Thursday, January 22, 2015

A camellia dilemma - what would Margaret do?

I walked up to the little house yesterday - after not having been up there since before Christmas - to see how many buds there were on my 'Pink Perfection' camellia, which I planted two (or was it three?) years ago.  I had bought several plants - some Camellia japonica and some Camellia sasanqua - to replace some scrub hollies that I had cut down.

I passed the Camellia x 'Taylor's Perfection' which I had planted very close to the driveway. I was pleased to see that it had a good many buds.  It's somewhat misshapen - tall and spindly with a sort of pot belly and then a ball at the top.  It's been there for several years and should be a very tall shrub by now.  By habit, it is not very compact, but this double lollipop is beyond the pale.  I can only think that the soil is not very good there.  I'm pretty sure I fertilized it last spring, although it's been sort of on its own most of the time.

Then, my heart sank.  The two 'Cotton Candy' sasanquas had been partially eaten.  In the fall, they only had a handful of blooms.  Another unnamed Camellia japonica I got as a bonus from Perry Walker's nursery in Jonesboro looked like it had been frozen in time.  It hasn't grown an inch.  But, there was one bud.

The easy-to-grow, "can't miss" 'Pink Perfection', planted either two or three years ago (I'm thinking this is its third season), was sitting there without a single bud.  Plus, had it decided not to grow an inch, too?   At least the deer hadn't sampled it, but still, I was so disappointed and rather ashamed that I, who wrote about other gardens for years, could not grow an old-fashioned camellia that has been in Atlanta gardens for decades.

It only took me only a second to realize what I have to do.  I quote here from my book, Margaret Moseley's A Garden to Remember:

- "Don't ever mind moving a plant.  Normally, I have to move things four or five times to get them in the right place.  I've never thought twice about moving a plant because I knew where it was going and was excited about its new location."
-"Also, I have no patience in waiting.  If I want a plant moved, I do it immediately.  As long as you can water, you should never fear moving a plant.  I don't think I ever lost any plants this way.  It's better to get them in a place where they'll have the right amount of sun or shade."

Margaret, who was in her early nineties when she gave me a list of her hints for a successful garden, would have already had those plants moved.  At age 89, she dug up a six-foot-tall Michelia maudiae and dragged it to a bed at least 50 feet away.  It must be 30 feet tall now and blooms like crazy.

 Actually, I've been looking at a cleared-out space up here in front of the house where I thought I could plant some camellias.  But, I had envisioned buying new ones.

I don't have Margaret's confidence.  It's too bad because it is going to rain all day tomorrow.  There's no telling when those plants will get moved.  I have to dig up some English ivy, inspect the soil and haul a ton of compost up the hill before I dare plant anything.  The truth is, even if I had good soil like Margaret's (she admits that has been a huge factor in the success of her garden), I don't think I could get excited over moving plants I thought would be where I put them forever.

Photo above from Margaret Moseley's garden:  Camellia x 'Fragrant Pink'

Monday, January 5, 2015

A (bright white) light bulb goes off

First of all, I have to get my Christmas/blog failure out of the way.  As it seems to happen every year, time moved on without me, and Christmas came, ready or not.  It all started when I went to New York for Thanksgiving and didn't get home until December 4th, and it was downhill from there.  I thought I had Christmas under control once I had my tree up (but not decorated) by the following Sunday.  But then, I can't say what occurred.  Suffice it to say, I hardly made it to the computer during the month of December, so all my blog plans fell by the wayside.  My brother called me today to see if I had been kidnapped.  No blog.  No returning his phone calls wishing me Happy Thanksgiving and then Merry Christmas.  Inexcusable, except that my daughter, her husband and my granddaughter came for two weeks, and there were a lot of comings and goings.

Early on, I went to the farm and gathered cedar, pine, winged sweet gum branches and moss-and-lichen-covered branches.  Oh, and I got tons of Mother's dark, thick boxwood to make wreathes and to use at church.

Then, I set about collecting Fraser fir from Home Depot, making several trips.  I cut holly and magnolia.  By the time I'd finished, I had enough greenery to deck 100 halls.  I took some to the church, but reserved plenty for the boxwood wreathes I make for my windows and for the garlands I construct for the stair case and around the French doors inside.

Only, the greenery kept lying there in a big pile.  Christmas Eve came, and the cedar, pine, sweet gum and holly arrangement was only in my imagination and never made it into the big silver punch bowl in the dining room.  I did get this done the day after Christmas, but that was too late for the Merry Widows' family party (Tutta Glass and our families) on the evening of the 24th.

Oh well.  Time to move on, and I know all the birds around here will appreciate the evergreen cover I'll be adding to the brush pile.  There they can hide from the owls and the hawks.

Sorry.  I had to tell on myself in hopes that I won't do this again in the future.  It never fails that I have all these expectations for a perfect Christmas, and once again, I found myself wrapping presents Christmas morning, trying to beat everyone downstairs.

Now on to gardening, where my mind is now.

I have been staring at a new space across from the three-arch garden for a couple of months now. It's sitting there, raised beds shored up by a cobblestone wall.  There's no telling how much of the rich compost I've been harboring for decades is now in this space.  It's sort of a right triangle with a curved hypotenuse.  Right now, there is a boxwood right inside the 90 degree angle and Mother's hydrangea a few feet away.  The rest is blank.

Yesterday, I decided to come rushing back with this blog and do something I had done at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  I would show a picture each day that I had taken throughout the months of the entire year.  That is, I'd show you a scene from January, then one from February and so on.

Actually, I may still do this.  But when I was looking for something for April, a light bulb went off.  I was looking at photographs I took in Madison, Georgia, and when I saw this one, I realized I had at least a partial solution for my new blank space.  I could do a white garden, and that's where I could put a bird bath.  I've needed the latter for years now, given that my bird feeding stations are just down the slope.

