Friday, September 30, 2011

Not my mother's chrysanthemums

When I was first married and living here on this wooded property with no full sun anywhere (that's changed now with the loss of giant trees), I would depend on my mother for cut flowers.  As was often the case for many people brought up in the rural South, Mamma would plant rows of flowers in the vegetable garden. While she had poppies in spring and zinnias in summer in a long bed alongside the house, in the vegetable garden she had rows of gladioli, more zinnias, dahlias and daisy chrysanthemums.

It's this latter flower that I am mourning the loss of.  Mother had a pink daisy chrysanthemum that was the ideal cut flower.  The blooms were a dusty pink with a yellow center and were slightly smaller than the ones pictured here. The plants were much more airy, with stiffer stems that weren't so close together.  They stood taller and more upright, and didn't flop over.

For years, I would cut them in October and plop an armful into a large, rustic basket (hmm...I don't have that basket anymore; wonder where it went).  In December, I would reluctantly throw them out because it was time to bring in the Christmas foliage.  I've never had a cut flower last that long.

But one year the chrysanthemums didn't come back.  Maybe the man who plowed the garden in the spring did them in.  I suspect that's what happened.  Mother had been given the original plants by a well-known gardener out in the country.  I even drove out there to see her.  She knew the flower and called it 'October Pink,' but she no longer had any.

A few years later, Mother, who also missed her chrysanthemums, obtained some starts of the above flower from Miss Etta Taylor (in my small town, that's how we addressed our elders, whether married or not, i.e. "Mr. Frank", "Miss Hazel" and so on).  It didn't take long for the plants to spread so much that Mother was able to give a lot away.  The flowers put on a great show in October and would bloom despite the harshest droughts.

But it wasn't the same plant.  The above mums have larger flowers and stems, but they're just not as good for cutting.  They do last a week in water, maybe more, and they are so prolific that you can cut a huge bouquet and never notice that anything is gone.

However, I want to find 'October Pink' (probably not its real name).  I would know it if I saw it.  It's not the one sold as 'Ryan's Pink'.  And, it's not 'Sheffield Pink', but that one is more like it than Miss Etta's.

This October, I'm going to be on the lookout for this elusive mum.  I don't know what my chances are, though, because Mamma got them back in the early 60's.  So just in case, if you have a pink daisy chrysanthemum that came from Miss Berma Abercrombie who lived at the dead end of Hutcheson Ferry Road near the Coweta County line, please let me know.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A checkerboard idea

We're back in Ted and Pat Plomgren's imaginative garden.  Here is the other half of the lower level.  The photograph was taken in late July a couple of years ago, so it's not really fair to the shrub border behind the curving boxwood border.  I caught it at a time when not a single shrub was in bloom.

But, that's the beauty of good design.  This garden is stunning, even without flowers (I promise you, they do have something blooming year-round).  I have seen this checkerboard pattern used in several gardens, most recently on the American Hydrangea Society's tour.  One of the gardeners had taken a long, hedged-in walkway on the side of the house and installed pavers in a similar motif.  It was very effective.

If you'll look back at the posting on August 2, 2011, you'll see the opposite end of this level of the garden.  On September 9th, I showed a detail of that part of the garden, as well.  Later on, I'll post a photograph of the walkway that divides the two areas.  And after that, much more to come in this fascinating garden.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

From Russia, with love

This photograph has taught me a lesson.  Label your pictures the instant they come off the camera and into your computer.  I am sorry to say that of the 14,344 digital photos I've taken of gardens and flowers, probably less than 5% are labeled.  Not only do I attribute this to procrastination and laziness, but I always thought rather proudly that I would remember everything.  So not true.

I kept passing over the thumbnail of this photo, thinking this was Aster carolinianus, the climbing aster.  That's because if you don't look closely, it could appear that this is a single rambling plant.

But the moment I clicked to make it bigger, I realized I was wrong. The climbing aster is pink. Then I spied the big leaf with a hole in it at the bottom center, and that further gave it away.  Lastly, when I saw the dome shape in the background I knew.  This is Aster tataricus.  Where was my mind?

I once had this late September (not this year - I don't even see a stem yet)/early October perennial and loved having the cut flowers.  I planted it again last year, albeit in not very good soil, and it has already thrown out new plants; one of the reasons it can be hard to site in a garden is it spreads readily.

But, its good points outweigh the disadvantage of its size (to six feet; the selection 'Jindai' is shorter) and growth habit (spreads rapidly, and despite the fact that one perennial expert says it doesn't need staking, it does blow over rather easily).  It's a superb cut flower, and lasts a long time in a vase.  The dusty lavender color looks great when mixed with a bouquet of autumn leaves and dried flowers and grasses.  In the garden, it is said to be the longest lasting aster.  

In the South, a lot of perennials don't like the heat and humidity (think delphiniums and lupines).  Aster tataricus is native to Siberia, so it's hardy way up north.  Unbelievably, it does great even to Zone 8.  That's rare indeed.

