‘Gardens and flowers have a way of bringing people together…’

We’ve been lucky enough to visit some of the most famous gardens in the world including Kew, Sissinghurst, and Kensington in England, Netherlands’ Keukenhof at tulip time, the National Arboretum in Washington, DC, Montreal’s Botanic Gardens, to name a few.

On July 8 we toured seven outstanding gardens right here in Montgomery County, Virginia, during the 22nd annual New River Valley Garden Tour, the best yet. I emoted all the way home.

They are different from each other, each enviable in unique ways, but if I had to pick just one, it would be the one where rust prevailed. Yup, rust.

The Angle-Relf garden is tucked away on a narrow winding road, set on a hill hidden from view if you headed east. The couple bought the rundown 40-year-old house in 1976 and set about taming its weed-covered four acres that was overly populated with locust and cedar.

To call their creative idyll imaginative is to beg a look at a Thesaurus for better adjectives to do it justice, perhaps fanciful or inspired or quixotic. The pair reclaim and recycle with humor and vision, and always with rusty overtones.

 

This year’s seven gardens, the Angle-Relf’s, plus the Golden’s, Hagood’s, Hammett’s, Ryan-Plunket’s, Schnecker’s and Wickham’s all all provided multiple chances to fall in love with gardening. It was an absolutely picture-perfect, weather-perfect day.

 

A ‘peak’ at a perfect day.

Mondays have a bad reputation and our Monday that week deserved the label. Awful. But the week redeemed itself with a Wednesday that was perfection.

After a quick trip down the mountain to Roanoke, we lifted our bottomed-out psyches at Mill Mountain Coffee and Tea, then soared with the Paul Villinski installations at the Taubman Museum of Art around the corner.

Villinski’s showcase exhibit “Passage” hovered, as if in an updraft, above the atrium. “Passage,” a large-scale wooden glider with a 33-foot wingspan reminiscent of the balsa wood gliders he loved as a boy, is part precise construction and part whimsey. A thousand black butterflies, carefully fashioned from reclaimed material found on New York City streets, cover the glider and appear to help it stay aloft. “Emblematic of hope and liberation,” the artist says.

Paul Villinski oversees installation of his sculpture “Passage” in Taubman Museum’s atrium. Photo, Stephanie Klein-Davis, The Roanoke Times.

Flight connotes mankind’s desire to leave our earthly concerns behind, Villinski believes. Maybe that’s what lured me — the promise of a few hours to leave behind my concerns from two days before. And it worked! I was spell-bound the minute we walked inside. Peter had to nudge me to turn my attention to the docent just inside the door. “You were transported the minute you walked in,” she said, laughing. Indeed I was. She told me that the glider would actually be air-worthy if it had skins, and if there were a very small person licensed to pilot it.

“Farther,” Villinski’s exhibit in an upstairs gallery, was equally, magically moving, with flights of butterflies and birds, and other flights of fancy that captivated us.

Both “Passage” and “Farther” will be at the Taubman through January 21, 2018.

 

“Homeward Bound,” juried art. Although I didn’t know it beforehand, seventy-four works  by fifty-nine Virginia artists, all winners to my eye, were housed in other galleries. Many pieces are made from found objects — bobby pins, keys, hats, old nightgowns, horsehair — plus fascinating paintings, drawings, and sculpture all helped make our day.

“Homeward bound,” is the Taubman’s first juried art show, and will remain only through July 17. Hurry home.

We ended our perfect day, such a welcome antidote to Monday, with a walk around City Market. There, I found the perfect peaches and blueberries for our evening to come. The peak of perfection, if I may say so.

A day trip from home.

Beautiful mountain views edged the hourlong drive from our home to Bedford, Virginia. It was June 6, and husband Peter and I were heading to the annual Commemoration of the Invasion of Normandy at the National D-Day Memorial. It was our fifth visit there since the opening ceremony in 2001.

Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains

Neither of us would have been aware of the magnitude of what happened that day in 1944 on Normandy’s beaches. Operation Overlord.

Peter was six, in London again after having been evacuated to the north with his mum when he was an infant. All he knew of the war were the bombed out buildings in his neighborhood, the thrill of finding scraps of wood to sell for fires, the hope of finding mortar shells or worse in the rubble in Hammersmith. A man he didn’t know he knew had moved in — his Royal Marine father, home from his post at St. Margaret’s Bay above the English Channel.

