Thursday, June 30, 2011

Not this year

On a visit to Cape Cod in August one year, I had my jealousy meter go off big time.  My family were guests of friends who owned an historic house with wide plank floors and exquisite American antiques.  To entertain friends, they had restored a barn (where we had a huge lobster feast) and had built a swimming pool.

The grounds were amazing, too, with a grape arbor and lovely paths and lush green lawns.  But, my favorite spot (and the one that made me go green with envy) was the cutting garden.  The long, rectanglular space was enclosed by a charming tall picket fence, and inside was a riot of color provided mostly by zinnias and cosmos with a large area devoted to lilies, including the pure white 'Casa Blanca'.  Just walking near the garden made you swoon from the fragrance.  I vowed then that I would grow these lilies, too.

It did take a couple of years for me to order the bulbs, but I finally had my own flowers.  Here in Atlanta, Oriental lilies bloom in early July, so I could count on big bouquets of Casa Blancas, faded-to-green 'Annabelle' hydrangeas, purple phlox and orange crocosmia.

My lovely mother died on July 2007,  just shy of her 97th birthday.  The last year and a half of her life, she had dementia and pretty much thought I was her youngest sister.  Every Saturday, I would visit her and always take flowers.  She didn't know who I was, but she knew which flowers were chrysanthemums, zinnias, peonies, roses, lilies, etc.

 In the last two weeks of her life, the Casa Blancas were in bloom, so I brought a bouquet to put in her room at the nursing home.  The flowers were a hit.  Everyone wanted the source for the bulbs.  Mother went in and out of consciousness, but she always commented on how beautiful the lilies were and how she loved the fragrance (most people don't agree on the latter; the scent can be overpowering).

Every year since 2007,  I've thought of how much pleasure those lilies brought my mother in her final days.  I have been careful to do everything to keep the deer away.  Maybe it's because they are up against the house (they're planted at a 1926 cottage behind my main house), and maybe it's because I've been strict about changing deer repellents, but the lilies have come through unscathed.

Until June 18, 2011, at about 7 p.m., that is.  I wasn't at home, but friends in Atlanta say that's what time an unexpected storm came through with what must have been straight line winds.  About a mile from here, I saw an ancient-looking tree down on a house.  When I drove into my neighborhood at twilight, I could see lots of debris.  Then, I was stopped short in my driveway by a large pine tree blocking the way.

The power was out at my house, and the dogs and I walked back to the cottage.  I couldn't get close because wires were down.  It looked like oak branches were covering the side of the house and the roof. I couldn't figure it out, because the only oak tree I was aware of was still standing.  The next morning, I walked up in the daylight.  We passed an enormous tree that had uprooted right next to the power pole and was lying in the woods.  That made me sick enough, but then I saw what had happened.  The cottage was smothered in oak leaves.  The dogs and I walked way down and around to stay away from the wires.  That's when I saw that a 100 foot tall tree had uprooted and crashed into the cottage.  The tree was enormous.  The entire back of the house was destroyed, along with the roof, chimney and a large deck.  The tree had two enormous trunks, so the canopy covered the entire house and all the side gardens.  I was sick to see that a beautiful, thick English boxwood that was at least 50 years old had been obliterated.

All this long story to say that there won't be any Casa Blanca lilies blooming this year.  They were smashed into the ground, along with the foliage of my mother's 150 year old 'Festiva Maxima' peonies, which I was trying my best to get established (they had been cut down at her house by a well-meaning person with a weed eater, and I was only able to get two pieces to survive the move).

The lilies are not a total loss.  They'll probably be back, and I can always add more.  However, I have yet to find even a fragment of the terra cotta pot with the dark maroon Asiatic lilies that bloomed beautifully in late May on the now-destroyed deck.

The tree has been removed.  The little house looks forlorn, but it can be repaired.  My loss is nothing when you think of the total devastation in Joplin and Tuscaloosa with absolutely everything gone, including lives.  That thought definitely puts a boxwood and some crushed lilies in perspective.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Country Garden Composted

The secret to this amazing garden a few miles south of my hometown of Palmetto, Ga., is composted leaves (and a lot of hard work over the years).  

When I was growing up, I passed this house innumerable times on the way to Newnan (that's where we went to the doctor, dentist, etc.).  It was a derelict plantation house that sat up on crumbling stone pillars.  Rusted car parts and farm implements poked up from tall weeds and scrub pines.  The early 19th century house looked as if it would topple over at any moment.

