Sunday, May 19, 2013
I'm betting Diana Mendes doesn't know the name of these roses (which look incredibly like peonies). That's okay. She buys what she likes and doesn't worry much about having to keep up with names. When she's in a garden center, she instinctively knows what will look good and buys accordingly.
But, hers is not just a rose garden. The above flowers are tucked into a jam-packed sunny border in front of Diana's Atlanta home. Surrounding these healthy blooms is a colorful array of May flowers - larkspur, which re-seed each year, hesperis, iris, foxgloves, poppies, hardy geraniums, coreopsis, alliums and clematis, to name a few.
I had written earlier that I planted some climbing roses this year, now that the removal of a huge white oak has allowed for some sun. But, all has not gone well. I wanted a rose just like the one pictured above, down to the color and form. I bought my roses from a mail order source which sells only own-root plants, meaning that they are not grafted.
After I received the roses in April, I got them into the ground immediately. It wasn't long before thick buds formed. I wasn't familiar with either of the pink ones, so I was anxious to see the blooms.
But, that was not to be. I assumed that the deer would not come up to the walls of my house. Wrong. They (I guess there were several) left tracks in my new tiny pea gravel and snipped off every single bud. This, despite the fact I'd put down Milorganite around the plants. This fertilizer from the city of Milwaukee has done a pretty good job of repelling deer in the past.
It could be that one of these days I'll have pretty roses like Diana's. Sharyn Altman, a high school classmate and a very knowledgeable gardener, told me about some fishing line I could try. On Friday, I dug up some of the roses and moved them to large containers on the back balcony. Until I get that fishing line and string it up, I'm going to make sure the roses are safe.
Diana Mendes always has a heavy flush of bloom on her roses in fall. Maybe by then, I'll know if I have a rose that looks like the ones pictured above. That's what I was going for. We'll see.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
It's a small front yard, really, but what Diana Mendes manages to pack into the space is nothing short of miraculous.
I first went there in October, two years ago, after seeing some pictures she posted on Facebook. It was hard to imagine that so many colorful fall flowers - asters, chrysanthemums, Mexican sage and roses in their autumn flush of bloom - could be packed into the wide border that surrounds a lovely bit of lawn.
So, Diana promised to contact me the next spring so I could see an entirely different garden. And, I did. Her May garden looks like a mini-Giverny. I was in her neighborhood yesterday and took this photograph around noon in the bright sun. Diana had particularly mentioned a red rose that was in full bloom, but she said things would look better by the weekend, with more roses open.
That may be true, but I was once again bowled over by the May flowers blooming in such profusion. The red rose, which I will show later, was indeed spectacular, but so was the entire scene. And, there were other roses in bloom - all healthy and vigorous.
There was no way to capture everything at once, but I took particular note of some big, round low-growing alliums that I hadn't noticed before. I wasn't sure if they were A. christophii, so I'll ask Diana.
So, here's a partial list of what I saw: Hesperis in both lavender and white, bearded iris, big, double English looking roses, lower growing single and semi-double roses, foxgloves, Amsonia hubrichtii, larkspur, poppies, coreopsis, yarrow, clematis, Siberian iris, Verbena bonariensis and copper fennel (that's the dark, lacy plant on the right hand side of the photograph).
I plan to visit again this weekend, although I can't imagine how it could get better. Earlier yesterday, Diana, who drives rescue dogs and cats to foster homes or to other drivers, was taking a dog to be neutered. I arrived at her garden when she was on another errand, so I missed having her commentary. There's so much packed into this garden, that it's easy to miss some truly wonderful plants. I definitely need to go back.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
When I was in high school, I wrote a paper about my daddy, how he had grown up poor, the third and unexpected child (his next sibling up was 17 years older than he) of my grandparents. I related an incident that happened to him Christmas morning when he was six years old. It brought tears to my eyes every time I thought about it. At the end of the paper, I revealed that this person who had suffered disappointment but had rallied to be successful was my father. The English teacher gave me a C (I was expecting an A+) and wrote MAUDLIN in giant red letters across the first page.
I had to look up what maudlin meant, so I'll never forget the word. Thus, I am going to resist the temptation to describe my beloved mother in a tearjerker way. She wouldn't like that anyway.
But I do want to say a word about her love of flowers, especially peonies. An elderly lady in our town gave Mother two peonies, a white one with red splotches, like the one pictured above, and a pink one. They had both come from the woman's husband's grandmother, so they were quite old when Mother acquired them in the early 1960's.
