Snow Days

Winter arrived in full force this weekend with temperatures dropping late Friday, changing rain to sleet and then snow.  Though newscasters claim Greenville received 5 inches, our total was about half that amount if you measured generously.


Saturday morning, January 7, 2017.

By afternoon, the sun had appeared and most of the snow melted from the roads, thank goodness. The temperature continued its nose dive, however, and it was a very brisk 16 F (-9 C) when I took the dogs out this morning.

The birds seemed to know bad weather was headed our way. They’ve been busy at the feeders since early Friday, with some waiting in the camellia hedge for their turn. At one point yesterday, I counted a dozen Northern Cardinals. I also saw a bluebird, which is rare, as they seldom visit feeders. There have been a great number of woodpeckers here too, including two large species which I particularly enjoy watching, the Red-bellied and the Northern Flicker.


Birds at the feeders and in the camellia hedge.

After breakfast on Saturday, Tim and I took a walk on the golf course where we can see our street from the far side of the Reedy River.  I love the winter view when the homes are more visible and you can pick out details of the terrain.


Our street in Marshall Forest, built in the 1940s and 50s, from the golf course.

Sadly, three massive trees in our woodland garden were toppled by a March wind storm. In the photo below, you can see one is sprawled across the upper terraces…cut into lengths, but still much too heavy to move. The second was cut and piled on the riverbank by city workers when they needed access to repair a pipe on a neighboring property, and the third reaches across the river.


The three trees toppled in a March wind storm are a fixture in the woodland garden, at least for now.

I have to admit I was disheartened by 2016’s weather, since spring storms were followed by a summer drought that extended through autumn.  Hopefully, 2017 will be a better year for the garden and I’ll shake off my apathy to move forward more productively in the coming months. We’re off to a good start with precipitation, with nearly 4-inches in the first week of the year.

Today, as you might have guessed, I’ll be taking down Christmas decorations.  I’m a stickler for the full 12 days of Christmas and with snow on the way, I couldn’t resist leaving the tree up just a little longer!


Ridleys Cheer


Welcome to Ridleys Cheer!

Your enthusiasm for Ridleys Cheer has prompted me to write more about one of my favorite English gardens. Located in Wiltshire, the garden has been created by garden designer Antony Young and his wife, Sue, since the early 1980s. The couple initially planned a short stay, but were able to purchase additional land and so made the happy decision to improve their home and stay put. With time, they’ve doubled the size of the house and expanded the garden to include many new spaces, including a stunning wildflower meadow.


A first peek from just inside the gate shows the rose ‘Cecile Brunner’ in full bloom.


The dramatic stairway garden includes the (almost hidden) pale yellow noisette climber, ‘Alister Stellar Gray’, a repeat flowering rose with strong fragrance.

Now comprising 14 acres, Ridleys Cheer is an informal garden with sloping lawns, stone walls, and many interesting plant collections. Chief among these are its roses, including 125+ species and hybrids seldom enjoyed, and many magnolias, acers, daphnes, and other plant groups. On my first tour of the garden (more than 10 years ago), Mr. Young greeted visitors with a list of hundreds of plants that could be found in bloom that very day.

When I visit the garden of a designer, I expect a well-planned and executed layout. Mr. Young meets and exceeds that expectation. It was a surprise, however, to discover he is also an expert plantsman who excels at creating niche habitats, providing conditions that allow him to expand the plant palette, as well as show plants to their best advantage.


The reverse view highlights a standard Wisteria venusta with twisted stem, plus sweeping lawn and garden beds.


Everyone fell in love with this Clematis montana ‘Broughton Star’ on the garden’s front wall.  Look closely at the photo above, and you can spy it just left of the wisteria.

The origin of the property’s name is not what you would expect. The Bishops Latimer and Ridley were led to their martyrdom in 1555 in Oxfordshire and before being burnt to death Latimer’s last words to Ridley were, “Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and pay the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”

Hmm…I’m not sure how that worked out in the long run, but I can say anyone would be cheered by this enchanting namesake.

The beauty of Ridleys Cheer and the hospitality of Mr. and Mrs. Young lived large in my heart long after my initial visit and so I was particularly excited to add Ridleys Cheer to the itinerary of the West Country Gardens tour, which was carried out in June 2016. As you can see from the photos here, it was another wonderful day in the garden with Mr. Young, just as I hoped.


Entrance to the arboretum, a wonderland of trees, shrubs, and woodland perennials.


And a quick look at the wildflower meadow which is at its best in late summer and early autumn.

In addition to opening for the NGS and by appointment, Mr. and Mrs. Young also offer plant sales, and bed & breakfast. Their address is Mountain Bower, Chippenham SN14 7AJ. They can be reached at Tel: (01225) 891204 and by Email:


Gracious hosts, Sue and Antony Young.


One last look before boarding the coach. The pink climber is ‘Aloha.’

Don’t worry, I haven’t shown you everything; there are still many surprises to discover on your own!  And don’t miss the compost pile, it is the best I’ve ever seen.

