For about a decade, I lived in an old dogtrot house. Also known as a dog run house, this vernacular style of home was popular throughout the upper South before electricity, fans and air conditioning. They were built for maximum ventilation, so folks could survive the sweltering hot summers. The open breezeway running through the middle of them allowed air to flow from front to back and was essentially a third porch.
When new visitors would see my house, they generally asked the same two questions. “Do you actually live here?” “Don’t you freeze to death during the winter?” Years ago, houses were either built for cold climates or for warm ones. In Texas and the South, there are around five months (or more) of unpleasant summer temperatures and only a month or two of disagreeable winter temperatures. They could only build a house for one or the other, so certainly a design to survive the summers was in order.
As we all know, when winter does make a show in Texas, it, too, can be quite unbearable for periods of time. That’s why almost every country woman saved any and all scraps of material to make warmth-trapping quilts. When I was a kid spending winter holidays with my grandparents, in that very same house, I found out how important those quilts were. There were only three heated rooms in the house; and none of those permanently.
My grandmother had a quilting frame hanging from the ceiling in the middle bedroom where she constructed the quilts after “piecing” them. I still have that quilting frame, along with my great-grandmother’s (still hanging from the ceiling of the fireplace room at her old dogtrot up the road). My grandmother’s quilt pieces were uniform, fairly exact and comprised of appropriate sized material. But the quilts my great-grandmothers (and their grandmothers) made were fashioned from assorted leftover scraps, some so small that I wonder how they could even hold them to stitch them together. There was no money to buy material, so each sliver left over from clothes-making was saved, as were feed sacks, flower sacks and sugar sacks. Worn-out shirts, dresses and overalls occasionally provided much needed scrap material as well.
The magic of these old quilts was that hardscrabble women involved in an endless sea of daily chores took these shards of assorted materials and crafted them into functional pieces of genuine folk art.
Quilt design and garden design are based on the same principles.
If you’d like to hear my lecture “Learning Landscaping from my Grannies’ Old Quilts,” the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Earth-Kind Environmental Horticulture Committee will host “Stitching an Heirloom Garden” Saturday at Harvey Convention Center, 2000 W. Front St. in Tyler.
Jo Helen McGee, Smith County Master Gardener and quilter, also will lecture on “Quilt Preservation.” Still yet, there will be an heirloom quilt show featuring the inaugural showing of my extensive heirloom family quilt collection from Shelby County.
Registration begins at 8:30 a.m., with the program beginning at 9 a.m. Tickets are $15 and may be purchased at the door.
For more information, call the Smith County AgriLife Extension office at 903-590-2980, follow on Facebook (Smith County AgriLife) or visit the website https://Smith.agrilife.org.
Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. He is author of “Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening” and co-author of “Heirloom Gardening in the South” and “The Rose Rustlers.” You can read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com, his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com) or follow him on Facebook at “Greg Grant Gardens.” More research-based gardening information from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service can be found at aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu and plantanswers.com.