Monday, March 6, 2017

An owl inspires a garden design

For more years than I would like to admit, I've had 20 fastigiate boxwoods sitting in their original 3-gallon containers, awaiting placement in my landscape.  These plants are treasures - I had wanted them for years, and I was finally able to buy them at a fall sale at a specialty nursery.  My dream come true.

But what have I done with them besides hauling a few around here and there to see how they'd look in various places? Nothing.  I've had lots of ideas, but one by one, each has been rejected, mostly because a plan only incorporated a few of the plants.  What to do with the rest?

Late yesterday, after a day-long feeling of fatigue, I trudged up the hill to the vacant lot and pulled a few strands of English ivy off ancient trees.  I did this to give my dog some exercise, or at least a feeling of being outdoors for a while.  He had been cooped up inside with me on a beautiful, perfect-for-gardening-or-tennis day,

We came back down, and I could hear two barred owls communicating just behind my house.  I already had my camera (I always take it up on the hill, hoping to snap photographs of the elusive red-headed woodpeckers who live up there), so I thought I might at least be able to catch the outline of one of the owls in the fading light.

So, I sat down on a mossy knoll in the woods and waited for one of them to announce its location.  Not another sound.  I was outsmarted.  They were still there, because I would have seen at least one of them fly - hard to miss, because their wing span is so wide.

As I waited, a thought came to me.  I had just looked with consternation at three camellias I planted several years ago.  I bought them at a big discount center that's only open part of the year.  They had some French name like Comte de (Quelque Chose), so I thought they'd be perfect for my French-inspired house.  Beside them, right in line, was a fourth camellia (from a different, very respected nursery) that I thought would turn out to be a favorite.  I bought it for its impossibly deep, almost black flowers.   The catch is catching the flowers open.  I see them in bud, then partially open, but then they fall off the bush.  I have yet to see what a full-blown bloom looks like, although the partial flower reveals a waxy texture, not something I'm wild about.

The blooms on the pseudo-French ones are red, which I like, but are disappointingly small.  Adjoining this planting is a line of English boxwoods, forming a sort of low, irregular hedge that parallels the side of the house.  All of this was done piecemeal and is too chaotic.

Suddenly, as I waited to hear the guttural trills (an oxymoron?) of the owls, it came to me.  All those boxwoods and camellias must be moved.  Somehow, some way, I need to train the slender boxwoods on arched frames in a long row, extending from the back corner of the house all the way out to the tree where I have a Banksiae rose planted at the corner of the parking area.

I got up and walked off the length of the space.  It would take 18 boxwoods.  That would leave me two to put at the bottom of the steps that go down beside the music room (meaning I have a piano in there) terrace.

I will need nine rebar arches that will have to be set in concrete and which will have to be identical.  This is where I run into trouble.  Should they be single, or should there be two arches connected with six-inch bars to make them sturdier?  That's a lot of welding and much more money, and is it necessary?  The arches cannot vary an inch because if they are to form a row, they have to be perfectly in line - all the same width and height for my sensational green enfilade.

And the final question is:  Do I plant the boxwoods in the existing pea gravel, which is held by a low cobblestone retaining wall?  That way, they'd be the right height, but it would make the path on the side of the house much narrower.

Well, I'll measure and work this out.  I've been around and around my house trying to find where to use these plants.  I knew I wanted to train them on some sort of fixed guide to get them to grow together at the top, but if it were a here and there thing, it would look like Disneyworld instead of a garden.

It's only a germ of an idea.  Now to figure out the logistics.  I must get these rarities in the ground.  I have to talk to a welder, but where is he, she?

Note:  Above are two fastigiate boxwoods in the late Ryan Gainey's garden.  If memory serves me right (I probably have slides to show the "before", but it would take a lot of time to locate the one I want), Ryan had these two upright boxwoods planted side by side to flank a walk and then joined them at the top.  I don't know if he used some sort of guide to get them to grow together, or if he just pruned the tops to link to each other.  I need mine to be very uniform at the top, since I have so many.  I've got to have those rebar forms.  I would have something similar to this, but with more slender boxwoods and not as thick.  If you Google Heronswood arches (images), you will see a taller and fancier version of what I am contemplating.  To my recollection, they were hornbeams, trained on some sort of forms.  Dan Hinkley designed these when he owned the nursery, and I saw them in a much less mature stage.  Somewhere I have slide I took, but where?

Monday, February 20, 2017

Thoughts about a warm winter and early blooms

My memory is not as good as I thought.  I was convinced that we had a later blooming time last winter, due to much colder days in January and February.  My camera tells me I am wrong.

This photograph of Camellia japonica 'C. M. Wilson', was taken on February 2, 2016, in Margaret Moseley's garden, which now belongs to her daughter Carol Harris.  Also, in full bloom that day was Margaret's Daphne odora, several hybrid hellebores, Helleborus niger and Edgeworthia chrysantha, among others.

