Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A simple setting in a complicated place

Last April when I went to Jim Scott's garden in Alabama, my head was spinning.  Years before, I thought that he had done everything one could possibly do garden-wise with a sloping hillside down to a cove of the lake.

But I couldn't even recognize the place when I arrived with my friends John and Joeline Davidson.  It was their first trip, and I thought I could be a sort of guide.  I remembered a few places from before, but Jim, who is the whirling dervish of gardeners,  had added new areas that looked like they'd been there forever to the acres he already had under intense cultivation.

Fortunately, we met up with him during our self-guided tour, so he could tell us about the new parts of the garden, which now extended all the way to the opposite side of the cove.  On my last visit, that slope had just been a woodland.  Now, it held a new house and pavilion for visitors and all sorts of wonderful plantings and rock formations.

Looking down at the lake from this perspective, I was amazed at how he had made a mature garden in only a matter of a few years.  The secret, I learned, is that large specimens of Chinese fringe tree and a new (to me) form of tree-sized Indian hawthorne had been brought in, along with large slabs of boulders.  I still can't figure out how he did it, although knowing his energy and imagination, I shouldn't have been surprised.

There really is so much going on in this garden that I had to pass on many photos I would like to share (and eventually will).  It was such a bright day (and cold), that many of the pictures I took make it hard to distinguish all these new plantings.

But, I chose this simple vignette because it seemed doable for a normal person who might have a good statue to use in the garden.  The dark green background of podocarpus and then the Rhododendron longifolia,* coming out informally at the base, seemed so soothing in contrast to everything happening around it.

All in all, it was a treat to see this garden, which I would describe as a cross between a fantasyland and a well-planted botanical garden.  I'll be posting more soon, as there are many good ideas that could be adapted into smaller gardens from this very large one.

* Thanks to a very good plantswoman and my high school classmate, Sharyn Altman, for identifying the shrub at the base of the statue.  I only recognized it because Sharyn showed me the one in her incredible garden in Augusta.  Sharyn's was much more compact and floriferous, but the habit here seems to suit the space.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

We say the same thing every year, "This is the best ever."

I had to wait for about 45 minutes after church was over (the latest of four services, if you count the sunrise one).  Families gathered around the decorated cross and took pictures for what seemed like forever.  After everyone had gone, I finally got a chance to make a people-less shot.

Our tradition, as I may have already noted, is to bring flowers from home to decorate the cross out front.  On Saturday, I took a picture of the wooden structure wrapped in oasis and plastic.  I can't imagine what passersby must have thought.

But, early this morning, the flowers started coming.  I mentioned already that I had been terrified when I saw this year's date for Easter.  I figured I'd be begging rhododendrons from friends, and 'Knockout' roses - which are fairly thorny and unpleasant to handle - would have to adorn the cross.

But, we lucked out.  Most of the azaleas and dogwoods that lend huge splashes of color to Atlanta bloomed late this year.  In fact, this may be the latest season I can ever remember, not counting the Easter when everything froze, and there was nothing.

Yesterday afternoon, I gathered what I thought was enough bridal veil spirea, doublefile viburnum, giant Chinese snowballs and hot pink azaleas to cover the cross.  I realized when I saw Hugh Schutte out there clipping 'GeorgeTabor' azaleas from the front of the church that some of the old guard, who used to bring armloads of flower branches, have passed away.  There weren't as many flowers as usual, but it all worked out.  Those azaleas needed to be pruned correctly anyway.

Still, we had some great flowers - lots of viburnums, some hellebores, all colors of azaleas, pink and white dogwood, pansies, scilla, some tulips, a daffodil or two, a couple of iris.  It turned out very pretty (the other side, not shown here, was much prettier - it's the side people see when they walk out of church.  Unfortunately, the backdrop is a bunch of overhead wires and a couple of night clubs, one of which is named "Hole in the Wall").

Anyway, decorating the cross is a lot of fun, even though there's a lot of confusion with two ladders going, and little ones coming up with a limp daffodil that is difficult to get into the oasis.

As I was leaving, a family came up.  They had seen the cross, doubled back in their car and gotten out to have a closer look. They had been to church, but not ours.  It was a thrill to get to take their picture.  Other cars slowed down to look.  Whether it was the prettiest one we've ever had I don't know (we say that every year), I was so proud to have had a little part in this great Easter tradition.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The lilacs that never in our dooryard bloom'd - until now

In high school, when we read Walt Whitman's famous poem, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd", I was struck by the imagery and immediately saw in my mind that white farmhouse with lovely flowers blooming in a fenced-in front yard.  What I know now is that I had never laid eyes on a lilac at the time and didn't really know what one looked like.  In re-reading the poem later, I realized that I had only remembered that one scene in my mind and had mostly forgotten the whole dark tone of the elegy and the poet's heartbreak and personal grief over the death of Abraham Lincoln.

But, why the reference to this poem?  Around noon today, I stopped by the farm on the way back from Newnan so I could have my barbeque sandwich from Sprayberry's (I'm still loyal to Melear's in Union City - that will always be barbeque for me, even though it doesn't exist anymore).  Anyway, I had the dogs with me, and the sun had finally come out, the sky was a brilliant, just-washed blue, and the wind had died down some.  It was a good chance for us to get some exercise and enjoy the bright sunshine.

