Saturday, June 17, 2017

Gather ye rosebuds....

We planned to have parties - many of them - in his new garden.  We talked about it a lot.

Years ago, when I first walked into my friend's back yard, I sort of winced.  It was dominated by a giant oak tree.  It was a dark space and wasn't very inviting.  Oaks are wonderful, majestic shade trees, but they are messy and not the best canopy for a garden.  You have the catkins in the spring and leaves and acorns in the fall.

As fate would have it, the tree fell on his house one night.  He wasn't hurt, but the tree did a huge amount of damage, and the back of the house had to be rebuilt.   All of a sudden, he had a sunny back yard.  He was marking time until he could afford to do a major overhaul of the space.  That first year, we planted zinnias in the space where the root ball had come out, but it was pretty much a hodgepodge of broken stones and some stubborn weeds and overgrown tropical-looking plants.

Another year passed, and he asked me to help him design a garden.  I demurred, saying I lacked experience, but he persisted, and finally I came up with a plan, chose the plants and had them delivered and installed.  He took care of the stonework.

The whole garden was surrounded by a six-foot tall stucco wall.  Against this, we planted two espaliered Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide.'  There were two mature Cryptomeria japonica which cast shade in one corner where an existing yew (rare in the South) was healthy and happy and took up a good bit of space.

We made outlines of boxwood hedges around 'Annabelle' hydrangeas and several camellias we bought at a garden outlet store.  This same hedge turned a corner to line the entrance to an antique tool shed.  Some struggling cone-shaped boxwoods were moved over behind the hedges on either side of the shed.  We also added some tea olives, and along the sunny part of the wall behind the shed, we lined up arborvitae trees left over from my daughter's wedding.  He found two variegated conical euonymus plants that were about five feet tall.  These added some light to the shadier area and shone beautifully on the sunny side.

On the opposite end across from the shed, near the exquisite iron gate that marked the entrance from the driveway, was a tiny pond which had a pump that circulated water over some rocks into the pool.  He planted lemon-colored cedars in a narrow border and moved some hostas over against the wall where he also had some existing cast-iron plants and autumn and holly ferns.  In several places, he had overgrown Fatsia japonica, which we cut back to a better size.

In the middle of the garden where the tree had been, he put a stone table and had hanging lights installed on an iron pole, perfect for the small dinners we would have.  Since he was an interior designer, he was able to have custom cushions made for all the benches and chairs.  It was all set for entertaining.

But in the spring of 2016, he began to have shortness of breath.  It ended up that the congestive heart failure that had manifested itself four years before, but had been in control,  had returned.  He fought hard, and was in and out of the hospital for weeks on end.  Finally, his doctor told him the only way to survive was to have a heart transplant.

The photograph above and directly below are two of several I took while he was in the CCU waiting for a heart.  I brought my computer over to show him.  We vowed that in the fall, when he would have recovered from the surgery, we would have our first party in the garden.  Our plan was to have it when the tea olives would be blooming, and sweet fragrance would waft over the romantic scene with the lights and some soft music and candles.

I won't go into the agony of the roller coaster ride of hope and despair that ensued, but a week after we celebrated his getting on the top of the transplant list,  he contracted sepsis and died a week later on this day - June 16, 2016, at age 65.

It turned out there was a party in his garden, after all.  His dear friends Robert and Edwin, who never left his side during his ordeal,  planned a wonderful celebration so his designer friends could see the new garden and say good-bye to his fabulously decorated house (full of wonderful art and furniture; it had been featured in many publications and on home tours).  The party was held on the Sunday after his August 12th birthday.  There was plenty of laughter and sharing of memories.  He would have loved this wonderful occasion and all the attention, but this was not the party we had so often envisioned.

I actually tried to write this yesterday on the one-year anniversary of his death, but could not finish.  I started thinking about all our plans - we talked on the phone every day for years.  He was so proud of the garden and was having fun buying plants - mostly boxwoods in various shapes - to put in containers.  That first year the garden was finished, he had red tree roses underplanted with yellow creeping jenny and red begonias sitting atop the wall.  He was loving decorating the garden.

The garden now belongs to someone else - a young couple who bought the house.  I can't help but wonder if they have clipped the box hedges like he wanted, or if they've added furniture (all of his, including the clay pots of boxwoods, was sold at an estate sale).  I wonder, too, if the couple has planned parties, as the space, even without the table or any of the planters or furniture, was still beautiful and just right for entertaining.

