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.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Which way to look?


I seem to do this around all holidays and milestones in my life.  I look backwards.  Never to the future. The past seems to become more wonderful with the passage of time, although I'm thinking I may be looking through rose-colored glasses.

This Fourth of July, I did it again.  I teared up thinking about the years we rented a (haunted, according to my older daughter) house at Pawleys Island, S.C.,  and were there for July 4th.  There was a parade down the beach road, and we'd line up our aluminum beach chairs and sit in the unrelenting heat, watching as long-time homeowners and residents came by on "floats" and tossed candy and cheery "Happy Fourth" wishes.

Every year, it was the same.  I would be laughing and crying at the same time, watching Labrador retrievers with flag-imprinted kerchiefs tied around their necks, riding on the back of trucks loaded down with a passel of children, presumably brothers and sisters and cousins.  Once or twice there were pint-size majorettes, who kept losing their batons.

This tradition ended after my husband died in June 1999.  My daughters and their friends and some of their mothers and my college friends came to Pawleys that July 4th, since I could not get out of the lease.  I guess that's the last time there's been anything consistent for the holiday.  My sweet friends would have me over from then on, and that was good enough.

This year, a friend invited me to ride up to Highlands, N.C., for the day. He is working on a house project up there and wanted to check on things.  We decided to take a picnic, since there's a picturesque lily pond at the new house.  I also called up Claude Sullivan, a law school classmate of my husband's who was also a law partner and loyal friend, to ask if we could come by to see his garden.

We had our picnic (the day was clear and bright and the water lilies were in bloom, and the water sparkled) and then drove over to Kettle Rock Mountain.  I hadn't seen Claude's renovation, which his wife Ann had designed, nor had I seen their garden since it was little more than a half-moon of grass and a stone bench.

I was delighted with all they had done.  The house seems much more livable and cozier now, and the garden is spectacular.  My shade photos didn't turn out because of the dappled light, but suffice it to say there are big drifts of hostas, 'Annabelle' hydrangeas, rhododendrons and gleaming white astilbes surrounding beautiful wide paved stone paths that lead to the house.  The wrap-around porch gives you a scenic view with layers of mountains way off in the distance.

What I couldn't believe was that a weedy, forbidding area below the porch was now an emerald green lawn, surrounded by deep borders of shrubs and perennials.  The warm months in Highlands are short, but it looked like the garden designer had figured out how the couple could have something in bloom all during the season.

Above is one of the paths that goes through the deep borders.  On the right is the recent introduction, Hydrangea arborescens 'Invincibelle Spirit' (I'm guessing, according to the leaves; the blooms are the same as I've seen but darker, maybe due to the cooler mountain temperatures).  Beyond is a hardy geranium which I'm thinking might be 'Rozanne'.  This latter was used along the edges of the borders and walkways, as were dwarf veronicas in blue and red.

Claude has his dahlias hidden beneath the retaining wall, since he said they're not for show in the garden but for cutting.  There was also a huge swath of some sort of daisy-like flower (a type of wild aster, maybe?) on this level.

I'm thinking this was a great Fourth of July, especially given the weather - unusually cool for Atlanta with low humidity.  I'm going to try to look forward to what could be a new tradition in the future.  By this time next year, I'll have a grandchild in New York, and my younger daughter will be married.  It could be we that we plan something together for July 4th.  I would be content with going to New York and watching the fireworks over the East River, which is what my daughter and her husband did this year.

I need to look forward to the future, and if no tradition gets started, that's okay.  Circumstances change, and it's always good to remember other holidays spent with loved ones who are no longer with us.  But, no more tearful dwelling on the past.

That's one great thing about gardening.  As 98-year-old Margaret Moseley says, "There's always something to look forward to when you're a gardener."  I'll be anxious to see if the columbine seeds I gathered this year from Margaret's garden produce navy blue blooms next year, and if the hellebore seedlings Erica Glasener gave me will have any dark maroon blooms like the parent.

I was so inspired by Claude and Ann's garden that I'm tempted, despite the return of the heat and humidity, to get out there and walk around and make some plans.  I'm already seeing that about a dozen hydrangeas need to be moved to receive more sun.  And, I want to improve the soil where I see I can make a border of irises to take the place of an out-of-control colony of lemon mint.

So, it's on to the future and no looking back.  I know you hear it's best to live in the present, but I always like to look forward to something, especially when gardening is involved.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Will I go away again?



Well, here I am again, lost in a techno-world where something should be so simple, but it's ever so complicated.

If you were a previous follower of this blog when the domain name was www.gardenphotooftheday.com, you know that one day three years ago, the blog just vanished, and another one came in its place.  No one had a clue where I was.

It turns out that a warning had been sent to me that the name was about to expire, and I needed to renew.  That was on my gmail account, which I never bothered to check.

So that I wouldn't make the same mistake again, I signed up to be warned through my regular e-mail, as well.  That didn't happen, so I checked my gmail account in early May.  There, it said my credit card would expire May 31 and to give them the new information.  It said to just click on a link to update.  Well, I did, and that led right back to the same place to sign in.  I did this over and over again.

Then, I brought my younger daughter in to help me.  She thought she had it fixed.  This morning I checked my gmail account and found the message that I was about to lose my blog because my credit card needed to be updated.  If it is not fixed, then this blog domain name will expire on July 10.  This morning, after two hours of going round and round (there's no telephone number for Google), I can't even get close.  The same sign-in page comes up.  I sign in, and it tells me to sign in again.  Like Ground Hog Day.

I am to talk to someone tomorrow (a tech guy) who is going to try to help me.  How can something so simple be so complicated?

Anyway, I did want to put up a picture today, once again of Louise Poer's garden.  I wish I could just go sit on that bench and think about pretty gardens instead of this Google thing, or the septic tank field (another story) that needs to be replaced and threatens my future economically, my broken dryer and the microwave that quit working last week, plus a few other minor problems.

Let me assure you that compared to life-threatening illnesses and terrible tragedies and losses, these frustrations don't even register.  They can be fixed.

But, I did want to warn you that if the guy can't help me and this blog disappears, I will buy another name in advance and let you know before July 10 what it will be.

Thank you so much for following this blog, and if you know anyone at Google, please tell them to have a telephone number where one can at least get some help.  I've posted all over the complaint places, and someone tried to help me, but I ended up right back in the same place - nowhere.