I was five, and all I knew of World War II in my Ohio home were blackout blinds on our windows, sirens sounding the all clear, rationing and victory gardens. I had carrots and radishes in my little plot, while my father grew other vegetables the rabbits wouldn’t eat.

Peter and I visit the Bedford D-Day Memorial because we are of that time, those days. His memories now are rooted in the old war movies he watches, but he was interested in the day’s goings-on. He tapped his foot to the music and smiled with amazement at the few WWII veterans present, fewer than a dozen this year. Later, when I asked if he’d enjoyed the day, he said, “Yes, it’s good to see the people and hear the words and the music.”

Captain (Ret.) Jerry Yellin, U.S. Army Air Force WWII Veteran was the keynote speaker. At 95 he’s still spry and active in his personal campaign to talk to veterans about post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), something he suffered from, without diagnosis, thirty years post-war. PTSD hadn’t been identified. Yellin has the unique distinction of having flown the final mission of the war on August 14, 1945. His wing-man, Phillip Schlamberg, was the last man killed. Today, Yellin travels the world sharing his story, bringing healing and hope to the new generation of veterans who battle PTSD.

A refurbished P-51 fighter, flown by Andrew McKenna, thrilled the crowd with a swooping three-pass flyover. As it streaked against the vivid blue sky of a perfect summer day, the horrors that happened on June 6, 1944 seemed more distant than seventy-three years. To those veterans who survived the day and were present to tell their stories, it was still fresh in their minds.

After enduring all the ordeals and training in England, we felt like we were completely ready for anything, and we were very ready to fight the Germans, and we looked forward to the day that we could actually get into the real fight.”
— Sgt. Bob Slaughter, 116th Infantry Regiment, US 29th Division. Slaughter led the effort to establish the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, home of the nineteen young men who were lost that day in Normandy.

Right in my own backyard.

The adventures husband Peter and I used to have are part of my memories and photo albums. His increasingly confused state — dementia has gained on him — keeps us home now. He has no memories of our trips, nor do my pictures help him remember. Last fall, for the first three days of an eight day visit to daughter Carolynn and husband Bill, Peter didn’t know where he was. We’d lived in that same little village for seventeen years.
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Daffodil in snow.

The first week of this month, Carolynn and her friend Robin traveled to us with inflexible determination to give me a special week “in my own backyard.” The bumper sticker on Carolynn’s new car said “Rescue Mom.”

Before the two left upstate New York early on a snowy Saturday morning, they’d issued orders for me to list anything they could do to help with during their week. Not wanting to look a gift-horse in the mouth, I did start a list, but lost it amongst the clutter in my office. I really wanted to just enjoy them, not put them to work on the pesky tasks that had piled up. That idea didn’t fly.

They arrived  Saturday evening. Sunday was family brunch, cards, and dinner out, but Monday they were all about the chores. Granddaughter Samantha was in town, so they appointed her secretary to their two-woman crew. And then they set to work.

Coincidentally, Leslie provided work shirts for the family crew. From left, Carolynn, Sam, me, Leslie.

They fixed nearly all the meals, grocery shopped, baked bread, cookies, muffins; organized files, cookbooks, kitchen cupboards, and my office; surprised me with muffins at breakfast on my birthday, and planned a birthday feast. (Leslie, around as much as she was able during her busiest time of the year, reminded them about my requirement for tin roof sundaes instead of cake.) Since Sam likes a clean car, I suggested she clean mine. She did,

Twice they shoved me out of the house, once to get a pedicure, once, a massage. I didn’t protest too much.

They gardened and washed windows, we shopped and played cards, watched movies and read, they made multiples of sock bunnies and we fit in “Beauty and the Beast” their final evening.

All in all, that week was a “trip” anyway I look at it. And I’ve got the pictures to prove it.

Over the week the list expanded to two pages. By the end, everything was crossed off, even ‘bake chocolate chip cookies’ that Sam added for herself.

Fluffle of sock bunnies.

 

Did we listen to what we heard?

screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-11-03-07-amNo one had to remind me to vote, nor whom to vote for. My mind was made up months ago. I’ve paid too much attention to all the incendiary brouhaha of the campaign. I’ve lost sleep and had bad dreams.

As I walked along our street to vote this morning a sheriff’s car went by in one direction, a police car in the other. More visibility, I suppose, in the face of threats of election day violence around the country.

Is this what America has come to?