I had written down for the  couple the names of the two large bushes on the side of the house.  The plants had probably been there for decades (the house was built in 1924).  One was an old-fashioned Deutzia scabra and the other a mock orange (Philadelphus sp.).  We had used branches of both in church arrangements.  I had asked the couple not to cut them down, so they, too, could enjoy the flowers in the spring.

Actually, my title above from the poem To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time by Robert Herrick is meant as a reminder for young women to hurry up and marry.  But that second line, "Old Time is still a-flying" makes me think of how we ignored such an idea. We thought we had all the time in the world.  I'm glad that he never realized that he didn't.  I'm also glad he had something to look forward to, that kept his spirits up and his hope alive until he lost consciousness.  There's nothing like a garden to do that for us.

The tool shed and the table with the lights; we did several hedges of Korean boxwood around the garden:

  Old-fashioned Deutzia scabra on the side of the house:

An Easter arrangement he did for church, using branches of his mock orange.  That's it hanging down on the right front:

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Plant combinations - carefully planned or happy accident?

When we were producing A Gardener's Diary on HGTV, we had fun latching onto phrases that kept cropping up and appropriating them to other situations.

For example, in the pilot for the series, host Erica Glasener asked gardener Ruth Mitchell how she had decided on a combination of a bright pink spreading verbena and a prolific low-growing rose (was the rose red?  I don't remember!).

Ruth answered with typical enthusiasm.  "Oh no. I didn't do it on purpose.  It was just a happy accident!"

After that, the producers and editors had fun calling just about any circumstance that cropped up a "happy accident." There was sort of a competition as to who could come up with the silliest use of the phrase.

Later, when I was visiting an Atlanta garden, the owners wanted to ask if I could identify the orange vine that had slipped down into the flowers of their grancy graybeard.  I told them it was crossvine, Bignonia capreolata 'Tangerine Beauty.'  The gentleman said he had not remembered planting it, but he loved the combination that had somehow come about.

"A happy accident," I said, and he agreed, not knowing how many times I had said those words in the past.

I have a happy accident about to take place in my little arch garden alongside the house.  There is a Japanese holly (the kind that resembles boxwood, but is not as elegant) that has grown up next to a parent plant.  For some reason, it has not branched out and has remained fastigiate.  I do keep it clipped some so it will remain narrow, and it is now about 10 feet tall.

Several feet away I have 'Graham Stuart Thomas' rose, growing on the same line as the holly, both  just begging for an arch.  Yesterday, I bought a large wire one, which I hope will prove sturdy enough to let me train this narrow evergreen up and over it.  From the other side will come the yellow rose.  I'm hoping for complete coverage from both sides to smother the arch.

While I'm now officially planning this combination, it was truly a happy accident that the holly anomaly came up where it did.  I know I'm going to have to jerry-rig some support for the sides of the arch to stabilize it (the holly is strong and stiff and sort of crooked), but I think it's going to be a lovely combination, if I can get it to work.  I think I"ll know soon.

Below:  Some errant roses that fell from the tuteur.  Soon they'll all be attached to a new garden arch.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The green behind hydrangeas

Here is an excerpt from the book Margaret Moseley's A Garden to Remember.  The chapter is about her collections and how she started a garden from scratch:
One way Margaret built her garden was by collections.  She would fall in love with a genus of plants, and after she was hooked she'd launch a search for varieties she didn't have.
"It's the best way to start a garden," she says.  "It's like a treasure hunt.  And, if you collect both deciduous and evergreen shrubs, then you'll have a good mix and can work from there."
Margaret, a self-taught gardener, had an innate ability to picture how a plant would appear and how it should be used to its best advantage.  She realized early on that deciduous shrubs should be backed by evergreens so the garden would have structure in winter.  This meant that the four collections which form the backbone of her garden - viburnums, Camellia sasanqua, Camellia japonica and hydrangeas - all complement [one] another.
The photograph above, taken in Margaret's garden, shows a Hydrangea macrophylla against a backdrop of evergreen camellias.  Margaret used many evergreens in her garden - boxwoods, camellias, Florida anise, daphnes, pieris, azaleas and rhododendrons, to name a few.  When she planted, she considered how a plant would show up best in summer and how the winter garden would look when the leaves had fallen.  Evergreen hellebores and holly and autumn ferns were also strategically placed against deciduous shrubs, particularly hydrangeas.

