Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Landscapes in the 'Limelight'


It didn't take long for Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight' to catch on around Atlanta.  With smaller flowers than 'Grandiflora' (which can look weirdly huge in certain situations), but with larger blooms than the species, 'Limelight' has become the new late-July, early-August landscape feature.

One, it is very easy to grow and very floriferous.  The inflorescences are packed solid with florets which take on a lime-green hue, then turn pure white.  Thus, you have a showier flower than the airy 'Tardiva' and 'Unique'.  In addition, you have almost instant success at a time when it is hot and humid, as 'Limelight' is easy to grow and shoots up quickly.  It's one of the 'Proven Winners' series.

It was a couple of decades ago that another trendy plant stood in the same place as the above hydrangeas.  In fact, at the time I was secretly horrified that someone had chosen Bradford pears for this spot on the terrace of the Piedmont Driving Club in Atlanta.  I can't remember when they went away, but I was glad.  They just never looked right to me.

In a recent renovation of the club, the swimming pool is close to this spot, so it's nice to have some summer flowers.  The fig vine on the wall below was hurt this winter, but it has come back, and most of the brown leaves are gone.  The macrophylla hydrangeas (in the foreground, next to the Japanese maple) along this walkway were injured in the cold.  There were a few blooms, but nothing like the usual June show.  With a better winter, they should look good next year.

But, back to 'Limelight'.  A few years ago, a Sunday School class at my church asked me to draw up plans for a memorial garden.  I struggled like crazy with a plan.  'Limelight' had just hit the market in a big way, so they planted several along a path.  I was amazed that during their first season, they looked as if they'd been there forever.

For me, 'Liimelight' is a problem.  As I've mentioned, I live in a wooded section of the City of Atlanta.  The deer, which started coming here in the late 1990's, do not let my paniculata and arborescens hydrangeas bloom.  I had excitedly planted three 'Limelight' plants at the little house.  The deer chomped their blooms this year (despite spraying, which I probably didn't do often enough, given the earlier rains), so all I have are little ball-like nubs on the ends of the branches.  In the past few years, they've eaten the leaves, too, but this year it was just the blooms.  In November, I'm moving them - where, I don't know.  The deer don't mind coming right up to my house, so I've got to think of some sort of fence, where I can enclose all the things they love to eat.

But to end on a happy note.  I had to laugh when at age 97, Margaret Moseley called me up and said she had to have 'Limelight'.  For four decades, she would comb nurseries for new plants to be the first to try them out.  Last summer, she visited her cousin's garden and came back raving about his 'Limelight' hydrangeas.  She immediately went out and bought one.

The other day, she called to tell me about the plant.  "It's just beautiful," she said.  I'm going there today to get her to sign copies of the book I wrote about her (Margaret Moseley's A Garden to Remember), which has really caught on and is in its second printing.  It tickles me that at age 98, someone is so excited about a plant.  I'm sure she's not happy that she wasn't the first to have 'Limelight', but knowing her, she's already gotten a lot of people to plant this sun-loving hydrangea.




Thursday, July 24, 2014

A time to sit, or maybe not


Last fall, my friend Benjie gave me a very handsome garden bench.  It's one of those concrete ones made to look like wood.  Well, on this one it's just the legs that do, but it looks great as the focal point in my new arch garden.  When it was put there in late September, I envisioned cool, leisurely mornings  having my coffee and reading the paper, enjoying being outside.  The reality?  I haven't sat on the bench even once.

This also goes for the bench in the new lower garden, the latter pretty much a clean slate right now - just a rectangle of tiny pea gravel bordered by cobblestones, boxwoods and a hemlock hedge.  I hope to figure out what to do with the space soon.  Sometimes it takes years for me to get an inspiration. I hope this won't be the case, as I'm sort of getting on up there.  Perhaps, if I'd spend some time on that bench, though, an idea would come to me.

On July 4th, I went to Highlands, N.C., stopping by to see Claude and Ann Sullivan's house renovation and their expanded garden.  Both were stunning.  I had seen the original interior and the beginnings of the garden when Claude built atop a mountain his family had owned since the 1920's.  He was a great friend of my late husband's; they were classmates at Virginia Law School and later law partners.

While I was charmed by what they had done to the house, I couldn't believe the garden.  I described in a previous blog post a semi-circular lawn surrounded by wide borders.  There are beautiful rocks and ferns and astilbes and hostas in the shady sections.  In the sunny areas are flowers and shrubs set to bloom throughout the season.

One of my favorite spaces was the above sitting area, surrounded by conifers and looking out over the mountains.  I'm not sure if those chairs are facing west or east, but you'd either see a beautiful sunset or a gorgeous full moon rising.  Growing in the cracks of the stone is woolly thyme, which is not only attractive but very aromatic.  We oohed and aahed over this composition, imagining that Claude and Ann must spend every evening out there, having a glass of wine and watching the waning day.