One more thing.  If I had the nerve, this aster might be able to help me out.  A Web site about medicinal plants said the roots can be used to "calm the mind."  I could use that, but even better, it is supposed to improve memory and remembrance.  In fact, if the Web site is correct, the Japanese word for the flower is "I won't forget you." If I don't reform and start labeling my photographs, Aster tataricus may be just what I need to remedy my situation.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Coming back as Lisa

From time to time, I find myself saying a rather silly thing.  "In my next life, I'm coming back as (fill in the blank)."  For example, I said it (jokingly, but only half way) upon listening to someone describing a friend's house in Provence:  "The grounds are everything you ever dreamed of - swept terraces with views to distant mountains and cafe chairs under huge plane trees; clusters of grapes overhead in a tunnel made of stone columns and old beams; cutting gardens with the most gorgeous flowers; vineyards and cherry orchards, fields of poppies, a potager with espaliered apples, and on and on.  I've forgotten the lucky woman's name, but I announced there was not a doubt who I was going to be when I returned to earth.

But I've found someone closer to home who runs a close second. Twice, I've been to Lisa's garden (I don't even know her last name, but she's a friend of a friend), and both times I found my heart beating with what I'm ashamed to say a bit of envy.  I was alone on the most recent visit, and I confess that I was thinking that, if I had to come back close to home, it wouldn't be at all bad to be Lisa.

The thought became stronger as I walked between the parterres, admired her flower borders, surveyed the herb garden with its big, healthy sweet basil plants and whimsical topiaries, followed the gravel path to her stylish hen house and watched the chickens scratching lazily about.  When her two adorable black and white designer goats came up to me and looked me in the eye, that was it.  

The above parterre is just one part of the garden.  There are gravel paths with vine covered arches, a terrace with views of the woods, a hydrangea walk, a rose garden, a lovely patch of lawn and shady borders with lots of ferns. 

The garden was designed by my friend Louise Poer, but Lisa, who was a college tennis star, is there every day, hands on, working in her garden and enjoying every minute of it.  That last part is essential, because if I come back in a future life, I want to have fun digging in the earth.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Spring ahead to a dream garden

At the recommendation of a good friend and garden blogger, I joined a Web site called, where you can go and read gardening blogs from all over the planet.  Warning: it's addictive.  I could spend every waking hour reading about other people's gardens and looking at all the beautiful pictures.

When you join, you are supposed to provide information about yourself.  Although I haven't conquered the "About myself" part yet, I did finally figure out how to fill in some of the information they requested, like "The prettiest flower" (I put peony and rose, but could think of a zillion others I love) and "greatest tree" (I first put ginkgo, then changed it to American beech; I have them all in my woods, and they are beautiful at every time of the year).

When I got to "Desired Garden Style", I was flummoxed.  I love so many kinds of gardens - natural, native woodlands, Italian, French, American and English with formal and cottage garden elements, and so on.  I'm sure if I could travel to a lot of other countries, I could add those styles, too.

The above photograph shows one of the garden styles I like.  This is a section of the white garden, part of a large cottage garden at the home of garden designers Rick Crown and Richard Simpson.  They live in an 1890's clapboard house in the charming, ante-bellum town of Madison in east Georgia (for readers in other countries, the "bellum"in these parts refers to The War Between the States in the 1860's).  

At any rate, I like the rustic feel of the above space (i.e., the bricks are set rather casually - something I think I could do myself), and I also like the  boxwoods which provide some green structure and form a dark backdrop for the white flowers.  I love the overall pattern of the garden, though, which has a formal, geometric design.  You enter and exit the white garden through rustic wooden arches.  In the middle is a stack of large stones topped with an urn filled with white flowers.  Bricks outline curving beds which flank the center (the plants in the foreground are in one of these beds).   

On the other side of the garden, drifts of green and white variegated Japanese Solomon's seal are coming up alongside green and (mostly) white variegated hosta, freshly emerging from the ground.  There's also white flowered money plant under the cedar arches, and white flag irises are in bloom in another border.  They've thrown in some gray plants like lamb's ears and some green and white striped liriope, as well.  

If I want to have something that will look like this photograph, I need to get busy.  In this part of the South, pansies and violas are planted in the fall.  That's when they're available in the nurseries.  And, any bulbs like the white scilla and white tulips should be planted in late autumn.    

 But wait.  None of this will work until I can get a deer fence in place.  If I don't do something quickly, the creatures will really put a dent in my plans; they've already dashed a lot of my dreams, and I can't let this keep happening.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Of concrete and dahlias

Concrete is dull gray and rock solid.  Dahlias are bright and cheerful with a hollow stem.  

It seems a bit ironic that a man who for decades was one of the world's experts in concrete construction, with a stellar career at a company that built major hospitals, skyscrapers, courthouses, an Olympic stadium turned Major League baseball field, as well as hotels, the Federal Reserve Bank and a major cable television complex, could have also created the flower you see in the above photograph.

Georgia Tech graduate Eugene Boeke, Jr., known to his friends as Gene, joined the Dahlia Society of Georgia in 1955.  Throughout the years, he became a successful exhibitor, grower and hybridizer, introducing several beautiful flowers like the popular Bo-bay, Bo-joy (named for his wife) and Bo-De-O, pictured above.  He also served in top positions in the Dahlia Society of Georgia, the Southern States Dahlia Society and the American Dahlia Society.  He was a show judge for decades and taught judging classes throughout the Southeast. 

I interviewed Gene for a newspaper article over 20 years ago.  I was fascinated that a concrete engineer  (or anyone for that matter) would devote so much time to one particular flower.  Hybridizing dahlias requires painstaking collecting, growing and the evaluation of countless seedlings.  Gene has a great sense of humor, and I remember that we laughed about the fact that so many dahlia society members were men.  I'm still thinking about that one.