One day, a dynamo named Liz Tedder came along and bought the place.  Before we knew it, the house was on a solid foundation and restored beautifully.  Gardens began sprouting in every direction.  

What was once the Arnold homeplace is now the Tedder miracle.  Already a knowledgeable and experienced gardener when she and her husband George bought the property, Liz has created all sorts of gardens that produce loads of flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs each year.  Her secret?  Leaves that people put by the curb in fall.  The Tedders pick them up and bring them to the garden, grind them up and spread them on the ground.  The eventual result is deep, rich dark soil that is several feet deep.  You could plant something with your bare hand and dig a hole down to your elbow with no trouble.  

George Tedder provided me with this photograph of just one of the lovely paths in back of the house.  In August, I'll put up a picture of her scuppernong arbor.  I am really jealous.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Getting from here to there

 The side of Miriam Napier's house was once an impenetrable scramble of undesirable shrubs and English ivy.  The latter was crawling up the walls, making matters even worse.  A chain link fence was the sole hardscape element.

"The only way you could get to the back yard was through the house," said Miriam.  

Always looking for an excuse to add more hydrangeas, Miriam transformed the disheveled, forbidding space on the side of the house into a garden on its own.  At the entrance to the back garden, she added a gate that allows a lovely view into the long side area.  Pavers set in an interesting pattern provide safe passage from the front of the house to the flower borders in the back garden.  

I like the idea of being able to walk all around a house.  Besides, if a passageway is all overgrown with English ivy and such, you never know what lies beneath. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Another version of a handsome plant

This farfugium is in plant explorer Ozzie Johnson's garden.  Ozzie is a collector of the rare and unusual, and going through his garden makes your heart pound with envy.  I would definitely add this particular farfugium with a golden picotee edge to a "If You Ever See This Plant, Buy It" list.  

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Plant Everyone Wanted

When I wrote a column about George Schmid's garden in the Atlanta Journal & Constitution, I included this picture of Farfugium japonicum 'Argentea'.  Everyone wanted it, but it was nowhere to be found at the time.  

Farfugium used to be known as Ligularia, so if you're looking for this shade-loving beauty, it could be hiding out under a different name.  Plants like this can really make an impact in the garden.  Imagine a clump of these leaves next to a boxwood with perhaps some ferns on the other side.  In the background, plant a cutleaf Japanese maple.  To bring out the variegation in the farfugium, add a white-leaved liriope to the scene.  

When you're out in the nurseries or surfing the Internet and you see a rare variation like this one, grab it and do some experimenting.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Green is a Color

The few times I've ever tried to advise someone about what to plant in a garden,  the first thing I would hear is, "I want lots of color."  Translation:  "I want a big swath of pansies or petunias so they can be seen from the street."

It took me a long time and a lot of visits to gardens to realize that green is "lots of color".  And, I admit that at first, I thought all was lost because I had mostly shade at my house and couldn't have any of those brightly colored flowers that require full sun.

I think the above garden, which belongs to W. George Schmid, author of the The Genus Hosta and An Encyclopedia of Shade Perennials (both available from Amazon), is stunning, despite the fact that everything is green.  George actually started out growing mostly hostas, but eventually began adding shrubs and perennials of various textures that could take the shade and still provide interest.

If you mix plants that are different shades of green (chartreuse, blue-green) with variegated plants that are either green and white or green and gold, you can easily come up with an eye-pleasing garden scene.    George has also sought out variations on familiar plants, like chartreuse liriope, variegated-leaf azalea and hosta with striated leaves.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

An inspirational chance find

A friend and I were driving around some back roads in the north Georgia mountains a few years ago when I almost made her have a wreck.

"Stop!  Turn around.  You've got to see this," I yelled.

There was the most incredible sight.  Veiling the porch on a long, unpainted house was this mass of clematis.  We got out and talked to the owner's son, who was wearing overalls and no shirt.  He explained that this was his mother's creation.  And, of course, he added, "You should have seen it last week."  Yes, I know that a lot of the blooms had dropped off, but still, this was one of the most impressive displays of clematis I'd ever seen.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Where A Gardener's Diary Was Born

I don't remember who told me about Ruth and Dennis Mitchell's garden in central Georgia, but I owe a debt of gratitude to that contact.  One May day in the late 80's, I drove up to an incredible sight.  Dazzling flowers were everywhere.  The expansive gardens surrounded a house that had been in Ruth's family since the mid-19th century. Ruth had met Dennis in Australia, and the couple was having a ball living out a dream of planting acres of flowers in this rural area of Lamar County.  

