A St. Patrick’s Day Walk

Jennie's Garden and House

One of the glories of living in Atlanta’s Candler Park neighborhood is how ideal it is for walking in. Not only does Candler Park have sidewalks and contain several parks (and is within walking distance of several others), but the architecture of the neighborhood’s homes is lovely to look at, and almost every home, regardless of whether it’s something grand or cottage-sized, sports a beautiful or unusual garden.

As I am still healthy enough to take what I consider to be longish walks, the welcome return of decent – and drier – weather has spurred me on to taking several recent excursions through my neighborhood.

What I noticed this afternoon, besides the blue skies and the tolerable temperature was that Spring is already in full swing in these parts. What I mean by that is that not only are there the expected daffodils and tulips…

Single Tulip

..the earliest stands of thrift at the edge of people’s gardens…


…the last, glorious gasps of the forsythia…


…the flowering of the Bradford Pear and the fruit trees that so richly punctuate the sidewalks of my neighborhood…

Peach tree

…the purple blossoming of the redbud trees (probably my very favorite harbinger of spring)…

Redbud tree.JPG

…but what I didn’t expect to see today was, here and there, azaleas! Azaleas in March!

Azaleas in March

One of the best parts of walking before spring actually arrives is that whole “Nature’s first green is gold” thing that Robert Frost wrote about:

Nature's First Green is Gold

Still ahead for me – I’m mostly waiting for that sneaky last frost that can show up around here as late as mid-April – are this year’s annual spring trips to my favorite nurseries and the mostly-delightful set of annual chores in my own (mercifully small) front and back yards.

For now, it’s enough to continue my recently-begun series of chore-free strolls looking at other people’s gardens and the burgeoning plants in the neighborhood parks. There are a lot of things I enjoy about being retired, but spending a few hours every week walking around one’s beautiful neighborhood is one of the best!

Incidentally, over this past winter I posted to this my Commonplace Book some four dozen memorable quotations about the pleasures of walking that I’ve gleaned from my reading about this activity. I hope you will read some of them, and are able to get out soon and do some walking of your own.




November in the Neighborhood

Fall 2014 photo 3

I had forgotten how beautiful my neighborhood can be in November. Between my recent increasing dread of the cold weather’s unstoppable approach, and looking forward to an extended visit next week with some friends at a cabin in the North Georgia mountains, I almost missed experiencing the glorious afternoon of November 9th in the small corner of the world I am lucky enough to live in.

I had whiled away the morning mostly inside the house, blissfully immersed in reading a collection of the published letters of the writer Sylvia Townsend Warner. Having momentarily looked up from my book and noticed how beautiful the day had gotten, I decided – somewhat reluctantly, as STW’s letters are so mesmerizing – to take a modest stroll around the neighborhood. I thought I might bicycle over to The Atlanta Beltline, but I knew from experience that the Beltline is better enjoyed on a weekday, when the path isn’t thronged with crowds of other bikes and strollers – the human kind and the mechanical kind. So I decided instead to take a walk.

Automatically I headed for what I assumed would be a short ramble in the park just a block away from my house. Quickly deciding to walk a bit further than usual, I eventually happened upon an also-strolling neighbor, Edi Kellman. She told me how to find a path she’d just taken through some nearby woods to property owned by Paideia, a private school on the far side of the park.Today, said Edi, I’d find a flock of sheep imported into the woods to devour some of the its weeds. After leaving Edi, I found the path she’d mentioned (a path I hadn’t known about, so I was already glad for that bit of information). In due course, I came upon the weed-grazing sheep. One of them:


At that point, I’d emerged from the newly found woodsy path into the edge of Druid Hills, the Atlanta beautifully landscaped residential neighborhood next to Candler Park. The walking, the weather, and what I was seeing were so pleasant that I decided to continue onto a walking path that winds through a set of five adjacent small parks designed by Frederick Olmstead.

Many of the trees I passed on my walk today still have their green leaves, and it will be a few weeks yet before the colors of Atlanta’s tree canopy meld into its final caramel-covered glory. But today, every color that exists flashed around me on my walk: lots of lemon-yellow oak leaves, the neon crimsons of the plentiful Japanese maples, purple berries sprouting from an unusually large stand of beautyberry bushes, everything crowned by the startlingly deep turquoise of an immaculate sky.

