Appalachia Appalachia Through My Eyes

Appalachia Through My Eyes – Thrift

Years ago I planted my front bank in thrift now each spring there’s a pink mass with butterflies galore enjoying the feast.

Tornadoes don’t come to the mountains where I live often-the one earlier this year was the first to hit the area since 1974. Almost 40 years between the two tornadoes.

On the night the more recent tornado struck-Chitter ask a lot of questions about storms. But she kept coming back around to how lucky we were to have a basement. (Chatter slept through the whole thing.)

We told her lots of people in western NC have a basement. The Deer Hunter explained to her if you build a house on steep ground-cost wise you might as well build a basement cause you have to get the house up out of the ground.

My thrift bank is there-because we have a basement. A trivial thing to think about-but I’ve often thought of how many folks grew up with a basement door that leads out by a bank or between 2 banks like I did.

Maybe I think about it because between the 2 banks that lead to Pap and Granny’s basement was one of my favorite places to play as a child. Basement banks are common in southern Appalachia-and more often than not you’ll find thrift growing on the banks as well.

Instead of thrift some folks call the low growing evergreen plant Phlox, Creeping Phlox, or even Mountain Thrift. What do you call it?


Appalachia Through My Eyes – A series of photographs from my life in Southern Appalachia.

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  • Reply
    Madge @ The View From Right Here
    April 5, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    Never heard it called Thrift but Phlox, yes… love your stories Tipper!

  • Reply
    March 31, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    I grew up with a basement but now if we had one it would be full of water.
    Our basement as a child was a daylight basement on the back side of the house, the door opened into a concrete walled waist high (to an adult)area with steps leading up out of it onto more concrete for a walk around the house. My folks called the walled in space a bilco, but it was nothing like the basement doors sold by the Bilco company.

  • Reply
    susie swanson
    March 30, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    I’ve always called it Thrift and when somebody calls it Phlox, I have to stop and think what they’re talking It sure is pretty this year..

  • Reply
    March 30, 2012 at 7:21 am

    We call it phlox around here, it is gorgeous no matter what we call it!
    I hadn’t thought of it in decades, but my favorite grandparents had an outdoor basement entry like that. Instantly my mind was flooded with memories of the scent of damp stone steps and the peppermint that grew beside the door. Thanks for stirring up pleasant memories!

  • Reply
    Melissa P (misplaced Southerner)
    March 29, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    Sassy’s right! We just had a tornado touch down just a few miles from our house in Hamburg Township (tornado was in Dexter). I, too, am glad we have a basement. We have creeping phlox on both sides of the walk-out!

  • Reply
    Brenda Kay Ledford
    March 29, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    What a lovely photo of the thrift. It’s really pretty this sping. We call it thrift, too. Some folks call it phlox, but I come from the old school.
    It’s fortuate you had a basement when the torando stuck Murphy recently. We took shelter in the basement, too. At one time folks thought the mountains would block those horrible storms and a torando would never come here. Times are changing.

  • Reply
    March 29, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    You got it right graveyard flowers
    I have around my house and most of it come from the graveyard it sure smells good . I alots from my mother. back in the 60s She called it thrift she is right.
    have a great day John

  • Reply
    March 29, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    Creeping phlox here ~ and mine grows beside the cellar.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    March 29, 2012 at 11:05 am

    I love Phlox or Thrift….I wonder if the name Thrift comes from those visits to relatives that had clumps they shared…Mom was always bringing a different color phlox from someone..LOL
    We have a basement…the ivy is growing on it…The banks of the driveway had phlox at one time…I think it was too hot and dry and now only a small clump or so has survived under the bridal wreath…
    I love ground covers…The varigated periwinkle with big blue flowers is my favorite…It just grows about anywhere…and we have tons of it all along the sidewalks and pond..
    I love the tall phlox but have trouble getting it to live very long…
    Thanks for a great post…Your Thrift is beautiful…Our azaleas are blooming…Have you seen any Hummingbirds?

  • Reply
    March 29, 2012 at 10:54 am

    I never knew what those tiny
    flowers were called but I got ’em
    here at the shop. After mowing
    they show up real nice and I
    would call most of them lavender.
    Later on some kind of vine, maybe
    honeysuckle will just fill the
    air along my creekbank with that
    wonderful smell of spring…Ken

  • Reply
    barbara gantt
    March 29, 2012 at 10:52 am

    I grew up calling it Thrift. Then moved to New England and to my surprise , it was called Phlox. I have some on a rock wall. I have lot of periwinkle. Never heard it called graveyard ivy. Barbara

  • Reply
    John Reese
    March 29, 2012 at 10:38 am

    No thrift here, to much shade, but the creaping myrtle grows good. It has taken over alot of the woods line and my wife transplanted some around the house thirty years ago . We have a log home and it looks real good here .Thanks for the stories.

  • Reply
    Lonnie Dockery
    March 29, 2012 at 10:20 am

    Tipper, if you know some secrets to growing Thrift I’d sure like to know them! It was a favorite of my Mother’s. She tried for years to get it to grow on the bank at the cemetery where she is now buried. The spring after she died I found one small sprig just blooming away, but that was all. I marked it and tried to nourish it, but it hasn’t been back. I bought some each spring for the next two or three years but could never get it to take hold. The bank is on the west side and gets lots of sun, but mostly in the afternoons. I wonder if it doesn’t need morning sun.