Before we headed down the runway, I was curious to see what had happened to Leonardo's pepper and tomato plants that had gone in the ground on Sunday.  Last night, the temp dropped to below freezing, so I knew that up on that exposed hill, it couldn't be good.

But, on my way to see what he'd done, I stopped in my tracks.  There was a lilac bush, blooming right there by the garden fence - was I seeing things?  Yes, I do know of lilacs around Atlanta.  There's one on my cut-through street to church.  The house sold last year, so I'm hoping the people who bought it kept the lilac there by the mailbox.

Anyway, my first thought was of that poem.  No dooryard, but still, a slender bush with bright green, heart-shaped leaves and trusses of lavender-purple flowers.  I can't count the times I've heard people from the northern tier of states talk about the lilac hedges (sometimes they say "lie-lock") of their youth.   So, here I was, all alone with two dogs to contemplate the lovely flowers and the poem remembered from so long ago.

I did wonder if I should pick some to take home.  I'm sure the bush was there last year, but I don't think there were any blooms.  It didn't take but a moment for me to break off two bunches.  I know these weren't the huge French lilacs that are so popular in the Northeast, but I do believe they were like the ones Walt Whitman wrote about.

Of course, when I got home, I wished I'd picked more.  But, maybe these two bunches will bring back memories for you of an April when you walked out into the sun and caught the sweet fragrance of the lilacs beloved by so many generations in colder climes.

In the photograph taken in my living room:  The lilacs I picked today (I still can't believe it!); Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth, ripped from the pages of my Cole Porter songbook;  a favorite picture of William Faulkner, taken in Oxford, Mississippi, in 1947 (also ripped from a book); and Clark Gable during the filming of Gone With the Wind (cut from a magazine).

P.S:  Leonardo (who planted the lilac) had covered his plants with black plastic pots weighted down with logs.  We'll have to wait to see if they survived the night's cold and then today's sun bearing down on those thick covers.

In the door-yard fronting an old farm-house, near the white-wash’d palings, 
Stands the lilac bush, tall-growing, with heart-shaped leaves of rich green, 
With many a pointed blossom, rising, delicate, with the perfume strong I love, 
With every leaf a miracle......and from this bush in the door-yard,  15
With delicate-color’d blossoms, and heart-shaped leaves of rich green, 
A sprig, with its flower, I break.
- From "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd", Walt Whitman


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It's not a hydrangea in April

Gloria Ward, president of the American Hydrangea Society, told me the other day that she saw one of my photographs on Pinterest.  It was a viburnum, not this one, but a smaller one, Viburnum plicatum.   But the person had it listed as a hydrangea.

The picture of the one in question is in my book, Margaret Moseley's A Garden to Remember.  Two cascading branches are covered with pure white flowers the size of tennis balls.  I can certainly see why someone would think "hydrangea".  The plants we call snowballs, though, bloom here in the South in March and April.  Hydrangeas, except for the climbing ones, mostly bloom in June and July.  Well, actually, the oakleafs are at their peak in mid-to-late May, and the paniculatas, the sun-loving ones, flower in July and August.  I refer mostly to the ball-shaped and lace-cap macrophyllas (which can be purple, blue, pink, red and white) and the arborescens 'Annabelle' - these bloom primarily in June here.

Gloria corrected the Pinterest pinner (I want to learn how to do this; someone set me up and gave me a lesson, and now I've forgotten what to do), noting that what they were calling a hydrangea is actually one of the spring-blooming genus Viburnum.

Pictured above is the green form of Viburnum macrocephalum, the giant Chinese snowballDepending where you are around the city, the flowers of this shrub (which can grow as tall as 20 feet), are now turning white.  I took this photograph in Margaret Moseley's garden last Saturday.  This particular plant (she has several of this same species) was in a good bit of afternoon shade.  It is likely mint green by now and could be white by the weekend.

This coming Sunday is Easter, and at our church we decorate a wooden cross on the lawn with flowers brought from home.  I groaned when I saw that Easter was going to be so late this year, thinking the azaleas and dogwoods - staples that fill up the cross (which is covered with foam oasis bricks) - would all be history.  The last time Easter was late, Wendie Britt, the minister's wife, and I spent an hour during the first Easter service cutting scratchy 'Knockout' roses from the church property so we'd have enough flowers to cover the oasis.  We laughingly called it the "Red Cross" that year.

Thank goodness, I was wrong about the timing this year.  The dogwoods are hanging on, and many of the Indica azaleas are just now coming into bloom.  I won't need to go to my Jewish friend's garden to raid his rhododendrons, which normally bloom in late April, to put on the Christian cross.

Best of all, I can take armfuls of Viburnum macrocephalum for the cross this year.  I haven't been up to the little house in over a week, but I'm betting mine are almost white now and will certainly be by Sunday.  I am also betting that people who gather to take pictures or watch as the cross is being filled with flowers, will mistake the oversized balls of this showy plant and will ask the question over and over:  "Is this a hydrangea?"