Monday, March 1, 2010

Who Am I? (Learn more about me than you ever wanted to know)

I really enjoy learning more about the women and men who author the blogs that I read each day. I’m feeling a bit introspective today, and I’ll offer you my own story this afternoon … so you can know a bit more me.

I am an Army brat. This upbringing has shaped the adult that I am, and I have found that it influences almost everything I do. I was born 50 years ago in Neubruecke, Germany, went to elementary school in Livorno, Italy, graduated from high school in Heidelberg, Germany, and lived the in-between times in Georgia, California, New Jersey, and Virginia. Living overseas as much as we did, I missed out on a lot of the pop-culture stuff of the 60’s and 70’s … but I learned to swim in the Mediterranean and I still have a huge appreciation for German beer.

I make friends easily, and I value friendships above most everything else. I love wading through a crowd of strangers, listening to their stories and sharing time with as many people as I can.

Really blurry photo of my husband and me, with our '74 Nova SS, in 1980.

My husband and I met in January, 1980. We were engaged two months later, and we married in July of 1980. Most of our best decisions are ones that we made on impulse … the decision to marry so quickly was one of our best. It’s been 30 years now, and I love sharing every day of my life with him.

Wedding Day -- July 1980.

We have three grown daughters, one of which still lives at home, and we have two grandsons. I have always loved looking at life through the eyes of my children. Children have a unique perspective on the world, and the honesty to share their view with whoever will listen.

My favorite photo of our girls ... taken in 1989.

All of us, at our youngest daughter's high school graduation.

Me, with our grandson Drew.

Our home is a brick Gothic Revival farmhouse, built in 1848, located north of Fredericksburg in the rural community of Hartwood. We have nine acres, with pastures and outbuildings and a barn, and it has been my full-time job since 2002. We bought it knowing that it would need a complete renovation … we just didn’t know that it would take 5 full years of work to finish it enough to be able to move in. We have lived here for a little over two years now, and there are still many projects left to finish. In fact, there’s not one room in the house that I can say is complete. But it’s our house, my dream house, and I am grateful to wake up here every morning.

The view of our house from the road.

Family history research has been a hobby for me since my mid-teens. Because we moved so much when I was growing up, I never lived near any of my extended family. One way to learn who I was and where I came from was to research my ancestors. I have most of the lines from family and my husband's family traced back at least into the early 1800's. I used my genealogy research experience to finish the documentation and history of our house (begun by a prior owner), and our property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

My dad and mom, brother and sister with their spouses, my husband and me, and all of our kids -- yes, they're all daughters.

When I'm asked what I do for a living, my answer is always "professional volunteer".  I went to college to become a teacher, but I decided that being a mom was my best and most rewarding career choice.  Some of my volunteer jobs were a Girl Scout leader, a Master Gardener, vice president of the local chapter of ReBuilding Together, president of a homeowner's association, and greyhound adoption representative.  I belong to two garden clubs, three local rose societies, and the American Rose Society.  Friends and I created a non-profit charity that raises money to help fund research to find effective treatment (and hopefully an eventual cure) for canine cancer.  Shameless plug alert:  visit to learn more, or make to a donation.

Here we are with our dogs on a cold morning in Dewey Beach, Delaware.

I have always loved to build things. My mother tells me that I was the first girl to ever take Shop Class in the Fort Benning, Georgia, school system. Apparently, the administration thought it would be more appropriate for girls to learn cooking and sewing. I already knew how to sew (and knit and crochet), and I experimented with cooking.  I wanted to use tools and build stuff with the boys. I started working on home-improvement projects shortly after we bought our first house. My husband traveled for his job, and I was on my own a lot. I had to learn to do things myself, or the things wouldn’t get done.

I'm talking roses with the Master Gardeners at an event at Chatham Manor.

Whenever people ask me how they can start learning to use tools, I always suggest that they start with a drill. You have to work at it to hurt yourself with a drill, I would tell them. I may rethink this advice, since I put a screwdriver bit through my thumbnail while building the propagation bench in my greenhouse this summer. Note to self: Always predrill for screws when working with oak. Power tools are the first thing my husband thinks of when it’s time to buy me presents. One of my favorites was the year he bought the framing nailer for me for my birthday.

