Friday, May 20, 2016

A garden's entrance and memories of arches past

As I approached this garden's entrance in St. Simons, Georgia, a flood of memories came rushing back.  First, I have to say that I was entranced by this entire garden, which was on a tour last weekend.  It had all the elements I love - arches, hedges, gravel paths, with exuberant vines everywhere (example:  a dusky pink, wild-looking rose billowing from a live oak tree; fragrant Confederate jasmine outlining the back door).

But the memories.  I saw this arch and thought immediately of my late husband's folly.  He was a part-time gardener, that is, he went mostly in spurts and frequently abandoned projects midstream.  He had seen a similar entrance arbor like the one above in a Smith & Hawken catalog.  So, in spite of dozens of other projects that needed attention around our house, he set out to re-create a rose-covered, white wooden garden entryway up at the little house.

Only, the "entrance" he had two men build was not an entrance at all, but a free-standing arch that led to nowhere.  Once you stepped through the impressive structure, crunching the pea gravel underneath, you were at a dead end.  Well, not exactly, but you would have had to step down a slope covered in raucous Vinca major to get anywhere.  This was especially dangerous, as you would have to have legs five feet in length to make the giant leap to the next level.  Your best bet was to slide through the vinca and just hope.

But, he was proud of the arch.  There were six round columns, three on each side.  The white wooden columns, discarded by a law partner who was renovating his house, were connected at the top by  beams; perpendicular cross pieces formed the canopy.  While the one above is fancier, with iron sides, a gate and an arched top, my husband's looked remarkably similar.

That first year, he planted an old fashioned annual vine called Dutchman's pipe.  It was much too rustic for his elegant white pergola, but the thing did have a lot of leaves and a few crazy-looking blooms.

The next spring, I suggested digging a 'Dorothy Perkins' rose (the most popular rose from Jackson & Perkins in the early 20th Century) that was growing a few feet away.  Instead, nothing was planted.  The arch stood without adornment.

Not too long after my husband died, the bottoms of the columns began to rot.  Even though the wooden plinths at the base were up on bricks, they rotted, too.  The guys who built it had long since moved away, and no one seemed to know how to fix it.  Every workman who looked at it was a naysayer.  When you lose a spouse suddenly like that, you have a million other things that take up your time and efforts.  I just didn't have the gumption to tackle the project.  At last, the whole thing collapsed.

So, I felt a little glimmer of guilt and sadness at seeing this entryway.  But, it also made me smile thinking of my husband and his arch to nowhere.

This one was partly covered in Confederate jasmine.  Below, you can see a view of the other side.  I loved walking down that boxwood-lined path and coming out into the open garden overlooking a lake.  The house was set among tall live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, and the narrow, winding road leading to it was like being in an enchanted forest.  I'm sure their wooden arch in such a humid climate requires a lot of upkeep, but it adds to the magical setting and for me brought back some bittersweet memories.

Friday, May 13, 2016

What's in your garden?

It was a dreamy day.  Four of us drove to Americus, Georgia, to visit the inimitable Furlow Gatewood, famous designer, New York antiques dealer, tastemaker and gardener.  At 95, he is still witty and urbane and very active.  We took a picnic, and he came out with a huge bag of cheese straws he'd made himself.  Furlow insisted we spread our lunch at a large round table in the solarium of the main house, which was formerly his mother's barn (that's what he called it; I think it was actually a carriage house).  It's the largest of the structures on the expansive property, which has been in his family for generations.

Marsha Powell from our Flower Guild team at church arranged the excursion.  Her father is from Americus, and his brother was a childhood friend of Furlow's.

Hidden behind a curtain of trees, Furlow's collection of houses and cottages - all decorated in a style that can only be called genius - contains stunning antiques, some rustic, some more sophisticated and rare - gathered throughout the years.  Interesting fabrics and slipcovers are everywhere.  I asked him about a particular pillow, and he said he'd seen a dishtowel he liked, so he bought several pieces to cover the pillows.  On another pair of chairs, he had turned the fabric inside out, because he liked the "wrong" side better.

I have his book,  One Man's Folly, and it shows this magnificent compound and details of many of the rooms in the four decorated houses (another cottage is actually the chicken coop where Furlow gathers fresh eggs every day).  Another elegant little building contains garden tools.  Yet another outbuilding houses antiques that aren't being used at present.

Seeing all this in person on a cool spring day, the floor to ceiling windows open, and the fresh air drifting in, peacocks squawking and jumping about on the roof or sauntering among the gardens - it was almost otherworldly.

Furlow must have a hundred giant snowballs (Viburnum macrocephalum) planted in rows here and there.  Below is a tree festooned with the white version of Lady Banks rose outside one of the cottages.  I have more photographs to show in another post very, very soon.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Is this my garden?

