It’s Grinch Time, but I’m not going there – not after all the cheer I found in the German Christmas Market in Manchester, northern England.
This is my sixth or maybe eighth year to celebrate the open-air bazaar, and to suffer the cheesy singing moose that lords over its two-story pop-up beer hall. For two weeks hundreds of vendors in rustic Bavarian-style wooden stalls offer nearly everything imaginable, from local specialty foods and drinks to ornaments, flower bulbs, glass- and wood-ware, and hand-carved nutcrackers.
Christkindlesmarkets, first recorded in Vienna in 1298 (yeah, that’s over 600 years ago), and soon afterwards in Munich by 1310, are hot holiday destinations for locals and international tourists alike. The outdoor markets include a Nativity scene, holiday decorations, traditional Christmas treats, and live music, but I mostly frequent the hand-crafted cheeses, sausages, fudge and other sweets, hand-size meat-and-potato pies – all winter mainstays – and wade through the alluringly fragrant steam wafting from huge cauldrons of savory stews.
Fact: We rarely get snow in Mississippi. Oh, every year or two we get in inch or two. Maybe.
But on December 1, 2017, we got an astonishing six inches, sometime between when I peeked outside at clear 3 a.m. and when I awoke at dawn. It was piled softly atop everything, completely covering decks and glass bottle trees alike, and even utility wires.
It was simply beautiful, and its muffling effect made everything so eerily quiet!
Knowing it wouldn’t last long, I quickly made the rounds, taking photos unspoiled by footprints all around my garden, front and back, and including the completely-buried plants in the back of my truck garden.
I travel, a lot including overseas, and often end up in so-so eateries with rather bland food. Which is why I carry a small TSA airline-acceptable bottle of my favorite spicy sauce to add – just in case.
Beautiful Red, Yellow, and Orange peppers
So while on a recent trip to south Louisiana Cajun country, visiting subtropical banana- and satsuma-filled gardens scattered along bayous and nestled amidst vast expanses of sugar cane, I made a side trip from quaint New Iberia to Avery Island. It’s a huge ancient salt dome rising from the swamps, and home of Jungle Gardens botanical wonderland and the world-famous McIlhenny’s Tabasco® pepper plantation.
What started in 1868 as a small plot of peppers turned into fiery sauce bottled as gifts in used perfume bottles, is now a 5th-generation family business with products available in nearly 200 countries and territories, aboard space ships, and included in military ready-to-eat meals. For spicy solace during simple meals I often turn to the little bottle I’ve carried in my shoulder bag across five continents.
In fact, Tabasco has been honored with a crest from the Queen of England – Britain’s only official hot sauce!
Though I’m a lover of spicy vindaloo from the Indian subcontinent, and hot Thai dishes, the faux heat doesn’t bother me, at least not for long; I’ve eaten entire Habaneros, and grown the off-the-Scoville charts Scorpion and Naga Jolokia peppers. Still, my taste tends towards milder hot peppers with distinct flavors.
I think I just created Mississippi’s tallest bottle tree in my front garden.
I know these folksy garden sculptures, based on three thousand-year-old Arabian folk tales (not African “voodoo” as some people say), aren’t every one’s cup of tea. But there are thousands of them scattered across gardens of a surprising assortment of people; I’ve photographed them in poor country gardens and upscale and even antebellum settings, done by “dirt” gardeners and those with the wherewithal to have used classical sculptures instead.
Autumn is a reflective time, a slow page-swipe from sultry, busy summer.
As the day length slowly dwindles and nights get cooler, fall wildflowers light up the countryside, and even poison ivy’s fall colors appear to be red and yellow flames licking up into trees. Where friends have patio fireplaces fueled from gas cannisters, my old iron fire bowl is the real deal, replete with smoke that takes me back to days far more ancient than my childhood.
Chores are more earnest now, with fallen leaves heaping everywhere in need of raking or blowing into a mounded kaleidoscope of colorful foliage.
What’s the difference? In a word, nothing. Narcissus is the Latin name for all daffodils; all daffodils are Narcissus.
Though few do well along the Gulf Coast (Tete a Tete, jonquillas, and paperwhites are best to start with), most are perfectly hardy in the ground as perennials. I have over two dozen different varieties that have been blooming for years in my garden that came from my great-grandmother’s garden, planted the back in the 1930s.
They are best planted in the fall, or soon after their foliage dies down in the spring. Because they form flower buds for the following year after they finish flowering in the spring, it’s important to let them finish flowering and give them at least five or six weeks, or for their leaves to turn yellow, before cutting and neatening old foliage; otherwise they may skip a year or more before flowering again.
Here are some of my great-grandmother’s bulbs blooming in my garden:
Bulbs, tubers, corms, whatever – they are solid, fleshy little things that you plant in the ground and they sprout roots, leaves, and often flowers. Most come and go throughout the year; some are hardy outside in the ground, some are tender and have to be replanted every year.
Classic passalong bulbs for the Southeast include daffodils, painted Arum, huge Crinum lilies, low-growing star flower (Ipheion), red Amaryllis, Lycoris (both the red “spider lily” and pink “naked ladies”), Spanish bluebells, summer snowflake (Leucojum, with little white bells with green dots, often confused with snowbells which grow better farther north), magenta hardy Gladiolus (G. byzantinus), tall summer-flowering Philippine lily, hidden ginger (Curcuma), elephant ears, garlic, and tiger lily. There are others of course!
They’re plants that everyone grows, but hardly anyone buys…
Each has a strong value or combination of values -pretty, fragrant, extra productive, long-flowering, family heirloom, fascinating history, whatever – making it desirable by a lot of different kinds of gardeners.
Each is easy to grow without special soil preparation, extra watering or other horticultural finesse, and grows well in a wide range of conditions.
Each is relatively insect and disease free – I mean, who wants a plant that is always boogered up?
And, most importantly, each is easy to propagate by seed, division, or cutting, else it won’t be easy to share.
Most folks think their neighborhood is a special place to live, but I give my little town-within-a city extra points for how it has dealt with falling between the potholed cracks when tastemakers passed through.
Not braggin’, just sayin’.
We’re certainly not better than others, it just doesn’t matter. While we have our share of VIPs and upmarket homes, some of our areas are not as well-heeled or as “precious” as nearby other communities; still, we feel loosely akin, wary lifeboat passengers from different decks of a foundering ship, doing our best to pull together.