If you grow and exhibit dahlias anywhere in the U.S. and Canada and maybe even elsewhere, you have felt Gene Boeke's influence.  He has spearheaded the American Dahlia Society's development of a new color guide and served on the committee overseeing the compilation of the most recent ADS judging manual.  In 2007, the American Dahlia Society recognized his contributions by presenting him with its prestigious ADS Gold Medal Award.

Gene and his wife have retired to north Georgia and spend time traveling the world.  At age 81, Gene, along with Joy, ventured to the Antarctic, where they rode in rubber Zodiac boats to visit penguin colonies and base camps on the frozen continent.  

While Gene has had other interests along the way (he was early on a serious stamp collector, served for years as a Boy Scout troop leader and developed a considerable knowledge of wines), he is first and foremost thought of as a man who devoted a lifetime to growing and hybridizing dahlias.

I'm sure that the field of poured-in-place architectural concrete has been greatly impacted by Gene's expertise.  But there are a lot of flower lovers out there who have enjoyed the results of his patience and devotion.  As one citation of his achievements reads:  "The world of dahlias is a better place due to Gene's tireless work, and many gardens and show tables have benefited from his lovely introductions."  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The value of gold

Years ago, on A Gardener's Diary scouting trip to the Pacific Northwest, I remember walking through a nursery on Whidbey Island and thinking, "These people out here have a gold/chartreuse version of just about any plant you can imagine."

And then, when I got back home, I started seeing that local gardeners had some of the same plants - golden versions of bleeding heart, Boston ivy, tricyrtis, hydrangea, metasequoia, tradescantia, deutzia, forsythia, and on and on, in addition to ones that have been around for a long time like creeping jenny, barberry and spirea.

I love seeing the contrasts golden-chartreuse plants can make when combined with blue, deep burgundy, purple or even dark green.  Plus, there's something exciting about encountering a regular shrub or perennial you've known for so long and realizing it's a totally different color.  At first, you think, "There's something familiar about this plant," and then recognition sets in.  I am thinking in particular of the golden oak leaf hydrangea.  That one threw me for a loop.

One of my favorites along this line is the American native redbud, Cercis canadensis 'Hearts of Gold.'  I first saw it at Scott McMahan's nursery in Clermont, Ga., on a hot day in late August.  I couldn't believe that the foliage on his potted trees was still bright chartreuse and hadn't turned completely green in the heat.  The close-up I took there of the individual. heart-shaped leaves is dazzling - chartreuse, but on the verge of bright yellow.

The above photograph was taken in mid-June in Ryan Gainey's fabulous garden in Decatur, Ga.  Already some of the shaded leaves had turned green, but there was still plenty of bright chartreuse to show how beautiful this tree is when set against dark green.  In a photograph I have of another tree in his garden, the leaves are almost all yellow and chartreuse.

Like other redbuds, this tree has blooms along the branches before the leaves emerge.  The flowers of this selection - found in North Carolina by Jon Roethling, a former employee of the J.C. Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh - are lavender-purple.  The leaves emerge a reddish color and then turn bright yellow.  What a wonderful show for at least three months and still handsome all season long.

I can just picture a mid-blue, large flowered clematis growing in or near this tree.  Or, I like it against any dark green conifers or broadleaf evergreens.   It doesn't get as large as other redbuds, but is pretty fast growing, reaching 10 feet in five years.  Ultimate height is about 15 feet with a spread about that large.  You'd have to give it room to grow laterally.

The fall would be a good time to plant this tree.  Just make sure it's in sun or partial sun and has well-drained soil.  Keep it consistently watered until it is established, and fertilize in late winter/early spring before it blooms.  Do site it where it will have a worthy backdrop (not just sitting out alone in a lawn), and then in spring, after it rewards you with flowers, enjoy a spike in the value of gold.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Changing the mood

My friend Mary Wayne Dixon, who has been a staunch supporter of the Atlanta Botanical Garden since its inception and is interested in all things to do with gardening and gardens, took a giant leap several years ago.  She lives on a cul-de-sac in Atlanta where all the homes have pretty much the same front landscape - shrubbery at the base of the house and a lawn in front.  Most of the houses have paved sidewalks leading from the driveway to the front door.  Before a transformation, Mary Wayne had the same set-up, with a sloping front lawn that stretched down to the street.

With the help of garden designer and good friend Ryan Gainey,  Mary Wayne's front yard took on an entirely different look.  A retaining wall was built to create a level space, which was topped with gravel. Large stepping stones were put in place leading across the rectangular area to the front door.  A custom iron arch marks the entrance to what is now a Provencal style courtyard.  A rustic portico was built over the front door with wide rounded steps replacing the narrow ones that were original to the house.

In the remaining part of the sloping lawn outside the retaining wall, specimens of Cryptomeria japonica, a fast growing conifer, were planted along with other evergreens to create an enclosure for the courtyard.  In spring, giant white balls of Viburnum macrocephalum arch over into the courtyard, while  Kwanzan cherry trees planted at the courtyard's corners provide structure and shade, as well as puffy pink flowers.  By the front door, a yellow Lady Banks rose cascades from a tree; rosemary is planted near the iron arch, adding to the South of France ambience.

