Friday, October 20, 2017

If you love hydrangeas, come hear Robert Mallet!

On a beautiful day in May 2006,  my two daughters and I drove our rental car from an underground garage in Paris to the coast of Normandy.  We were celebrating my younger daughter's graduation from college and my older daughter's completion of a master's degree in journalism.  Although it was a year late, I, too was celebrating.  However, mine was a milestone birthday (oh, how young I was!)

There were many highlights on the our trip from Paris, where we had stayed in an apartment in the Marais for a week.  We first went to a very crowded, but floriferous Giverny, then made our way to the D-Day beaches.  There, we got to see the end of a Memorial Day ceremony in the American cemetery.  We all shed tears.

Our ultimate destination was Varengeville-sur-Mer, where a visit with Robert and Corinne Mallet turned out to be the perfect ending for the trip.  I had had the pleasure of meeting the Mallets, arguably the two most knowledgeable people in the world on the subject of hydrangeas, when they came to Atlanta.  Penny McHenry, founder of the American Hydrangea Society, had arranged for several of us to visit nurseryman Eddie Aldridge in Birmingham so the Mallets could see oak leaf hydrangeas in their native habitat.  We also saw the Aldridge Gardens in Hoover, where Eddie had planted rows of Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake', the double-flowering oak leaf Eddie's father had introduced to the world from where the plant was found in an obscure corner of Alabama.

Back to France:  My daughters were charmed by Robert, who took us on a wonderful tour of his family's ancestral manor house and the extensive gardens begun in the late 19th century by his grandfather.  I have photographs of my daughter in front of towering rhododendrons in full bloom.  Then, we drove to a two-hectare (just under five acres) field.  We got out of the car and walked around to see only some landscape cloth stretched out, with a few newly-planted hydrangeas (only identifiable by the emerging leaves) in an otherwise empty space.

Robert told us about the plan for a glorious garden, which would house a collection of hydrangeas from around the world.  He and Corinne would plant fast-growing paulownia trees to provide shade.  I couldn't picture this because for us in Georgia, this is rather an aggressive, not-too-attractive tree that can pop up in unwanted places.  Robert assured us that this was not the case in France, that the large leaves would quickly provide cover for those hydrangeas needing shade.

I have to admit that I could not picture any kind of garden in this blank field, although the surrounding countryside, with gentle, rolling hills was lovely in the fresh burst of spring. 

Today, 11 years later, that lonely-looking field is a paradise of hydrangeas. Visitors coming from all over the world are awe-struck by the glowing colors and the magnificent blooms of every shape and size along the maze of trails meandering through the five acres.

Robert Mallet will be at the Atlanta History Center on Monday, October 23rd, to give a presentation on the Shamrock Collection, now the largest and most extensive assemblage of hydrangeas in the world.  The title of his lecture:  The Ultimate Exhibitionist:  Hydrangeas from Private to Public.   American Hydrangea Society meetings begin at 7 p.m., with refreshments and time for buying raffle tickets for a wonderful array of hydrangeas.  The lecture will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Woodruff Auditorium located in McElreath Hall, 130 West Paces Ferry Road, N.W., Atlanta 30305.

The last time Robert addressed the American Hydrangea Society, I left with my heart beating wildly, wanting every hydrangea I saw in this notable collection.  His charm and enthusiasm are infectious, making him the perfect spokesperson for this genus of plants that has brought beauty and joy to so many gardens around the world.

Robert in the "before" Shamrock Collection in 2006

The beginnings of a world-famous garden 

The Shamrock Collection "after"

Entrance to Robert's family's manor house, La Maison du Bois des Moutiers, designed by Edwin Lutyens.  Those are hydrangeas in the terra cotta pots.  You can see Clematis montana 'Alba' in bloom in the enfilade.

Part of the garden around the manor house

A Lutyens bench, of course.  Windows of the manor house festooned in clematis.

Note:  The photograph at the top of the page shows giant-flowered hydrangeas at Amy Linton's house in Peachtree Hills in Atlanta.   On Sunday, October 22, 2017, yet another award-winning documentary film edited by Amy - Robert Shaw - Man of Many Voices - will make its Atlanta debut at the Rich Auditorium at the Woodruff Arts Center., 1280 Peachtree St., N.E., Atlanta 30309.   The time is 4:00 p.m., and tickets are $10 general admission.  The fascinating story of a great man, plus beautiful music.  I have to brag that Amy edited A Gardener's Diary on HGTV, produced by Kathryn MacDougald and me, and starring Erica Glasener.  Now, Amy is even more big time, with many acclaimed documentaries to her credit. for information and to purchase tickets.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Plant combinations to consider copying

A couple of years ago, I put together a Powerpoint presentation called "Copycat Gardening."  In it, I tried to find examples of scenes in gardens worthy of translating into your own landscape.

The presentation, which I did for a garden club (sadly, I've since had to give up speaking to groups), included subjects like "copying gates"; copying paths"; copying hardscapes", etc.  You get the idea.

One of the subjects was "copying garden scenes."  In this selection of photographs, I included a lot of plant combinations, usually set against some sort of garden ornament.

Back in June, I worked a shift at the American Hydrangea Society's annual tour.  The day before, I got to see all the gardens and take pictures.  This was a wonderful selection of gardens, and there were things you'd want to copy at every place I visited.

