Thursday, August 28, 2014

A forgotten shrub rediscovered

Three of us were following Liz Tedder around as we walked through her enormous garden (or gardens within a garden would be more like it) last week.  All of a sudden, I spied a shrub I hadn't seen or thought about in a long time.

It used to be that I would keep up with a lot of the newest introductions.  This was back before you could look up everything on the Internet.  I would study catalogs like crazy and make my rounds of gardens to see what people were planting and experimenting with.  I'd also visit nurseries, checking out anything new and wonderful that had come in.

It's been years since I've run across the blue mist shrub, Caryopteris x clandonensis.  Maybe it's because in recent years I haven't been out in a lot of gardens during the months of August and September when this small plant (three feet tall, at most) is in full bloom.

Caryopteris is a magnet for bees and butterflies.  I didn't see any of the latter, but I tried very hard to capture the bumblebees that were landing on the light blue flowers.  I'm not sure if you can see one in this photograph, but he's there.

Liz says she didn't have much luck with the gray-leaved caryopteris, but the ones with the golden leaves have been successful.  As I was looking at pictures on the Internet, I saw a shrub with much darker blue flowers and golden foliage - Caryopteris 'Sunshine Blue', one of the Proven Winners.  If I had enough sun here, I would love to try that one.

Because of my job at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and then as a scout for A Gardener's Diary on HGTV, I got to see a lot of wonderful flowers and shrubs.  My heart would start racing at the sight of something special.  I confess it was because I wanted that plant, too.  That's how I felt the other day in Liz's garden when I came upon this wonderful shrub I hadn't seen in a long, long time.  When my ship comes in, and I get that deer fence around the one sunny area on this property,  you can rest assured I'll be planting a caryopteris - always something to look forward to in the world of gardening.

Note:  For some reason, on the finished post, the color of this flower appears to be purple and darker than it truly is.  It is  actually light, pastel blue.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Capturing an American scene in a country garden

Somewhere in my clutter room upstairs that contains boxes brought from my daddy's office and my parents' home (this winter, I will go through them, I have promised myself) is a copy of a Garden Design magazine from the 1990's.  In the back is an excerpt from either John or William Bartram's diary.  I have no hope of finding the magazine at this moment, so I'll say that it had to be from one of the Bartrams' botanical expeditions to Florida in either 1765-66 (John) or 1773-1777 (William).

If my memory serves me correctly, Bartram was in an area near the St. John's river.  As he was looking out across a swamp, he saw a brilliant red flower -  Hibiscus coccineus, known as either scarlet mallow or swamp hibiscus.  I can't remember if he got close enough (wouldn't there have been alligators in that swamp?) to the plant to take a sample.  I think he was able to draw the flower, or did he describe it so well that I could see it in my mind?

Walking through Liz Tedder's giant potager, I looked over my shoulder to glimpse this Adirondack chair, which has its origins in New York, with the native American flower from Florida hanging over it.  Seeing two things so uniquely American, caught in a moment in the August light, sent a little chill up my spine.

Scarlet mallow is a perennial that grows from six to ten feet tall.  The year of a terrible drought, a friend gave me a plant.  I parked it in the border at my mother's house where it struggled and did not survive.  I now realize it would have had a better chance in back of my house where the cardinal flowers grow.  I need to give this flower another try, as it is delightful to look up on an August day and see, as Bartram did, a stunning red flower glowing in the sunshine.

Note:  This is an easy flower to grow, especially given enough moisture and sun or part sun.  Hummingbirds love it, and I would imagine it would also attract butterflies.  It blooms over a long period in summer.  Plant Delights in Raleigh, North Carolina, sells the flower, but you might be able to get one from a friend, as this is sort of a passalong plant.  Note:  The leaves are palmate and look very much like marijuana foliage.   That other tall stem in the photograph, with the slender leaves, is a Formosa lily, which blooms at the same time.

Monday, August 25, 2014

100 years later - the poppies grow

I've always been curious about something in Atlanta.  There is an upscale neighborhood near the governor's mansion called Argonne Forest.  Its streets are named for some of the bloodiest battles of World War I - Marne, Verdun, Argonne, Chateau Drive and Chateau Court, the two latter presumably referring to Château-Thierry. 

When I was a student in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France, there was a disheveled elderly man who would walk up and down the Cours Mirabeau and "preach" to people seated in the cafés.  He would gesture wildly as he shouted about the horrors of Verdun, where a million soldiers lost their lives in the trenches.  I assumed that the man must have fought there and suffered from a brain injury.  Or, maybe he was senile, and the horror of his youth in the killing fields had come back to haunt him.