The latest addition to Mary Wayne's garden is in back of the house, where a swimming pool was filled in to provide space for a parterre designed by her late friend and frequent house guest, English author and lecturer Rosemary Verey.  Mary Wayne's garden will be on the Atlanta Botanical Garden's Gardens for Connoisseurs Tour Mother's Day weekend 2012.  But way before then, I'll give you a sneak peek of the newest part of this wonderful garden.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Something to look forward to

Soon, three of my favorite guys will be leaving on a plant exploration trip to China.  In the tradition of famous plant hunters like E. H. Wilson and George Forrest, Dan Hinkley (founder of the former Heronswood Nursery in the state of Washington and a frequent guest on Martha Stewart's TV shows), Ozzie Johnson (plant collector who has an Atlanta-based propagation business) and Scott McMahan (owner of two nurseries in Atlanta and Clermont, Ga.) have traveled to remote areas around the world, risking life and limb to discover ornamental plants to share with gardeners everywhere.

The three have had some hair-raising adventures, worthy of a Survivor show.  They've encountered hideous land leeches, poisonous vipers (Dan was saved by a guide at the last minute when he reached for a tree to hoist himself up;  a snake was coiled around a branch, and the guide pulled Dan's hand back just in time) and all sorts of other dangers.  On one trip, Ozzie slipped on a narrow trail and impaled his bicep on a broken piece of bamboo (he was extremely lucky not to have lost his arm).  On the last trip, a boulder fell onto Scott, pinning him down and injuring his foot.

In recent years, the three have been to Vietnam several times, exploring the high mountains near the border of China.  They've made some great discoveries that are now being tested for garden worthiness.  The lily you see above, Lilium poilanei, is one of a handful of the genus native to Vietnam.  I was disappointed to learn it is difficult to grow, but Scott has sent bulbs to a hybridizer to see if the flower can be crossed with hardier stock.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed.  

It takes years to ascertain whether a plant is reliable, i.e., if it will hold its color, if it is invasive, etc.  I'm already looking forward to the future, when we may be able to grow hydrangeas that produce clusters of berries, ferns with fronds six feet long, and flowers like the gorgeous lily pictured above.

Monday, September 19, 2011

How Mrs. Roosevelt got to my house

Her name was Bernice, and she lived along a little traveled road in northwest Georgia.  From her house you could see the long ridge of Lookout Mountain, which starts in Alabama to the west and ends abruptly at Chattanooga, Tennessee, to the east.  An expert dahlia grower, Bernice got around her garden on a hillside above her house by putting down pieces of carpet from the mills in nearby Dalton, Georgia.  One of her legs had been amputated, and this way her crutches would not sink down into the rich earth.  The carpet remnants also kept the weeds down and mimicked the role of mulch to keep the soil cool around the plants.

The dahlias were planted in rows, and the flowers ranged from small, rounded balls to big, shaggy cactus types with pointed petals.  Each plant had been meticulously staked, labeled and groomed to perfection.  The colors were dazzling.

But as spectacular as those flowers of the moment were, Bernice was more proud of her peonies, and that's what we mostly talked about when we sat on her front porch.  She had dozens of plants all around the house, which didn't look like much on this mid-September day.

Most of her peonies had come from her mother up north.  Bernice had brought them here to this valley and planted them all in the month of September.  That was the key, she said, to success with peonies.  The plants don't like to be moved, she reminded me, but if it's necessary, you should transplant them or divide them in September.

I rushed home, got out my catalog from a nursery in Missouri, and ordered several peonies.  One of the plants I chose was 'Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt'.  I liked the picture (but I liked all the pictures) of the pale pink bloom, but I picked this peony over others because that was the name of my Metro stop when I worked in Paris long ago (as good a reason as any, I must have thought).

At any rate, this roundabout story explains how the peonies in the photograph above came to be in my living room.  The other peonies I ordered have disappeared, but 'Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt' survived and has rewarded me with big fragrant flowers for twenty plus years. 

Every year when the red tips of Mrs. Roosevelt poke through the ground, I think of Bernice, sitting among her dahlias and talking about all of her beloved flowers, especially her peonies. I know it's important to plant peonies at ground level in the South so they'll get enough cold.  But I also want to give the plants the best chance for success by following Bernice's advice and getting them in the ground in September.  I see by the calendar I need to hurry; there aren't that many days left in the month.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A flea market find, a houseplant and a fancy garden

A friend with an eye for objects to embellish her small garden called me one day about "a find."  When I got there, I was a little shocked to see a rustic rock pedestal holding an oversized houseplant type fern like the ones you see on porches in summer.

I guess that's the difference in a real garden designer and me.  It was a stunning composition, with a charming juxtaposition of rustic materials, unassuming plant material, clipped boxwood and formal paving.  Never would I have thought that this rough planter (I'd seen a much cruder one in a vernacular garden in a yard in my hometown) could look so refined.

Every year, after the weather turns warm, I set what houseplants I have outdoors.  They always seem to thrive during the summer, and when I bring them inside in fall, I feel sort of sorry for them.  They barely hold their own until the next warm season.

Next year when I bring the plants out, instead of placing them randomly about, I'm going to remember the placement of this fern.  If the plants have to be outside, they might as well fit into a garden setting in an attractive way.  It will soon be time to bring everything indoors, but I'm filing this away for next season - tender house plants to beautify the garden in a not-so-mundane way.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Unphotographable, but not unforgettable

At last, a chance to go to the famed Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia.  I had always wanted to see the course and especially all the beautiful flowering trees and shrubs that lined the fairways of the Augusta National Golf Club.  My turn came four years ago when my friend Kathryn MacDougald's husband (Kathryn was an executive producer and creator of A Gardener's Diary on HGTV) gave me two tickets for Thursday's round.  I took my equally elated cousin Anne Williams.