Me and my pitiful arrangement, decorating the Governor's Mansion for Christmas.

I am a remodeler. There’s not a whole lot that I can’t do, when it comes to building or designing things, and I rarely leave things the way I find them. I have torn down walls, replaced floors, built buildings and additions, designed garden structures, all in an effort to make each of our homes (and the homes of unsuspecting friends) into more personal spaces. This property is one HUGE remodeling project, and we are trying to take it in smaller increments when we can.

If you look carefully, you can see that the downspout needs repair and the porch is held up by 4 x 4's.

I have always been a gardener. I remember planting a potato in a pot on our balcony when I was a child in Italy. That potato grew really well, and I was disappointed when it withered and died a few months later … and when I dumped it, I was amazed to find the pot was completely full of new potatoes!

This is the garage I designed to replace a rotten machine shed.

I collect roses … lots of roses. I have over 800 varieties of roses so far, in the gardens throughout our little farm. 500 of them are in the ground, and 300 are in pots until I get more gardens designed and prepared. My favorites are the old-fashioned roses that our grandmother’s grandmothers grew in their gardens. I also love ‘found roses’ … ones that grow neglected in cemeteries or at the sites of old houses. I take cuttings from these roses when I can, so they can be preserved in my gardens here. Our previous houses were all in wooded subdivisions, so I didn’t have much sunshine to work with when designing gardens. This place is sunny, the farm soil is unbelievable to work with, and it is tailor-made for growing roses.

A view of the Rose Field.

In 2008, after two years of preparation, I opened my nursery, Hartwood Roses, so I could share these roses with others. I love to walk the gardens with visitors, answering questions and introducing them to the roses. One of my goals was to teach people that roses are not nearly as hard to grow as we have been led to believe. I tried to keep the small, boutique atmosphere of the nursery, with special emphasis on the preservation of rare and unusual roses. Because this was a small one-woman operation, I could do more to make everyone’s experience with Hartwood Roses as personal as possible. I never wanted this place to feel like someone’s ‘business’.  I closed the sales portion of my business at the end of 2012.  

The sign out front.

I also collect stuff … usually cast-off stuff that other people don’t want. I have collected things from flea markets, thrift shops, the curb, the dump, the Classifieds, yard sales, and just about everywhere else. I rehab what needs repair, clean up what doesn’t, and I use my ‘treasures’ to make our home and property cozy and uniquely “us”. It’s gotten to the point where we have a bit too much stuff, so we will have to edit and rearrange … and probably pass some of our stuff on to new homes.

Scrounging in one of the outbuildings.

I originally thought that this blog would be exclusively about my experiences in the garden. After some consideration, I decided that it would be a more accurate reflection of myself if I brought in all of my other interests. One of my favorite people is Thomas Jefferson … I love his spirit of experimentation, and I try to emulate the way that he wasn’t defined by only one facet of his personality.

Going to a car show with my '66 Mustang,

Thank you for stopping by and spending time with me on my blog. I am always very grateful to the people who take time from their day to read what I have to say … and I’m humbled by the comments left here by such knowledgable and creative people. I appreciate these kind words more than you know.



  1. Wonderful post Connie and it was great to learn more about you! We are scarily alike! Now we definitely have to meet up for lunch!

    Kat :)

  2. wonderful post. Such an interesting past. Your home is gorgeous.

  3. Love that post! So nice to get to know you! I am IN LOVE with your house!!!!!!! I am a major rose fanatic, although I only have a dozen bushes or so. I am really excited to see how my cecile bruner does this year, it was planted last may & it looks like it's going to take off (well it's already taken off, so I'm waiting for the blooms...) I know they can be insane...eek...crossing my fingers it's manageable....


  4. I really enjoyed reading this post. I always like reading about how other people got to where they are now. Bless you for saving one of Virginia's great houses. It is not an architectural style seen frequently here. How has your business/hobby/avocation been going for you? BTW, my favorite garden blogs are the ones that get out of the garden every now and then.

  5. What an interesting post! Ive known you since i was 5 but apparently not in too much detail... By the way you look really lovely in your wedding photo!

