Sunday, October 4, 2015

Letting go of summer with sweet autumn clematis

It's damp and chilly in my house.  The sun hasn't shone in about ten days.  Still, there are no ruinous floods, so I am thankful to be where I am, and my sympathy goes out to everyone on the Carolina coasts and other affected areas.

I took this photograph over Labor Day weekend when I stayed in Sag Harbor on Long Island, N.Y.  It was a great place to walk, and I loved seeing all the gardens - lots and lots of hydrangeas, and everywhere the last gasp of summer flowers, including the sweet autumn clematis growing on the picket fence.

The rampant grower shown above has changed botanical names at least twice since I've been paying attention to such things.  I think the latest moniker is Clematis terniflora.  I'm going with the Missouri Botanical Garden on this one.

This is a very invasive vine.  It has gotten loose along the banks of the Chattahoochee River.  Still, it has its charms.  I've loved having it clamber up onto my clipped shrubs, visible from the library window.

But somehow this year, it was cut at the base, so I had nothing but the brown, crunchy remains from last season.  I suspect the deer had something to do with this.

The vine is just a memory now.  It blooms in August here in Atlanta.  It was at its peak on Long Island over Labor Day.

I'm now concentrating on fall plants and looking out at my one remaining Aster tataricus which is behind some fishing line that is rigged to keep the deer away.  The one tall flower with light blue flowers gives me so much pleasure.  I'm going to figure out how to have armloads of these for cutting next year.  In the spring, I moved the few plants that had survived the marauders, but only one shot up and bloomed.  I still have the rosettes of foliage of the ones that just sat there.  I hope to be able to clear out the one semi-sunny strip I have at my house, wrap it around with the fishing wire Sharyn Altman put me onto and have some flowers to cut by next spring and summer.

I do have some of the above clematis coming up, so I can train some up a tree in the protected area.  It has to be cut back in winter, as the foliage dies and crisps up and is not a pretty sight.

Back to the scene above at a cottage just across from where we stayed.  I am remembering this mild end-of-summer day in a beautiful place.  Even though it's gray and misty outside, I love looking back on sunny days that I know will soon come again.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Orange is the new...fragrance

These days when I drive up and park in front of my house, I am almost knocked over by a sweet fragrance.  It's coming from the orange tea olive, Osmanthus fragrans var. aurantiacus.

What is so unusual about this is the location of what is now a tree some 15 feet tall.

First, I have to explain how my house is configured.  There is a center facade, and then there are two wings that jut out on the sides.  So, that means the fragrance of these clusters of tiny orange flowers has to travel from about 20 feet along the side of the house, then turn left around the corner for another 16 feet, and left again for another 15 feet to reach my car door.  That's a pretty amazing scent that can perfume that much space, especially when it is blocked by the two-story wing of the house.

By contrast, I have what I bought as Osmanthus fragrans 'Fudingzhu' growing (or marking time, I should say) right on the edge of the parking area.  This selection of tea olive blooms white, with showy clusters of flowers; it is purportedly super-fragrant.  I have had this plant for several years.  When it didn't grow where I originally had it, I moved it to its present location where I thought it would knock people over when they arrived at my house.

But that hasn't happened.  The plant is either extremely slow-growing, or I got hold of a specimen that is an anomaly and may never grow tall.  At present, it tops out at under two feet.  The flowers are there, but I literally have to touch my nose to them to get the fragrance.  Maybe after a few more years, it will grow taller and produce more flowers and the sweet scent one would expect.

For the time being, I would like to recommend the orange tea olive.  It's probably in some nurseries right now, as it is in full bloom.  It was about a week and a half ago that I drove up, got out of my car and realized that the tree must be blooming.  I'd seen the buds, and this experience let me know that for the next three weeks, I'd come under the spell of this extraordinary September-blooming plant.

I took this photograph yesterday as the sun was setting.  Just heavenly!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Hydrangeas make the scene in The Hamptons

The other day I read a description of habitual procrastinators and why they do what they do.  It was if someone were doing a case study on me.  One of the things that jumped out at me was that people who perennially put off things will decide, "Okay. I'm getting this task done today, without fail!"

