Saturday, July 31, 2010

MARIA'S FRONT YARD GARDEN -- Sunday Simplicities

Maria in her front yard garden

"I never planted anything in my life until eight years ago. Then when I moved here my thoughts just turned to plants. The results you see around me are how I envisioned my garden. It has taken a few years to get to this arrangement."

These words were expressed to me recently when I stopped to snap a few photos of Maria's front yard. I asked permission to take a few photos and as a result met a fine woman with a good heart.

Her garden is a joyous spectacle. It is a folk garden. She has turned her front yard into a creative, contextual, unrestrained, exuberant, garden -- all defining words of folk art. Her collection of memories, stones, whimseys, plants, colors, and water are all organized in the garden much to her inner delight.

Front porch area of Maria's mid 20th century home

She plants mostly shade perennials as there is a large grandfather tree that hangs over part of the garden. She loves all colors and changes colors as the whim hits her. She will repaint all the garden items another color whenever she gets in the mood. Right now red predominates on chairs, birdhouses. and some planters.

Red and white begonias in her grandmother's pot

She has put together family memories through the use of her grandmother's iron pots.

Maria's front yard pond surrounded by her collection of stones

Water was an important element to her garden. She with the labor of her daughter created a pond -- she surrounded the pond with her collection of stones. Maria loves stones and collects them locally from creek beds. But she has collected stones from as far away as Washington state. She mailed a beautiful boulder home from the west that cost her fifty dollars in freight charges.

Red blooming hibiscus

A young hibiscus puts on a lovely show near the street-edge of the garden.

Social area near pond

A small sitting area is located near the pond. A reflection of the inviting context of the whole garden.

Teapot and pig whimsy near pond

Maria told me that she has many of the plants because folks have given her starts and also she has rescused some plants from fields and old homesteads. Also, that some of the old statuary was given to her by neighbors. She said this season she only spent seven dollars on plants.

Old fashioned garden statuary with bear cubs.

Collections of old statuary items contribute to the definition of her folk garden.

Neighbor's complimentary folksy planted bathtub complete with garden ducks and lots of red and pink petunias.

Across the street from Maria's home is a friendly neighbor that compliments her front yard garden by putting on a folksy show using a bath tub as a planter.

Maria has created a "dancing" front yard garden that reaches out to friends and neighbors. All in the small town of Berea, Kentucky.

Friday, July 30, 2010


Kenny Hylton standing near some twine tied tomato plants.

In the early spring of this year I wrote a post titled Farmways -- Country Homemade Blackberry Arbor. It was about Debbie and Kenny Hylton who after being tobacco farmers in Kentucky for many years had to think about a new type of farming. They had been part of the government buy-out that changed the way farming was done in Kentucky. In a nutshell it discouraged independent tobacco farmers to raise tobacco. Of course the issue is complex -- too complex to discuss in a short post -- maybe a college course would be able to cover all the ways and means of the total buy-out.

Tobacco had been a leading crop in Kentucky since its settlement in the late 1700s. It was a way of life in Kentucky -- it was part of the cultural tradition. It influenced barn types, transportation routes, livelihoods, labor workers, language, and socialization.

Since writing the previous post on the blackberry arbor many readers of this blog have continuously visited it. So, I thought I would revisit the Hyltons and see how they were doing with the new blackberry crop.

Blackberries ripening on some of Kenny's pre-arbor plants.

Kenny Hylon and I walked around his blackberry arbor as he explained a few things I didn't catch on my first visit. I learned that the type of blackberries that he planted are called Triple Crown. Also, he pointed out a small crop of blackberries that were blooming along a fence -- they were there before he built the arbor. Along the fence he had both domestic and wild blackberries.

Arbor with young blackberry plants.

As we walked out by his homemade new blackberry arbor, he explained how it was built:

I bought all the wood from a governmental salvage place. It is recycled treated lumber. You can get lumber there for ten dollars a truck load. I got the idea of how to build the structures from a book I read.The end structures that are like triangles are cemented into the ground while the middle row structures, that look like a "Z," are not. The end triangular uprights stabilize each long row.

I asked about the new blackberries:

Well, we got a very small crop this year as they really were just planted earlier this year. I raise cattle and have been saving all the manured hay -- it is now a huge stack. I plan on placing it around each blackberry plant next spring which will really help in production.

