Light last August.

New York State’s snow belt is known for its winter white layered look, wind-driven drifts, and lake effect snow. We lived there 17 years and I loved every minute of those deep, cold winters. But the miracle of that region’s brilliant summer days reside in my memory too, like the summertime pages on a new calendar.

Last August, when we visited daughter Carolynn and husband Bill for a week we lucked uponone perfectly stunning day — warm with a whiff of autumn cool. Carolynn had planned the day trip to western New York for Peter and I and her friend Robin. (With Bill at work Peter had to put up with three gabbling women by himself.)  The day was so August-bright that our eyes hurt. Our destination was Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park in Canandaigua.

Now western New York State is as unlike Mississippi as a moose to an alligator. Yet, when we arrived I thought immediately of William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County even though that’s a fictional place and I’ve never been to Mississippi. I’ve read Faulkner several times over but can’t recall any connection between Yoknapatawpha and Canandaigua Counties.

Certainly Sonnenberg Gardens that day had nothing in common with steamy Mississippi in summer. It was so cool in the shade that we popped in and out of the sun to warm up. Who would have thought to bring a sweater in August?

The enormous mansion evoked what today would be called “shabby chic.” It invited lingering, but it was the gardens that captivated me. The early Victorian glass houses hadn’t been modernized. There were no automatic windows or sprinklers, no obvious plant maintenance, or  new plantings. Everything looked decades old, plants way overgrown, yet all healthy enough and lush. The horticulturists and groundskeepers were attentive to their jobs even with diminishing funds to pay them.

Genteel privilege overlay the grounds like a scent, lavender perhaps. I could imagine Victorian ladies strolling the paths, then settling on the mansion’s enormous porch with mint juleps, laughing and gossiping the afternoons away. I envisioned myself in an organza gown — pale blue — tripping the light fantastic in my silvery satin shoes. Peter, a ballroom dancer in his day, would wear linen trousers with a white shirt and collar starched so stiffly that he couldn’t turn his head.

Snow falls outside my window today. Just enough to make me happy, and light enough to shovel easily. People in the snow belt up north have likely had enough of winter for this season. Now is the time to sits by the fire and plan a summertime trip to Sonnenberg Gardens, or even to Mississippi.

In The Tangled Fire of William Faulkner (University of Minnesota Press, 1954) William Van O’Conner wrote that Faulkner borrowed a sense of everything in decay from Victorian and  fin de siecle literature. Did that thought rub off on me when I read his books? I may have to read Light in August yet again.

With apologies to Doctor Seuss.

Oh! the places we go
for a view, for a bite,
to see something new,
some special delight.

We’ll shop for a widget,
or bag of birdseed,
sometimes a beer,
and a burger we need.

Sometimes a movie,
or maybe a drive,
a stroll through a garden
glorious! alive!

In springtime flowers
need consideration,
colors and scents,
Mother Nature’s perfection.

We searched at the market,
we looked at Lowe’s,
the most unusual we spied,
was “nested” at Crow’s.

A surprise we found
in a big brown pot,
a cat was inside
very grumpy, we thought.

He would not be moved
nor enticed away,
he liked his pot
on that warm spring day.

Among flowers we bought,
were red geraniums tall
to plant in my pots,
no kitties at all!

 

 

‘Thinking today about yesterday.’

My friend Bonnie sent an email this morning: “Thinking today about yesterday.” We were together most of yesterday in Lexington, Virginia, midway between our homes.

The day was beautiful for its ease, companionship, and welcome change in weather. Bonnie and I have always said, no matter how much time passes between our get-togethers — years sometimes — we always pick up and carry on as if we’d seen each other just the day before. Such is the nature of a friendship that spans nearly fifty years. We’ve shared  life’s joys, heartaches, triumphs, secrets, and laughs…so many laughs.

