In case you couldn’t tell, I’m still loving our “Conversations Over Coffee” series. We’re finding these incredible women from all walks of life to connect with and introduce you to. Today, I want to introduce you to Connie Cottingham. You may have seen her “Love Notes from the Garden” here at All Things Girl in some guest posts of late. I met Connie virtually through mutual friends and am loving every second of getting to know her better. I think you’ll adore her as much as I do.
Tell us about Connie – as if every 7-10 years (or so) of your life, a flower represented that time period. We want to know the bold, the ugly, and the beautiful!
- Childhood – Holly blooms – shyly hugging the branch under the leaves, but looking back, maybe it was a step to the showy red berry stage. It actually was a very good childhood, filled with love and growing up in the country.
- Teens – Morning glory – twining, confused, common – wish I saw at the time the beauty and strength of a morning glory.
- Twenties and Thirties – DYD. That’s a term in Plant ID classes – Damn Yellow Daisies. They are tough to ID because there are so, so many yellow composite flowers. Yellow daisies are happy, beautiful flowers, but they are usually blending in with a lot of other DYDs around them in the landscape. So many women work to blend in with all the others around them. I respect the women in their twenties and thirties who know who they are and stand in their truth. Women in their 70s and 80s don’t worry as much about what everyone else is doing and thinking – one reason why I think life will keep getting better and better.
- Forties – Passion Flower. I got married a few weeks before I turned 39 and lost Bruce suddenly a few weeks before I turned 50. Passion flower – not just for the name, but passion flower is a Southern native (we moved from Arkansas to New Orleans to Georgia and Bruce was a 6th generation Southerner who introduced me to things like pinto beans and poke salet.) The vine not only symbolizes our intertwined lives, but with Bruce’s encouragement I climbed higher than I thought I could.
- Fifties – I turned 52 this summer, but so far it has been amazing. I visited over 2 dozen gardens in England this summer and England has wholeheartedly embraceds wildflower meadows. One I saw was about 10 foot square, surrounded by clipped boxwoods, most were large and included a fruit orchard. I came home and expanded my side meadow into part of my front yard. I’d like to say a wildflower, swaying with the breeze, willing to be different from the others, yet surrounded by a lot of other beautiful souls (friends and family.)
Tell us three “defining moments” in your life – and what opened up on the other side for you….
One – The most dramatic moment was when I lost my husband. Kissed him goodbye and went off to work, then saw him a few hours later on a metal hospital table. The universe spun out of control, but also managed to align to guide me on. Within hours my mother and best friend had flown in from Arkansas and friends and coworkers surrounded me. Earlier that year my father died suddenly and Mom and I booked an Alaskan cruise to give her something positive after all her grief and paperwork and transitions. We decided not to cancel. So a few weeks after Bruce’s funeral I found myself on the deck of a cruise ship at sunrise, between two towering glaciers. It seemed so obvious that my shattered world was a small part of something so much bigger, something that keeps going on no matter what happens.
After that I found Tonya Leigh’s Slim Chic and Savvy program online. Her philosophy was to get your life so in tune that food is a complement and not a comfort. When she started her first mastermind group, I signed up. The coaching calls and heartfelt discussions with this small group of amazing women helped me cope with everything going on, decide where I wanted my life to go, and exposed me to new ideas, music, etc. It also took me to Charleston, Aspen and Monaco. Last year I had a friend call after a bad day at work and I told her to come over and chill. “Are you sure, I’m only 2 minutes down the road.” “Sure.” By the time she arrived I had cheese, fresh fruit and chocolate out, a bottle of wine ready to open, a great music mix playing, fresh flowers on the coffee table, and candles burning in a clean house. I looked around and thought “Wow, I am the person I wanted to be, relaxed, sharing, happy.” We had a great evening.
Of course that isn’t 100% of the time; this week I have had a meltdown cry, a new weedeater jam within minutes of taking it out of the box, and a rushed moment in front of the closet when I was trying to decide which was faster – shaving my legs and slipping on a knit dress or ironing a top to wear. This week also brought an evening chatting with a good friend, a fantastic date with my new love, two important volunteer meetings, two receptions and a concert as part of my job at the botanical garden, and an invitation to spend New Year’s Eve on St. Johns.