Anne and I desperately wanted to look like we knew the ropes.  There's a certain protocol, and we were determined to act as if we were regulars and used to seeing famous golfers (this was before Tiger's troubles).  

The first thing we found out was no cameras allowed.  In fact, no purses or backpacks of any kind.  My heart sank at this, because I knew that beyond the entrance, I'd want to photograph all the pretty scenery and especially any of the famous azaleas and dogwoods.

The second thing we realized is that everyone was expected to purchase the egg salad and pimento cheese sandwiches on white bread that were offered for sale.  If you're in the Masters in-crowd, you know about this, especially the pimento cheese.  We didn't, but caught on fast.

So, we walked and watched and got glimpses of an unsmiling Tiger (my cousin knew almost all the players; I knew only two or three).  But what I did know was that there was a beautiful mature specimen of Chinese fringetree in full bloom, and I was powerless to take a picture of it.  It was one of the largest specimens I'd seen (although my neighbor down the street has some pretty big ones).

I grabbed the above photograph in Vince Dooley's (former University of Georgia football coach and athletic director turned avid plantsman) large garden in Athens, Georgia.  This was taken a few years ago, so I imagine the tree is about full size now (to 25 feet).  But you can get an idea of its beauty.

Here in Georgia, Chionanthus retusus blooms in April with pure white, fringe-like, fragrant panicles.  It's a tree anyone up to Zone 6 should seek out.  It's a thrill to see one - especially a large one - in full bloom. But, it's not much fun if you're not allowed to take a picture.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dreams(icles) in September

It's 1956, and I am in the sixth grade.  Our class has been relegated to the "second" lunch room for the year.  This is an isolated place for just our class.  We are cut off from any sightings of seventh grade boys. I didn't know about Siberia then, but that's what it was like.

In the back against the wall is an ice cream freezer.  After we have cleared our plates, we each have a turn at the chest-type freezer.  I open it up and am disappointed.  Only Dreamsicles today, those vanilla and orange concoctions on a stick.  I much prefer Fudgsicles or even the little vanilla cups with the flat wooden spoons, but I take what I can get.  I don't think I like Dreamsicles until I take a few bites, and then I want to eat every one in the freezer.

I never thought a color could take you back to a specific time and place (a la the aroma of Proust's madeleines), but the moment I saw the first bloom on my orange tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans var. aurantiacus), I had one thought - Dreamsicle, and I was immediately back in that desolate, but noisy lunch room.

Years ago, TV host and horticulturist Erica Glasener brought me this unusual tea olive.  I planted it near the bird feeders outside the kitchen door.  The next September, I stepped out with my pitcher of sunflower seeds and was stopped in my tracks.  The sweetest, most pleasant fragrance was coming from somewhere.  Then I realized.  The tea olive had come into bloom.

The photograph above was taken in September 2010.  For some reason, the flowers, which appear along the branches, were a deeper orange.  I have slides from other years, and Dreamsicle is definitely the color, a pale apricot that is unlike any other flower color I can think of.

The plant hasn't bloomed yet this year, maybe because of months of above 90 degree heat.  But any day now, I'll step outside to feed the birds, and I'll catch that sweet scent which eventually wraps around the entire house.  I'm anxious to see if the color will go back to that strangest of all apricot tints that has the power to transport me back through time to a lunch room that is long gone, but is still right there in my memory.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A bridge from below

When I first used this photograph in a column in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, I  referenced the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.  It was at the height of the Iraq War, and I could scarcely believe that what once must have been a magnificent ancient site had existed in about the same place as 21st Century, war-torn Baghdad.

I love the plantings on this bridge at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.  I frankly cannot tell, even at full screen, what is planted on the iron trellis, nor what the yellow annual is (lantana, perhaps?).  I do know that the hanging vines are Virginia creeper.

The day I took this photograph, I didn't climb up and walk across to the children's garden.  I was content just to see the graceful curve of the bridge and the beauty of the vines and flowers from below.

Monday, September 12, 2011

We can't grow that, can we?

In the eleven years we produced A Gardener's Diary on HGTV, I had the opportunity to see gardens all over the U.S. and Canada.  Inevitably, I would find myself saying, "We can't grow that," meaning that in Atlanta where I live that a particular plant couldn't take the heat and humidity.  I would almost always say it with a tinge of regret.

Take for example ceanothus.  In California and Washington State, I would see the fabulous blues of this shrub and rue the fact that we couldn't grow it in Georgia.  And lupines.  I remember in Canada seeing fields of the colorful, spiky flowers and wishing we could have them, too.  Once, before I knew better, I bought some plants at a local nursery (why they had them, I don't know).  I planted them, and the next day I couldn't even tell where they had been.  They had melted in the heat and humidity.  I still see packets of lupine seeds at our local big box stores and wonder if anyone ever buys them and why they keep including them in the racks.

On the other hand, I would always find it fascinating that I could be standing clear across the country and see the same shrubs that grew in my back yard.  The above photograph could have been taken in Georgia, if you just look at the plants and not the buildings in the background (apartments overlooking Parc Monceau in Paris).  We can grow aucuba, philadelphus (although a caterpillar sometimes gobbles up the shrub overnight just as it is finishing blooming), viburnum and certainly wisteria.  If that's bamboo in the upper left hand corner, we can grow that, too.