  • Reply
    March 29, 2012 at 9:56 am

    Beautiful photo! I have never heard it called “thrift” before, but my grandmother’s house was on a hill and she had “creeping phlox” growing on the banks leading up to her house. We lived across the road from her, so when we would look out our living room window, we could see the glorious color of the phlox and all of the dogwoods that she had in her yard. I knew that spring had arrived.

  • Reply
    Pat in east TN
    March 29, 2012 at 9:54 am

    Around here it’s phlox and mine is putting on quite a show this year.

  • Reply
    March 29, 2012 at 9:21 am

    I always heard them called Phlox. The ones we had are smaller flowers and so thick you won’t see much green around them. I don’t recall anyone having a basement in the town where I grew up. I have a basement now that is more like a cellar. I seldom go down there during our frequent storm warnings because I’m more afraid of it than I am the tornados.

  • Reply
    March 29, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Although we are not part of “tornado alley”, there are some that will touch down and do some damage here in Michigan. Every Spring and sometimes in the summer, the sirens will go on and we head for the basement.
    So there are many basements here, Walk Out basements which are built on slopes, Michigan basements are like cellars- dirt floors and not so tall , Look Out basements are half undergroung and half above. Our basement is a full basement that is finished too, this makes for lots of living space.. sooo nice, I love it!

  • Reply
    March 29, 2012 at 8:57 am

    I have never heard them called thrift, we have always called them creeping phlox. Your’s look very pretty.

  • Reply
    March 29, 2012 at 8:45 am

    we call them phlox and i like the name thrift. it has been many years since i have seen a field of them. we had a basement in our house in KY like what you are describing. our front door was level with the road, the back of the house was 2 stories tall, the basement was underground and sloped up inside, it had a dirt floor and that is where mother stored her canned goods and potatoes and corn, also our coal was down there. we could go down from the house or in from an outside door.

  • Reply
    Bill Dotson
    March 29, 2012 at 8:26 am

    It is called phlox here in southern ohio a northern ky, no matter what it is called it is a beautiful flower.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 29, 2012 at 8:15 am

    Tipper, I just knew it as a pretty ground cover and never wondered about the name. Outside as a child I was always more attracted to the rocks in an area than to the flowers so I know major flowers like roses and honeysuckle and that’s about it.
    Growing up I lived in a lot of different houses and most of them had basements. That was where the washing machine was and lots of junk that we didn’t know what else to do with. It made a good place for a kid to play when it was too cold to hit the woods.
    I noticed your link to the post featuring Ruby Sue. That was 2008. I believe you should think on an updated post for her. She is such a sweetie.

  • Reply
    Jen Y
    March 29, 2012 at 8:10 am

    I call it creeping phlox, I’ve never heard it called thrift before. (I thought you were going to be talking about saving money!)
    I also have have a basement in the bank & my creeping phlox grows along the wall holding the bank. Our basement is a garage so we drive around to the back of our house & under our deck into the garage.
    And we are very thankful for it! We have tornadoes all the time here living on the edge of tornado alley. The closest one hit less than 1/2 a mile away. I’ve heard that our lake keeps them away? I don’t know how true that is but we’ve never had one hit the lake in all the years we’ve lived here.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    March 29, 2012 at 8:10 am

    Tipper—When I was a boy we had a long series of steps and landings leading from the house down the hill to the street below (Don and I differ on the number, but it was in the area of 100 steps). Anyway, one of my major, ongoing projects as a boy was to plant flowers along the banks on either side of those concrete steps, and thrift was in the forefront. I got most of it done, but the thrift is long gone thanks to decades of neglect. However, I do think that at least a couple of the dogwoods I planted still survive.
    Anyone know where the name “thrift” comes from?
    Also, for Ed Ammons, the flower I always think of in connection with cemeteries is vinca or periwinkle, which old mountain folks always called graveyard ivy. It has one virtue thrift lacks—it requires no care or tending whatsoever and can more than hold its own against weeds, shade from trees, or anything else. Thrift seems to be found mostly at cemeteries which get good care. For example, those in the Park don’t get nearly enough cleaning (I believe it is one time a year, and I’ve recently volunteered to do some work on one or two badly neglected ones up on Luftee—we’ll see if my offer is accepted), so you see plenty of graveyard ivy but no thrift.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    March 29, 2012 at 8:08 am

    Mike-that’s the same size as the blooms on my thrift-bet its the same plant : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    Carol Isler
    March 29, 2012 at 7:55 am

    Thrift. Ours bloomed real early this time because of the warm winter. It’s a standard on mill village slopes.

  • Reply
    March 29, 2012 at 7:38 am

    Here in the area of Penna where I live it is referred to as phox. It sure does look pretty there upon your bank.

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    March 29, 2012 at 7:29 am

    We call it creeping phlox. We don’t have a basement, wish I did. Believe it or not our house is on flat ground. I love the cellars of yesteryear that were carved back into the hillside. I grew up in a time when everyone had one of those.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    March 29, 2012 at 7:22 am

    I can’t get a good idea of the size of the flowers, but when I was a kid what we called phlox was a pretty ground cover that filled with tiny pink or blue flowers in summer so that it looked like a carpet. The flowers were about 1/4 to 3/8 inch in diameter.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    March 29, 2012 at 7:16 am

    Not many basements in Florida, so not me. 🙂

  • Reply
    March 29, 2012 at 6:56 am

    I call them “PRETTY”! LOL I never knew their name.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    March 29, 2012 at 5:33 am

    You should have known what I called them! It’s graveyard flowers!

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