A couple of days ago I saw a video produced by a group of young entertainers who decided they had to raise awareness about one candidate. It was funny, yes, and spot on, but if a t.v. censor had been on duty, there would’ve been twenty-one bleeps. I counted.

Is this what America has come to?

The world is watching! Our country was founded by people who fled their homeland so they could be free. Recently, even the Pope commented on our political campaign and the irresponsibility of one candidate who wants to build a wall to keep people out.

Is this what America has come to?

Women fought for and finally got the right to vote in 1920. This year, a highly qualified woman is a candidate for the office of President. We’ve come a long way, baby, as the old slogan goes.

So, yes, we’ve come at least this far.

About time, but at enormous cost. We’ve lost standing in the world as the endless months of politicking has painted Americans ugly and embarrassing and laughable and scary.

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In June, I was fortunate enough to sit next to my hero, political columnist Leonard Pitts, at the National Society of Newspaper Columnists conference. I was as tongue-tied as if I were still a teenaged high school newspaper editor. Finally I asked if, deep down, he thought Hillary Clinton would win the election.

His eyes drilled mine, then he scanned the table, and said, “Yes, I do. But if he were to win, it would  be the ruination not only of our country, but of the entire world.”

I hope Pitts’s is right about who will win. He’s way more attuned to all this than I am, it’s what he does. I am not, in any way, qualified to write political commentary. When I sat down to vote this morning, I was shaky, queasy.

By about 10:00 tonight the pundits will make their well-informed predictions on the election’s outcome. I’ll be listening.

Wave on.
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The National Society of Newspaper Columnists contest winner, 2016 —
online, blog, & monthly under 100,000 unique visitors category.

Art imitates nature …beautifully.

Magical…Whimsical…Enchanting…Brilliant…Colorful…Kaleidoscopic…Capricious…
Eccentric…Fanciful…Humorous…Witty…Imaginative…

Obviously, it was wisp-clad pixies with wands made of spider webs and spun glass who created the 2016 “Art in the Garden” exhibit at the Hahn Horticulture Gardens at Virginia Tech.  The fanciful displays are spread across the garden’s six acres which are, as always, stunning.

It was impossible to pick favorites, but certainly Richard Hammer’s “Glorious Glass Flowers” and “Kaleidoscope Flutters By” by the Textile Artists of Virginia (TAVA) are magical. I wished for a thesaurus specific to the exhibits created by the more than 50 pixies artisans of southwest Virginia.

As we did last year, daughter Leslie and I toured the installations first, then retreated to the blessedly cool wisteria arbor for our lunch of cheese and crackers, grapes and tea. We’ve had torrential rain for several weeks, so Thursday’s blinding sun felt doubly hot. Sweat poured off us as if  we were standing in a shower without benefit of soap and towel. The Floyd Quilters’ Group “Leaf it to Quilters” fluttered above us in the breeze while we ate. Autumn’s cool to come sighed through.

 

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For more information: http://www.hort.vt.edu/hhg/elemental/2016/Flyer.pdf

 

Gentle gray wisps.

 

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When I began my walk today, the morning was bright,
the sun so brilliant my eyes ached.
No more than a few hundred yards along, fog wafted in like
a worn gray picnic blanket settling on the emerald grass.
The fading dogwood blossoms glowed

It lasted only a few minutes, but long enough to gentle my roiling mind.
I continued walking, lightened,
as the fog lifted and sunlight returned.

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This is a bluebird day!

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This morning started well. When I asked Nobby if he wanted to go for a walk he leapt right up and did his happy dance. Usually he waits for Peter, but sometimes it’s a long wait. My husband is not a morning person.

Across Main Street we went and up the hill towards the golf course. The humidity of recent days had evaporated. What a pleasant, sunny morning. 

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology 

While Nobby sniffed every blade of grass, I had plenty of time to gaze at the mountain views and enjoy the day. Suddenly, a bluebird flew out of a tree a few feet away, followed quickly by a second. 

We walked a bit further, then two more bluebirds zipped out of the next tree, and further still, I saw fifth and sixth streaks of blue, then seventh and eighth!

OK, I suspect it was really two bluebirds times four sightings, but it’s still a bluebird day.

As long as there are bluebirds, then there will be miracles and a way to find happiness.”

 — Shirl Brunnell, I Hear Bluebirds, 1984

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Woolwine House Bluebird Trail, Patrick County. Virginiabluebirds.org photo

 

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.