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 and 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 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.