Two – My first landscape client marched into the local newspaper office with my newsletter and pronounced “You need a garden column and you need her to write it!” I’ve been published over 700 times since.
Three – My husband and I both quit our jobs for ethical reasons a decade ago. It took awhile to recover – entertainment became videos from the public library and groceries started going onto the credit card before he found a much, much better job that took us from New Orleans to Georgia. Great move – I love it here.
What do you know now that you wish you knew at 38?
That everyone has doubts, little voices, interesting stories, strengths. The people I respect push past the doubts, know the little voices are not always worth listening to, build their strengths and truly care about discovering other people’s stories and strengths.
When you feel like crying, have a good cry. The best way out is through.
Follow your gut feeling.
What is your super power?
Calmness. It takes a lot to throw me into panic mode (can be done though and not a pretty sight when it happens.) And Ideas. They seem to flow freely.
Where did you come up with your idea of “Love Notes from the Garden”?
One of my coaching calls with Tonya. My goal was to send a weekly email to help people fall in love with their gardens, but not chores to add to a to do list or plant descriptions – something that made you laugh, inspired you. We brainstormed and came up with “Love Notes.” They are a blast to write.
If you had to choose just six items for landscaping in Georgia, what would you recommend (and why?)
Annuals are the best of both worlds. For the price of a cup of coffee or a movie rental you can have beautiful plants that add color to your garden for many months. Then next season you get to choose something completely different for that same spot. I love the spring and fall, when I get to decide which annuals to plant. Will the pansies be a watercolor mix or the boldest purple I can find? Do I accent it with grey foliage or another flower?
Can’t live without daffodils! These are the easiest, most deer resistant, longest lived, happiest flowers you could add to your garden. Just stick a bulb in the ground (OK, not the easiest task in Georgia clay, but oh so worth it) and you have decades of blooms in whites, yellows and peaches.
At a time when growing our own food is so fashionable, the food plant that has it all is a blueberry. These native shrubs offer cream-colored spring flowers and red fall foliage. The rule of thumb is to plant 3 shrubs, including 2 different varieties in the mix, but now there are blueberry varieties that produce even if you have only one plant. ‘Blue Suede’ was bred in Georgia to produce lots of berries even in a container on a patio or deck – and not need other blueberries for cross pollination. So you can blend several in your landscape or just have one blueberry on a sunny deck.
There are an abundance of hydrangeas on the market and oodles of hydrangea garden tours and seminars in Georgia because it is so easy to fall in love these wonderful plants. Hydrangeas (and the blueberries) do require supplemental watering and deer spray. My favorite is the native oakleaf hydrangea, with large, bold leaves that turn russet red in fall, summer blooms and peeling, cinnamon colored branches.
Lenten roses (Helleborus) are tough perennials with long-lasting, beautiful, green to pink blooms. These plants are tough – taking deep shade and drought with no problem and as deer resistant as a plant can get. You can fall in love with these plants at Hellebore Days, held the first weekend in March each year at Piccadilly Farm in Bogart (www.sites.google.com/site/piccadillyfarm.)
Pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia) is a low, fine-textured grass that can unify and blend a landscape border. In fall feathery blooms turn this native plant into an airy pink cloud. Muhly grass looks especially great in mass plantings, easy to do by dividing the plants.
What is your favorite breakfast, favorite beverage, and go-to dinner?
My favorite breakfast in any during a vacation – relaxed, enjoying the environment. Beverage: lattes in the morning, merlot at night. I could make a dinner out of roasted vegetables flavored with herbs – yum!
What in your life brings you the greatest joys?
- Beauty – admiring a flower, landscape, sunset, butterfly, great design, music, scents.
- Friends and Family – life is rich with those!
- Travel and Discovery – This summer I went to England and Sante Fe. I also spent a weekend discovering a historic town 30 minutes down the road. All three were wonderful.
Connie Cottingham is a freelance garden writer who has gardened in Athens for over a decade. She is a registered landscape architect and active in master gardeners and garden club. Receive her free, weekly Love Notes at the Garden by signing up at www.conniecottingham.com.
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