Not so.  Claude says that since this has been in place, he and Ann have sat out there maybe three times.   Even though Claude is now retired and living full time in Highlands, he's finding that leisure hours are hard to come by.

I think this happens a lot.  I know this can't be right, but as hard as my mother and daddy worked, it seemed like they took more time to enjoy things.  They never sat on a bench, although my mother did spend time with her grandchildren on a swing out in the yard.  And, in Daddy's last year, he enjoyed sitting on a garden bench in the carport, listening to the bob-whites and whippoorwills.

I don't know, but I find that by the time I do paperwork and run errands, it seems like the day is gone.  Tuesday, I spent the morning at the Fulton County Tax Assessors' office and recording a survey of the farm with the Clerk of the Superior Court; yesterday, I drove a friend to Newnan for some business.  And, then there is exercise, walking the dog, and it's time for supper.

All the devotional books I have tell you to be still, to take time to rest and contemplate. But, I feel guilty if I do that.  Even working a crossword puzzle, I feel I shouldn't sit until I finish the whole thing, so I do it piecemeal, especially on Wednesdays (by Thursday, I'd be on the sofa the entire day; I'm just getting where I can get about a third of that one done).

But, once the mosquitoes die out this fall, I hope I'll go out in the mornings and sit and read the paper instead of watching the local and national news, which always gets my day off to a rocky start.  Sad to say, I'm the type who thinks I need to be doing something constructive all the time.  Thus, I'm always disappointed when I don't accomplish much, and the idea of sitting on a bench seems like a waste of time.  I know it isn't, that one should stop and smell the roses (maybe the 'Graham Stuart Thomas' next to the bench will bloom in October).  After all, that's the reason we have garden benches, is it not?











Tuesday, July 15, 2014

It actually worked out!


My daughter and her husband had to find a new apartment in Brooklyn in the spring.  When they finally made a decision after bidding on "houses" (really one floor of a building or brownstone) to buy, they ended up renting a two-bedroom apartment with a small terrace in a section called Carroll Gardens.

The description of the place had me down.  "It doesn't have as much light as our apartment," my daughter lamented over the phone.  "And there is this awful looking outside space that I think we'll just have to block off."

So, I went up there two weeks before they were to move to see the new place.  I was astounded.  It was way better than where they were (which I found claustrophobic).  The kitchen and soon-to-be baby's room faced south, as did the terrace.  I had held my breath when I looked out to see what had been described as "a disaster" and "hopeless."  Granted, there were ugly plastic chairs and black plastic pots full of weeds.  But, the tile that had been wrongly described as "extremely ugly" was actually very good-looking.  I could instantly see the possibilities.  The same was true of all the rooms.  It seemed huge compared to where they had been and much more convenient, as well.

It was mid-March when I was there, and after the bitter winter in New York, the garden shops were slow in getting in new merchandise, especially green goods.  My daughter and I went to every one we could, but the necessary items for the vision I had weren't out yet.

Thank goodness, my son-in-law took an interest in the terrace.  He was most excited about having a place for a grill, as he loves to cook.  The paved terrace is probably 14 feet off the ground and looks out at some very unsightly buildings.  However, if you walk to the edge and look down, there's a lovely garden that belongs to their landlords.  You can also see other gardens scattered about, some of them quite nice.

The first thing I thought about was creating some sort of green background.  I am a big believer in hedges.  They make everything look better.  I knew they needed boxwoods, and they would have to be the Korean type which are hardy up there and lend themselves to shearing.  It would be too costly to line the entire space with boxwoods in planters, so we decided to do the corner to block off some of the not-so-good views.  One of their requirements was to have an herb garden.  The box hedge would provide a backdrop for an assemblages of containers.

When it came to color, I recommended they use white flowers, since they would be there mostly in the evenings.  I particularly thought of Wave petunias, because they are so fragrant at night and in the early morning.  We went to Home Depot and bought a 'Climbing Iceberg' rose and a tall, narrow zinc container to set the plant up higher so it would be easy to attach to the ironwork.  I also recommended long, low planters for the boxwoods.  After much searching, my son-in-law and daughter finally ended up with just the right planters (ridiculously expensive for lightweight composite that looks like lead).  The boxwoods turned out to be crazily over-priced, as well.

But, they made a good investment, I think.  Six tall thin plants and then one that had been shaped into a cylinder for the corner.  They bought European-looking terra cotta for the herbs (l-r, above: rosemary, sage, lavender and thyme, rosemary), which are doing well.

What you can't see in this view is the rose and a line of window boxes hanging from the railing to the left, where there are more herbs, including basil and mint.  My son-in-law also planted variegated vinca to hang down from the boxes.  There are more pots of white petunias and for the shadier areas, white New Guinea impatiens.