I was forewarned by Carol in January that things were early.  She called to say that the Michellia maudiae was covered in fragrant blooms (also that it is now a good 25 feet tall).  To illustrate how this warm winter has changed bloom times, I have pictures of this banana shrub/magnolia relative in full bloom on March 20, 2010, along with Daphne odora and dozens of camellias.  There was a Spiraea 'Ogon' in flower then, as well.  I've noticed they are blooming right now, exactly a month ahead of 2010.

We're about to face a week of about 70+ degrees F.  Already these warm days have brought things out prematurely.  The camellias are all blooming like crazy, which is fine, but I worry about the leafing out of Hydrangea macrophylla.  I shudder to remember the Easter freeze of 2007.  Everything was killed back by a hard freeze, and we scarcely had any macrophylla hydrangea flowers at all that year.

Gardeners everywhere have lived through uncertain times.  California has been in what seemed a hopeless drought.  Now, damaging storms are hitting the state, along with vicious winds and flooding rains.  It's hard to have a garden under such circumstances.

Let's hope we don't have a repeat of last summer's above 90 degrees and no rain for months on end.  And, if it's going to be so mild now (not good to set peach crops), I'm keeping my fingers crossed so that the really hard freezes in the low 20's and teens will not happen.

Today, on my way to a wonderful lecture given by photographer Lori Prosser at the Gwinnett Master Gardeners' meeting (her subject was English and French gardens; I came home wanting to clip hedges and plant all the flowers we cannot grow), I saw two white azaleas beginning to bloom.

I want the seasons back like they were when I was in my 30's, when you pretty much knew what would bloom when.  This present weather is not right, and I hope to goodness this is not a trend for the future.

Note:  My Helleborus niger, which threw up a lonely bloom this year, has already started to turn green.  Here's one I took in Margaret/Carol's garden on February 2, 2016.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Early cheer in the garden...and amid my clutter

I'm writing this three days after I had intended to.  It was Valentine's Day evening, and I looked with dismay at my desk - disorganization, chaos, half-worked crossword puzzles, metal filing rack stuffed with papers.  I hadn't a clue what they (the papers) were all about - they had been there for months.

But, as I was feeling a twinge of sadness - for Valentine Days long past, the exchange of presents (my late husband usually gave me something, however small, made of sterling silver, and I would give him something to do with fishing); yellow roses from a boyfriend who wrote a funny message on the card; my daddy handing me a heart-shaped box of candy wrapped in red cellophane.  You can see I was in pitiable, nostalgic mood.

It only took studying the bouquet of daffodils I had picked that afternoon to break the melancholy.  What was I thinking?  Here were the cheerful faces that poets had written about for centuries, that school children had presented to their teachers over the years, with the syrupy liquid seeping through the wax paper around the green stems held in their hands.  How lucky was I that all I had to do was walk around the yard and gather some instant happiness.

The daffodils (of the genus narcissus; when I was young, we called them jonquils, regardless of the size or what division they were) in my bouquet were mixed, a few having been here long before I came on the property.  But, most were ones I've added through the years.  Curiously,  the early "jonquils" and many of the later, larger ones all bloomed at once this year.  This weather has been crazy, with warm spells in January and February more typical of May.

In my thrown-together bouquet are some 'Ice Follies.'  These are from ones I forced one year, then threw the bulbs on the ground afterwards, with all intentions of planting them.  They ended up planting themselves and have spread to make a pretty large clump.  Their large faces start off with creamy petals and a pale yellow cup.  Then, everything fades to white.  My daffodil guru, Berma Abercrombie, who was a founder of the Georgia Daffodil Society, always recommended 'Ice Follies' as a very showy flower for a mass planting.

I took her at her word and ordered 50 bulbs to start off with.  For some strange reason, I decided to plant them on a bank in the woods way behind the house where no one but the deer and squirrels can see them.  They did not take off and spread like the ones I had thrown so insouciantly by the back door.  In fact, their numbers have dwindled.  I wasn't thinking right; the 'Ice Follies' I planted so far away should be on the hill across the driveway where I could see them from the window by my desk.  As it is, I have to trudge past the brush pile and down a steep hill to pick them.  Another of the labor-intensive garden mistakes I have made.

Now, as to the rest of my desk.  I had two of those tall mint julep-type vases.  I took some camellias to my mother in the nursing home once, and apparently someone liked the container as much as I did.  But this is one of my favorite vases for many flowers.  The next occupants will be the dark purple hyacinths that come up every year near said brush pile.  These are more bulbs I had forced, then tossed into the ground without much thought.

There are pictures of three of my Valentines on the desk.  One, you can't see for the glare - that's my husband Chip Tate talking to the novelist Andrew Lytle (in the white shirt).  Another is the real Mr. Darcy - Colin Firth.  He's in a dark leather frame that I thought suited him nicely.  The picture was a gift from my friend Helen Fraser, who always zeroes in on what you would love to have.  I can't tell you how many times I have watched the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice.  Last week there was an article in The New York Times showing what a real aristocrat of the era would have looked like.  Not for me.  Colin Firth, you will forever be Mr. Darcy.