He continued:

I have lived on this piece of land since I was born -- I have seen many changes. Development has diminished the rural ways around this area. My street in front of my house is now a busy hard-top country road. When I was young it was a dirt road and we would play baseball and marbles right in the road as there was hardly any traffic. The dairy farm that was next to my property is now a subdivision.

The Hylton's farm wagon with just picked produce.

We walked past a large farm wagon where Debbie and Kenny had recently laid the just-picked produce from their kitchen garden. Debbie was in the house, as I toured with Kenny, canning tomato juice. Their farm is an active place with farm work -- growing much of what they eat. Yet, Kenny explained, they still go to the store to buy some of their food. As I walked back to my car, Kenny pointed out fruit trees -- apple, peach, and pear. As I drove out of their drive I had a a fresh picked cantaloupe and a large tomato -- given to me by Kenny -- a friendly country gesture for sure.

Some traditions have changed like growing tobacco but many have remained such as fruit and garden production. Surely a busy working life but a beautiful way of living.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Last winter I passed this barn on HWY 25 in Rockcastle County, Kentucky. The small white sign on the left hand side of the barn reads:


About Country Backroad Posts --
I pass so many cultural remnants along my travels of backroads that I thought I would post the bits and pieces as stand alone posts -- for you to feel my southern cultural landscape and sometimes places beyond.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


1920 Barber Shop
Richardson, Texas (Wiki)
As much as I am a feminist, I am also a masculinist (not a real word). Genders combine nicely together however both need their own space. I think that is why they invented barber shops originally? It was a place for men to gather and discuss the near and far of world events. They felt cozy and relaxed in such conversations. The barber served as a conduit for oral news, heard previously, and passed along to the present crowd of men that were sitting in either the barber or waiting chairs.

Third Street Barber Shop -- Dansville, Kentucky
Main Business District -- 2010

Now the unisex salons are taking business away from the existing barber shops. Young men are the new customers of the salons. I guess, they like the dull drone of ladies discussing their hairstyles? Or perhaps they feel they are getting a better haircut. Not so! Cosmetologists are not trained in the art of barbering mens heads. It's true!

Third Street Barber Shop
Old barber pole exterior advertising sign

But have no fear men, although the barber shops are in decline, you still have a place to go if you happen to live in a town that still has one. Enjoy it for now.

Old painted name of barber shop on entrance glass door
Third Street Barber

Many states have certifications for cosmetologists but no longer for barbers. Why the change?

Third Street Barber Interior

So men -- enjoy the comradeship of your gender while you can.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


The "dog days" of summer are strong upon us. The traditional rocking chairs are on our front porches waiting for friends and family to come by to "set a-spell" -- relaxing with us in the cool of the evening. Or perhaps one might like taking some time in the early cool mornings to sit in their rocker and observe the passing scene or just have some "thinking" time.. Here in the south these front porches are called sittin' porches.

Older homes in the south usually have front porches probably evolving from the need to escape the indoor heat of the house plus to view the world around them.Even many of the newer houses are built with some type of front porch. Today with air conditioning most folks are inside during the heat of the day. Yet even with AC the porches are still used in the traditional way of the past only now in the cooler mornings and evenings.

At one time, people walked rather than drove. Folks would commonly use sidewalks or roadways to walk to town for errands or to visit neighbors. The folks passing by the occupied porches would sometimes take the time to chat with the porch sitters for a while. This type of behavior provided a system of socialization for the area.

Appalachian rocking chairs are the familiar choice found on most front porches. However, wicker and metal chairs are also types scattered on porches.

Front sittin' porches are almost akin to an extra living space. Many are decorated with items of interest to the home owner. Porch swings are also popular.

Overall front porches still provide a good place to come "set a-spell" and have a good conversation or to just sit alone rocking -- contemplating the beginning day.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


An old rickety barn sits in a flourishing field of tobacco and corn while in the background one can detect the sneaking encroachment of land development. Commercial, residential, plus highway development contribute to the loss of our country's prime acreage that is used for all of our food. Are you aware of this ongoing loss of prime farmland throughout our country? Remember we have been called the, "bread basket of the world." Perhaps we should reflect on what is happening to our "bread basket.".

A non-profit organization called the Farmland Trust works with federal, state and local leaders -- trying to keep farmers on their land and also to protect our environment. They tell us that less than 1/5 of U.S. land is high quality and that we are losing this fine land on an ongoing basis. Click here to view the top ten states that lost prime farm land between 1992 and 1997.

