Thursday, October 20, 2016

Remembering garden friends of days gone by

One autumn, I decided I would follow an experienced gardener's formula for reviving flower borders.  Actually, her garden was more like a field of flowers, a giant cottage garden that must have covered four acres.  She and her English-born husband worked day in and day out all year long to encourage re-seeding annuals and to ensure the health and life span of scores of perennials.

At the time, I had two struggling flower borders, each backed by a newish hemlock hedge and outlined by dwarf English boxwoods, the latter only a few inches tall.  The beds were not very wide, but could hold two to three rows of flowers.

The borders were on two sides of a rectangular lawn surrounded by the evergreens.   On one side I had my favorite combination ever - a green and white variegated hydrangea next to pinkish-red rubrum lilies, white garden phlox 'Mt. Fuji', and yellow black-eyed Susans.  At that time, before the seasons got moved backwards (meaning earlier flowering), the peak bloom for this combination was mid-July.

I enjoyed this mix of flowers and foliage for a few years before the blooms became more and more sparse.  That's when I finally tried out the formula my guru and her husband used in their giant garden.  After the first killing frost, I cut back everything except the hydrangea.  Then, I put down a layer of composted manure which I got from my daddy's barn; next, I sprinkled granulated trisuperphosphate over the the manure.  The last and thickest layer was finely ground up pine bark  (the brand was Nature's Helper).

During the winter, this was not a pretty sight - just brown earth.  But, the next summer, there was an explosion of flowers. In July, the garden phlox had never had such large flower heads.  The rubrum lilies seemed to have multiplied, and the variegation on the hydrangea was pure white and vivid green.  The black-eyed Susans were bigger and better than ever.  It was like the Galapagos Islands had come to my garden.

But there was a downside to this.  In June, invasive yellow primroses had spread like mad, although I loved the pale lemon color.  The mistake I had made was jumping on the 'Stella d'Oro' daylily bandwagon.  I had scads of them down at the end of both borders.  The color seemed to go with nothing, and after the first flush of bloom, the foliage of this supposedly miraculous re-blooming dwarf daylily looked ragged and unkempt.  In addition, they appeared particularly harsh next to light blue Stokes asters and the now over-sized purple coneflowers.  I also had some red Asiatic lilies mixed in there, and it almost hurt your eyes to look down at this over-flowing border that was just plain garish.

Still, I reveled in the scene once that July combination came into bloom.  There were no digital cameras then, and I think somewhere I must have a slide of this very pleasing blend of flowers and foliage.  I thought if I kept up the formula my friend had recommended that the border would go on forever.

But, it didn't.

The next spring, a giant pine tree died and had to be taken down.  The rogue tree cutters paid no attention to me, out there wringing my hands.  They dropped the main trunk right onto my July border, crushing the box border and two hemlocks.  That huge tree, which looked like it belonged on a logging truck, lay there for two seasons.  When it was finally removed, there was no sign of a rubrum lily.  I had two or three moldy stalks of white phlox and some struggling black-eyed Susans.  I never saw the hydrangea again.

I dug up the Stellas and gave them to a nurseryman.  I just couldn't get used to that color.  Across the rectangle, I had a few blue platycodons in August and some white Japanese anemones in September.  At some point, even those disappeared.

Today, the rectangular zoysia lawn that was to be a bocce ball court has been replaced with a sea of tiny pea gravel.  The dwarf boxwoods are probably three feet tall and grow right up to the hemlocks.  There's not even an inch of space for a flower where the borders used to be.

When I look back at everything I have planted over the decades, it amazes me how many different things I have tried.  Some (mostly perennials) I had for years.  Others for just a season - or even less.

Sometimes a friend I had long ago but have lost touch with will pop into mind.  It's sort of like that with flowers, too - 'Becky' daisies, Monarda 'Jacob Cline', Japanese anemone 'Whirlwind,' 'Sarah Bernhardt' peonies, Salvia guaranitica, blue baptisia, Helianthus angustifolius (I had a dog who ate that!) - just to name a few (I won't even mention the shrubs and vines I used to have).  They were in my life for a while, then one by one were gone.

There might be a day in the future when I will have some of these flowers again.  I hope so.  I took the above photograph of Phlox paniculata 'David' when I visited a friend in Montana.  She and her husband have since sold the house and are back in Nashville.  I don't know if that border is still there.  Things change - people move, deer come into the area, drought takes its toll.  

But, the good thing about gardening is there is always another day.  I'm not sure where or how it will happen, but I intend to create that rubrum lily, white phlox, variegated hydrangea and black-eyed Susan combination again.  'Stella d'Oro' won't be back - that's for sure - but maybe many of my other "lost" friends will.

Japanese anemones (I also had this single form at one time)

Monday, October 3, 2016

Great texture (and other things) in a Raleigh garden

I think if I had a garden that looked like this one, I would shout it from the rooftops.  When my daughter was engaged to be married, her future father-in-law Ned Yellig and his wife Sylvia White came to Atlanta for a visit and stayed with me.

We had a wonderful time and hit it off immediately.  The visit was maybe for two nights only, but we talked about a lot of things.  But not once did either of them mention Ned's garden.  When I went to Raleigh this past April, I about fell over when we got out of the car, and I saw the main garden in back of the house.

Ned, who is a retired physician, wasn't there, but his son Christopher took us on a tour.  Sylvia had sent some pictures the previous April, and I thought the flowers were lovely, but it hadn't dawned on me that there existed a garden Ned had planted and tended for years.  I was dazzled by the structure and the wonderful combinations of shrubs and perennials Ned had put together.

