Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Leaving the November garden

Today is the last day of November, and even though autumn is not officially over until December 21st, the fall will be a distant thought as of tomorrow.

But, I wish I could stretch out November.  I love all the foliage arrangements you can make.  Above is the one I had for Thanksgiving this year.  In my usual fashion, I was running around trying to clean the clutter from my main rooms, throwing things into closets and furiously sweeping up obvious debris from the floor.

On the morning of Thanksgiving eve, I called a wholesale florist to see if they had any red rose hips.  In the past, I've combined those with American beech leaves I've picked Thanksgiving morning (they don't last overnight, but shrivel and turn a tan color, so I have to gather at the last minute).  The wholesale guy I talked to said, yes, he would pull me some.

I drove like a maniac over there, only to discover there were no rose hips at all.  He had three packages of aronia berries waiting for me.  But they were a dark red, and I really didn't want to spend $45 on something I didn't want, so I rushed back here and ran up the hill to the vacant house.  You can see my haul here.

Despite my panic at running out of time, I greatly enjoyed gathering material for this arrangement, which was thrown together in record time Thanksgiving morning.  I did have a large oasis that was already soaked, so that made it easy.

Here's what I found:  Brown-backed magnolia (I'm thinking it's not 'Bracken's Brown Beauty', but can't be sure; the habit is more open on this tree),  Japanese maple that shriveled a bit overnight (I had all this in buckets outside), Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'; nandina berries that hovered between orange and red.  The yellow-green American beech leaves you see on the left came from my tree outside the back door.  Usually, it's already tan, but I was lucky it hadn't all turned yet, so I had good yellow, green and bronze color.  Those were gathered Thanksgiving morning.

My time of foraging on the vacant lot next door may soon come to an end.  If the new U.S. President lifts sanctions on Russian plutocrats, I imagine this property will either be occupied or sold.  The rumor has been that it was bought by a Russian billionaire whose assets in this country were frozen.

On Sunday, I went to the farm to gather winged sweet gum sticks, American red cedar and pine for Christmas arrangements at church.  I almost had a meltdown when I realized that my favorite cedar tree - the one with tiny brownish-orange berries - was dying on the bottom.  I was able to reach a few branches, but I first assumed that the drought had taken its toll.

But, as my friend Richard with the jeep and I soon realized, most everything was dead or dying around the edges of the fields.  We concluded they had been sprayed - unthinkable!  I can't really write much more about this, as I want to keep my blood pressure down.  The hay man had taken it upon himself to kill everything in sight, including all the pines, cedars and a beautiful stand of berry-laden native yaupon holly next to one of the fields.  Even the young sweet gums, which are a nuisance until I need the winged sticks, were dying and brittle.

When I called Mr. Hay Man the next day, he thought I should be grateful because he killed some privet, too.  He scolded me and said I needed to let him know next time what I didn't want sprayed  - as if I had been forewarned of this travesty.  I was sick over it and can hardly think about it now, but all that lovely foliage the jeep guy and I gather every year - one of my favorite traditions of Christmas - is now brown and unsightly.

But, I was able to salvage some evergreens - just not as many.  I think I made it clear to Mr. Hay Man that he needn't warn me, because there won't be a next time.  Who would ever have guessed anyone would do such a thing on someone else's property without their permission?

But, back to November and this last day of the month.  I hate to think that I might not be able to duplicate this arrangement next year.  It's bad enough that I am trespassing now (I had called the realtor two years ago to ask for permission, but she never got back in touch with me;  I justify my actions because I've kept ivy off the magnificent old trees up there).  In my own yard, I do have a 'Little Gem' magnolia and nandinas,  but I need to replant a 'Yuletide' and find someone willing to spare Japanese maple foliage.  Or maybe I can find something at the farm that the Hay Man hasn't killed.  I've used lots of autumn branches from there in the past.  I guess we'll see next year what happens.

Below, American beech leaves on the dining room table.  That goose decoy will be changed out for the darker, more elegant ones I use on the tables at Christmas.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Stopping by a shady garden

If you've read my blog, you know that I long for a large sunny, flat space to make a garden.  For 43 years, I've had anything but.   I live in a forest with steep hills.

There are compensations.  Just this morning, I did a double take when what I thought was a large orange cat trotting down my driveway turned out to be a red fox.  I haven't seen one since 2011.  While he was going too fast for me to grab a camera, I am going to record his appearance in my bird book so I'll remember.  I was afraid the foxes were gone forever - I used to hear them scream in the wee hours of the morning.  Then, for years, silence.  So, I was so happy to see this little creature zipping along.  My tenant saw him last week, so maybe he's back to stay.

I do like to walk around my house looking for potential garden spots.  I'll think I've found a sunny spot, but then the seasons change, and I'll realize there is not enough light for what I would like to do.  So, I'm back looking at places for yet another shade garden.  While wading through some old photographs, I came across this grouping in an Atlanta garden.  This is something I could do if I can find the right spot with the proper overlook.

A word about these woods, and one good thing I can say about the deer, who first came here around 1999.  They have cleaned all the underbrush from the forest floor.  I had pretty much eliminated poison ivy from my four acres, but a part of my neighbor's property which I can see from my kitchen window had plenty.  Deer eat poison ivy?  Who knew?  Now, there's not so much as a piece anywhere.

One time I was on a train going into Brussels.  Out the window was this exquisitely beautiful forest with very tall trees and absolutely nothing on the forest floor.  It was so magical.  Ever since, I've thought a clean forest would look great here.  The deer have helped me out, but I do have a good many fallen trees that sort of mar the idea.  Still, it's not out of the realm of possibility to get someone with a chain saw to help me out.

So, I now have a mission.  To find just the spot for a grouping like the one above.  Not that I would ever take the time to sit on a concrete bench, but I'd love to look at a scene like this.  Sometimes you just have to "settle", rather than get exactly what you want.  If I could have a serene garden area like this, I think I would be ecstatic - at least until I started thinking about rose-covered arches and a giant cutting garden where I would grow all those sun-loving flowers I've dreamed about for so long.  Until that day comes, though, I can work on being a good steward of the riches I've been given and be grateful that I have a place to get out and garden.

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.