I've gotten better about my attitude of "the grass is greener".  I remember someone in New England saying she coveted our native evergreen Magnolia grandiflora, which grows all over my woods.  On a Wisconsin prairie, I was amazed at a gardener who was trying, with limited success, to create a little micro-climate to grow shade plants she had enjoyed in her native New England.

I'll probably continue to play the game of "we can't grow that", but I am trying to adopt a glass half full attitude.  After all, just about everywhere, there's something wonderful that will grow.  I've just got to get over the ceanothus.


Friday, September 9, 2011

Ending the week on a dreamy note

This hasn't been my favorite week, although once again I look at people with flooded houses and cars who've lost everything, and I wonder what I am complaining about.  The stump grinder came to finish off the 130 year old white oak.  I now have a pile of fine, fragrant (if you like the strong scent of a just-cut-down-tree) shavings that I hope won't be sitting there this time next year.  They'll be good for mulch, but I can't quite face doing anything about it today, even though it's a magnificent day to be out in the yard.

So, here I am inside looking at a photograph of something I love.  For some odd reason I'm drawn to garden tunnels and arches.  This one is in France, at the historic home and gardens of the Mallet family in Normandy, Le Bois des Moutiers.  I took the photo on a trip to visit Robert and Corinne Mallet in 2006.  In a book I bought in 1983, there is a photograph of this same allee.  And, as it happens, on the front cover of Robert Mallet's new book, Envisioning the Garden: Line, Scale, Distance, Form, Color and Meaning, is, you guessed it, this same scene.  I'm debating if mine taken with my point and shoot is as good (just joking, it's not) as the professional's.

Anyway, I'm giving myself a present for this expensive tree cutting week by ordering Robert's book.  It's available on several of the sites for purchasing books (check it out; you'll recognize the cover shot).  He gave me a book he wrote about restoring his family's garden, and I also have two volumes of his wife's books on hydrangeas.  I'm looking forward to reading Envisioning the Garden.  In future posts, I'll show you more of the Lutyens/Jekyll collaboration at the Mallets' on the coast of Normandy.  For now, I'll imagine myself walking down this beautiful tunnel and under the arches into a beautiful garden (which is actually there), forgetting about the tree bill that's coming.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Hope for today and tomorrow and the next day

I must admit that yesterday was not one of my favorite days.  Early in the morning, a fleet of giant trucks came rumbling down the driveway and filled up the parking lot.  One of them carried a huge crane that looked like it could reach the sky.  They were coming to take down a white oak tree that was estimated by the city arborist to be 130 years old.

I had a love/hate relationship with this tree.  It had been spared at the last minute when we built our house 31 years ago.  My husband decided we could do without the planned carport and have a nice tree right up against the house instead.

In fall, the acorns would pound against the slate roof all night long for days on end.  The leaves fell late, so the gutters had to be cleaned out multiple times during autumn and then a final time after Christmas.  In 2000, an enormous limb fell and destroyed some limestone coping around a little boxwood garden outside the kitchen.  Every time a wind would come up, I would shudder, thinking about the other giant limbs that hung over the house.

Still, the large, leafy canopy probably saved thousands in air-conditioning bills over the years.

The tree's fate was sealed last Sunday when a 40 foot long branch came crashing down and brought two other huge limbs with it.  The arborist said the tree had to come down immediately.

So, yesterday the tree company had it down before noon.  This morning, the main trunk is still lying on the ground in big chunks.  I measured the diameter of the stump, which will be ground up today.  Sixty-one inches.  That's pretty big.

While they were sawing away, I went out on the back terrace and was greeted by the moon flowers you see in the photo above, the seeds a gift from a friend.  I got closer and caught their sweet fragrance.  I was immediately cheered by their pristine beauty.  Unlike the oak that had lasted for more than a century, these very flowers wouldn't make it through the day.  But, I could already see some more twisted buds ready to open during the night.

Moonflowers are annual vines, and like day lilies, the individual flowers last only a day (or rather a night and part of the next morning).  But it is exciting to know that there will be more big, white blossoms the next day and the next.

Before I get deeper into this maudlin metaphor (I feel ashamed thinking of all the real suffering and loss out there), a word about growing moonvine (Ipomoea alba).  I don't have a lot of foliage on either of my plants, which are growing in containers.  A friend advised me not to use fertilizer because I would get too much foliage and not enough blooms, which is what happened to me before.  Another gardener called to say she must have 40 flowers on her vines and that she had poured on a bloom buster type fertilizer with a high middle number.

I planted the seedlings (my friend had soaked the seeds and gave me small plants) back in May.  Yesterday, I was happy to have the big, fragrant flowers to enjoy while the tree men buzzed away.  Sometimes, there's nothing like a flower to make it all seem better.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bob's roses and more

I've known Bob Clinard in many of his incarnations - first as a landscaper, second as an employee at an antique store and now, for the last twenty years, as manager of a major airline's club for first and business class passengers (actually, I only know of him in this capacity, as I've rarely been in such a lounge).  All of this time, he has been a keen gardener.

