Friday, April 17, 2015

A native vine that deserves attention

I took this photograph last Saturday in LaGrange, Georgia, and I meant to come right home to see if my vine had started blooming.  I planted it two years ago up at the little house, and after a couple of samplings by the deer, I think they decided they didn't like it.  Well, I can only say that for the foliage, which I checked on a few weeks ago.

The first time I ever saw crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), it was growing on the iron railing bordering the steps up to my friend's mother's townhouse.  The mother had brought it from her family home where it had grown wild.  The native form is a dusky yellow with a brownish center.

From that first introduction, I began looking for the flowers every spring, noting them in the woods first at Lovett School in Atlanta.  Next, I saw the vine climbing a tall pine at a garden whose owners had been active with plant rescue groups.  Another time, I hit a brand new tennis ball over the fence at Bitsy Grant Tennis Center in Atlanta.  There, growing all along some out-of-control privet and other scrubby brush were these muted yellow flowers.  In those days, we had no cell phones with cameras, so I never returned to take pictures (amazingly, I did find the ball).

Another place where the American native vine has naturalized is along Interstate 75 between Chattanooga and Knoxville.  It is (or at least it was 25 years ago) growing in the trees in the median.  I was traveling with my husband and children, probably en route to my sister-in-law's home in Abingdon, Virginia.  My children, as they were wont to do, started making fun of my excitement over the yellow vine.  That sort of burst my bubble at the time.

Then, about five years ago in late autumn, I was on a jeep ride at the farm.  I saw a vine with the deepest, most beautiful burgundy leaves.  I knew in an instant it was crossvine.  I gathered some for a Thanksgiving arrangement and took note of the location along a creek.

It was three more years until I saw the vine in bloom, despite having looked for it every spring.  The native form blooms later than the selection you see above, B. capreolata 'Tangerine Beauty', which is the one I planted at the little house.

Looking back, I doubt I would ever have noticed wild crossvine if I hadn't seen it at my friend's mother's townhouse.  It was a few years after the initial discovery that I saw 'Tangerine Beauty.'  It was on an arbor at a garden we did in Texas for HGTV's A Gardener's Diary.  My Atlanta Journal Constitution editor Danny Flanders sent me a picture of an entry arch draped in the vine at his house.  It was stunning.   Danny is now at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, where this bright orange form covered (and maybe still does) a portion of the long trellis leading to the Fuqua Conservatory.

I think one of the most spectacular uses I've ever seen was at another HGTV garden we did.  The gardener had put up a series of chains connecting the trees in his large back yard.  'Tangerine Beauty' grew along the chains, dipping and cascading to form a reddish-orange floral display that took your breath away.

Today it is raining again, and I'm not sure I'll be walking up to the little house.  If it's sunny tomorrow, I'll go check on the crossvine, in hopes that the deer haven't taken a liking to the flowers.  Maybe since they don't bother the native form, 'Tangerine Beauty' might be safe.  I'll let you know.

Note:  Just to prevent confusion, this is not the summer (late June-July) orange trumpet vine, Campsis radicans, you see naturalized along roads in the countryside.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The one tree still standing

Around the corner and down a bit from my house, a tear-down situation has occurred.  The house, a sixties ranch that was pretty large (I know, because whoever lived there at one time had four children; my daughter baby-sat for them), is gone now.  Unbelievably, so are several century-old trees.

I wasn't the only one who watched in horror as the mighty oaks (could have been other types, too) came down.  A neighbor posted his lament and disbelief on our neighborhood blog.  Yesterday, I passed by, and there was one tree left, right in the middle of the giant corner lot.  It was a Japanese maple in all its spring glory.

As I've driven around these past few days, I've been bowled over by the colors of these trees, reminding me of what a good investment they are.  You get two spectacular seasons of color - one when the new leaves unfurl in April and then again in the fall when some of the colors blind you, especially when backlit by the sun.

But, the branching on the trees is also pretty in winter, and even though many turn plain green (my favorite color) in summer, you still have the beautiful texture.

In the photograph above, you have a great example of how the deeply cut leaves on some varieties add a laciness to broader evergreens.

The other day I was talking to Bill Hudgins, an inveterate Japanese maple collector who has ended up with literally hundreds of trees he's selected from seedlings and grown out in containers on his Atlanta property.  He was selling them in the fall for $18, so I asked if he had any for spring planting.

"I have hundreds and hundreds," he said with a laugh.  "The whole thing just got out of control."

The trees, most of which are six feet tall or better, are priced from $8.00 to $30.00.  There's a discount on quantities.  If you've bought a Japanese maple, you know this is an incredible bargain.  They aren't named varieties, but Bill chose them for their leaf structure and color, so they will be more interesting than some of the more common. but pricey, cultivars in the trade.

They are available now through Bill's shop, Lush Life at 146 E. Andrews Dr., Atlanta 30305.  The phone number is 404-841-9661.

I'll be interested to see if that big Japanese maple around the corner disappears.  I'm thinking they are going to sell it to a landscaper or try to build around it.  Since the rest of the lot is cleared, and the tree is smack in the middle of where you think a house would go, I'd bet my hat on the former.

Meanwhile, a Japanese maple, as you can see in this photograph I took at Bill's house, is practically as showy as a spring-flowering tree or shrub.  One of my favorite combinations ever (unfortunately, I only have it captured on a blurry slide) was a cut-leaf Japanese maple hanging over a stone wall.  The new leaves were a rich burgundy-red.  Cascading next to it was Rosa 'Red Meidiland' with a white center.  That image is one I would copy if I had world enough and time (and a stone wall and some sun).  Maybe someday.  Anything is possible.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Fleeting moments in the garden

It seemed like spring was a long time coming this year, but all of a sudden it is racing along too quickly.  I guess it's like that every year, but the things that usually bloom in February were late to get going and didn't emerge until mid-March.  Then everything started at once.