When you make the trip to Wiltshire, I also strongly recommend a visit to Iford Manor, Harold Peto’s personal Italianate garden near Bath. If time allows, consider another nearby garden too, The Priory, the personal garden of French designer Mme. Antia Pereire. Fans of the classic landscape garden will be glad to hear Stourhead is not too far distant.


This planting of Guem (perhaps ‘Flames of Passion’?) was one of my favorites.  Can anyone confirm or offer another cultivar name?



New Year’s Dinner in Review

How can I be so far behind when it is only the third day in January? Perhaps it’s because I spent most of yesterday lounging about and taking cat naps after cooking a New Year’s feast for 10 on Sunday. Honestly, how do people on television shows like 17 Kids and Counting ever get out of the kitchen?

Nonetheless, New Year’s was celebrated with a fabulous meal and special evening with friends. Here’s a quick peek…


Cutting the country ham before company arrives. Have you ever seen a more hopeful expression than the one on little Bella’s face?


Happy New Year!


Oh goodness, I had a plate full, didn’t I? From top: collards, country ham, spoon bread (sort of a cornbread souffle), scalloped potatoes, hopping John, bits from the relish tray, and deviled egg.

Thankfully, I had the forethought to make a few things ahead, which gave me more time to fuss over the tablescape.  To celebrate January’s new start, I wanted the table to sparkle and I think I hit the mark with white, silver, and a touch of fresh green.


Can you spot the ‘Josef Lemper’ hellebores from the garden?

These low, rectangular vases with eight small openings (now moved to the table on the sunporch), are perfect for dinner parties. Though they were bought on a whim at a clearance sale at Roots on Augusta, they are now great favorites.

When the IAVOM posts began to pop up yesterday, I was surprised and pleased to see the similarity of Cathy’s vase at Rambling in a Garden. Be sure to check out the blog there to see what she and others have made to celebrate the New Year.


Country Ham Goodness

It’s a tradition among American Southerners to serve ham, collard greens, and black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day to bring good luck for the coming year.  In my family, that means country ham—a salt cured ham made in rural parts of the region, including Virginia, my home state; North Carolina, where my maternal grandparents were born; South Carolina, where I currently live; and others nearby such as Georgia and Tennessee.

To make these hams, they are salt cured for one to three months and then hardwood smoked, usually over hickory, before being aged.  Aging can take from several months to 2 or 3 years, depending on the fat content of the meat.  Typically, they are sold unrefrigerated, wrapped in heavy paper, and secured in a cotton bag.  Since I travel to Virginia to see family around Christmas, I buy mine at Spivey’s Market in Emporia.


Uncooked country ham from Spivey’s Market, scrubbed, soaked for 36 hours, and ready to be cooked.

The taste of country ham is salty and smoking makes the meat red.  It’s similar to prosciutto, but prosciutto is not smoked, the meat is moister, and usually more thinly cut.

Tim and I are looking forward to hosting a large group of friends on Sunday evening.  Along with the ham, we’ll have collard greens, Hoppin’ John (a Southern recipe for black-eye peas), scalloped potatoes, spoon bread, deviled eggs, and a pickle and relish tray.  To get a head start, I began soaking the ham on Wednesday and cooked it last night according to my mother’s recipe, ensuring it will be moist and tender.

Here’s what Mom taught me.

A store-bought ham should be soaked for 24 or more hours to partially re-hydrate the meat and relieve it of some of its saltiness.  I usually aim for a day and a half, changing the water at least twice.  To cook a medium ham (about 12 pounds), preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, put the ham in a roasting pan (fat side up) with 2 cups of water and cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil.  Cook at high heat until you can smell the ham (usually 30 to 40 minutes), before lowering the heat to 350 degrees F and cooking for another 2 and a half hours.  Then, turn off the oven and let it cool down without opening.


Cooked ham–wish you could smell this! Don’t forget to save the pan drippings.

Sounds easy right?  Well, here’s the secret trick to make it a snap—you begin cooking the ham at 7 or 8 p.m. and then turn the oven off before going to bed, letting the ham sit in the oven all night.  In the morning, take the ham out, remove the foil, let the ham come to room temperature, and then wrap it before refrigerating.  The pan drippings are like gold, save them for cooking the collards.

Before serving the ham on Sunday, I’ll trim away the skin and some of the fat.  For the best slices of meat, I’ll cut through the thickest part of the ham toward the center bone.

The country ham looked and smelled great this morning when it came out of the oven.  Tim and I had a little taste, too, before wrapping it and tucking it away.

What about your New Year’s Day?  I would love to hear what you have planned!


West Country Gardens

I spend a good bit of time at the close of each year editing travel photos so I can share the best with those who joined me on the trip.  Here are a dozen favorites from the West Country Gardens tour, June 7-17.


