Writings about

the many life lessons

unearthed when we dig

in the dirt . . . and pursue

a range of other interests

in the constantly evolving

garden of life.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Tribute to Big Momma's Garden

Most gardens have some appeal in every season, and Big Momma's Garden is no exception.

What is Big Momma's Garden? you may ask. Well, this is the name many Southerners give to a garden that traditionally was built and maintained by a grandmother, known affectionately as Big Momma. Such gardens contain some plants, but mainly they display ornaments – found objects, pieces of art, bought and homemade, recycled materials. Doodads.

Anything goes. I've seen everything from old shoes to wringer washing machines used as planters – or just as decoration. My BMG has wrought-iron fence pieces used as an entryway and as trellises holding more glass bottles.

The bottle fence is inspired by bottle trees, a standard feature in Big Momma's Gardens. According to lore, the bottles attract and capture bad spirits at night. Daylight disappears them.

These gardens originated in times when many gardeners could not afford to buy garden objects like gazing balls, sundials and such. So, they populated their gardens with "pretties," meaning whatever they found appealing, including glass objects that catch the light. Like gazing balls.

Wherever I've gardened, I've created these spaces; I like the way they look and feel, recalling so many I've seen in myriad Southern towns and rural areas, where swept gardens prevailed. For years, my regional bias asserted that only Southerners created Big Momma's Gardens. Then, I discovered they exist in the North, too, including right here in Connecticut.

Moreover, British and the French historically built their own versions, known as folly gardens, a reference to whimsical objects and structures, or follies. As these gardens gained popularity, folks who study such matters came up with an academic name: vernacular gardens. I even thought of calling mine a Big Daddy's Garden. But I don't.

Seminars aplenty have been held to discuss and argue over what to call these spaces, and how to assess their importance. I leave that to others, except to say mine pleases me through its unstructured wildness and its function as a balance to the more structured and groomed front garden, which is Asian-inspired.

Too, my Big Momma's Garden serves as a tribute to all the grandmothers who have helped raise and teach grandsons and granddaughters about gardening and life. 

Now, images from various seasons, including Sunday's snow pictures.

Humans made many ornaments, but nature offers much material, like dead twigs, picked up after several blow-downs.

Metal poles from a friend, painted and used to support a tree.

Below, carpets make a path . . .

. . . to baker's rack, which will hold potted plants, come spring.



  1. What lovely carpets for the pathway. I have seen many of these types of gardens. They have such character. I always wonder where did they get that stuff.

  2. I would have loved this charming explanation when I visited your garden last year. Then, I loved seeing the bed frame and carpets and other whimsy placed about. Now the story of Big Momma's Garden adds so much to what I saw. The found objects were delightful in summer, but how dramatic they are isolated in snow. That bed with its quilt of snow is haunting!

  3. – Lisa, those carpet pieces (single rug sliced in half) in the foreground were in the garage so long, I knew they'd never be used in the house, so Big Momma benefited. Other rugs were in the basement, where flooding ruined them a couple of years ago. Call it forced recycling.

    – Laurrie, I was remiss the day you visited. I'm glad you liked the additional tells. Interesting, isn't it, how an object can change so dramatically as did the bed.

  4. Lee, I loved really seeing your Big Momma's Garden that I've read about so many times. For the past year, when you started your blog, I knew you would pay this tribute to her. As always any story you tell, no matter how many times, is new again.

    The bottle 'trees', the pathways lined with oak leaf hydrangeas, the trees and climbing rose make it a special garden. Most of all the iron 'bedstead' added a special touch in the bed of sweet ferns and looked totally different covered in fresh snow.

    Grandmother's gardens were always special places. Lucky is the child who has the privilege having the experience of gardening with his/her grandmother or grandfather.

    Ironically your Big Momma's post came on the day my children had to travel miles in storms to say good bye to their last grandmother. A very special read, indeed. Thank you.

  5. I'm very sorry for the family' loss, Barbara, but I'm glad that, unknowingly, I paid tribute to another Big Momma.

    Thank you for your keen eye and fine words about images of and stories about this special place on my land.

  6. Lee,
    I have seen gardens with whimsical objects and structures, but I've never heard the term Big Momma's Garden. It's always an education reading your posts. I like your bottle fence and wire chicken. Nice juxtapositon of winter/summer photos.

  7. Thank you, Lana; I appreciate knowing I've introduced you to the term. I know you know how colorful Southern speech can be.

    I figure every BMG needs a wire chicken or two. Glad you like the photos' juxtaposition. As an Appalachian buddy of mine would say of that idea: "It jes' come to me."


  8. Lee,
    I have nominated you. . . Congratulations!


  9. I really like the path and how it seems as if it goes to a very magical place in the forest. Beautiful!

  10. – Kevin, thanks much, and congratulations to *you*. Richly deserved.

    – Sage Butterfly, I'm delighted you like that path – and that you feel what I feel when I'm out there. Thank you.

  11. Your BMG makes me smile! There is something comforting about such a space, just like coming home to Big Momma's arms.

  12. Heyyy, Deb. Yes, indeed, comforting is the word. You can understand why I spend so much time out there. Glad you enjoyed your stroll.

  13. Bottle trees remind me of driving to see friends in Alabama. I like your bottle fence idea. It makes me a little homesick for the South.

  14. Ahhh, Alabama, land of my birth. You ever go there for a quick cure of your homesickness? Another question: You plan to make a bottle fence?

  15. o I love this blog! the bottles capturing bad spirits which are disposed of by the light of day, And the beds with mattresses of green! Astonishingly beautiful and also very interesting as a mirror of the person who creates the garden , I am a fan of Clare Marcus Cooper, House (and garden as extension of that) as a Mirror of Self,
    Thanks to Nitt Gritty Dirt man for showing me to his Blog,

  16. Hey, Lilith, I'm delighted you enjoyed visiting with me. Thank you much for your beautiful words about what I've done here. Believing in that mirror too, I've always said: See the garden, know the gardener.

    All best,

  17. Lee, not sure if I'll make a bottle fence, but I've always wanted to make a bottle something. Usually go to New Orleans when I'm homesick, but sometimes I make a side trip to Alabama to see friends.

  18. For good times, New Orleans is hard to beat, even after Katrina. I've also enjoyed Alabama's coastal towns, like Mobile, Daphne and Bayou La Batre.

    You've seen bottles planted upside down as borders for planting beds, I suppose. I hope you'll write about whatever you come up with.

  19. I Love "Big Momma's Garden"! I'm a southeast Alabama gardener, so I know and love this type of lovely garden (my grandparents taught me a lot about gardening too). I have two beautiful, very tall cobalt blue bottles, which I've just become inspired to do something with in the garden. Seriously, who needs a gazing ball anyway? I too, have used a baker's rack in the garden, and my mother-in-law has used rugs in the garden. I'm so glad I found your blog ... found it on Kevin's latest post on "The Nitty Gritty Dirt Man." I enjoyed your post. :-)

  20. Heyyy, Beth. This is amazing; Would you believe I just came in from BMG (after hours of spring cleaning), where I just hung several bottles on a different, larger tree. And, of course, one is blue. What similarities we share, illustrating again the universality of playing in the dirt.

    How nice to come in and read your fine words. I'm glad you found me, too. That Kevin is a talented man, and he puts a lot of bloggers together.

    Before I head over to Daylily Soup, I must tell you I was born in Cuba . . . Cuba Alabama.



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