In the early years, when he worked on a project at my house, he generously shared some of his aunt's light blue irises with me.  Next, he called to say that he was making a garden at a commercial property on a busy street.  What he did was phenomenal and a traffic stopper.  I still have a slide of some gorgeous 'Bonica' roses next to a picket fence.  Underneath was a row of a special verbena Bob had discovered, an interesting hybrid he named 'Dorothy Burton' after his grandmother.  Bob also grew hollyhocks, the seeds of which were said to have come from Frank Lloyd Wright's home in Wisconsin.  For the large flower garden outside the antiques store, Bob won a Clean City Award.

Bob's latest garden at his home is a showcase for his collection of David Austin roses.   He makes his selections based on a rose's heat and humidity tolerance.  He also considers fragrance.  His favorites include 'Teasing Georgia' (a lovely apricot; very double), 'Othello' (deep pink, and also the English rose form) and 'Pat Austin', the magnificent orange rose pictured above.

Bob says he amends the soil for his roses with mushroom compost and a garden mix from a local landscape supplier.  He tries to use mostly organic fertilizer and fungus control for the roses and the entire garden, where he also grows lots of cheerful sun-loving flowers and bulbs. 

I took the above photograph in early May when the roses were at their peak.  "The bugs and heat have not been kind to the roses this year," says Bob.  "The prime time is spring, but they will get better with the cooler weather coming."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A corner you couldn't see

I feel like every garden I go to, whether large or small, simple or complicated, I come away inspired and having learned something new.

In an earlier post, I revisited a garden I've kept up with for years.  When I first went there over two decades ago, Ted and Pat Plomgren proudly showed off a new stone retaining wall, a rustic fence and gate and a perennial border.  As the years passed, they added (a checkerboard lawn we'll see in a future post), subtracted (a hybrid tea rose garden) and refined practically every area of their back yard.

The view of half their lower garden can be seen on this Web site under Older Posts, dated August 2, 2011.  The above photograph shows the right hand corner of the structure you see in the background in said post and gives you a sense of the details that make up this amazing garden, which is chock full of great design ideas.

What draws me to this particular scene is not just its beauty, but the simplicity of the elements.  Basically, clipped boxwoods provide a dark green backdrop for the lime green acorus used as a ground cover.  The latter fairly glows in the sunlight and contrasts nicely with the granite pavers.   In addition, the rustic wooden structure festooned with Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) is a perfect foil for the more formal stone urn.

But even if you didn't have a similar backdrop to play against, this is a design element that could be used up against a house or a wall or an outbuilding.  It could also be incorporated into a patio.  

The Plomgrens have been generous about sharing their garden for tours.  Many of their ideas, they freely admit, have come from analyzing what others have done and then adapting the designs to their space.  "Go on garden tours to get good ideas," Ted advises.  "We've copied so many people, it's ridiculous."

Monday, September 5, 2011

A viburnum's narrow escape

The ordeal started in the mid 1990's when I excitedly wrote in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution about a viburnum I hadn't seen before.  It was called 'Kern's Pink', and I had come across it at Don Shadow's wholesale nursery in Winchester, Tennessee.

The shrub was in full bloom in late April, maybe a bit past its prime, but you could tell that this had the potential to be a blockbuster plant.  Instead of the usual white snowball type blooms on Viburnum plicatum, the flowers were a lovely soft pink.  And the accompanying foliage had a bronzy maroon tinge.  It was a knockout, and those of us at the nursery that day (we were taping an episode of A Gardener's Diary for HGTV) were blown away by the fabulous combination of flowers and foliage.

Don Shadow said his father had obtained the plant from Carl Kern, a nurseryman in Ohio.  For decades the elder Shadow observed the viburnum, hoping it would stabilize.  The trouble was that part of the plant tended to revert to green foliage with white blooms.  In fact, the shrubs we saw had mostly pink blooms and the maroon foliage, but an occasional branch was green with white flowers.

Still, Don Shadow had grown enough to see that the plants seemed mostly stable and was willing to release them to the trade.  He did so with the caveat that the shrub might have some reversion.  So, always eager for a new and exciting plant, I contacted an Atlanta retail nursery to tell them about the viburnum.  The article came out, and the nursery was overwhelmed with requests.  They quickly sold out of Don Shadow's supply and ordered from another nursery.

I know of only one gardener who ended up with plants with pink flowers.  I'm guessing that hers came from Shadow Nursery.  But others had shrubs that produced a flower that was a sickly white with brownish-grayish-pinkish tones.  The flowers actually looked dirty.  The local retailer was gracious in refunding people's money.  I was suitably embarrassed.  The promising flower had turned out to be a dud.

The flower in the photograph above was purchased as 'Kern's Pink'.  My (now 95-year-old and still gardening) friend Margaret Moseley bought two of them.  She already had a collection of viburnums, so she was excited at the time to add a new variety.

But hers was the hideous brownish-pink flower with regular green foliage.  The retailer refunded her money, but she left the plants in place on either side of her gazebo.  Year after year, the unattractive flowers bloomed, and she vowed to cut the plants down.

This past April, I was visiting Margaret when I walked up to the viburnums.  "I'm cutting those down on Thursday," she declared. "I've meant to do it for years."

I looked at the flowers and was shocked.  Instead of the usual sickly color, the flowers were now the purest white.  Furthermore, they were cascading down the sides of the gazebo and were absolutely beautiful.

After some back and forth, Margaret finally agreed with me.  After so many disappointing years, the flowers seemed to be garden worthy after all.  She said she'd think it over.

I am happy to announce that the viburnums will live for another year, unless, of course, Margaret changes her mind.  If the plants turn out to be pure white again, I think they'll have a chance.