I wrote an article for the newspaper, and two years later I took a movie camera with me when all the poppies and peonies and roses (and sweet williams and bachelor's buttons and on and on) were in bloom.  I showed the video to some friends, and A Gardener's Diary was born.  This was where we taped the pilot that led to the 11 year series on Home & Garden Television.  

The above photo was taken on the day we shot the pilot (obviously a slide, well before the digital age).  I don't think I've ever seen as many colorful flowers since.  Dennis passed away several years ago, but I'll never forget his wonderful voice (he was actually born in England, but moved to Australia).  Together they created something so special and had a blast doing it.  They certainly sent my life in a new direction, and I will forever be grateful for having seen this enchanted place.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Gardening in a former swimming pool

Davee and Milton Kuniansky of Atlanta enjoyed their backyard pool when their children were young.  But when the pool was no longer used, the Kunianskys realized they had the potential to have a sunny garden to go with the woodland area where literally thousands of hellebores carpet the ground.

The pool was filled in, and Milton planted peonies, iris, clematis, columbine, swamp hibiscus, Byzantine gladioli, bletilla and foxgloves, just to name a few of the mostly perennials and biennials that fill the curving beds.  

In mid spring, an enormous yellow Lady Banks rose cascades from a hill overlooking the pool.  In fall, big patches of Japanese Solomon's seal turn a buttery yellow where the pool coping used to be.  In the distance, 15 foot high rhododendrons form a backdrop and in late April produce huge rose colored blooms.  

Friday, June 17, 2011

A scene from an heirloom country garden

 It helps if you have authentic 19th century outbuildings as in this garden, but this kind of ambience could be created in many locales.  Garden designer and floral arranger Michelle Goodman enhanced an old well house with a planting of Annabelle hydrangeas.  On a lower level, she created an herb garden composed of geometric shapes, all set in gravel.  Other features: a custom iron arch, a clipped bay tree, a miniature germander hedge outlining the square herb beds, tuteurs and trellises made from wood, hops climbing a wall of a period smokehouse.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The flower that almost never was

If a tree falls in the forest.....if a plant is never discovered, does it exist?
Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake', the double flowering oakleaf hydrangea, might not be in my garden today had it not been for a chance occurrence.  Thanks to a Birmingham, Alabama, family, we have one of the most spectacular plants for May-June bloom.
In the late sixties, a man who lived on Eddie Aldridge's street brought Eddie's father, a prominent nurseryman, an unusual double bloom of the native oakleaf hydrangea.  (The oakleaf hydrangea is indigenous to the area around Birmingham and to a few other sections of Alabama, a corner of Georgia, and a piece of Florida.  The plant is now the state flower of Alabama - it used to be the camellia, which, of course, is from Japan!)
            The man said the unusual bloom was growing in a lady's yard in Lipscomb, Alabama.  Eddie and his father went up to see the woman.  She said that her grandmother had brought the plant from  Jefferson County.  The grandmother had found the flower in the wild, apparently a chance seedling.  
            In the early 1970's, Eddie's aunt called to say that someone had found another double oakleaf hydrangea bloom at a Methodist church camp, not far from where the original plant was found.
            "We went up and inspected the plant," said Eddie.  "It was struggling underneath a post oak, right up next to the roots.  It only had one or two blooms on it."
            As far as Eddie knows, these two plants are the only ones ever found.  He and his father had Dr. Joe McDaniel, an Alabama native who was head of the horticulture department at the University of Illinois, come down and describe the plant. (It was Dr. McDaniel who helped introduce the Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle').
           The Aldridges decided to patent 'Snowflake'.  Eddie says that the patent was not to make money or get royalties (usually, one must pay for propagating patented plants). 
            "The only reason for the patent was because I had noticed that patented plants gained a lot of attention," he explained.  "It worked.  Southern Living and Better Homes & Gardens featured it.  We never got a single penny for it.  All we wanted was to share it."
            It took until 1980 before there were enough plants to distribute 'Snowflake'.  The hydrangea is sterile, with no pollen and no seeds, so it has to be propagated from cuttings or divisions.  
            Eddie says that 'Snowflake' is in extremely short supply still, because the demand for it has been so great.
            "We need to get people out there to grow it," says Eddie.  "They will grow as far north as New York State.  It is popular all over the world now.  It is one of the most popular plants in Japan.  They sell six inch pots with one bloom on it for $40 in grocery stores."
            'Snowflake' was also introduced to Europe in the 1980's.  In 1993, it was the featured plant on the cover of an international catalog.