I am reminded of the cliche about how slow life seems to unfold when you're young, and then all of a sudden you're your parents' age, and the years start barreling by.  I'm caught in that web right now.  Inside, I feel like an 18 year old, but I wake up every morning in amazement at my age.  I feel very, very grateful to be here, but still it's a shocker to realize that all but one of the relatives of my parents' generation are gone from this world.  I'm at the top now!

But, back to spring.  It wasn't even a week ago that I captured this photograph of Viburnum juddii.  That day, I had gotten out of my car and knew that one of Margaret Moseley's fragrant viburnums was in bloom. I had to get Margaret, who is totally bedridden, but still has a sharp mind, to tell me which viburnum was next to the carport.  How amazing that at almost 99 years old she can know immediately the name and location of the shrub she planted decades ago.

On Sunday, when I revisited the garden, the flowers were just a little past their prime.  But others were coming on.  Near the back of the garden, another fragrant viburnum (V. x burkwoodii 'Mohawk') was wafting its scent in the cool breeze.  When I go out there next week, I feel sure her Viburnum carlesii (Korean spice viburnum - the first one she ever planted) will be in flower.  It's heavily budded now.  It, too, is highly fragrant.  Last to bloom of the fragrant viburnum series is V. x carlecephalum.  It has the biggest rounded flowers of the scented types.

Margaret collected viburnums, so there's not much she doesn't have.  I didn't see her more tender V. tinus this year.  It could have died or gotten cut down by mistake.  The macrocephalums and the plicatums will follow.  They are not fragrant but are showy.

In the book Margaret Moseley's A Garden to Remember, I explain that Margaret formed her garden by collecting four types of plants:  viburnums, hydrangeas, Camellia sasanqua and Camellia japonica.  She had all types of shrubs, trees and perennials, too, every one of which she planted herself, but the garden's seasons revolved around those collections.  She's always thought that collecting was a good way for a beginning gardener to get organized - and the chase for the different types was always challenging and fun.

Of all her plant material, viburnums rank up there with her favorites.  Marsha Yeager, a younger friend who is a garden designer and has a fabulous garden of her own, gave Margaret a copy of Michael A. Dirr's Viburnums (Timber Press).  Marsha's inscription reads:

"Dear Margaret~You introduced me to viburnums, and now they are one of my favorites - just like you!  Love, Marsha"

Later, when Dr. Dirr came to see Margaret's viburnums, he wrote an inscription in her book:

"Gardeners never grow old...the future is always more exciting than the past.  Pleased to know that there are two viburnum lovers in this world.  My best, Michael Dirr, 2008."

 Even though Margaret has grown old if you count age, she never did become an old gardener.  Every season was special, every new bud opening a joy.  That's the long-term message she has for younger generations.  If you read the book about her, or if you walk out into the garden she created and tended for four decades, you somehow come away with the exhilarating feeling that when it comes to a garden, the future is indeed "always more exciting than the past."

Friday, March 20, 2015

No fair weather gardener

My college friend Lee Sessions is a native of Marietta, Georgia, and his mother was a cousin of Elizabeth Lawrence, to my mind the greatest garden writer who ever lived.  Lee just sent me the outline of a lecture given about Miss Lawrence, sent to him by yet another relative.

Margaret Moseley, as I have mentioned before and devote a chapter to in A Garden to Remember, revered Elizabeth Lawrence, had all her books and could quote long passages from them.  I found it interesting in what Lee sent me that Miss Lawrence was born on May 27 (my birthday).  Margaret's next birthday will be May 28th.  She will turn 99.

So much of Margaret's view of gardening and her interest in plants and handling them herself parallel the same opinions held by Miss Lawrence.  I do think that if Margaret had not stumbled upon her books, she would still have been out there every day, moving and sharing plants and corresponding with other gardeners she met through the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin (published by the Georgia Department of Agriculture).  Margaret sold poppy and impatiens seeds through the ads and had a lively correspondence going with those who bought from her.  The intent was never to get rich (hardly possible at .50 or $1.00), but to make sure others could have plants to enjoy.

Margaret also read extensively - everything she could get her hands on - and welcomed visitors to her garden.  You could be sure you'd drive away with a plant and with your heart beating so fast with inspiration to go home and garden with the same enthusiasm and joy as Margaret.

I took the photograph of this daphne in her garden last Saturday.  Margaret is confined to bed now.  Her gardening days are behind her.  She still greets you with a laugh and the sharpest mind.  "Oh my, look who's here."

The above scene says a lot to me.  I had another view of green grass paths and camellias in bright red and pink.  It was hard to choose which to show.  Both reminded me of how Margaret would call me on the dullest days of winter and tell me that her garden was the prettiest it had ever been.  This didn't happen a few times.  It happened dozens of times each year.

Margaret was a hands-on gardener.  She dug the holes herself and ended up with a year-round garden - one that thrilled her no matter what the season.  She was out there every day.

So, when I was reading passages from the Elizabeth Lawrence lecture, I landed on this one:  "I never did care for fair weather gardeners.  Standing behind glass doors, they look out at the cold ground and leafless branches and exclaim, 'How beautiful this must be in spring.'"

This never applied to Margaret.  Yes, her garden was beautiful in spring, but with all the daphnes, hellebores, camellias, the Prunus mume (she has several), the rare and stunning Michelia maudiae,the leaves of Arum italicum and variegated money plant and Edgeworthia chrysantha and early daffodils, she never, ever looked out without seeing something beautiful - all due to her own creative spirit and hard work.