Above, you are seeing only part of the garden near the entrance, which has a certain formality to it.  Clipped boxwoods, barberry hedges,  Amsonia hubrichtii (the lacy foliage and light blue flowers in the left foreground) and the white flowers of Deutzia gracilis coming into bloom in the background - it was a stunning arrangement of texture and color.

The rest of the garden is actually quite informal, and if I had to describe its look, I'd say "country garden."  Rustic paths - mostly gravel lined with stones - wind throughout, and toward the back, there are bird houses, a sitting area and a patch of lawn.  Over to the left of the entrance is a rose garden.  There were irises in bloom and a large philadelphus about to pop open, plus other perennials planted along the paths.  A sweet shrub near Ned's detached "office" was in bloom and sent off its unmistakable fragrance as we walked by.

I am only hitting the highlights, of course, as there was plenty more to see in the front shady areas - ferns, hostas and hellebores and yet another stand of roses right along the driveway.

I hope to go back to Raleigh soon to see what happens in October.  Meanwhile, I am happy that Ned took what I dream of having someday (a large, sunny flat lot) and made it into a charming garden.  I know he's been working long and hard, but he has created something very, very special.

Below:  1)A Japanese maple in its spring beauty along a path that has a country garden feel and 2) the climbing Schizophragma hydrangeoides 'Moonlight' near the back of the garden.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Yellow is the color . . .

I'd almost forgotten what I had planted years ago outside my kitchen window.  Because of the way the light fell on the rectangular space outlined in boxwoods, I figured out that yellow and chartreuse would look best, that is, if I chose to do a monochromatic garden.

So, I started out with a yellow-leaved forsythia and Hosta 'Sum and Substance.'   Then, I planted a yellow woodbine honeysuckle to climb up the walls, and lemon-yellow day lilies in a row against the house.  I started thinking of every yellow flower I could use, and the list seemed endless.

It was going quite well until my husband suddenly went into garden project mode without consulting me.  He hauled in some dark red bricks to cover the ground.  I didn't say anything, as he was enjoying what he was doing.

The piece de resistance of his design was a cement basin with an elf sitting atop.  It came from his mother's (where its placement was very attractive), but when I saw it right in the middle of the space, I shuddered.  It was not raised basin, but sat on the ground.  It mainly collected leaves; it was too deep for birds to splash about.

I realized then that the dark red brick would not work with my yellow theme, and I could barely look at that elf, so I moved everything up to the little house, all except for the honeysuckle, which eventually disappeared.

Since 2013, when a giant white oak that shaded a lot of this little garden had to be taken down, I finally came up with a new gravel arch garden in this very space.  The bricks were all removed along with the cement elf sitting atop its shell.  I have resurrected my plans for a yellow garden.

At the very end of the rectangle behind a bench, I have Rosa 'Graham Stuart Thomas' planted.  Despite my neglect and this hot summer, it has continued to turn out lovely, dusky-yellow flowers.  It is tall and gangly and splaying everywhere, awaiting an arch which I think I'm going to have to have custom-made.  I have trained a seedling Japanese holly to form an eight-foot tall line (so far).  I envision this attached to the arbor so it will be evergreen in winter, and then have the yellow rose covering it for a good part of the year.

I took the above photograph in the village of Giverny in France.  A long, paved garden, or rather a series of gardens, contained squares of flowers and foliage all of one color.  This is the yellow one.

I don't have that much space, but I'm still inspired by the sunlight hitting the acorus (or is it an iris with variegated leaves?).  The pale yellow, airy pincushion flowers won't do here, I don't think.  They like cooler, less humid weather.  I would love to put them under the arch, but I will think of something else.  I don't know what will go in the one planting strip I have, but it's going to be fun trying to figure it out.  Do I dare put day lilies and hope the deer won't reach them?  I like lemon-yellow flowers best, but I don't mind the funny yellow of the 'Graham Stuart Thomas.'

Before I plant anything, I have to improve the soil in back of the bench.  This is going to take some doing.  Today it's too hot and humid, but next week promises to be cooler.  Maybe that's when I'll get started.

Below:  the rectangular garden ends with a bench given to me by my late friend Benjie. That's where a new arch will go along with some yellow foliage and flowers.  I'll train the fastigiate holly and have it be the backdrop for the poor, neglected 'Graham Stuart Thomas,' which is now splaying all over the place, waiting for a support.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A 50-year-old perennial flower keeps on going

Today is my beloved mother's birthday.  She was born in 1910 and lived until just shy of her 97th birthday.  I can't grieve too much for her, although I miss her and can always conjure up her lovely voice.  Instead, I am grateful each day for both my parents, for a happy childhood and for so many opportunities they provided for my older brother and me.  I marvel now at the amount of energy they had.  I am lazy in comparison.

I don't know where my mother got a start of the flower above, but I do know it has come up and bloomed for well over 50 years - right in the same place.  It's tall - maybe to four feet - but does not need staking.  That's surprising because the stems are so slender.  Maybe I've seen it blown over by a huge rain or wind, but I don't really recall that happening.

I wrote about it a couple of years ago, and at the time, I wasn't really sure about its identity.  I knew it was either a heliopsis or Rudbeckia laciniata.  Someone from Africa saw it and set me straight.  I now know, after being corrected, that it is indeed the latter.

My mother loved this flower.  It grew right under the breakfast nook window.  Hummingbirds and butterflies loved it, too. Mother would cut a big bunch and plop them in a vase with some zinnias.  This combination reminds me of fried chicken and sweet iced tea - staples of my mother's summer meals.

Here in Atlanta (actually, this flower is at the farm in Chattahoochee Hills), it blooms in late July and August.  It's over now, and even though no one has been taking care of it since 2007, it flowers on.  Over 50 years is a good long run for a perennial that seems slender and vulnerable.  Rudbeckia laciniata is, in this case, one tough and long-lived plant.