            I am proud to say that Eddie gave me a plant, and it is thriving.  Last year, the blooms were so long and large that they were practically obscene.  This year, the blooms have been large, but not overly so.  The bad news is that the deer were eating the blooms.   I outsmarted them and cut some of the flowers for bouquets, which were spectacular for a few days.

            I find it fascinating that every 'Snowflake' in the world came from that one plant in Alabama.  And, it almost was never to be.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A tiny garden packed with ideas

Garden designer Louise Poer's walled garden runs along the back of her house and is probably not more than 16 feet wide, if that (I've never measured her garden - need to do that).  It boggles the mind what she has managed to cram into such a limited space.  A gravel path runs down the middle and is bordered on one side by clipped boxwood.  On the other side, she's packed shrubs, grasses, ground covers, ferns and flowers.  She does a lot of limbing up to provide space for more plants and to allow air to circulate.  You can walk into this garden at any time of year, and you are greeted by a variety of textures and shades of green.  Amazingly, blue birds nest every year, even though this is anything but a wide open space.  Note the bear sitting contentedly along the path.

I have many photos of details of this garden (she has all sorts of vignettes and ornaments and great ideas to copy), and I'll be adding them to the lineup.  Also, she constantly changes things, so I visit often to keep up.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' in a garden setting

I cringe every time I hear someone say that if you have only native plants in your garden, you won't have a problem.  This is usually said by a non-gardener.  You're looking at yet another planting at 95 year old Margaret Moseley's wonderful garden.  This is 'Annabelle', a popular selection of the native arborescens hydrangea.  I used to have tons of the straight species in my woods.  Now, there is only one plant clinging to the side of the hill in front of my house.  All the rest have been chomped down by the deer, which have come here in recent years and make nightly (and daily, too) criss-crossings of my property.  They adore the Annabelles, as well as the paniculatas, and I have a time keeping any blooms or foliage on either.

But, if you don't have a deer problem, this is a beautiful hydrangea that looks great in a mixed planting with ferns and hostas and boxwoods and just about any variegated plant (there's a newer selection called 'Incrediball' which has even larger flowers).  

What you can't see in this photograph is a mass planting of Kalimeris pinnatifida, also known as the Elizabeth Lawrence aster, with tiny white flowers that look great at the base of the Annabelles on a different side.  What you can see is a rogue red bloom of Alstroemeria pulchella.  I persuaded Margaret to get this plant to go with her Begonia grandis.  Both are red and green.  She is furious with me for the suggestion, as the alstroemeria, which flowers in June, is in just about every bed in her garden.  She can't get rid of it.  For my part, I love having the red and green flowers to cut, but the deer always beat me to them.   

Monday, June 13, 2011

'Twist-n-Shout' on a hot, hot day

In the foreground above is 'Twist-n-Shout' in blazing hot, 95-degree sun at two in the afternoon.  Behind it is a dark blue hydrangea (name unknown) that looks as washed out as 'Twist-n-Shout.  In the distance on the left is 'Endless Summer.'  Still, you can get an idea of how beautiful Margaret Moseley's garden is, even on one of the worst days of the year.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Margaret Moseley would make Michael Dirr proud

I lose track of time, so I looked up the date that Margaret Moseley and I visited Mike Dirr (the woody plant guru who is responsible for 'Endless Summer' and many other shrubs) near Athens, Ga.  It was April 21, 2008.  We looked at his viburnums and toured the hydrangea trial areas.  At the time, he was working on trying to produce a re-blooming, dark blue mophead.  I can't wait for that one to be introduced.  I love those dark blues and deep, deep purples.

At any rate, he gave Margaret and me a new re-blooming lacecap called 'Twist-n-Shout'.  The name has special meaning for me because of the Isley Brothers' hit, Twist and Shout; also, that's the song the Beatles led off with when I saw them at the old Fulton County Stadium on August 18, 1965.

But I digress.  Back to the hydrangea.  This is a re-blooming cross between the lacecap 'Lady in Red' and the mophead 'Penny Mac'.  

I took the above picture in Margaret's garden on Thursday, June 3, 2011, at two o'clock in the afternoon when it was sunny and 95 degrees - not a good time for a photograph.  The plant was covered in blooms, with pink and blue in both the sterile and fertile flowers.  Each bloom was different.  