But, what happens next?  They get close to starting whatever they've put off, but will inevitably find something else to do instead.  "Let me just get this load of laundry in, or, I need to brush the dog first, and then I'll start writing."  That's usually the case for me, or lately it was completing my taxes, which are due October 15 (because I didn't get them done by April 15th).  I dragged this process out over two months, making my kitchen table inaccessible for having a meal in my usual spot.

And this blog.  I love to write about gardens.  I love to pick out the pictures.  But, it takes me a long time to write, a sizable block of time, in fact.  So, with the taxes looming over me and my blog neglected for weeks, what did I do?  I started practicing the piano, saying, "It's good for my mind, and playing will calm me down so I can concentrate and write."  But then, I didn't.

One more excuse/apology.  A couple of weeks ago, a situation came up at church where I had to pick out thousands of dollars worth of plants and organize them into a garden setting for a new building that will soon be complete.  This was a year-long planning job that had to be done in a week's time (not my procrastination; it came up at the last minute and had to be decided on immediately).  I still have some outstanding work - mostly bids - to obtain, and it has to be finished this week.

Now, to the above photograph.  I took this in Sag Harbor, New York, over Labor Day weekend.  I went to Long Island with my daughter and son-in-law and one-year-old granddaughter.  We stayed in a 19th century cottage with a beamed ceiling and floorboards that were at least a foot wide.  It was chock full of good books, and there was an apple tree full of ripening fruit in the back garden.  There was a lovely Hydrangea paniculata by the back door.  The deer have eaten all of mine, but for some reason they hadn't touched this magnificent plant, nor the billowing H. macrophylla in front.  They had, however, pretty much chewed up the ones up by the street.  I know they were in the garden, because my son-in-law saw them leisurely checking out the apples one morning.

We were able to walk the few blocks to town in just a couple of minutes.  But, the day I took this photograph, I decided to explore more residential streets (it was a whaling village originally) on my own.  When my son-in-law asked if I wanted a map, I assured him that I had an excellent sense of direction and could find my way around the town and back.

Three hours later, I was glad to see the harbor after zig-zagging back and forth, totally lost.  It was opposite the bay that I saw this restaurant that looked so inviting.  As I took the photograph of the hydrangeas and patio, I heard the hostess say that they were completely booked and could not even accommodate a table for two.  I was crestfallen, because the place was so charming and I was so hungry.  I think we ended up with some pizza slices that night, but I was glad just to get home after my three-hour walkabout.

One day, we drove to East Hampton and were riding through the maze of narrow gravel lanes lined with tall privet (!) hedges, where the estates border the ocean.  All of a sudden I saw three women walking, and one turned around to look at us.  It was Gayle King, whom I watch every day on CBS This Morning.  Then, I realized that the shorter woman with the big hair was Oprah.  My son-in-law drove slowly, and my daughter and I tried not to look like gawkers.  There was no one else around, just the five of us (I didn't recognize their friend).  It was weird, being such a voyeur.  I'm not good at identifying celebrities (Jay-Z walked right by me at the harbor, but I didn't recognize him), but it did give me a thrill to see Oprah and Gayle (who were hoping for privacy, I'm sure).

It was also fun trying to get a glimpse of what looked like elegant arboretums planted behind the high hedges.  The landscapes were beautiful, and I loved what is left of the countryside and farms. I'm such a fan of hedges, so this was like paradise for me.  Everyone had them.

I hope I can do this blog without writing so much.  People want to see flowers and gardens, not read the ramblings of an excuse-maker.  I have way too many photographs not to share them, and they really don't need all this commentary.  Let's see, a picture is worth a thousand words, right?  I need to respect that adage.  I hope to do better in the future.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

All the seeds I did not plant; all the jars I did not fill

A couple of Saturdays ago, I waited around all day for a workman who did not come.  Finally, about mid-afternoon, I decided to clean out the floor of my kitchen pantry.  It was not a random choice.  I was looking for some check stubs I was missing.  I needed to find them in order to complete my 2014 taxes, due October 15 (Why do I always procrastinate whenever possible?).  I had looked everywhere and concluded the only place they could be was beneath the newspapers stuffed in grocery sacks two layers thick on the tile floor (I was saving them to compost; I didn't dare look at the dates; they could have been there for two years or more).

