Monday, October 31, 2011

Sunlit orange without the ghost

During the month of November last year, I had the above photograph as the wallpaper on my computer.  If you click on the picture twice, it should become full screen so you can see what it looks like even larger.

This photograph was taken in Bill Hudgins' gorgeous big garden where he has skillfully mixed hundreds of Japanese maples into a woodland setting.  On the day I took this picture, the sky was overcast.  But,  for a few minutes, the sun came out and shone on this Japanese maple with finely cut leaves.  I have another view of the same sunlit orange foliage, but the scene is marred by my distorted shadow, a ghostly dark image on the left side of an otherwise stunning photograph.  

But this is a good color for this Halloween day.  Bill's maples are usually at their most colorful a little later, but I've noticed that all of a sudden, the sourwoods, dogwoods and hickories in my neighborhood are brilliant.  Even the beeches are beginning to turn.  

I need to call Bill to see if he can estimate when I might come and take more photographs of his Japanese maples.  This time, I'll make sure that I'm out of the picture.   

Friday, October 28, 2011

The pursuit of the purple hydrangea

I'm not the only one who had noticed it.

For years, I've watched a hydrangea bush at the corner of U.S. Highway 29 that runs through my hometown and the street that led to where my grammar school had been until it was torn down and a senior center built in its place.  The hydrangea was covered in blue blooms in late May-early June.  Unlike the flowers of some mopheads, these did not turn brown, but faded to different colors, and consistently ended up an unusual grape/maroon in late fall. 

The bush in question stands next to a former country store at the the intersection where I spent a lot of time in the seventh grade.  Back in the 1950's, the AAA automobile club sponsored what was known as the school safety patrol.  I think we got inducted at the end of the sixth grade.  I can still feel the thrill of finally getting to put on the coveted white belt contraption that went around your waist and over one shoulder.  You had a police looking badge pinned onto it right above the heart.  
We would stand in the middle of the highway next to this store so that children could cross.  I think they now have more responsible adults with hand-held stop signs to do this sort of thing. 

I've digressed here;  back to the hydrangea. Last year, I watched in horror as a local TV news station covered a water main break at the intersection.  I could see the hydrangea in the background.  I was praying the workers wouldn't harm it.  The next time I was down there, I was relieved to see it was still intact.

 I mentioned the hydrangea on Facebook recently, and immediately two friends named Karen responded.  They knew the plant, too.  One said she'd drop everything and drive over there.  The other Karen said, she'd try to find the lady, as well.  This was a courageous thing to do because we didn't know exactly who lived in the old store.  

Karen #1 knocked at the back door, and a friendly 85-year-old woman explained that she had moved the shrub from Atlanta some 30 years ago.  Without hesitation, she gave permission for me to layer it (notice I made Karen do the hard part, making this request on my behalf).  While Karen #1 was talking to the lady, Karen #2 drove up.

So, last weekend, I went to my hometown, took some bricks, pulled down several branches - some woody, some soft - and made a scratch on the stems with my clippers.  I then made a slight hole in the earth, put the scraped branches down and put a brick on top.  I tried to do it so it wouldn't be very noticeable.  

I will give you a report next spring.  Here's hoping we'll have six new plants.  Meanwhile, I need to catch the woman at home to show her what I have done.  Maybe we've discovered a new variety - Hydrangea 'Turner Avenue'.   No.  That isn't right.  It should be called Hydrangea 'Gail Walker', as she is the person who brought it here in the first place.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Amazing leaves

Sorry, but I just can't get enough of these Japanese maples and the incredible shapes and colors of the leaves.  In the foreground, you can see that the foliage is so finely cut that it looks like an army of orange spiders is advancing towards you.  

At the top, just right of center, what appears as a blur is a trio of leaves from a different tree.

Once again, we're in Bill Hudgins' garden in Atlanta.  He has over 120 different types of Japanese maples (but hundreds and hundreds of trees).  My favorite photograph is yet to come.

Monday, October 24, 2011

More Japanese maple beauty

As I said in a previous entry, I could write a book about Bill Hudgins' garden.  And, a really good photographer could have a heyday.  It's not just the autumn that is so beautiful.  Of course, that's when the Japanese maples literally glow, as above.  But, I have photographs of spring when the new leaves unfurl in the most unusual and exquisite colors of salmon, burgundy, lime green, red and pink.  It's uncanny.