Yesterday was no exception. It was ten months since we our last visit. We talked through lunch at Kind Roots, a delightful little cafe, and we talked while we strolled Lexington’s quaint downtown. We talked about children and grandchildren, books and poetry, gardening and bees. We didn’t dwell on our lives’ nasty stressors, instead we spent considerable time in one shop deciding which teapot we’d buy if we could buy only one. We grumbled about ever-changing, mind-numbing technology and the hobbling effects of age.

Everybody should have a friend like Bonnie. Over the years she has stared down personal issues that would have crippled a lesser woman. Recently, she built herself a tiny house (she was the mastermind, not the builder) and shed all the stuff she’d accumulated over the years.

She loves her newly unencumbered life in a perfectly tailored little house that is set in a field spread wide with buttercups.

Education, cultivation, imagination.

The only thing better than having tea and homemade peach muffins in a wisteria-covered pergola with daughter Leslie would have been to have tea and peach muffins with both daughters in that same pergola, but with the wisteria in bloom. Carolynn lives too far away for spur-o-moment outings.

Leslie and I visited the inventive, wildly imaginative “Simply Elemental” installation at the Hahn Horticulture Garden this week. It was fantastical.

Local artists used varied materials — mannequin parts, oil drums, fabrics and ribbons, glass, construction project remains, and rust —  to create the show. One goal that inspired the group was to demonstrate that art doesn’t have to be framed or permanent to be enjoyed.

We enjoyed.

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The “Best College Review” website recently featured the one hundred most beautiful college campuses in America. Virginia Tech, number 52, was characterized with a photo of the iconic Burruss Hall. Here’s an excerpt from the text:

The Peggy Lee Hahn Horticulture Garden is a stunning spot on [Virginia Tech’s] 2600 acre grounds, adding considerable natural beauty to the school’s main…campus. Maples and dwarf conifers grace the lush, almost six-acre cultivated space, as do eye-catching wisteria flowers and a fish-filled stream that is 200 feet long. …

We who live here already knew about the Garden’s “considerable beauty.” Now we know about its considerable sense of humor, too.

The installation will be in place through September 30.

A garden as autobiography.

 

Beautiful gardens aren’t just about the flowers. Last month’s Friends of the Library Garden Tour was memorable for more than just the plantings. Yes, the flowers were lush, the colors, vivid, but it was the settings and the expanses, that captured my husband and me.

We drove along roads we hadn’t traveled before to visit seven gardens scattered across the county.

It would be hard to pick favorites, but the 1800s farmhouse lorded over by huge sycamores was special. A swooping green swathe to one side led to a gazebo perched atop a spring. The tiny stream, crisscrossed by little foot bridges, caught my fancy. Old-log guest houses nestled around the original house like chicks to a mother hen. A cellist and a violinist kept time with the breezes.

Oh, and the rope swing, did I mention the rope swing hanging high from the tallest sycamore? I wanted try it, but when I attempted to lower myself onto the wooden seat, my knees wouldn’t cooperate. Its height was set for little children. Just as well, I might have launched myself into the next county if I’d been able to soar as high as it could go.

Another garden’s entrance was framed by an old catalpa tree. Set against a hillside, the back of the original farmhouse was ringed by brilliant day lilies as colorful as ladies’ hats at an English wedding. Conifers, hardwoods, and shrubs intermingled perfectly. Interesting rocks and glittering crystals lay amongst the plantings — jewels on grandmother’s Sunday dress. Best of all was an old log cabin set into the scape. The vast field up and away to the right and back of the house hinted at more joy beyond.

A third garden, edged by a stream, had a decidedly fairytale look. Large trees hovered and whimsical touches all ’round made me wonder if three bears or maybe seven little people lived there. The large koi pond was punctuated with stepping stones and bright orange table and chairs. The owners accessorize their garden with “hand-me-downs, found objects, and thrift store purchases.”

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This trio of pictures, taken at my favorite garden, exemplify my blog’s name: Wherever you go…there you are.

Each of the gardens on the tour had their own special magic, memories brought home to caption my photos from that “once upon a time” day.

 

Click on photos to enlarge them; use arrows to scroll through each grouping.