  6. Bravo!!!! Connie,we have been friends a long time and yet you never fail to amaze me.I am somtimes humbled in your ability.
    The one thing that has always stuck
    with me after all these years was
    when asked my opinion of you I said
    "she is certainly no wall flower".
    I was right.

  7. Love getting to know you!..I am one of those who has many interests.. and my blog is probably going to head in that direction as well, although it originally started to document the resurrection of This Old House.

  8. Connie, great to meet you and thank you for your tips on photography on my blog. I will pick up that book and gain some knowledge. We have a few things in common. I grew up an Air Force brat and was born in Germany. We have lived mainly in the states, Ohio, Texas, Northern Virginia twice, Nebraska and now I am in Indiana. When spring comes I'm going to have to pick your brain on roses. We pulled all of our landscaping out this past year and need to start from scratch. I would love roses somewhere on my property. MERRY CHRISTMAS!

  9. Wow. I'd looove to live in a house like that among rose gardens. What an interesting life you lead!

    I've had so much fun browsing through the varieties of roses you offer on your website. I adore them, but have a serious black thumb. Which ones are the easiest to keep alive? What time of year should I plant them (we live in Florida)?

    Also, we're headed to Croatia and Italy this spring - any suggestions?


  10. Connie...I have a feeling you may be too humble to take this in, because you seem to so naturally go through your life and do what needs to be done...but your are a role model to me.

    I'm not sure how I came across your blog sometime back...and I will admit I am a bit of a skimmer, looking through blog pictures and only reading what is necessary to get the point. This morning I took my time and read through the posts about your house, barn, green house, all the projects you have going on...and then I clicked on the piece about are an amazing woman! While I am busy working on creative projects most of the take on the really BIG stuff! I would go on and on, but this is only a comment post! Suffice to are amazing!

    Thank you so much for sharing who you are and all that you do...I am a new loyal follower!

  11. I found your BLOG through pintrest & the photo you took of the felted pillows! I'm from King George and I WILL be by your place to see the roses! Thanks for the GREAT BLOG...see you soon! Rita

  12. Hey Connie, I found your blog while looking for yard sale items. It brought me to you post at "Class & Trash" Loved it! Going into places like that is like a kid in a candy store. I bounced around your blog a bit and I was truly entertained. I am new to blogging so I am eating up what others have to offer.

    I am posting some of your pics on my blogs for my "Junk in the Truck Tuesday" (I think this is the name I'm going to to give it, it may still be in the works) posts that I will be putting on my blog along with your blog site. Our sites a truly opposite but I am a lover of all things and I can always appreciate things that are outside of my norm.

    Thanks for introducing me to Class & Trash! ~Michelle~

  13. Hey Connie,

    Happy Thanksgiving! You are my new hero! Helping animals and plants...a person after my own heart....We also rescued our dogs and cats and LOVE animals!!!

    Also your house and property are amazing!!...I hope some day we can visit your farm on a trip up to VA. I never have been to some day it would be great to go up there too.



  14. A wonderful story, Connie.
    what a life you've lived.
    And now you're raising your grandson. How rewarding that must be. and interesting too.

    One of these days, I'd like to introduce you to my blog readers.

    You're an inspiration.

  15. This was fantastic! I really enjoyed getting to know you better.

    You inspire me in so many ways, thank you.


  16. Hi Connie! I enjoyed reading your blog! It's always fun to meet creative people! Ilive in the mountains of Southern California and it gets quite cold in the winters. Our weather is very similar to yours. My sister and I always compare the weather conditions, as she is from Purcelville VA. Anyway, I am curious, do you set your humidified roses outside in the winter? As Fall approaches, I am getting ready to take cuttings. Usually I put my cuttings into wet sand pots and cover them with plastic, and set them in a shady spot until February. Do you think that your soda bottle pots would make it through the snows? Thanks for your time!

  17. I found your blog while looking for instructions on how to root roses, and have enjoyed reading through it! Thanks for sharing you beautiful garden and home online, it's great to find a blog with so much beautiful content and then realize it's still active :)


Thanks for stopping by and reading what I share. Comments are welcome and very much appreciated. Spam and trolls are not!

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