Bill has included many evergreens in his compositions.  His collection of boxwoods planted throughout the garden provides an important dark green backdrop for the brilliant colors.  As I might have mentioned, Bill has begun to introduce Asian elements into the landscape.  Even the way he has limbed up trunks suggests the influence of his recent trips to Japan.  I get that sense in this particular view.

I was looking back at the treatment I wrote for the shoot for HGTV's A Gardener's Diary.  Bill describes his garden as "heavily planted."  That is the understatement of the century.  I wouldn't dare try to estimate how many plants are in this garden.  In most areas, not a shred of ground is showing.  During the growing season, this is especially true.  In a future post, you'll see how he tucks in all sorts of ground covers, including both deciduous and evergreen.  All contribute to the complexity and beauty of this incredible garden.

Friday, October 21, 2011

What we know about this rose

My gardening guru Margaret Moseley, age 95, has grown the above rose since the early 1970's.  Not one time during all those years, Margaret says, has there been any black spot on the leaves.  The rose blooms from late April until the first frost.  I took this photograph on October 23rd.

Margaret got the rose from her aunt in Veazey, Georgia, (near Greensboro) where Margaret was born.  Her aunt said the rose belonged to Margaret's grandmother, Lula Channell.  It is not known where Lula obtained the rose, whether it had been a gift or if it was a passalong plant from a neighbor or friend.

This is one of those "near-miss" stories.  When Margaret went to visit her aunt, she said Margaret ought to propagate the rose, since it had belonged to her grandmother.  Margaret took a cutting home and stuck it in the ground next to an outside faucet.  The next spring, she looked, and on the eight inch high "stick" was a bud.  "I was so excited that it had lived," says Margaret.

As for the age of the rose, Margaret can't remember the exact year her grandmother died, but it was sometime in the mid or late 1940's.  The rose was likely in Lula's yard well before then.  Also, her aunt had grown the rose for many years before Margaret obtained the cutting.

From that one rose, Margaret has rooted dozens and given them away.  Her friend Jean Jones, who moved her plant from Stone Mountain to Dalton, Georgia, raves about the rose, how it is always full of blooms and has never had any disease or insect problems.  When Jean had a double knee replacement recently, her daughter brought her a big bouquet of the mystery rose.

So, what is this rose?  Margaret says two men who were rosarians came to her garden on a hydrangea tour one year.  They were fascinated with the flower, but couldn't identify it.  Because of its characteristics - long stems, pointed buds, fragrance, great for cutting and a long blooming season - Margaret believes that it is some kind of tea rose.

"I've rooted worlds of them," says Margaret.  "Everyone who has it loves it.  We just don't know what the name of it is."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Whose daisy is it anyway?

This photograph is fuzzy, but it tells a story.  The glossy picture was given to me by my late friend Mary Ann Gatlin.  I used to spend hours at her house (above), admiring all the plants she grew.  The description "green thumb" could have been invented by this incredible gardener and propagator.  

To make ends meet, Mary Ann ran a booth at the old Municipal Market downtown next to Grady Hospital (now Sweet Auburn Curb Market).  Her best-selling merchandise there consisted of funeral stands and wreaths made of plastic flowers.  That's what helped put food on the table, but her heart was elsewhere.

At her home on a lovely street in Decatur, she was always growing unusual plants of the highest quality, both for indoors and for the garden.  In her greenhouse, she had the most fabulous succulents and ferns and unusual houseplants.  On her back patio, she would combine the succulents in all sorts of containers - broken down chairs, bicycle baskets, concrete planters she decorated herself and large troughs.  

Mary Ann's mother Ida Mae had been in the florist business at the Municipal Market.  When Mary Ann was younger, much to her embarrassment, her mother would ride around Atlanta hunting for plants in people's yards.  

One day in the 1960's, Ida Mae hit the jackpot.  The Gatlins pulled up to a house in east Atlanta, and Ida Mae bought some daisies she'd been eyeing for quite a while.  She planted them out and realized that she had a daisy that bloomed later than the well-known shasta types.  This one had thick, upright basal foliage, from which the daisies shot up on single, sturdy stems, making it a good cut flower.  In addition, the plants spread readily, and the foliage was attractive even by itself.  There was no flopping over of these daisies.