Note:  A few years ago, I bought some 'Kern's Pink' viburnums from Mickey Harp, another wholesaler in Inman, Georgia.  I sold the plants at a fundraiser at my church.  A guy in my Sunday School class bought some, and his have turned out to be the real thing.  The plant is also sold under the names 'Roseum', 'Roseace' and 'Pink Sensation.'

Friday, September 2, 2011

Take the easy path

Sometimes I do things and then say, "Never again."  But then my memory will be short, and I'll repeat the same error in judgment.

 Years ago, at a time when the then fledgling channel HGTV was coming on the scene, the creators of A Gardener's Diary (ours was an original show; we launched with the channel) agreed to make a garden for the Southeastern Flower Show.  I was conveniently out of town when my two partners did all the set up.  It was a huge undertaking.  I was there, however, for the takedown, and I vowed never to get caught doing such hard labor again.

I bet it wasn't two years later until we bowed to pressure and found ourselves doing yet another display garden for the show.  The 20' x 20' space didn't sound so big until we started trying to fill it up.  We first had to create a path through the display.  We put down pea gravel and then hauled in some flat Tennessee stone - just like in the above photograph.  Then came the plants and benches and trees.

The garden, which depicted scenes from four of our shows, was a great success, but no award winner.  It did make the front page of the Atlanta Journal & Constitution, however.  A couple of bigwigs from HGTV came down for the opening, and Kathryn MacDougald and I, producers of the series, were proud of our handiwork.

But then it came time to take it all down.  I'll never forget the seemingly endless trips in my husband's truck, hauling cobblestones that weighed a 100 lbs. each (or so it seemed) back to Kathryn's.  I also brought the flat Tennessee field stone back to my house where it had been stacked up for years.  That's when it dawned on me.

I had just helped make a path that looked really good, like it had been there forever.  All it took was some edging (the cobblestones), pea gravel and stepping stones.  A light bulb went off.  Instead of a messy, weedy area on the side of my house, I could make a path to connect to the back.  After all, I'd always said I wanted to be able to walk all the way around my house, and here was an easy project I could do myself.

I ended up using builder's sand instead of pea gravel to save money.  I had some cobblestones and lined them up for the edge of the six foot wide path.  Then I arranged the gray flag stones.  Voila.  I had a way to get to the back of the house without fearing that in passing a snake might wrap itself around my ankles. 

 I took the above photograph on a garden tour, and it reminded me of our path at the Flower Show.   My own path still has sand (which needs refreshing), and mine is straight, but I thought the gardener who created the above scene did a wonderful job.  She added an arbor and lined her curving path with shade-loving plants.  The area is on the side of her house and connects the front parking lot to her back garden.

 So, if you have a space you want to tame, this is a good do-it-yourself garden project that can be accomplished in a day's time.  When all is said and done, I think it's a fairly easy way to get from one place to another.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Very varied variegation

One of the perks of scouting gardens for the HGTV series A Gardener's Diary was getting to meet such interesting people.  My fellow executive producer Kathryn MacDougald and I could write a book just on the characters we came across. 

Two of the most interesting were known as the "Variegated Guys", and for good reason.  It so happens that one man was black and the other white, which was a running joke with them.  But totally unrelated to that fact, they had an amazing collection of variegated plants.  It was said that they would hear about a new variegated plant and drive all night to acquire it.  When I drove up to their house in Raleigh, N.C., I couldn't believe it.  Every plant was variegated.  Then, you passed under an iron arch covered in variegated ivy (they had scads of ivy of different sizes with every imaginable type of variegation - yellow and green, white and green, mottled cream and green, and so on) to walk to the back. 

 It was mind-boggling.  Just about every plant you can imagine was represented in variegated form.  It was like a guessing game to identify the leaves that looked so familiar, yet were strange due to variegation.  I remember staring at a gardenia bush for several moments, thinking, "I've seen this before."  Half of the leaf was white; the other half was green.  Ditto a huge banana plant. The half white and half green leaves were stunning.

Using variegated plants is a great way to light up a shady garden.  We're used to seeing hostas with beautiful variegation, but so many other plants like azaleas and boxwoods come in variegated forms.  I used to have a money plant that had green leaves with a white picotee edge and white flowers.  I first saw it in a California garden and didn't recognize the plant, although I'd been familiar with money plant all my life.  Unfortunately, I no longer have any seeds, but I'll be on the lookout for them again.

Just for fun, I made a starter list of normally green plants I've seen in variegated form (I won't count the variegated plantain weed I have, in addition to another weed which you would recognize but I don't know its name).  So here's a list I came up with off the top of my head.  I'm excluding herbs and house plants.  See if you can come up with additions:  Virginia creeper, fatsia, althea, holly, aralia, liriope, acorus, cast iron plant, alstroemeria, Solomon's seal, farfugium, elaeagnus, hydrangea, iris, fatshedera, osmanthus, euonymus, bamboo, dogwood, forsythia, jasmine, brunnera, kerria, willow, weigela.  Whew.  That's enough; this could go on forever.

But what of the plant pictured above?  I saw this tree at Lisa Bartlett's house and couldn't figure out what it was from a distance.  I've admired the chartreuse form (which we'll see in a later post), but I had never seen this form of redbud (Cercis canadensis).  Next June I'll remember to take a photograph of the entire tree.  It was breathtaking.