For at least two weeks, I have been in heaven.  The white Lady Banks rose I planted several years ago finally topped my hemlock hedge and spilled over the sides and rambled across to an iron arbor covered in trumpet vine (not visible here).  I couldn't believe that this was actually my garden.

For years, this area was a disaster.  What had started out 30 years ago as a croquet lawn with sodded zoysia grass surrounded by a hemlock hedge and English boxwoods, eventually disintegrated into a sparse patch of weeds that got mown only occasionally.   It was just too shady for any kind of grass.  I finally gave the croquet set away, as the mallets and balls had languished unused after a few games in the early days.

In exasperation and trying to buy myself some time to figure out what to do, I covered the area with black landscape cloth.  That was fine for a few weeks, but the weeks turned into months, then to years, and weeds popped up between the seams.  I put my head in the sand, so to speak, and wouldn't even look down from the terrace above if I could help it.

In 2013, my daughter became engaged and wanted to have the wedding outdoors at our house -something I said I would never, ever do.  I gave in, and the decision forced me to go into high gear. There was no place for about 20 people to gather for the small ceremony.  We could have a tent in front for a bigger reception later, but to line up chairs and make an altar (her childhood minister agreed to do the ceremony) and have room for a cello and violin was problematic.  I didn't have a room large enough inside, and we needed the back terrace for a bar and the cake and for people to just get away from the band at the reception that followed.

I had already made a small, narrow arch garden on the opposite side of the house, but there wasn't room for twenty people to stand, much less sit.  For that area, we had used tiny pea gravel with sharp edges that were not slippery like the rounded gravel I had in the front parking court.  What if we could take up that terrible black, messy cloth, edge the rectangle with cobblestones and cover the ground with this small pea gravel?  I already had 4,000 Belgian blocks - very heavy ballast stones - stored at the farm; the cobblestones had been in the front parking area, but kept sinking.  A few years before, at great trauma and expense, I had them dug up and hauled the 40 miles to Chattahoochee Hills to deal with later.

Long story short, we created the "lower garden" in back, and that's where we held the small ceremony.   The wire arch you see was used along with two handsome wire obelisks I borrowed to make a sort of altar.  For the greenery,  Elizabeth Dean contributed long strands of Italian ruscus (Danae racemosa) to go with smilax vine from Alabama.  A bigger reception took place under a tent in front, and guests wandered all through the house.  Most important of all, it was a perfect October evening, although I had already lost a good ten years off my life worrying about the weather.

There's still much to be done - perhaps plant foxgloves behind the boxwoods to the right and add a climbing rose to cover the wire arch which needs to be stabilized.  Maybe put out some French cafe chairs and a small round table and more benches to enjoy a cocktail before dinner (as if I ever throw any dinner parties!).

Still, I'm ecstatic.  On a recent evening, just at dusk, I stepped out onto the terrace and looked down.  A stretch of cool weather had preserved the roses that glowed in the low light.  For a moment it seemed that finally, after years and years, I had, at least temporarily, a dreamy garden scene in a place that had once been a nightmare.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

On this date - A safe bench among spring greens

If this bench had been in its current place some 20 years ago, it would have been looking out over a kidney-shaped pool.

And the boxwood knot garden would have been under aquamarine water.  But lacking a lot of garden space, Mary Wayne Dixon, a leading supporter of the Atlanta Botanical Garden since its inception, made a drastic decision.  With her daughter grown, and no one to use the pool, she had it filled in.  In its place, she created a boxwood parterre, designed by her late friend, English writer, gardener, designer and lecturer, Rosemary Verey.

Back when Mrs. Verey was on the lecture circuit, she stayed with Mary Wayne during her visits to Atlanta.  It was the Englishwoman's influence that inspired the giant leap from pool to picturesque garden.

The nice thing was that the space was already lower than the house and the rest of the grounds - an ideal situation allowing one to look down upon the design.

I took this photograph on this very date four years ago.  Interestingly, we had an early-ish spring that year.  Just before you step down into this garden, there is a Viburnum macrocephalum in a shrub border.  In 2012, the flowers had already turned from green to white.  While spring came rushing down on us this year, the Chinese snowball is still in its green stage, or at least it is at my house.

I don't know if my friend ever sits on that bench, but I love its placement against the espaliered fruit trees.  The variegated boxwoods make it seem cozy.  And, what is very important to me, although I hardly ever find time to sit outside, is that you would feel comfortable putting your feet down on the gravel where you can see what's happening around you.  I'm making this latter statement because years ago on a garden tour, another erudite English gardener pointed to a lovely bench set among some tall grass and flowers.

"That is an ill-placed garden seat, " he said. "I would feel uneasy sitting there.  I like to know there's no creature lurking about unseen.  You should always make sure you feel perfectly safe when you're sitting in the garden."