Monday, September 15, 2014

Gardens and ironwork go together


I guess it exists mostly in the old cities like Savannah, Charleston and New York, but I'm wishing I could have some of the handsome ironwork I've seen here back home in Atlanta.  Walking in my daughter's neighborhood of Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn, one can see examples of exquisite work done long ago.

When my younger daughter lived in Manhattan, she had her tonsils removed.  I remember riding home from the hospital and noticing how many iron fences there were, even in front of decrepit industrial sites along the FDR.  It's pretty amazing that so much of it has survived.

Of course, if you have this surround in place, you have a head start on a lovely garden.  I have to say that many of these rectangular spaces in front of the old brownstones don't live up to their potential, to my mind.  On my daily walk, I do a lot of mental landscaping.  Most of the gardens are well planted, but a few are totally neglected, with weeds and a smattering of dried-up evergreens.   Others are a mish-mash of vernacular tastes.

The block where the above garden is located has a mix of both charming gardens and ones that need work.  Some are still owned by Italians who settled here at the turn of the last century, so you'll see a garden that is nicely arranged, but there will be a shrine in the corner that is a bit startling.  I guess I'm just not used to seeing this sort of thing.  In fact, there's a restaurant on the corner with a canopy of grape vine (with heavy clusters of purple grapes) that looks for all the world like it should be in Provence.  I tried to take a picture, but there's a white shrine to the Virgin Mary that almost glows in the shade of the courtyard.

In this historic district that was founded in the early part of the 19th Century by Irish immigrants and then Norwegians, it was required that the houses along certain streets be set back 33 feet to accommodate front gardens (unlike the fronts of other brownstones in Brooklyn which are much closer to the street).  A lot of the former still retain beautiful iron fences and gates, like the one above.

I can't help but wonder what it would be like to have this defined space.  Would I mess it up by trying to do too much, or would I restrain myself to a few choice plants that would bloom throughout the season?  Whoever did the garden above opted for pretty low maintenance, but managed to include a few striking plants that blend well with the beautiful ironwork.

The flavor of the neighborhood is changing.  Many French people have moved into Carroll Gardens since the 1990's.  I don't know that any of them will ever own these houses, some of which have been passed down through generations (and are obscenely expensive to buy), but it would be interesting to see their take on garden design in such a space, given that so many French gardens have high walls and fences.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

What this rose would have seen on that day


On the morning of September 11, 2001, I had gone to work early, just up the driveway from my house in Atlanta.  We were editing one of our episodes of A Gardener's Diary on HGTV.  My fellow producer and I were there with the editor, immersed in watching what was happening in a garden in the Midwest.

All of a sudden I realized I needed to run over to the shopping center to pick up something from the drugstore.  As I reached the pharmacy counter, several employees were gathered around a radio.  I heard them say that a plane had just crashed into the Pentagon.  I asked what they were talking about.  They told me about New York.  My heart stopped.  As they were describing what had happened, I was seized with fear that the strikes would continue up the island of Manhattan.  My then 23-year-old daughter was there somewhere.

Two weeks before, she had moved out of an apartment in TriBeCa at the corner of Duane and Church, six blocks from the World Trade Center.  If you walked out the door of the building and looked straight down Church Street, you had a great view of the twin towers.  This location turned out to be where most of the major news stations set up in the following days.  It's also where the photograph for the iconic black, shadowy cover of The New Yorker was taken.  On that foldout, you could see the entrance to the apartment.

At that moment, Anne was working in Greenwich Village and staying on the Upper West Side with a friend.  I called and called, but all the circuits were busy.  I drove back home and turned on the television.  Then, I went back up to the cottage, where the editor and my business partner were serenely watching footage of the garden.  They hadn't heard yet.

When I went back home, there was a message from my daughter.  "I'm okay," she said.  Like so many other Manhattanites, she had left work and started walking uptown, all the way to her friend's apartment on 83rd Street next to Central Park.  I kept that message for years, until it was somehow inadvertently erased.

A few days before, on September 6, 2001, I was returning from a trip to France.  As we were landing at Newark, I could see Manhattan off in the distance and the twin towers looming at the end of the island.  I thought of the previous July and the engagement party I'd attended at Windows on the World.  It had been a magical weekend.  My daughters and I stayed at a hotel overlooking the plaza.  We spied the bride-to-be coming out of the Krispy Kreme store on the first floor of one of the towers.  We shopped at the Banana Republic underground, and my younger daughter bought books at Borders.