Think on this issue and be aware of the consequences the next time you think you need more development i.e. a new larger house, new malls, theme parks, and all the other forms of environmental commercialization.

Friday, July 16, 2010




The Underground Railroad was a secret movement that consisted of a set of constantly changing trails and paths which southern slaves used to escape to freedom. In southern states, the African American slaves were pretty much on their own until they reached the northern anti-slave states. There they were assisted mainly by African Americans as well as some white abolitionists and Quakers to assimilate into the culture. Many slaves continued on to anti-slavery Canada to live. It was first and foremost a movement lead by African Americans.

The Underground Railroad is recorded as the largest Freedom Movement in North America. Its main thrust was between the years of 1840 and 1865. And, because of this distinction, there has been a certain amount of folklore spun from it.

Outdoors at the historic Rogers House near Richmond, Kentucky is a large artistic signboard*, recently erected, displaying a sampler of quilt squares. The significance of the sign is to reflect upon the folklore of quilts being used as code signals for the Underground Railroad.

Legend has it that African American slaves would hang the quilts on clothes lines, over fences, or over windowsills as if airing out the quilts -- while all the time they were really giving codes, via the quilt pattern,to escaping slaves traveling the nearby road. Each quilt pattern was delivering a communication code to the escapees on the run.

At least that is what recent accounts by a North Carolina woman tell us.No written documentation exists to validate this -- scholars and historians doubt the story. But, in the popular culture mode, the folk story has caught on and has received attention in some folklore circles.

Let us identify the quilt squares on the signboard and then look at the folklore codes associated with them.

In the above section of the signboard, reading left to right and top to bottom, are the following codes for the quilt squares:
FLYING GEESE -- time to go North.
MONKEY WRENCH -- pack up and get ready to leave
JACOBS LADDER -- an Underground Railroad symbol
SHOO-FLY -- nickname for Harriet Tubman

Again, reading left to right, top row to bottom row, the quilt squares below denote the folk Underground Railroad codes:
CARPENTERS WHEEL - fugitives to follow west to northwest
DRUNKARDS PATH - take a meandering path
BEAR PAW - bear paw in the woods would lead to fresh clothes and food.
LOG CABIN - run away slave nearby looking for passage to Canada.

First and foremost the Underground Railroad was a secret, loosely organized movement. About 1840 it seemed to gain momentum. They did use various codes, such as a lit lantern, to signal such things as, "this is a safe house."

It is estimated that as high as 100,000 slaves escaped the south between 1800 and 1865. These were mostly men and mostly from adjacent southern states of the north, such as Virginia and Kentucky.

The Library of Congress has made available on-line photographs and narratives of former slaves compiled by the Federal Writers Project during the Depression. I thought that the former slaves should have a face so I will close this post with some of the Federal Writers photographs. Although the folks in the photos are no longer young, as the photos were taken between 1936 and 1938, it provides the feeling of the inhumanness of slavery.

Photo taken at age 81
Former slave until the age of about nine.

Photo taken at the age of about 100 years old
Former slave until about the age of 28 years old.


GUS JOHNSON of Alabama
Photo taken at age of 90
Former slave until the age of 18 years of age.

Click on the above photos for enlargement


* The signboard is a project of the Kentucky Quilt Trail Project of Madison County. The group is most well-known for its quilt squares that have been placed on barns, outbuildings, and businesses around Madison County. To date they have placed 56 quilt squares in the county. All the blocks are the result of many, many hours of labor by volunteers. Designs and colors for the quilt patterns are drafted by Don Hart and each pattern is hand-painted by the volunteers at community locations. Placing the squares on structures is accomplished by donated labor and equipment by local utility companies.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


My French friend, an ex-pat, sends me views of France on a regular basis. To me, it is always interesting as they reflect the culture from a non-tourist view. I like to share some of her photos and words as we are all connected around the world. She lives in Paris and quite frequently visits other places in the area. She recently visited some friends in the country for a picnic by their garden. Under a large old tree they spread out a cloth on a table and sat in chairs, breathing in the country air. while eating their lunch. Their house stands in the background -- an 18th century home -- one that they are working on.

The garden seemed quite formal from the photos my friend sent. It appears divided into sections all with linear plantings. Above are leeks growing in the right-hand rows. My friend was told by her country friends that if you tie a knot in the tops of the leeks while growing, they will have a better taste.