The Gatlins shared the daisies with friends and neighbors, and Ida Mae sold plants at the market.   One day in the mid-eighties, nurseryman Bill Funkhouser noticed the daisy at Becky and Jimmy Stewart's house up the street from the Gatlins.  He took cuttings and began to sell the plant as 'Becky'.  Meanwhile, Bud Heist, a grower and friend of the Gatlins was selling the daisy as 'Ida Mae'.  

About the same time, plantsman and garden designer Ryan Gainey gave the daisy to the owners of Goodness Grows in east Georgia.  They dubbed the perennial 'Ryan's Daisy'.

Now, while all this was happening in the eighties, I also had this daisy.  I bought it in the late seventies from a lady named Mrs. Sonet (not sure of the spelling) who advertised in the Market Bulletin.  It was said that if you went to her house off Northside Drive in Atlanta and she liked you, she would sell you her plants.  If not, she sent you away empty-handed.  I stood in the background while my friend charmed Mrs. Sonet, and we left with a couple dozen plants that we called 'Mrs. Sonet's Daisy' (the small tufts cost 10 cents each).  They spread quickly, and I gave a lot away.

I may not know the full story, but Mary Ann never said anything to me about the fact that the daisy her mother found ended up being called 'Becky'.  As far as I know, Mary Ann Gatlin was just happy that this great perennial was getting out there where gardeners everywhere would have a chance to grow it. In 2003, the Perennial Plant Association named Leucanthemum 'Becky' the perennial plant of the year.   

'Mrs. Sonet's Daisy', 'Ida Mae', 'Ryan's Daisy', 'Becky' - all the same plant and one you should have in your garden.  Plant in sun in soil that is well drained.  White blooms with yellow centers appear in June and last through September.  'Becky' will even tolerate a bit of shade and still remain upright.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A garden survives

From 1900 until 1940, Guillaume Mallet created his life's major work - a garden on the windswept Atlantic in Haute Normandie in France.  After buying an estate in 1897, he built a large manor house designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, noted architect from England.  In the areas immediately around the house, ideas were used from Lutyens' collaborator, famed garden designer Gertrude Jekyll.  

But the creation of a park on the extensive acreage was the work of Guillaume himself.  He studied French landscape paintings, using shrubs and trees to create the same effects in the rolling hills that led down to the sea.  

Guillaume used as his basic text, a small book called Art Out-of-Doors, by Mrs. Schulyler van Rensselaer, published in New York and London in 1893.  The author's premise was that there should be a strict plan in organizing the plants for a garden, which she viewed as an artistic work:  "Two trees and six shrubs, a scrap of lawn and a dozen flowering plants may form either a beautiful little picture or a huddled disarray of forms and colors.  If they form a picture, it will give us the same sort of satisfaction that we get from a good landscape on canvas;  indeed, it will do more than this, for the living picture will reveal new beauties day by day with the changing seasons, hour by hour with the shifting shadows."

Guillaume Mallet fiercely went about the work of creating 30 acres of beautiful park, even studying tapestries to understand the weaving together of colors.  The introduction of rhododendrons from Asia to Europe was to be a major contribution to the park's beauty.  The undulating forms and the evergreen leaves with bursts of flowers in spring to early summer were the perfect transition from low growing plants to taller trees.

During World War II, the estate was taken over by the Germans, who mined the surrounding land.  As happens when gardens or parks are not tended, the land became overgrown and the plantings either covered or lost.

Guillaume and his wife died in 1946.  There was a decision to be made about whether to keep the estate.  The Mallet children decided to go to work to restore the park.  The story of how this magical place was created, almost lost and then rescued is chronicled in a book - Renaissance d'un Parc - by Guillaume's son Robert Mallet (the book, with photographs, is in both English and French.)

I took the above photograph of Robert (he is in the center of the picture, down low) on a visit in 2006.  You can see the size of the rhododendrons and the role they play in this beautiful valley by the sea.  

More from this amazing garden in future posts.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fastigiate, but not really

What a decision.  You would have thought I was choosing a name for a baby, the time I put into poring  over two photographs of the above Japanese maple in the foreground.  I chose this one in order to see up close how Bill Hudgins turned this normal tree into a weeping, fastigiate specimen.