That night, we took an elevator to the top of the North Tower.  It was twilight when we arrived after the dizzying ascent.  The sun was setting, and a rosy haze hung over the Statue of Liberty.  When dark fell, we looked uptown to a breathtaking view.  The lights of Manhattan were sparkling below us in the night.  It all felt so close, very surreal.

The party was fabulous.   My dearest friend from elementary school, Linda Jackson Carter, and her husband Bill were the hosts.  It was the treat of a lifetime.

Late yesterday afternoon, I walked to the new park at the Brooklyn Bridge.  I passed soccer fields jutting out into the East River.  Young people were playing racquetball or basketball on another wide concrete pier.  There are all sorts of paths and benches to enjoy the vista.  You can see the Statue of Liberty off to the left.  Straight ahead is the tip end of Manhattan, with the Freedom Tower jutting up above the other buildings.  To the right are the majestic stone towers of the Brooklyn Bridge, which has been suspended across the river since 1883.

There weren't a lot of flowers in bloom yesterday, but I spied this rugosa rose along a bike path.  I bent down to catch its delicious fragrance.  I turned my head and realized that if this scrappy bloom had been there on September 11, 2001, what it would have witnessed on that terrible day.

I'm sure you remember where you were when you were stunned by the news.  In our wildest dreams, we could never have imagined this horror in our land.  I remember thinking that the world would never be the same, and of course, it hasn't been, really.  But, as I watched the children running about and couples sitting on a grassy knoll looking out on the river and joggers getting their exercise after work, it heartened me a little, even though I felt the sadness of the loss of all those souls and of our uncertain safety way down deep inside.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Not a garden center, but still a nursery


I hope that those expecting a garden scene will forgive me.  My daughter put together this nursery for my new granddaughter, born a week ago.  The reason I'm posting it here is so she can pin it to her Pinterest board.  I apologize to all who were expecting something to do with flowers and gardens and to those who have already seen this on Facebook.  

I'm about to write something about gardens, so thank you for your patience!

Monday, September 8, 2014

What's in bloom on September 8th?


My new computer (this one) is very lightweight and great for traveling.   But, I still haven't mastered it as yet, despite lessons at the Apple store.  One thing they've done, which I miss terribly, is that they've taken away the ability for anyone to scroll through events in IPhoto and see the dates roll by.  For example, on my older computer, if I wanted to go back in time to my Easter 2008 pictures, the months and years would appear over the thumbnail pictures as I scrolled down.  It was a great way to pinpoint a certain time so you could see what was going on in the garden.  I don't know who thought of getting rid of this feature, but I don't believe they realized how useful it was to someone with 31,000+ photos of flowers and landscapes stored in their IPhoto.  I was looking for what was blooming on September 8th in other years, and it took me a while to land on this photograph using this computer.

This is an amarcrinum - a cross between an amaryllis and a crinum.  It's a bulb that blooms in early September (in this case, two years ago today, on September 8, 2012) over a long period of time.  It has strap-like leaves and takes hot sun and humid weather, and very importantly, the deer don't like it.

When my mother got up into her mid-nineties, I took over her flower garden.  This is one of the things I planted, and every year, it has been a delight to see this beautiful lily-like plant with its fragrant pink blooms come into bloom.  Mother's been gone since 2007, and the plant has thrived with absolutely no care whatsoever.

I ordered the bulb from Brent and Becky Heath. On their Web site, they mention the fragrance and how this makes a good cut flower.  That's all you have to say to me.  Mother was like that, too.  She loved to grow flowers she could cut.  She almost always had a bouquet on the kitchen table.

So, I need to put this bulb on my wish list.  I can't remember if it should be planted in the fall or in the spring - probably the latter.  It's not hardy in the north, but can be dug and planted outdoors again in cold climates.

Last winter, the temperature dipped to five degrees F., and where this is planted, it was probably nearer zero.  I noticed last month that the leaves looked good, and the plant was putting on its long buds.   I have this idea in my head to list all the plants that look good at certain dates and come up with a sort of calendar (but not in typical calendar form - my eyes start glazing over if I just see lists on blocks of days).  I think I can do this using my other computer with the easy scroll-down dates.  That way, I could have something in bloom every day of the year.

Now, when am I going to take the time to do this and then plant everything I come up with?  That is the question.