Tuesday, April 2, 2013

And the winner is...

Our apartment complex has been trying to build community lately. There are a lot of events every month to try to get people involved. There have been outdoor movies, game nights, a super bowl party, and events for kids and even pets. I confess, I haven't gotten into any of it too much. Andy & I donated about half of our home-made salsa to the Super Bowl party, but then we watched the game in our PJ's at our own place! I complement the crew at the Marquis at Volente for trying, but most of their events are not things that I am willing to carve out time in my schedule to try to attend.

This past month, they've had two events running- a March Madness bracket competition and a Spring Bling patio competition. I was aware of both competitions because I get the community emails, but I wasn't paying too much attention. I watched Andy bring home a bracket and fill it out one night. He asked me some questions, and I redirected him to my brother, who has ESPN. He got pretty into it, but I was too concerned (as I usually am) with genomes, Hess's Law and that sort of thing to think much about the community competitions.

But this past weekend, I had a two days off, and I began to think about a couple of things. I come from a family of gardeners. My mother's people, the Cobles, were farmers, and they have green in their blood. My aunts and my uncle have green thumbs, fingers, and I'm pretty sure if you could persuade them to take off their ratty old yard shoes, their toes would have a little greenish tint to them too. My aunts frequently invite one another over, not for coffee or a chat, but to see one another's plants. The last time I visited my Uncle Richard in Columbia, South Carolina with my mother, we spent almost the entire time walking around in his yard, and only left so that we could go get a bite at his favorite hot dog joint. Already this week my mom has used her iphone camera to update me on the state of her Saucer Magnolia and informed me that she's been to Bell's Nursery to buy snaps and glads.

In addition to this family heritage, I myself am a subscriber to both Southern Living and Better Homes and Gardens. I don't even have a yard, and yet I know that I share "The Grumpy Gardener's" opinion on "Crape Murder" and I know where and when to plant bulbs in my zone, and I find that I am currently really liking the trend of color-themed gardens and outdoor living spaces (but I'm a little too chicken to try it myself). So when last Thursday afternoon came, and I realized that I was going to have four days of relatively school-free thought, my inner Coble took charge. "I have to at least try," I thought.

I haven't had a living thing on my porch in months. The Texas heat is a force to be reckoned with, and our porch gets afternoon sun, so perennials are not really an option. I tried being brave and bought a bougainvillae that added gorgeous color in the height of the summer but eventually went the way of most of my other porch plants...which is to say, it died. I had a few annuals in some pots last summer that made it until August (a victory in itself!) I also had a cilantro and basil that did well until they got buggy, but nothing since then. On Good Friday morning, all my pots stood empty in a corner on my forgotten porch, but I had an itch to change that situation. I remembered then that my grandaddy Coble said that you should always plant your garden on Good Friday. So Friday afternoon, Andy and I set about taking his advice.

First we went to Home Goods to try to find a shelf of some sort. While walking the dogs earlier, I had scoped out the competition, and there was one porch in particular that I knew had put quite a bit of effort into sprucing up for the competition. There were a lot of plants on the porch, and the overall vibe was bright and fresh, but it lacked structure. "I can beat that," I thought, "but I've got to get something that pulls it all together." Fortunately, I found a barn-red fold out shelf at Home Goods that would do just the trick. I glanced at the price tag- $59.99- whew, a little steep! So I continued walking around Home Goods, looking for a similar, but cheaper, option. There wasn't really anything. I think that's when I made a critical decision. "Go hard or go home, Wermel," I thought to myself. "You can't let that porch with the lime green chairs beat you- you're from North Carolina, for goodness sake. You know how a properly maintained outdoor space ought to look. Take one for the Old North State, and fork up the 60 bucks!" That's when I knew that I wasn't trying anymore. I was out to win! And since I was trying to win now, I decided to also buy a large outdoor lantern with a faux candle- perfect for Texas because real wax candles melt outside here.

With the shelf and lantern in the Jeep, I was on a roll! Our next stop was Lowe's to buy some plants. Though I wanted to win the competition, I did think a little bit long-term. I didn't want to just buy a bunch of plants that I wasn't going to actually enjoy for the months to come. So we invested in some herbs I use for cooking, a few heirloom tomatoes, some serrano pepper plants, and some flowers- a Gerber daisy, two zinnias and a "spring mix" of different colored petunias.

Back at home, we got everything nestled into pots and placed in their own little nook on the porch just in time for Good Friday service at church. I was a little put-off by the asymmetry of the porch, as Andy said, it looked very "left-heavy" because all of the plants had to fit into one corner. This is because the porch is extremely small, and there is no way to place a plant on the right, and still be able to access the two bistro chairs I purchased once upon a summer at Target. But all of my SL and BHG reading hasn't been for naught. I know that looks ought not trump functionality, and so I left it as it was.

 Andy went over to the office Friday afternoon to make sure there wasn't anything that we needed to "do" to enter the competition. He strolled back across the parking lot, and caught my eye as I fussed over the placement of my flying pig watering can. "Don't worry about that, baby," he said, "We already won." I was instantly elated, and then saw the quirky smile on his face... he was just messing with me- an early April Fool's joke. We hadn't won, but I had high hopes. All that was left was to wait for the judging on Monday. The weekend passed and there was only one brief moment of panic when my daisy lost turgor pressure Sunday afternoon, and began to look wilted, but a little water perked it right back up, and everything was okay.

Then, today, I got an email saying that we had won the competition! Even after the whole process of trying to win and represent my home-state and family name well, I was really surprised. Who wins things? Not usually me! We got a $50 gift card to a nice movie theater- one of those that serves fancy food and has fully reclining seats. Sure I spent twice that much making my porch competition-ready, but I think it was worth it. I can't invite my aunts over to see my irises and I can't ask any of them for cuttings, and it's going to be years yet before I get the chance to see if I really am gutsy enough to pull off a color-themed garden, but for today, I am the winner. And maybe it's just the lighting of this stormy April evening, but I think that when I look at it just right, my thumb looks just the slightest shade of green. :)


  1. Thanks, Meredith. This really brought back memories and made me smile. Your Mom's friend, Donna Wren, who likes nothing more than a walk through someone's garden or balcony.

  2. I stumbled up your blog while searching for pictures of the patios at Marquis Volente...I know, pretty specific, huh? We're moving there in July from South Carolina by way of an 18 month stop in Colorado. I also grew up in North Carolina. What part are you from?