Every year around Mother's Day, the peonies would bloom and put on a show. Mother was one to cut flowers and bring them in the house. Her flowers were never organized into a "garden". So, when I was living nearby (I had a few years of living in odd places in my early to mid-twenties - San Francisco, Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico, and Paris, to name a few), I would always go down to visit on Mother's Day. And, there were the peonies, making for the most delicious fragrance when you'd walk in the house.
I've related before what happened to these peonies. A well-intentioned person from the church came over and did some weed-eating for my parents when they were in their nineties and couldn't keep things up. The pink peony had already disappeared. I know my mother had wanted my brother's youngest daughter to have it, as she had greatly admired the flower when she was a child.
Mother was still at home when I went down for Mother's Day and went around the house to pick the peonies. I found only a few pieces of foliage the weed eater had spared. I was crushed.
To make a long story short, I was able to dig up the peony, although it was the year we had the bad drought, and the roots all fell apart. I was aware peonies don't like to be moved, but I had little choice. I brought three pieces up to my house, and two have survived. They are still not quite strong enough to produce a lot of blooms. I think the plant really protested being brought away from my parents' more fertile ground.
The peony above came from Margaret Moseley, who will be 97 in a couple of weeks. She told me she won a silver plate from the Rich's Flower Show back in the 1960's with this peony, which is 'Festiva Maxima', the same as Mama's.
For some reason, this particular bloom has lasted nine days. Every day, the flower has gotten bigger and more spectacular. I took this picture yesterday. I guess it was holding on for Mother's Day. But, I promised I wouldn't be maudlin about this. My mother had a good, long life. I think of her every day and always send up a prayer of thanks for both my parents.
I just walked into the kitchen to examine the bloom. It is still all intact, without a loose petal. I'll change the mood here (just got teary-eyed) and say this is a great flower from the 19th Century - one that will do well in the South. Yesterday, as I was riding around Atlanta, I noticed them everywhere. If you don't have this one, order one with lots of eyes, plant it in September near the surface of the ground and enjoy the fragrance and beauty on Mother's Day in the future.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Back in the early 1990's, the big stone lodge on the hill above me burned. It had been vacant for some time, and local teenagers could be heard screaming on weekend nights. It must have been a gathering place, and I can imagine it looked spooky in there.
On a Friday the 13th in November of that year, there was unusual activity. You could hear cars going in and out, and the screams and laughter echoed down the hollow to my house. The next morning early, I came down with the dogs and was lying on the sofa reading. The dogs were restless and kept whining. I started hearing popping noises and got up and went to the door. The sky was lit up red, and for the slightest instant I thought to myself, "What a beautiful sunrise."
But then it occurred to me that I was looking toward the southwest. That's not where the sun comes up. Then, I saw the flames. I called 911. It seemed forever until the fire trucks came. There wasn't much they could do. The house was way back from the street, and it was a huge fire at this point.
Nothing was left but a couple of walls standing and a small front porch. I don't guess I'd ever been around a ruin like that. The sides of the house were faced with granite, cut into rectangles and squares. Some had been scorched, but most of the stones looked undamaged.
Fast forward a few weeks. Kathryn MacDougald and I got permission from the owners' son to remove what stone we could. Kathryn was interested in bigger rocks that had been part of the landscaping. I wanted the squares and rectangles of granite. She and I spent days, maybe weeks, up there with a crowbar and a pick-up truck.
I ended up with enough stones to make myself a little cottage. I'd like something with casement windows, dormers and a slate roof And, out in front, I want a cottage garden. But before I get this stone cottage built (where on earth is there a lot for it?), I want to go to England, preferably when the roses are blooming. I know there's a cottage there somewhere I could copy.
I'm posting this picture, which is actually a very long converted stable, I think, in Normandy in France. The man who did the gardens, though, was English and a protege of the late English garden writer and designer Christopher Lloyd of Great Dixter. In fact, we saw a magnificent orange-blooming spirea that had come directly from Christopher Lloyd's garden.
I sort of want this same feel for my future abode. Mine would not be brick, though. The stones are all still stacked along my driveway and form a rough wall in the back parking place. I also have 4,000 cobblestones which I took up from in front of my house and replaced with pea gravel. If I can just find the right lot somewhere, I want to make a cottage garden, bordered in boxwoods and spilling over with flowers. I want roses to climb the walls, and I want to go out every morning and pick flowers to bring in for the day.
In the meantime, I'll keep looking at the stacks of rocks - it's now been two decades since I rescued them. I hope they'll have the proper home someday, clinging to the sides of my cottage in a sunny space, a place where the deer don't roam.