Here's a lesson from Margaret.  When she receives or buys a plant, it goes immediately in the ground.  She makes a decision, and if she needs to move it, it's done later.  I let my 'Twist-n-Shout' languish in a pot for a year, then finally planted it in the dry shade of a water oak.  It now has one bloom on it, but as soon as this heat breaks, I'm moving it to a new location I've prepared that wasn't there when I got the plant.  I know it will do well, because Mike Dirr's re-blooming 'Blushing Bride' white mophead is flourishing in the new, richer space.  I bought the latter plant and let it sit in a pot for three years, finally planting it about a month ago, and it is spreading and beautiful with a ton of blooms. 

Procrastination wise, I am doing better now, with only one plant still in its initial container.  It's a hydrangea, and I don't even know which one.  When I re-plant 'Twist-n-Shout', the mystery hydrangea is going to receive a permanent place, too.  I can't wait to see what it is.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

One of Margaret's favorites

Margaret Moseley has been a guru for so many of us.  If she found a flower she liked, she made sure everyone else knew about it and often bought plants for friends.

One of her finds was a hybrid camellia called 'Fragrant Pink.'  Every winter, she has enjoyed bright pink flowers that grow along the branches and make a huge show in the garden.  Sometimes there are so many flowers that you can barely see the evergreen leaves - a welcome sight on an otherwise bleak February day.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The prettiest it's ever been

Margaret Moseley has called me at various times through the years and uttered the exact same phrase:  "You ought to see my garden today.  It's the prettiest it's ever been."  The phone call might occur on the bleakest day of winter.  But, at her house, the garden would be lit up with giant camellia bushes (or trees?) smothered in gorgeous blooms.

Many times, she's called me in November.  In Atlanta, you don't think of gardens in November.  But Margaret has so many Camellia sasanquas everywhere, plus autumn flowering cherry trees and viburnums laden with bright red berries.  She also has a big winged euonymus that turns neon red in fall.  Not to mention that the leaves on her oak leaf hydrangeas have changed to rich shades of burgundy, and the gingko at the garden entrance has turned such a brilliant yellow that it casts a glow over everything planted underneath.

Margaret's garden is hard to photograph.  It's a meandering kind of place, and there are so many wonderful areas that you can't take them all in at once.   The above photo was taken on just a regular spring day.  It was raining, but it was a magical scene, like something you'd picture in The Secret Garden.  It probably wouldn't make Margaret's "It's the prettiest it's ever been" list, but I thought it was quite beautiful.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Margaret and the doomed 'Yuletide'

Lest I get too far ahead of myself, here's Margaret Moseley with the unlucky Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'.  This photo was taken by Erica Glasener, host of A Gardener's Diary on HGTV and a renowned garden writer and author of several books. 

 Margaret has been a guru for us all.  Once, an editor at the Atlanta Journal & Constitution told me I wrote about Margaret too much.  The reason I kept writing about her was because she had so many wonderful plants in her garden.  She is a wizard at creating interesting combinations, like planting copper iris next to her rusty bird feeder, or placing a dark maroon hellebore next to a mauve colored daphne.  
One of my favorite compositions is a purple jackmanii clematis growing up through the deep maroon foliage of a smoke tree.  

Margaret has kept up with the latest introductions (i.e., the moment the new pink 'Annabelle' hydrangea,'Invincibelle Spirit', came out, she made arrangements to obtain it).  She also has some plants like Camellia japonica 'Governor Mouton' that are old varieties and thus hard to find in the trade.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A spring day in Margaret's garden

Margaret Moseley recently turned 95 and is still gardening away.  Through the years, her garden has been published in magazines and books and has been the subject of television shows.  Set on a flat lot under a tall canopy of trees, the garden consists of grass paths and rock lined beds.  The latter contain year round plantings so that the garden is as beautiful in January as it is in May.  Margaret was initially inspired by the books and articles of garden writer Elizabeth Lawrence.  The light in this oft-visited garden is exquisite almost every time of year, although this fact makes it difficult to capture its beauty in photos.  

Margaret's garden has changed through the years.  She is constantly moving plants if she doesn't like where they are.  One day when she was in her late 80's, I went to her house and noticed that a viburnum was missing from its normal spot.  "Oh, I moved that the other day.  It was in too much shade."  I couldn't believe she had dug and replanted such a large, established shrub, but the viburnum survived and thrived.  She has never hesitated to relocate a plant if she feels it's not well situated.  And, she is constantly "editing" her garden.  This past spring, she cut down a large Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide' because it was taking up too much space.  I was horrified.  "Well, I needed the room.  I've got another one that is just as pretty."  Case closed.