This photo has a display of blue flowers -- both flowers and vegetables are grown in the home garden.

It looked like a lovely day for a country picnic under the large ancient tree, out amongst the beautiful growing veggies and flowering blooms. So peaceful.

Saturday, July 10, 2010



Pollinators, especially bees, are what pioneering environmentalist Rachel Carson called a keystone species. Remove the keystones and the whole edifice collapses.

Here is a partial list of our pollinators -- hummingbirds, bats, butterflies, sweat bees, carpenter bees, mason bees, bumblebees and honeybees. (The New Internationalist)


Last week I found this dead bee wholly intact and in perfect condition. It was lying on my front porch. I moved the bee to a better observation level and wondered what made this bee just collapse? I am sure many factors could contribute to the death of this bee. But it made me think of the Colony Collapse Disorder (CDD) that was discovered in 2006.

I searched online for some possible answers. Some bees are thought to be declining from loss of habitat, industrial farming, and the use of herbicides and pesticides. The pesticide neonicotinoids made by the German company Bayer is approved for 140 crops in 100 plus countries. The pesticide disrupts the bees nervous system. It has special bans in France and the UK. Also, hives travel on trucks to pollinate orchard after orchard for commercial crop production causing stress within the hives.

The USDA acknowledges that pesticides are part of the reason for CDD. Yet, pesticides are still used on crops here in the U.S. There is no ban on neonicotinoids use here in the good ole U.S. of A.


Carson's warning about the serious results of pollinator decline appears to be in the works in this country. Many pollinators are now experimenting decline. A more succinct word for decline is death.

In 2006-2007 bats were discovered to be dying at a rapid pace from what appeared to be fungus related. Experts have dubbed the fungus the white nose syndrome (WNS). Not all scientists agree that the fungus is the problem. Bats are critical to the control of much of our insects that destroy our crops as well as the control of mosquito populations.

WNS has spread from New York to some places in Canada as well as eight other states. Mortality rate from the WNS is close to 100 percent. Scientists do not have a clue as to the reason this unknown fungus is perhaps killing the bats. Some research is being conducted to identify and halt its spread but as of yet nothing has surfaced to help the situation. To me, it appears that we need more researchers.

I find it interesting that both CDD and WNS appeared in 2006 here in the U.S.

I predict that more pesticides will come into use as a result of the loss of our bats. And where would that lead us?


Great changes would occur through the loss of our pollinators. Changes to the natural world as well as to our sense of nature.

I have just touched on a part of this disaster of the wholesale decline of pollinators. I have listed below some informative sites that you should check out.

USGS National Wildlife Center -- excellent site -- includes the WNS Occurrence by County map for both Canada and the U.S.

The New Internationalist Article -- Why are Bees Dying

WORLD CHANGING Good article about bee decline research

Field and Stream I am not a hunter but thought this article worth reading. Discusses the crucial symbiotic relationship between birds and bees -- also has very informative comments from readers.

And last but not least is an insightful book, The Forgotten Pollinators by Stephen L. Buchmann and Gary Paul Nabhan -- an important book to read if you are interested in the subject.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


LANCASTER KENTUCKYCan you feel the heat in this photo of an old house and its streetscape in Lancaster, Kentucky. It brings remote thoughts of scenes from the movie, To Kill A Mockingbird, -- a slow hot southern summer. No one is out and about -- all in the cool of their AC or sitting in the shade somewhere. Too hot! The eastern part of the U.S. is under a hot spell and for some states it has been like this for not only days but for several weeks. Stay cool everyone.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010



My young granddaughter loves dogs. Here in the photo above she is having a discussion with my dogs -- Sallie Tomato and Lily Pad -- aka Sal and Lil. They are soaking up the attention as most dogs will.

Recently I have been reading several articles on pets and how they improve our health.


Well, improved socialization is right at the top of the list. When you are out walking your dog or sitting on a bench in a public place with your pet -- it seems to open a door -- allowing people to approach you. An interesting conversation can often be the result of this. Socialization adds a healthy balance to our everyday life.


Other dimensions of improved health are; decreased blood pressure, decreased cholesterol levels, and decreased triglyceride levels. Also, pets are great stress reducers by giving unconditional love.