Yesterday,  in the travel section of The New York Times, there was an article about the centennial of the outbreak of World War I.  The gist of the two-page spread is about how the Americans entered the war in 1917, turning the tide and driving the Germans back.  The author tells of visiting the areas in France where battles were fought.  He described going into a tunnel in an old stone quarry and seeing all the carvings by men who had been there - some German, some French, some English and then the Americans.  They had drawn or etched all sorts of things - flags, hearts, women, self-portraits, their names and hometowns.  

This prompted me to go into my late husband's library and look for a shell I brought him from a trip to France with my tennis team (I am rambling here, but one of the members invited us to a château in the Loire, which she co-owned with some other Atlantans).  I found the darkened brass shell on the top shelf.  In it was a rusted length of barbed wire my husband had placed there.  The shell was engraved with the words "Somme 1916", a fancy letter "D", and an iris, complete with foliage.  One wonders if the person who so carefully decorated the shell survived the carnage.

To explain further, my husband had an entire section of books of history and poems about World War I. (In fact, he and I are married because of a mutual interest in WWI poets; see my post of Thursday, August 25, 2011, or type "Flanders Field poppies" in the search box of the blog; there, I tell the story of how this all came about).  Every time we went to France, he would make time to visit the trenches in the areas named in that Atlanta subdivision.  On one trip, I accompanied him to the village of Ors to find the grave of one of his (and my) favorite English poets, Wilfred Owen.  Ironically, Owen was killed on November 4, 1918, exactly a week before the signing of the armistice on November 11.  His poems are some of the most graphic in describing death in the trenches.

Now, to the cheerful, sunny scene above, where you can see Flanders Field poppies (Papaver rhoeas, a.k.a. red corn poppy), a symbol of WWI,  growing in Bob Clinard's Atlanta garden.  I am writing all this to say that the NYT article led me also to look for the catalog that just came from Wildseed Farms in Texas.  I had marked the page with the red poppies so that I can order some to plant this fall.  After my husband died, I found a packet of seeds he'd bought but never planted.  I'll keep that one, but I would like to plant some poppies in honor of the centennial of the "War to End All Wars."

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Divide and conquer to make a garden

When does a yard become a garden?  Or, is there any difference?

I grew up with both.  We had a yard, which we didn't call a garden, but we did say "little lawn" and "big lawn."  Then, between my grandmother's cottage and our house was a sort of formal garden with clipped hedges.  Never mind that the hedges were made of privet, the bane of my mother's existence. But the latter were laid out in a formal garden, with two long hedges with a narrow path in between, leading down to steps at the end.  Then, there was a clipped hedge perimeter.  Various shrubs were planted next to the outer reaches - January jasmine, forsythia, weigela and English dogwood.  In one little area at the opposite corner, my grandmother grew dahlias and had a clipped topiary in the shape of an Easter basket with a handle.

Another feature that divided the little lawn from the side garden where there were pecan trees, lots of daffodils and more weigela, was a tall, white picket fence with an arch over the gate.  In the few photographs showing this area when I was little, it looks like a garden, rather than a yard.  Daylilies grew next to the fence.  Over the years, that gate and picket fence disappeared, or likely came into such disrepair that it was removed.  That's too bad.  I'm sure it was a lot of trouble to keep up and to mow around, but it looked charming next to the homemade, 19th century brick of the house.

The point is that the garden pictured above was once - not all that long ago - what I would call a yard.  Well, at least on this side of the ante-bellum house.  On the other side was a boxwood (not privet!) garden, with squares around cedar trees and a long double row of hedges leading to other parterres.

What the creator of this garden did was carve out vistas and put in hedges and trees and shrubs to delineate areas.  The axes go both ways, and you can step into one area and look to your right and left and see focal points.  Go a little further, and you'll pass between twin planters set on antique stones from the property.  Again, you can look right and left to long views.

Walk straight ahead, and you'll enter a formal square with a stone pool in the middle and hedges outlining the enclosed area with space for perennials to pop up.  All this is set against taller trees or hedges that form a background.  Proceed around the stone basin, and you'll walk under a rose arch into yet another long, hydrangea-lined alleé.  It's all very charming and fun to navigate.  There's a discovery around every corner.

It's true that if you're a child you can play touch football in a big, expansive yard with no trees to speak of.  But, where I grew up, that formal garden was the best hide-and-seek situation you could hope for.  We often had slews of children on summer Sunday evenings, and you could always find a good hiding place.

At the farm, there are large stretches of lawn.  You could set up a badminton or volleyball court, or put up a soccer goal (which someone has done).  But, if I had to choose one or the other, I can't help but love the look and feel of gardens within gardens, and all the romance and mystery and discovery such a plan provides.