Fall 2014 photo 2

Fall 2014 photo 4

Fall 2014 photo 5

As my stroll morphed into an urban hike (well, perhaps a mere urban hike-lette), I couldn’t help but realize – for maybe the twentieth time this year? – how miraculous is the sheer mobility of the human body. (I know several friends or relatives who walk only with difficulty, and a few who can’t walk at all these days.) My thoughts of body-related gratitude usually have to do with the miracle of eyesight (and how it allows me to, among other things, read things like Sylvia Townsend Warner’s letters), but today’s gratitude thoughts were joined by my thankfulness that I am still capable of walking around in nature and soaking up all the beauty that it offers anyone lucky enough to be able to get out and walk around in some of it.

An Early Spring

Despite my annual mid-January whining about wanting warmer weather to arrive, I was caught off-guard by Atlanta’s astonishingly short winter this year. All sorts of plants that I can’t expect to begin leafing out until late March began blooming in early February…and the avalanche-like blossoming of the garden hasn’t faltered since – or, as in so many “false springs,” been ruined by a late-winter frost.

So much for my resolve this year to record the first appearance of each blooming thing in my yard – I waited too long to begin my scribblings, and before I knew it I had already lost track of what bloomings preceded (or followed) the others.

Another index of the early spring is what’s happening with my herb garden. I usually buy my herbs in late April, but they’re already growing (and on sale) everywhere already, so I’m rescheduling this year’s ritual purchases for this coming weekend instead of later on. It feels strange to plant herbs so soon, but the ones that survived the unusually short and mild winter are getting so lush that I’m afraid to wait any longer to plant the new ones.

Going against all my instincts to drag back outside before April 15th (the pre-global warming era’s last-frost date for Atlanta) the patio plants I’d moved indoors for the winter, I did that dreaded annual chore two weekends ago. Among the winter-sheltered plants taken back outdoors was a lemon verbena looking dead as a doornail; today I noticed that it’s leafing out like crazy already.

After a welcome (though hardly torrential) rain on Friday night, it looks like Atlanta’s gardeners will be enjoying yet another long stretch of unseasonably warm (if rather too dry) weather. Fortunately, it’s been cool enough in the mornings and the evenings to tackle a host of garden chores usually undertaken in late April instead of late March. I’m hurrying to get new plants into the ground that otherwise wouldn’t have been planted until late April. In short, late March turned out to be this season’s Primo Gardening Time, rather than the cusp of PGT. This afternoon I dragged out the ladder to give the creeping fig that covers the front of the house the first of a series of severe and long-overdue haircuts, and quickly planted (before it gets too hot out there!) four more variegated ajugas around the base of the statue of St. Francis.

All through the second half of March, the evening weather in particular has been sublime: perfect for walks in a neighborhood fast filling up with familiar blooming shrubs and flowering trees, the night sky featuring the moon and Venus and Jupiter in delightful proximity.

Tonight I took the latest in a series of evening walks, each leg of which deepened my gratitude for living in the midst of such floribundant splendor. My meandering took me by a stream populated with croaking frogs, and eventually alongside the house of a friend who was sitting out on her screened porch. I stopped to chat, and she walked me across the street so I could smell a lilac blooming there. A lilac in Atlanta! (Earlier today, remembering how I used to do it in the summertime when I was a kid, I munched on several blossom-ends of two different varieties of honeysuckle. Honeysuckle in April!)

Anyway, it was another in lovely evening in the city, and I am lucky to live in one of its most beautiful quadrants. Within walking distance of my front door are five public parks, connected by block after block of interesting houses and gardens to enjoy. Reluctantly bringing to a close a walk I had prolonged for the sheer pleasure of the sunset, the breezes, and the glimpses of so many fast-darkening streetside gardens, I made my way back to my own abode. I’d left a light on in the front window, and I returned from my invigorating, reflective walk happy with the prospect of curling up on a comfortable couch for another absorbing chapter of the book I’d started earlier this week (The Ladies of Llangollen).

Life is good.

P.S. On the official first day of spring this year, my friend Franklin posted to Facebook a poem that fellow-poet Rupert Fike had stumbled across. For me, Andrew Hudgins’ “The Persistence of Nature in Our Lives” transforms Atlanta’s recent episode of record-breaking pollen into almost A Good Thing.

P.P.S. The photo above is of an azalea in my front yard that I took in April two years ago. This morning I was planning to take a photo of this year’s blooms to post along with these comments, but this year’s blooms are already on the ground. Can this weird fast-forwarding spring slow down just a bit, please?

Atlanta Book Exchange Closing Soon!