My other Valentine is represented here by the mirror.  You can see the frame - it is distressed black with gold leaf.  It belonged to my friend Benjie Jones, whom I lost last June 16th.  The mirror, which is huge, has made this room a much better place to be.

With the sweet-scented flowers and memories of Valentine's Days past, I soon bounced back and let the daffodils direct my mood.  Flowers always help, and these were just the right ones to make my evening, not one of sadness at not having a Valentine at present, but one filled with cheerful remembrances of people I was lucky to have in my life.

Below:  A neighbor down the street has masses of 'Ice Follies' planted on a hill next to her house.  I wasn't able to capture the whole area because the leaves on several beech trees blocked the view.  I need a stronger lens on my camera, but I was able to zero in one of the patches that passersby (and deer and squirrels) can see from the street.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Blues in the garden

My mother told me that I should never begin a thank-you note with an apology.  Her reasoning was to force me to write immediately so I would have no need for an apology for being late.

Well, here I go.  I feel so bad that I have not even tried to write something here for so long.  Sorry, Mama, but I just had to say it.  The more days I skipped, the harder it was to take it back up.

As usual, I let Thanksgiving and Christmas overwhelm me.  My daughter and her family (husband and girls - 2  1/2 and five months) were here for 10 days.  Before they arrived, I was like a whirling dervish trying to dispose of all the clutter I'd accumulated all over the house.  At the end,  I was doing things like throwing stacks of mail into the spare room and not caring where they landed.

And, every year, I try to do too much, decorating-wise.  I want everything to look magical, and it never does.  I did have a really pretty tree, and I got the wreathes and bows made for the windows, but two pine garlands I bought never got put up.  I hung on to them for two weeks after Christmas, thinking I could at least suspend them in my arch garden.  I never quite got around to that either, so I finally tossed them onto the brush pile.  A waste of my money and someone's labor.

So that's it.  I have no excuse for January, so I'm making a fresh start now (speaking of waste - so many wasted paragraphs above making all these excuses).

The photograph above I took last April in the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham, N.C.  I hit at a good time, when so many of the perennials and bulbs were at their freshest.  These lovely blue anemones were in the semi-circular, terraced part of the garden, which consists of 55 acres with many trails and tons of ornamental trees and shrubs.

In this particular, thickly planted "Historic Terrace Garden" (listed that way on the map), the shrubs and flowers were arranged by color.  I never could get an overall view because there were too many people, so I had to settle for close-ups.

I love blue in the garden.  Yesterday, as Wendie Britt and I were putting out flags for some plantings at the Flower Guild garden at the church, she said the same thing.  Afterwards, I went to a big box store to pick up a prescription (they are the only ones who carry this particular one), and I bought a few additional items.

As I checked out, there was a stand loaded down with spring and summer bulbs.  I spied what looked like a French blue bearded iris.  It's call 'Full Tide.'  I had already succumbed to this stand a few days earlier, buying two deep purple bearded iris, two packages of Oriental lilies and some purple coneflowers.

This is not a good time to plant iris - it should have been done last August.  And, the rhizomes aren't very big, except the 'Full Tide' one is pretty decent.  I'm planting all this at the church garden since the deer not only eat the fans at my house but pull the whole plant - roots and all - out of the ground.

We have only two and a half months before the bearded iris should be in bloom.  I think the best I can hope for this year will be a few fans.  I will update you on the progress.

Meanwhile, my mind is whirling, trying to think of all the blues we Southerners can count on in the garden (how many times through the years did I plant delphiniums?  Only once did a few come back.  And mecanopsis - one can only dream).

I have a friend I e-mail with, and we are always having contests.  The most recent one was song titles with the word "moon".  So, here's a challenge:  Blue flowers you've actually seen in area gardens (not counting bedding plants or tropicals).  I'll start off - this is off the top of my head, as I must get this finished:  Hydrangeas, of course;  blue bachelor's buttons, blue platycodons, some caryopteris are bluish; 'Heavenly Blue' morning glories; Phlox divaricata (usually the blue is a bit pale); Veronica 'Georgia Blue'; blue grape hyacinths; Forget-me-nots; Ceratostigma plumbaginoides; Delft Blue hyacinths; Cantaurea montana; Clematis integrifolia (isn't there a blue one, Lindy?), Clematis 'Will Goodwin', 'Ramona' (more blue than purple, I think), 'Arabella' and I'm sure many many more blue clematis (Lindy Broder will know them).

So, you take it from here.  There are some blue Louisiana and Japanese iris.  In fact, I had 'Arcadian Blue' at one point (Louisiana).  Okay.  Finish the list, please.  Oops.  There's a blue wild aster I see in the fall - other fall asters, but I don't know the names.  Elizabeth Dean will. Did I say dutch iris?

Meanwhile, every day I've been watching something else blue in my arch garden....