On this coming Monday, April 24, award-winning and renowned landscape architect Dottie Myers will present a program to the American Hydrangea Society entitled, "The Importance of Evergreens in the Garden."   Dottie is currently the longest standing member of the Georgia Gold Medal Committee, which each year selects the best plants for Georgia gardens.  She has taught landscape classes at several universities and has been a frequent lecturer for three decades.

The meeting will be held at the Atlanta History Center in Woodruff Auditorium in McElreath Hall, 130 West Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta 30305.  Refreshments, social time and sign-up begins at 7:00 p.m.  Meeting starts at 7:30.  Raffle tickets will be sold for some wonderful hydrangeas and companion plants.  There is ample free parking.

Come and join or renew your membership (last chance before prices go up at the end of May) and purchase tickets for the annual American Hydrangea Society tour on Saturday, June 10, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., rain or shine.  Single tickets are $30 and $40 for couples/family.  The price includes a one-year membership in the American Hydrangea Society.

Everyone is welcome to attend.

Below in Margaret's garden:  Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake' backed by the dark green, lustrous foliage of Camellia japonica 'Lady Clare'

A lacecap in Margaret's garden:

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Where did all the passion (for gardening) go?

I'm preaching to the choir here, I feel sure.  But, I have seen a disturbing trend recently.  There's been a slowdown in the interest in ornamental gardening.  I mean the kind that consumes you, where you go to a nursery and want every plant and come home with half of them.  You have nowhere to plant anything, no plan in place, but you had to have the shrub or perennial - likely one you've always wanted, and here it is.

Do a lot of people do this anymore?  In November, I went out to longtime grower Bobby Saul's wholesale nursery.  Down at the end, some veteran garden designers had put in an extensive garden.  In one section, there were ground covers, punctuated by unusual grasses and some agave-type plants.  There were also ornamental peppers mixed in and lots of herbs.  I had actually come to check out some zinnias my friend told me about, but they had been nipped by a cold spell.  They were supposed to be spectacular.  I hope to catch them next year.

As I walked around with Bobby, he talked about how his business had changed.  I can remember going there, say 15 years ago, and my heart would race, wishing I could buy every shrub and every perennial on the huge lot.  Trucks were coming and going like mad.  Business was booming.

"The millennials aren't into gardening," he said.  "They're not buying a lot of ornamentals. We've seen an uptick in interest in growing vegetables, but it's not like it used to be."

I was dismayed.  I have a daughter who is a couple of years older than the oldest millennial, and the farthest thing from her mind is a proper garden.  She does want an arbor to cover a concrete patio and a vine to provide shade from the western sun.  She and her husband have just moved into a newly constructed house.  I've only been once in the semi-dark, so I haven't had a chance to study the contractor's landscape.

What I did see scared me - terraced walls made of landscape timbers leading steeply up to a house in back of them.  They also have an undulating wooden fence surrounding a tiny back yard that has been recently sodded.  I immediately started rattling off things I would do, plants I would use to block the neighbors, but I think my words failed to register with them.

To be fair, they were still unpacking boxes, and I was already redesigning their front entrance in my head.  They both work long hours each day, so there hasn't been much time to do anything.

By contrast, my other son-in-law, who is 41, has only a balcony at their apartment in a Brooklyn, New York, brownstone, but he is obsessed with gardening.  He and my daughter have bought a house in Montclair, New Jersey, but are renting it for two years due to their nanny situation.

My son-in-law has made a beautiful "landscape" in a space that must be only 12 ft. x 16 ft.  He has climbing roses, a boxwood hedge, hydrangeas (the blue macrophylla he bought as a 'Limelight' has spent a lot of time indoors recently) and lots of herbs and annuals.  He was all set to buy an expensive espalier of apple trees, when my daughter stepped in and blocked that idea.   He's already dreaming and studying the large corner lot in Montclair and drawing out possible scenarios.  This is encouraging.

I say all this because ornamental gardening has been such an obsession with me.  Due to my circumstances, I haven't been able to fulfill a lot of my own dreams, but one thing is for sure.  In whatever time I have remaining, gardening, I know, will always be a thrill to me.  As my late guru Margaret Moseley said, "Gardening is so exciting - watching over plants and waiting for them to bloom...There isn't anything like it.  I can't wait to get out there every morning to see what's going on in the garden.  There's never a dull moment."

Photo above:  Part of a beautiful garden belonging to friends who spent decades changing and improving and experimenting with their back yard.  They were often on the big tours sponsored by the Atlanta Botanical Garden.  I ran into them and was surprised to learn that they had turned everything over to a maintenance company.  But, I know this wonderful landscape gave them years and years of pleasure.