Boo! Hiss! One of the oldest and best used bookstores in town in closing! Business just isn’t brisk enough, and the owner apparently is getting worn out with all the heavy lifting required to keep this 40-year-old operation going any longer. (Before its current incarnation across from the parking lot of Manuel’s Tavern, ABE was located near the Plaza Theatre, and, before that, at the intersection of Virginia and Highland.)

The store’s demise – and the pattern of independently-owned bookstores closing that ABE’s demise is part and parcel of –  is the bad news.

The good news is that everything’s on sale for 75% off the original listed price of each book. And there are lots of them, on every conceivable subject, genre, size, and condition. The warren of little rooms in this former house are piled to the rafters with books, although, thankfully, there are several places to sit down while you’re browsing.

We overheard the owner explaining that he’s selling the stock to a dealer in south Georgia, and that – after a break – he may or may not continue selling books online.

The bookstore remains open only through July 5th, so get on over there quick!  Phone 404-681-3122 for business hours.

In Praise of Farmers Markets

Over the past several years, more and more Saturday morning farmers markets have been popping up all over Atlanta. Finally, Americans have adopted an institution that’s been enjoyed by legions of Europeans since the Middle Ages!

Because I work some Saturdays, stopping in at one of these markets – there are at least three of them between my house and work – is a very congenial way to start the day. Besides the fresh produce, there are usually potted herbs, cut flowers, a craft booth or two, and home-made bread on offer – and often cheeses, jams, and yogurt as well. (If I weren’t trying to save money eating out, I’d be eating breakfast at the market: there’s usually an omelet-maker on hand, and always lots of baked goodies to choose from.)

Since the local markets cranked back up again in late April, I’ve been twice to the market in the parking lot of St. Phillip’s Cathedral in Buckhead, and yesterday I visited the market in Piedmont Park. The weekly markets continue on into the late fall, so I’m looking forward to stopping by one of these two markets several more times this year, and to maybe sampling the flavor of a few more.

The lady in the booth pictured above let me sample something called FROG (Fig-Raspberry-Orange-Ginger) Jam, and I came home with a jar. Not cheap at $6, but it’ll last me for months, and it’s really tasty! My next purchase from this lady may be her Plum Sauce (also $6). She’d poured part of a bottle over a slab of cream cheese, and invited customers to try it on crackers. Yum!

About the only desirable feature missing from the neighborhood where I live is one of these weekly farmers markets. Maybe one will come to Candler Park some day?

Festival Time

DecaturIn Atlanta, late spring and early summer are chock-full of neighborhood house tours, garden tours, arts festivals, music concerts, and free outdoor movies series.

For those of us in Atlanta whose own yards and gardens need a lot of attention during this mostly-mosquito-free period, the allure of so many festive community events to choose from – many of them free – presents an annual round of delightful dilemmas. To Go or To Forego, that be the question as each Saturday and Sunday in April, May, and June rolls around.

This year my work schedule prevented me from taking advantage of any of the house or garden tours on offer thus far, but I did manage this past Memorial Day weekend to spend a few hours at the annual Decatur Arts Festival.

Once again, I was flabbergasted by the beauty and inventiveness of the works of dozens of artists and artisans. As always, the work of the participating photographers, like this one and this one, was especially ravishing.  Once again, I was reminded of how pleasant it is to meander and mingle with a (sober) (diverse) crowd of attentive people in good moods. And, once again, I felt lucky to live so close to a pedestrian/bicycle/scooter-friendly urban center where the amount of space devoted to the various requirements of the almighty automobile seems to be steadily shrinking instead of expanding.

After wandering around the festival, often within earshot of the luscious music being made by the California-based Celtic harpist and bamboo flute duo Lisa Lynne and George Tortorelli, I had enough time before heading into work to pop into one of my favorite Decatur merchants (favored because its reasonable prices, especially for Decatur), Vivid Boutique.

It’s been many years since I stayed in town during Memorial Day weekend, but now I know what I’ll probably do with part of any future Memorial Day weekends I’m not elsewhere. And since Decatur hosts its annual (and free!) Book Festival every Labor Day weekend, I might be tempted to stay in town for that festival, too!

The White World

Yesterday’s afternoon snowfall is still casting its spell this morning, as the scary-looking roads that froze over last night have made the neighborhood even more pedestrian-friendly than usual. I don’t remember when I’ve ever sensed such quiet. All I could hear as I was crunching around the neighborhood this morning taking photos were birds chirping and squirrels chattering. The occasional airplane, too, but no cars! Too bad this will all vanish by noon.