Monday, July 11, 2011

A slight respite on the hottest day

One of the weather people said either today or tomorrow is supposed to be the hottest day of the year so far.  I live in the middle of the woods, and I am usually bragging that it's ten degrees cooler here.  Not so today.  It's just miserable.  

I had taken my camera out to get pictures of some fallen trees and decided to take some photos of the house.  What strikes me is that from this picture is you can't tell that the heat index is over 100 degrees.  I think what makes the scene look cooler is the Boston ivy planted on the side walls.  

There's a story behind that planting.  When we started thinking about building a house, I would look at pictures of houses in France and England and try to figure out why I liked the way they looked.  Finally, it dawned on me what they all had in common:  1) Most of the ones I marked (I had a stack of Country Life magazines someone had given me, plus magazines from France) had vines growing on the walls  2) Almost all the houses that appealed to me had casement windows, that is, windows that roll out instead of the double hung types, and 3) The houses didn't have a grass lawn in front, nor did they have foundation plantings like you usually see here.  There would be an expanse of stone or gravel with very sparse plantings, if any, along the facade of the house.

But back to the subject of the vines on my house.   On a trip to France, I stayed at a hotel in the Perigord.  The walls were covered with large, glossy leaves.  That's the vine I wanted, I told my husband.  When I got back to the U.S., I didn't see it anywhere - at first, that is.  I tracked it down in a book and found that it was Parthenocissus tricupidata, or Boston ivy.  Then, I started seeing it here and there - in New England, on a wall at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, and finally in a garden here in Atlanta.

When we got the house built, I ordered six plants (although it's called Boston ivy, it's a Chinese vine and the same genus as our native Virginia creeper, which is Parthenocissus quinquefolia).  It wasn't long until I had it everywhere and was struggling to keep it off the front of the house.  

Today, I have it just on certain walls, but it has to be cut frequently in summer.  In late April, the leaves are lush and huge and rather glossy.  By September, the thinning foliage looks ratty and rusty (not the bright red autumn color you see in the catalog), and by October, the leaves have all usually fallen.

Still, it's the look I wanted and am willing to work to maintain.  For all the trouble, it does make the house look cooler on the hottest day of the summer.

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