Ridleys Cheer, Wiltshire


Cothay Manor, Somerset


Maperton House, Dorset


Forde Abbey, Dorset


Montacute House, Somerset


Milton Lodge Gardens, Somerset


Wells Cathedral, Somerset


Veddw House Garden, Monmouthshire


Aberglasney Gardens, Carmarthenshire


National Botanic Garden of Wales, Carmarthenshire


Dyffryn Fernant Garden, Pembrokeshire


Cae Hir Gardens, Ceredigion

There are many things I look for when visiting gardens, but I’m most interested in how they relate to the home and their surrounding landscape.  When reviewing my photos as a whole, I’m often struck by how many focus on those relationships.

As you can see, our visit to Wiltshire, Somerset, and Dorset was fabulous, and our foray into Wales was equally exciting.  We also squeezed in a visit to Highgrove House, exploring the Gloucestershire garden of HRH Prince Charles. Sadly, photos are not allowed at Highgrove.

Do you have a favorite among the group?

I’ll be visiting gardens in the Netherlands and Belgium in May.  If you would like to travel with me or consult my schedule for an independent visit, you can examine the full itinerary here.

Making Memories

I’ve been unplugged for eight days. It’s the longest time in years that I’ve been without a keyboard at my fingertips and though I haven’t been writing, I’ve been busy.


Arlington National Cemetery, December 17, 2016.

During last Saturday’s ice storm in Washington, DC, Tim and I joined 40,000 other volunteers at Arlington National Cemetery for Wreaths Across America, honoring and remembering those who served our country. It was an amazing, heartfelt effort. Along with others in our group, we met and shared stories with people from across the country—young and old, spry and infirm—savoring unity in a time of division.


A high school group from New Jersey on an icy morning at Wreaths Across America.

We also visited the welcoming home of our older son, relishing a few happy days with him, our daughter-in-law, and our grandchildren, enjoying good meals and good times—reading books, driving through the surrounding countryside, and seeing a new movie.  Surprisingly, the best moments with the little ones were enjoyed at the kitchen sink, where we took turns washing dishes.  But that’s the way it is, isn’t it?  The most mundane things can be, and often are, the ones that provide the most pleasure.


In the right company, even washing dishes is fun.

After seeing Tim off but before pointing the car towards home, I also visited my step-father and extended family in the southern-most part of the state.  There, we kept Christmas by placing red roses at my mother’s resting place, marking her first birthday since she passed away in May.  And we looked to the future, with cheers for an engagement that promises a joyful gathering in October 2017.

My recent return to South Carolina included the happy surprise of paperwhite bulbs blooming in the kitchen window, plus handfuls of holiday cards which arrived while I was away.  One, from a sweet gardening friend, included a copy of the poem at the end of this note.  It’s a lovely, sentimental complement to the season.

Today’s newspaper column about our native red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), the traditional Christmas tree of years past, features a family photo taken on Christmas morning in 1966.  I don’t remember the exact moment the picture was made by my father, or even what I found under the tree, but I can tell you with certainty what happened next.  With presents unwrapped and breakfast tucked away, my two sisters and I were made presentable for a visit to our grandparent’s farm, where we reveled in food and fun with an untold number of aunts, uncles, and cousins.


Family photo, Christmas 1966. (That’s me on the left, with gorgeous bed hair.)

It’s been nearly 50 years since that morning, but it doesn’t seem so long ago.  Memories, I’ve discovered, whether newly-made or long-cherished, are the consummate reward for the meaningful times we spend together.

And today, finally, I turn on the computer to find my blogging friends sharing holiday greetings with one and all, along with entertaining stories and best recipes. It’s the perfect gift—another full and jubilant refrain added to the song of life.

This Christmas, I hope you, too, are making new memories, and I send my very best wishes for all good things in the year ahead.


Happy Christmas 2016!



What is the thing inside

that follows the earthy smell of morning

out into the day, carries me down the road

in my car to the fabric store, to hover

over remnant tables, finger folds

of blue and green calico—little Dutch

girls and shamrocks, linger over cards

of brightly colored bias tape and silvery

snaps? The thing inside that pulls

me further down the road to wander

through nurseries, yearning

for yardfuls of lilac and peony bushes,

tugs me toward antique stores,

something about a pitcher, clear

glass, and milk so cold it hurts?

The thing inside brings me home,

knows what it is

I am trying to remember.


At home, my girls are needful, weary,

too much wear and tear

in their days. I spoon mellow,

peppery chicken pie into creamy dishes set

on October-blue mats, watch them lift the crust

with their forks to see what’s inside, suspecting

vegetables in there with the chicken. “You know

what my Mamaw used to say

to me?” I tell them, “Eat every carrot

and pea on your plate.”


I tell them about a salt-and-pepper

woman, round faced like me,

in a hairnet and blue cotton duster,

her yard full of cousins, hiding

in flowering bushes

and twilight from parents

already in their cars.


Oh I yearn to live

for the things I love, for the thing I put

inside the food and girls

who eat, for the road

and the thing inside the road that follows

after me and calls me back, to the pitcher

Mamaw trusted me to lift from the refrigerator

and pour, not because I was big enough,

but because I was

so in love with the pitcher

and with her.


by By Diane Gilliam Fisher