Also on the floor were several half-used six-packs of tonic water, some way out of date.  I found a carton of ginger ale, which I knew had to have been there since the summer my daughter spent with me while she studied for the bar exam.  She's been a public defender now for four years.  And why did I buy a two-foot tall bottle of refill hand soap?  I'd forgotten it was there, and now I don't have the original small container anymore.

I got started and ended up cleaning off all but the top two shelves.  I found three 5-lb. bags of sugar, all half-full.  I had just bought another bag (now 4-lbs. for the same price) for the hummingbirds who are all fighting and drinking me out of house and home, readying for their trip south.  Those other bags were on different shelves and all hidden from view.

Two categories of items sent me into a sort of review of certain aspects of my life.  Well, not so much that as a realization that some plans I made decades ago never came to be.  It once would have made me sad, but I really can't complain about my life - I've had many positives that have helped me with the terrible negative - losing my husband in a single moment in June 1999.

What I was reminded of in the pantry was all my plans for a sunny garden.  I had saved so many jars, all for the purpose of delivering bouquets of cut flowers to friends or shut-ins.  Long ago, I had envisioned cut flowers for every season - bachelors' buttons and ox-eye daisies in April; iris, roses and peonies in early May; coneflowers and Asiatic lilies in June; zinnias, phlox and rubrum lilies in July; rudbeckias and platycodons in August; Aster tataricus in September and daisy chrysanthemums in October, and so on.

I found several small jars of seeds - zinnias that could have been 20 years old; moon flower seeds I'd forgotten were there, and pink coneflower seeds I could probably never have succeeded in germinating anyway.  I had store packets, too - more zinnias, sunflowers, bachelors' buttons and annual asters, which I'm not sure would have grown all that well here.

Most of the jars had held mayonnaise, but I had all shapes from different salad dressings; these latter would have been for smaller bouquets.  No wonder I had no room for the sack of coffee I just bought.

It was so hard, but I put most of my "vases" in the recycling bin.  I kept the Mason jars in case I ever do any canning again.  Let's see, in 70 years, I've canned three times.  I think I'll just give the jars and rings to someone who will actually do something with them.

All the contemplating about what I didn't do led to thoughts of the basement.  The whole place is a giant hope chest.  There are headboards I bought at a second-hand store for my future beach house.  I have two tables (great shape, but need faux painting), purchased from a motel liquidation store.  Those I had for a planned house in Highlands, where we could do jigsaw puzzles and leave them undisturbed in a corner until they were finished.

At one point, after a visit to Lake Rabun, I envisioned the above tables in a rustic lake house instead.  We'd have a boat and would go water skiing.  My own daddy was good about that and ever so patient to help a friend new to skiing have success quickly.

But those second homes I saved for never materialized.  Yes, they would have been great when my children were younger and there was someone to share the headaches of maintenance and seasonal cleaning and maybe renting out.  But, I never really missed what I didn't have.

About those cactus dahlias above.  Those are what I would have planted at the house in Highlands, where they would have thrived in the cool mountain air.  I used to visit a dahlia garden there.  It may be long gone by now, but I thought how satisfying it would be to gather huge bouquets and give them away or decorate my mountain house in bright colors.

But, it's all okay.  I've always been one to think there's something wonderful around the next corner.  It might not be that beach house (where I would have grown gardenias and tiger lilies and zinnias) or the mountain house that would have surely had a sunny space for red cactus dahlias, but I may still use those headboards somewhere.  It's never too late to daydream.  Margaret Moseley didn't hit her stride until her 80's, and she wound up with a beautiful garden and flowers at every season.  That could happen for me, too.

I still hope to grow dahlias and zinnias and chrysanthemums and roses to give away, but I don't regret throwing all those long-collected containers into the recycle bin (although I confess it's hard for me to part with a jar of any type).  Who knows what the future will bring, and if I do end up with a sunny space some day, I'm sure I won't have trouble consuming more mayonnaise and salad dressing.  

Note:  I did find that spiral of check stubs, so on to finishing my taxes - no more excuses!