A Memorial

Shortly after I moved to Ann Arbor, still puzzling over how to garden in this very different place, I went to a quilting session at the home of Kathy French. One look at her front yard and I knew this was the person whose Michigan gardening advice I wanted. A gentle slope down from house to street bore an elegant tumble of gorgeous perennials, varied in color, shape, and contrast, but always companionable with each other. She told me the front lawn had been dug up to connect to the city sewers, and when they said ok, now we’ll put the sod back, she said, please don’t. She did this instead: compost, mulch, more soil, and perennials galore.

It was from Kathy that I learned I could plant perennials in October here; that sage kathy's peoniesand thyme would stay green all winter; that deer didn’t eat fragrant herbs; and that it’s true, as they say, that the best thing for the garden is the shadow of the gardener. Not only did she give me advice, she also divided her peonies and gave me the divisions.

Kathy was very keen in her observations of the natural as well as the constructed world. She brought a level of portraiture to her quilts whether the design was scenic or geometric, working with very small pieces of fabric to bring out light and depth that made the whole greater than the sum of its parts. It was exactly the way she did her garden: with care and attention to detail, but with freedom of spirit. She got all the pieces not just to work together, but to be happy in each other’s company.

kathy's peony 2Kathy moved away from Ann Arbor to another place she loved, but she kept in touch with us. I saw her for the last time in the spring; this fall she died after an illness of a few months. But the world still holds her beautiful quilts; and the peonies she gave me are doing well, growing, and in their proper times still blooming, in my front yard.


Rain, Snow, Rain

Fall is getting ready to shift into winter. There’s some color left in the trees, but a little snow sifted in with the rain the other day and clung to the north-shadowed parts of the yard for a while. Like any premonition it soon passed.


last bed of bulbs going in

A few last chores stood ready for me: planting the rest of the bulbs; cutting the tops from the asparagus patch which I’d left because they were still green; raking up more leaves for the compost pile; sweeping up pine needles to mulch the blueberries; checking that the dogwood trunks are well wrapped against the deer. The buck that has moseyed through my yard for a few years now is up to eight points, and I’m sure is one of the destroyers of bark on my dogwoods, but has yet to leave any antlers in the woods for me, the ungrateful wretch.

I also had to bring in the ceramic birdbath, which is not winter-proof. It had a skim of ice this morning, and the birds did not seem to be bathing in it any more, though they were still enjoying the seedheads left standing a short distance away. Zerlina watched from the window, wearing an expression of slight alarm. She has always preferred the inanimate objects in her life to stay put unless she moves them herself.


Deer respectful of a crabapple tree

And then Sunday morning Doug and I ate the very last of the tomato crop. These were the ones I brought in green on a first-frost warning, and they have ripened nicely indoors. Even ripened this way they are much tastier than supermarket tomatoes, not being varieties bred for shipping carton survival. I cut them up and scrambled them into some eggs, and we had one last bright burst of harvest before the seasons move on to their next thing.