For more informative research on this health and pet issue click here

Sunday, July 4, 2010

LOSING A BIRDHOUSE AND A HOME -- Sunday Simplicities


I've lived in many homes in my life-time. All different -- small, large, country, town, city, artist studio, cottage, campground, historic house, apartment, and fairly new. Although each was very different, the old adage rings true when I think of them all -- the heart is where the home is.

With today's economy many folks are losing their homes. A very sad situation. My thoughts go out to them. And, today I am telling a little sad story that relates to not only the economic situation, but the birdhouse in this post..


A Kentucky man and wife lost their home. He is a carpenter. He is a thoughtful husband. Let me give you an example of his thoughtfulness. His wife loves birds. So, over several years he built her magical, folksy birdhouses for their yard. All six were different and lovingly made. Works of art. But then they lost everything and the birdhouses were sold. I acquired one of the birdhouses. I also acquired the sad story that went with it. I will always view this birdhouse with hope. Hope that the couple turned their life around and he again has started to build birdhouses for his wife in a new home. And, hope for all the people that have lost their homes in this economic turn-down.


The carpenter husband built my birdhouse based on a photo he saw of a derelict old Eastern Kentucky farmhouse. He incorporated the worn look right down to the weather-board siding. He meticulously placed a hundred-plus individual pieces of miniature wood weather-board siding on the birdhouse to replicate the authenticity of the farmhouse. A metal roof was added and painted as it would have been on an Eastern Kentucky home. A side porch has delicate architectural decor parading around it. The house measures approximately 16" X 21" X 21".


It is not only the couple that lost their home but so did the many birds that visited their birdhouses. Birds are fragile yet are tough survivors. I can only think that the couple will be tough survivors like so many others that have lost their homes.

On this day -- the 4th of July -- I find it difficult to celebrate. Maybe next year?

Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom -- Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, July 1, 2010


When I was walking along the sidewalk of a small town, taking photos of an early Lancaster, Kentucky house, I noticed this tree in the front yard -- its apples were all over the ground and had spilled its fruit out to the sidewalk and beyond into the street. Hundreds of the same size small apple.

This pattern of so many dropped apples brought back memories of the old crabapple trees of my youth. I rarely see these types of trees anymore. Only around older houses or homesteads.

I did some research online about crabapples. I found that if they are used for fruit production they are called apple crabapple trees. If they are used for ornamental flowering they are called flowering crabapples.

I believe that I do not see many of the old apple type any more because folks just don't bake and cook like they used too. Its lost its stature as an important part of household food. Also, I believe that the extensive fall of the small apples would be looked upon as messy in today's culture. Gotta keep those lawns neat and tidy.

The apple crabapple tree provides fruit for jam, jellies, cider, spicing up sauces, pickles and probably other uses that were not listed online.

Here is the definition of an apple crabapple tree provided by TreeHelp.com:

Crabapples are differentiated from apples based on fruit size. If the fruit is larger than two inches it is classified as an apple. Fruit is borne in the summer and fall. Colors range from dark-reddish purples through the reds and oranges to golden yellow and even some green. On certain selections the fruit can remain attractive well into the late winter. The larger fruited cultivars offer a bonus because the fruit can be spiced or used in jelly.

Here is the front view of the early house where I found the tree. It has had some updating over the many years of its existence.

I will venture to say that the architectural trim around the porch was added sometime before the 1900s. New storms or windows were added some 30 years ago. The outdated landscape bushes look like from the 40s or 50s. The house is fairly devoid of any mature landscaping other than an old hydrangea bush and the old crabapple tree. Perhaps at some point within the last 50 or 60 years there began a landscaping shift toward the barren look that seems to be still popular with many today.

A shot of the northwest front corner of the lovely early brick house appears to be in good shape structurally.

This close-up shot shows an original Federal type light (window) over the front door. This would date the house pre 1850. Usually Federal front doors also had side lights as well as a light over the door. But, this house would fall in the vernacular architecture type so therefore it was built simply incorporating only some of the styles of the time.

Now getting back to the lovely old crabapple in the front yard. I thought about the fruit laying on the ground. Luckily birds and some mammals will find these apples a treat, especially as they ferment. The tree apparently is in mid-age of its projected 70 year life. It has some producing years left. Surely it will produce memories to children passing by -- like the memories I have from long ago. So now the tree is for wildlife and children only. But that is OK.

The Appalachian town of Lancaster, Kentucky was founded in 1797 and in 2008 the population was 4,403.