroke of 10, right on time. Our hostess (and owner of the property), Nancy Goodwin, was just then swinging open the gate (I almost ran into her, I was so excited to get in there!). She said, “I was almost ready to give up on you all. Everyone else canceled.” Lucky us! We got a private, almost two hour tour with this delightful, energetic, and amazingly knowledgeable plantswoman. To say I was in heaven is an understatement. What a treat.

In late February, Montrose is loaded with hardy cyclamen, hellebores (Lenten Roses), and snowdrops (Galanthus)–all of which are Nancy’s passion and favorites. She has and does breed them all. As much as I hate winter, I really do love the late winter/early spring crossover for all these same plants. There is nothing like walking through the garden and seeing these signs of life suddenly appear amidst all the dead leaves and bare branches, and despite the cold. So cheerful and hopeful.

Looking through the woodland at Montrose

Through the woodland at Montrose

I had vaguely heard of Montrose, and Nancy Goodwin, and I am ashamed to say the horticulturist in me didn’t put two and two together when I read about her in Frances Mayes’ blog. Frances (who wrote Under the Tuscan Sun and sequels) lives in Hillsborough, also, when she is not in Tuscany. She recommended Nancy’s book, Montrose: Life in a Garden (Duke University Press). I ordered it right away, of course, and then sat down and read it in Wilmington the week before we went to visit the garden. It is a wonderful intro to the garden, and Nancy, and I felt like I was visiting an old friend as I walked around the gardens at Montrose.

I later found out from Nancy that she and Frances are now friends. I wrote to Frances, via her blog, to thank her for her recommendation and tell her we had visited Montrose. She responded back that we should definitely go back and see the gardens when the roses are in bloom and “see [them] arching into the trees.” She said she had “fantastical dreams for a week” after visiting the garden. She’s oh so right.

If you are ever in the Triangle area of NC (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill), you must visit Montrose. It is open for tours by appointment. For more information, check out this link.

Posted under Garden Tours

Frances Mayes Website/Blog Link

To know me is to know that my favorite author is Frances Mayes, writer of the Under the Tuscan Sun series about her life in Italy.  I have spent many an hour dreaming as I read through her books.  Her work has influenced me greatly.  She is a gardener in her own right and usually writes extensively about gardens in each of her books (in addition to cooking, decorating, traveling, etc.).  She has a new book coming out in March:  Every Day in Tuscany. Can’t wait!

For those who are interested, she has a new website link for her updated webpage and periodic journal.  Both are great pleasures.  Enjoy if you are so inclined.


Posted under Writers

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on January 14, 2010

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