Two things haven't worked out so well.  My son-in-law thought the rose would never bloom and kept asking me if it would be this year.  Everything was late up there due to a cool spring.  Finally, some buds appeared, and when you could see color, it was magenta.  My daughter laughs about her husband's optimism that the rose-colored bud could turn out to be white.  It was not.  This was no 'Climbing Iceberg', but a mousy-looking deep-pink rose with thorns.  It has no fragrance, but it is a repeat bloomer and a climber.  They don't mind it as much as I do.  I'm thinking we need to order an own-root 'Climbing Iceberg' from Roses Unlimited in South Carolina and go ahead and get it established.  It's hard to know what to do at this point, because this mystery one is healthy and producing flowers.

A second failure was my fault.  I soaked some moon vine seeds and gave them to my son-in-law when they were here in late May.  I also kept some for myself.  None of the seeds germinated, either in Atlanta or New York.  I had one that sprouted, but then it disappeared.  My son-in-law found some plants in Union Square and bought them.  I'm thinking they aren't moon vine but are morning glories (same genus).  I worry that the foliage is a sickly green.  My daughter and I passed a store where some moon vine was thriving with big, dark green leaves that had covered an entire trellis, so I'm quite sure this is the wrong plant.

But, given the minor drawbacks, the terrace is the favorite place to be right now.  They bought two big, comfortable teak chairs and an ottoman from Pottery Barn.  There are also two French cafe chairs which I bought for my daughter's first New York apartment.  I'm still looking at a blank space on the right wall opposite the fancy grill (part of the terrace is covered), thinking an espaliered camellia would be protected enough to make it.  That might be wishful thinking.

I was there over this past weekend, and we sat out in the cooling breezes both in the morning and in late afternoon.  In midday, there's too much sun, but it is truly a paradise at the other times.  I especially loved it when some friends came over Saturday evening, and we sat having chilled Côtes-de-Provence rosé and great conversation.  The petunias were so fragrant, and someone crushed some lavender leaves.  It was almost as if we were in another world.



Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Inside out


When I was first married and had my own little house (all 800 square feet of it), I was crazy for houseplants.  Oddly enough, the kitchen of the 1926 clapboard cottage (painted dark green, as it still is), had a great place for indoor plants.  There was good light, albeit from the northeast, and enough counter space to hold a good many containers.

I ended up with a mess, however.  First of all, I was convinced I needed two Boston ferns.  Of course, when I purchased them at the grocery store, they were perfection.  I didn't even mind that they were way too big for the space and overwhelmed the kitchen.  By the time a couple of years had passed, however, I had a lot of brown stems and shriveled leaves which needed to be picked up every day.  And, watering them was a misery.  Either I transferred them to the kitchen sink, which had to be cleaned afterwards, or I watered them in place, necessitating a mop-up job.  I guess I was not dedicated enough because fooling with them was not easy for me.  The experience cured me from ever buying another one.

I did have luck with some kind of climbing plant (a drawing of it is in a well-worn houseplant book, which is upstairs somewhere; actually, I wore the book out the first few years I had it.  I don't think I've opened it since).  I had the vining plant (dark, thick leaves) trained over the three kitchen windows that let in too much cold in the winter and too much heat in the summer.  Ever since I stepped foot in France, I'd had a passion for vines.  I had nowhere else to have any on the outside, so that houseplant that went forever added a lot of charm, to my mind.  At least it wasn't messy.

When I walked into Louise Poer's garden a couple of weeks ago, I saw this beautiful fern she had placed in her garden to blend with the hardy shrubs that grow in the ground.  Lots of people do this, I know, but I especially liked this fern because it looked like it couldn't get messy like the one I had.

When I moved into this house (the original cottage is still at the back of the property; we built this one), I didn't have the right space for houseplants.  I had specified a thick outside wall for my kitchen, so I could have good, deep windowsills.  Somehow, the contractor missed this and put the thick wall at the back, where it does no good whatsoever.  So, I ended up with little room for houseplants.  Right now, I have a shamrock (which has been in the same four-inch plastic pot for years), a beautiful velvety, black and green begonia (a workman rescued it from my kitchen shelf, took it home and returned it to me healthy and huge), and a Christmas cactus that has been trapped in a tiny clay pot for years.  It has had one bloom, which appeared about a month ago.

Next week, after I get some chores done inside, I'm going to repot that poor Christmas cactus and give it a chance.  Ditto the shamrock.  They deserve better.  I'll also try to give them a summer home outside, but I'm not sure the chipmunks will allow it.  I'll have to see how that goes.

I am planning a lot of garden work this fall, and I think I can even carve out a place for one of those non-messy ferns to pass the summer months.  Otherwise, I'll just have to admire other people's indoor plants.  I always thought I'd have a greenhouse where I'd grow big, beautiful plants and switch them out in the house all winter long.  That never happened, but there's always the possibility.  And, I may even clean off two shelves in my kitchen and try some more tender plants.  Even if it's about indoor gardening, I guess one can always dream.