Above is one of the scenes I loved in the garden where I worked.  This charming coneflower (I do not know if this is one of the Saul brothers' selections - should have asked) was planted next to a bench and backed by Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle.'

I love the blue-gray foliage of the dianthus over next to the leg of the garden seat and also the smattering of blue from what I'm guessing is a salvia.

There were so many scenes to copy in this multi-acre garden that I had trouble narrowing the photos down to just one.  I would scroll through the pictures, but I kept coming back to this one.  It's something to keep in mind if you have a bench that needs some flower personality.

Below is yet another coneflower/'Annabelle' combination.  This time the ornament is a pyramid-shaped tuteur.  This was in a country garden near my hometown.  Again, there are endless combinations to copy in this amazing garden which stretches for acres.  The owner saves the coneflower seeds and plants them all about the many outbuildings, along fences and mixes them in her extensive vegetable gardens.  It's one of those places I go that sends my envy meter skyrocketing - so many flowers, herbs, shrubs, trees, vegetables - all put together in garden rooms (in some cases, huge rooms) that take your breath away.

Stay tuned for more Copycat Gardening.  I admit I have no shame.  If I could re-create either of these scenes, I would do it in a heartbeat.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Obsessed with "little" hedges

I have a longtime, cherished friend who often has me come and give her advice about what to do with her yard.  Not once has she taken any of my suggestions.  It's actually pretty funny, and it doesn't hurt my feelings at all.  I do have to say that I kept suggesting a pair of boxwoods to flank her front door, and she kept saying she didn't like boxwoods.  She later hired a garden designer (I am not one, by the way) who got her to plant two boxwoods by the front door.  They look great.

The last time I was over, she was concerned about a blank area on the white brick wall on the back wing of her house.  In an instant, I could see it.  An espalier on the wall, then a four-foot-wide space for some perennials for cutting, mixed with low-growing, flowering shrubs.  All this to be outlined with a hedge of dwarf boxwood, sheared as the one is above, to form a border and give a neat, controlled look.

"I don't like little hedges," she replied immediately.

"Oh," I said, and sort of chuckled to myself.  Here was yet another of my suggestions dismissed forthwith.  I was sure the design I had in mind would answer all her concerns, but it wouldn't work without the low hedge.

Take, for example, the scene pictured above.  There's a lot going on behind that low box hedge.  Without something to keep the chaos all in, I don't think the yellow flower garden would be as attractive.

But, then, I am obsessed with hedges of all heights.  I love them.  For over a year, I have been looking at the only space that receives sun in front of my house (besides the parking area, which is blazing hot in summer).  I have designed in my head a beautiful little sun garden that requires a low hedge like the one above.  I even have access to one I could dig and move here.

But there is a major problem.  Sitting right where I want this garden is a berm with three giant trees - a tulip poplar, a sweet gum, and a second tulip poplar.  When we built this house, we carved a space out of the woods, and every tree that could be saved was left standing.

When I had a garden designer come in the beginning, she suggested taking out those three trees and flattening the berm (oh, how I wish I had).  My husband would not hear of it.  He was determined to save every tree.  In fact, he insisted on lopping off a planned carport to save a white oak which hovered over the new house.  Years after my husband died, a 40-foot-long limb fell from that tree.  The oak is now gone, and in its place my arch garden.  There is still no shelter for cars.

I am off subject here, but I need to explain further.   I did apply for a permit to remove the three trees, not because of my vision of a flat, sunny garden, but because the biggest and closest poplar is listing toward the front of my house. Furthermore, the roots of all three trees are exposed, and that worries me.  My son-in-law more than once has expressed his reluctance to let his two-year-old daughter and her younger sister sleep in a second floor room that is right in the path of the largest tree.

The City of Atlanta did send someone out.  I saw him drive up, turn around, sit for about two seconds and then drive off.  He never got out of the car and was gone before I could get to him to explain that the top had already broken out of the tree and that several limbs had dropped.  The permit was denied.

It's silly, but not a day goes by that I don't look at that berm and see a flat, sunny garden filled with sun-loving flowers.  You would enter under a rose-covered arch which would free my 'Climbing Iceberg' that has been imprisoned in a container for three or more years.  I also have four more roses that would flourish in this spot.  They are pillar roses and would need tuteurs. but that would add some height to the space.  Right now, the roses are languishing in too much shade.  The best part is I could put up a fish-line barrier that would keep the deer out.  And, of course, I would have that lovely little hedge.

Tomorrow, I have a tree man coming to give me an estimate on a dead hickory in back.  I am going to ask him what the chances are I could get a permit for those three trees.  I would love to get this project started and finally have a sunny, although small,  garden.

September would be the ideal time to move that existing hedge (wonder what my friend will think when she sees it).  I don't want to lose the chance of getting it.  So, I'll cross my fingers that something will work out, but I may just have to wait for the next big limb to fall.

Here's is what I had in mind for my new hedged-in garden:

Just kidding!  This is Le Jardin de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris.  The photo was taken by my friend Carol Tessier, who has her own spectacular jardin on the outskirts of Paris.  Note the yellow hoses - wondering about a sprinkler system.  Those look very heavy.

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: