Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The beauty of a different kind of hydrangea

The exquisite hydrangea you see above is one I've coveted for years.  When I was down at Wilkerson Mill Gardens near Palmetto (my home town) a couple of weeks ago, I snapped this photograph of Hydrangea involucrata, which has the loveliest soft (to the touch) grayish foliage and muted lavender flowers.  Even after it has reached its peak, the blooms are still beautiful, fading to creamy white.

According to Elizabeth Dean, co-owner of the nursery with her husband Gene Griffith, the Japanese name for this variety is 'Tama Azisai', Tama meaning "ball" and Azisai, "hydrangea."  The ball refers not to the open blooms but to the ball-shaped buds.  If you look closely, you can pick out a few of these latter.

I must say there are so many treasures at this wonderful nursery (see for their offerings).  I rode up to the mountains last weekend with Lyndy Broder, who has an amazing collection of plants in her multi-acre garden in the countryside near Stockbridge.  So many she found at Wilkerson Mill Gardens.  Back when you couldn't locate anything unusual, Elizabeth and Gene would have it.  You could always find something beautiful and out-of-the-ordinary.

This photograph illustrates how a single hydrangea can add great beauty to a landscape, even as the season wanes.  I just stood there transfixed at the combination of muted colors and the delicate nature of the blooms.

I'm adding this to my wish list, no matter if it never gets to be the size shown here in my lifetime.  I always think of Margaret Moseley, who through her eighties and into her nineties kept planting things she had read about or seen somewhere.  Just this past year, she put in several 'Limelight' hydrangeas.  At 98 years old, she's raving about their blooms and how quickly they grow, so I guess it's never too late to be thrilled by a new plant in your garden.

A reminder:  Next Tuesday evening, October 28th, the American Hydrangea Society will have its fall meeting at the Church of the Holy Spirit at 4465 Northside Drive, Atlanta 30327, at the corner of Mt. Paran Road. We gather at 7 p.m. for social time and to view all the plants we might win.  The program begins at 7:30 p.m.  Sara Henderson, a longtime hydrangea expert and past president of the AHS, will be the speaker.  Sara is currently Director of Gardens for Historic Oakland Cemetery.  She has extensive horticultural affiliations and is a popular lecturer.  Her lovely garden has been on HGTV's A Gardener's Diary and on many tours.  You can read about her in the latest AHS newsletter at:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Spying on Charleston gardens

There's nothing like strolling through the streets of historic Charleston on a beautiful day.  The only thing was there were so many tourists.  But then, what was I?  You're still a tourist even if you are there  to attend a wedding (and what a wedding - I'm still kicking myself for forgetting my camera to record the gorgeous tent, the amazing flowers and candles and greenery-draped chandeliers and monogrammed linen cocktail napkins!).

Anyway, on Saturday morning, I took off under a bright, sunny sky.  A front had come through the night before, and it was actually chilly.  I walked first to find the church so I'd know exactly where I was going that afternoon.  On the way, you could hear the clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages.  Sometimes, I'd follow along and stop when they did, listening to the history lessons.

I passed the scene above, obviously spying through the gate (I like it when Charleston residents give you a glimpse into their alleyways and narrow gardens).  It was a difficult day for photography, because it was bright and crisp, and every shadow was sharp in the harsh light.  Thus, this swimming pool looks striped.  Still, you can get the idea of the small, but striking landscape.

I did find the lovely old Episcopal church.  It was just across the street from a garden we featured on A Gardener's Diary on HGTV.  I peeked inside that garden, too, and admired the old roses in bloom.  There was tropical vine I was not familiar with, blooming on the fence.

My walk lasted three hours, and I was able to take pictures of gardens I'd photographed in 2007.  It still amazes me how so much can be done with so little space.  You'll see a wall covered with Confederate jasmine, and the whole plant is coming from one little opening in the sidewalk.

When it was time for the wedding, my daughter and I took a bicycle rickshaw to the church (my other daughter was a bridesmaid).  As we were dodging traffic, I glimpsed some gardens I'd missed.  I saw just enough to make me want to go back to Charleston.  I don't think I can ever get enough of peering through iron gates or openings in brick walls to see all the treasures hidden there.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Evolution and (unwanted) revolution in the garden

Something happened yesterday.  The man who tends the garden above appeared at my house in mid-morning, asking if I needed any work done.  He had finished a project in the pictured garden, which started out as large boxwood parterres (this being the largest) filled with seasonal flowers, clipped bay trees, roses and on and on.  Apparently, as the owner added other areas (like a fenced-in cutting garden, a chicken coop and an area for designer goats), the parterres were simplified.  This one is still beautiful, but in a different, more serene way.  The garden has evolved over time in an unexpected direction.

Back at my house, I was thrilled to have some help.  It's so rare that this man has any time, given the demand for his services.  A few weeks ago, he had brought some of my cobblestones from the farm, in anticipation of adding a small garden area opposite the arch garden.  This new, undeveloped triangular space is where this same man planted my mother's purple hydrangea and a boxwood.  On one side is a wild magnolia that separated the area from my bird feeding operation.  The branches of the magnolia came almost to the ground (you had to duck to get under them), but they were where the cardinals, who had basically taken over the feeders, perch awaiting their turn.

So, I had been doing something in the house (another man who came with him was pressure washing the concrete deck, which desperately needed it), when I walked out to talk about the new space.  I almost fainted.  The man had limbed up the magnolia, so much so that I had to look up at the branches.  My heart sank.  The deed was done.  Where were the cardinals going to gather and be protected from the eyes of hawks?  Not to mention, that the space looked so bare and exposed now.

"Plants won't grow here if you don't let sunlight in," he explained. "You have a boxwood in one corner, and you need two more here and here.  This way you'll have enough light to have a little garden."

He was right about that.  Nothing could have grown under those magnolia branches.  Also, he couldn't cut one side of the tree and leave the other.  Still, I went out this morning to feed the birds, having imagined last evening that not nearly as many showed up, and it all still looks so bare to me.

This incident is like so many others that have happened to me and to anyone with a garden and occasional help.  You don't anticipate that someone would go off on a notion of their own.  I couldn't have dreamed that this man would have cut all those magnolia branches.  Just wouldn't have crossed my mind.  I think it was last year that 98-year-old Margaret Moseley went out with a helper to show him a branch of a camellia that had grown over some other plants.  She wanted only that one limb removed.  Later, she went out to discover that the entire six-foot-tall bush had been cut to the ground.

So, I'll trust that the man is right, that I couldn't have grown anything along the cobblestone border he put in where the magnolia had blocked the light.  My neighbor came by after he had gone and said she thought the cardinals would adjust.  They can still perch in the magnolia, but it will be much higher.  And, they still have the osmanthus, the shelf rock and a small weed tree I keep trimmed for them as a perch.  I've noticed, though, that this new arrangement has emboldened the chickadees and the titmice.  They're the ones dominating the feeders this morning.

Back to the positives.  I can now have two more boxwoods which will tie the new space to the arch garden directly across the path.  I'm also comforted by the thought that the woman who owns the magnificent garden shown above puts all her faith in this man.  He is the sole keeper of her huge yard and probably uses his own intuition a lot of the time.  I think once I get over the shock of the bareness, I'll be glad it happened.  I'm always grousing about not having enough sun.  Now, at least in this little corner, that won't be the case.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Another garden mystery unlikely to be solved

In September of last year, I wrote a post about a yellow lycoris that popped up seemingly out of nowhere at my house.  If you type "yellow lycoris" in the search box at the top, you'll pull up the blog dated September 27, 2013.  That single stalk was next to a narrow path that leads to my brush pile.  It could have flowered there before, but I don't think so.  I go back there fairly often and would have seen it in some stage of bloom.

I wrote on that day that I wouldn't have been too surprised if it had been a red spider lily (Lycoris radiata).  I have a few at the little house that someone planted long ago.  Also, they're just not that rare.  I've been seeing them around in yards for at least a month now.

But, I'm retracting that statement.  I certainly was taken by surprise.  About a week and a half ago, I walked outside my basement door where I saw these three stalks blooming together.  They came up in a patch of Siberian iris Priscilla Glass gave me over 30 years ago.  I am positive that these flowers have never bloomed here before.

So, now I'm wondering.  I used to order things from the ads in the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin, published by the Georgia Department of Agriculture.  Sometimes, if I ordered a bulb, it would be so small that I had no hope of its maturing until I was in my sunset years.  That wasn't always the case, but it did happen a few times.  I would be lucky to have foliage come up eventually;  many just never flowered and then altogether disappeared.

I am trying to figure out if indeed a tiny bulblet could have been contained in the soil of Priscilla's gift, and it took 32 years to mature to a blooming size.  I am over a 150 yards, maybe even 200 yards, away from the little house.  I have some pink naked ladies (Lycoris squamigera) up there that bloom in July.  There's never been a lycoris up here except for said yellow one that was nowhere to be seen this year (when I went looking for it a couple of weeks ago, I did find a splintered, rotten limb near or maybe right on top of the place where it had appeared last year;  nothing could have gotten up through all that;  I cleared it all out, but still no yellow surprise).

I'm tempted to call up Priscilla and ask her if she has ever had red spider lilies.  But, am I foolish to think it would take over 30 years for a tiny bulb to grow to blooming size?  Those bulbs aren't all that large, anyway.

I think this occurrence will remain a mystery.  This coming winter, I'll look for some strappy leaves to appear.  The Siberian iris pretty much die down then, so I think I'll know.  I don't dare divide and disturb them, because I won't be able to wait another 30 years to see them flower again.