If only I could find those same wonderful little violas and somehow keep the deer away from them.  Ditto the tulips, which they are especially fond of.  I have some variegated Japanese Solomon's seal I could transplant, and I could do some white alyssum and let it cascade over the edges.  I had already thought to put a couple of the new white hybrid Helleborus niger (the ones that face outwards).  Then, maybe two more boxwoods in the interior angles, some blue star creeper for the ground cover (I'm okay with the blue since it doesn't last long; may have to go with green creeping jenny, though; I think the white Mazus reptans is too shaggy for the look I want).  If you look closely, you can see that the gardeners used white liriope as an accent (across from the tulips).  I don't know if it would hold its color during the hot season, but I wouldn't mind some more green.

My pseudo-triangle won't look at all like the picture above, but I think I can capture the spirit of at least part of it.  I can't tell you how much I've studied that space and come up blank.  Now, just that one photograph has made my heart race with anticipation.

There's only one downside, and that is I won't be able to see the bird bath unless I stand at the side door in the den.  The overgrown Osmanthus fragrans blocks the view from the window over the sink.  I'll have to think about this some more, but for right now I think I'm willing to spend some time looking out from this room and not the kitchen.  I don't really wash all that many dishes anyway.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

'Yuletide' is a gift in the garden

A couple of years ago, I had grieved when Margaret Moseley cut down a perfectly healthy 'Yuletide' sasanqua.  She had it paired with a sourwood she planted about the same time, knowing that the leaves of the tree would echo the color of the blooms.  She cut them both down because they were threatening the view of another favorite camellia, which is in her iron bird bath garden (one of many, many groupings she's changed over the years).

Last week, I understood about the 'Yuletide.'  She had told me she had another one, and I couldn't believe how it had grown.  I took a photograph of the entire plant (surely, there must be two planted together), as the red blooms with yellow stamens seemed to extend to some twenty feet wide.  The sasanqua had grown to about 15 feet tall.  There is definitely something in Margaret's soil that makes things grow bigger and better than elsewhere.

A friend of mine has these espaliered against a wall.  I need to ask him if they are in bloom.  Margaret's have been going for at least a month, and on December 4th, it looked as if a giant had dropped another crop of sasanqua blooms all over her garden.

Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'

Saturday, December 13, 2014

On timing and the garden

It began yesterday, or was it the day before?  I found the first of the long, velvety pods of the evil wisteria that has haunted me for years.

When I moved here in August 1973, I was so naive.  I planted things that could not possibly grow in the deep shade surrounding our little 1926 cottage.  It was if I lived in a place similar to Red Riding Hood's grandmother's house - smack in the middle of the woods, without a house in sight.  All around me were giant trees - mostly hardwoods - that shaded everything.

My first spring here was magical, though.  It was if I lived in a purple mansion, with flowers cascading down off every tree, and vines connecting above my head to form a fragrant roof.

It truthfully wasn't for years that I realized that evil lurked around me, that the wisteria vines that were impossible to pull up and difficult to cut had ruined the forest floor and threatened to take down some of these mighty trees.  More years passed before I realized that the long, tan pods that formed after flowering contained smooth, flat seeds that were dispersed everywhere when said pods burst open with an explosion.

Year before last, the wisteria seed pods appeared on my driveway in February.  This year, it's December.  So far, I've only found the open pods.  The seeds are already everywhere in the woods and will hide out until they germinate in the spring.

But, what I actually want to talk about here is the timing of the garden, especially this year in the case of 98-year-old Margaret Moseley.

I went out to her garden in late October, and the sasanquas were blooming like mad.  In fact, many of the petals had already fallen, making a pastel carpet on the ground and in her driveway.  This is a shrub she began collecting almost 50 years ago.  Her plantings have paid off, making for a gorgeous and long autumn season.  The pink, white and rose-colored blooms are stunning against the yellowing hostas and Solomon's seal and the multi-colored leaves of the oakleaf hydrangeas - altogether a strange, but beautiful contrast.

Here's what I found amazing.  I went back on December 4th to get Margaret to sign 90 copies of A Garden to Remember.  Before I went into the house, I walked around the garden.  I had expected to see camellias starting to pop, thinking the sasanquas - all except for 'Yuletide' - to be over.

It almost seemed miraculous that all these sasanquas that had put on a show in October were again in full bloom.  The 25-foot-tall shrubs and all of the lower ones as well, were smothered in flowers.  How had there been that many buds in the first place?  We'd had freezes in low 20's in the interim which would have done away with all the flowers.

But here, on this December day, the garden was in full bloom - not the camellias but the very same sasanquas I'd seen over a month prior.  I'd figured the flowers would be long gone by this time.

I guess I should not be surprised about this.  Margaret's shrubs for the most part are decades old and well-established.  I don't recall this ever happening before, though.  True, when you see her shrubs in September, you can't believe how many buds there are.  The same is true of her camellias.  'Lady Clare', a popular Camellia japonica was already in bloom, along with 'Daikagura'.  But, it was as if the sasanquas had just reached their first peak.

Gardeners are always saying, "This is not a typical year."  I don't know that we've ever had a typical year, at least not for a long time.  But, I think this fall was a phenomenon, at least as far as the sasanquas were concerned. The timing of a garden depends on a lot of factors, I'm sure.  Why this year turned out like it did is a mystery.  I'll have to ask Margaret if she remembers another year like this.  She's worked hard to make sure there's something in bloom every day of the year, and I think she's succeeded very well.

Above:  Camellia sasanqua 'Cotton Candy' (I think!): Photo taken December 4, 2014