The other perspective showed the same tree from farther away.  I liked that scene because you got to see the wide gravel path that runs alongside this row of containers.  It made for a better garden composition.  But with the other photograph, you lost the splash of colorful trees you see here in the background.

When I asked Bill where he found a fastigiate (defined for our purposes as a narrow, upright plant with branches paralleling the trunk) Japanese maple, he said he didn't.  He trained the tree to grow in this fashion, and I can tell you that in person, it is very striking, even when it's not in this blaze of fall color.

In the past few years, Bill, who owns a high end garden shop, has become interested in bonsai.  He is thus more at ease with manipulating the growth habit of trees and shrubs.  It took a lot of time and patience to create a narrow, weeping tree of this size.

There's something fascinating about an upright, narrow version of a tree that's normally a traditional shape with a trunk and spreading canopy.  I have a friend, plant explorer Ozzie Johnson (presently on an expedition to China), who collects fastigiate trees.  I love going to his garden and studying the leaves and needles of a tree and then all of a sudden realizing it's something familiar, but growing in this odd manner.

So far, Bill knows of no naturally occurring fastigiate Japanese maples.  But, wouldn't that be a thrill if one day someone were to discover one.  What a coup that would be for landscapes everywhere.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Peter Rabbit's gift

After college, I hung out with a friend known as Peter Rabbit.  I was not the originator of that nickname, but his name was Peter, and his last name started with an R, so I assume that's how it got started.

Peter loved exploring woods.  He knew a lot about native plants, and tromping through the woods with him was like being on a treasure hunt.

There was one particular woodland not far from my hometown (he was from the next town up the road) where we would explore in the spring and again in the fall.  It was mostly a deciduous forest, and you would see all kinds of flowers and interesting plants.  It's too bad that I didn't know a trillium from a dog's tooth violet back then, but I did appreciate the introduction to the miracles of the forest floor.

My husband knew Peter's brother, so after I was married, Peter became a frequent visitor.  One evening, he came to dinner and brought us a wedding present.  It was a fragrant azalea, he said.  I'd never heard of such a thing.  Sure enough, the next spring when it bloomed, the big, orchid-like lavender flowers did have a slight, very pleasing fragrance.  At the time, I was not very interested in azaleas, so I didn't even pursue an identification.  I just knew that everyone who saw it thought the flowers were exquisite.

It was not until I was writing for the newspaper that I knew the name of this early flowering azalea.  I was doing an article on a man who did bonsai, and he had the same plant.  He called it the Korean azalea, Azalea poukhanense (the official botanical name is Rhododendron yedoense var. poukhanense).    Native to south Korea (including the area around Mt. Poukhan), the shrub is semi-evergreen (deciduous for me).  About two to three weeks before most azaleas bloom, it produces relatively large, see-through lavender flowers with darker spots.  It is exceptionally beautiful and sometimes fragrant.

"The Peter Rabbit Azalea", although not an American native, has brought great beauty and joy over the years.  Every spring, I pick armloads of flowers and bring them inside.  But, just this past year, and I fear it was after June (when blooms for the next year are set), a newly hired yard helper decided the Korean azalea was way too big (it was; it was blocking a path, but I couldn't bear to cut it back and just walked around it).  It's now a shadow of its former self,  but it's been in that spot for 38 years and still looks healthy, albeit very slim.

I've lost track of Peter.  I think someone said he had moved out west.  I'm afraid if he were here, he'd be very disappointed.  His favorite woodland with the bottled gentian and trilliums was logged several years ago, and is now a sunny swamp with scraggly trees.

If you have a lot of room for this azalea - it is wider than it is tall - and can find it in the trade, it's a good one to have.  Its habit is loose and open, and it's rather gangly.  There are compact forms, but I like this one.  Catch it at a moment when the papery flowers are backlit by the sun, and you can see why it has  been a highly cherished wedding gift. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Another use for okra

I'm really veering off subject today, but let me explain.

I attend Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, and back in 2002, our 7,000 member congregation moved into a new sanctuary.  We jokingly call it "The Methodist Cathedral".  It's huge.

The story of the above arrangement, photographed in October 2010, actually began the last autumn in our old church.  Our minister always called the Sunday before Thanksgiving "Harvest Sunday."  He would welcome all the people home for Thanksgiving and give the members a chance to stand up and say what you were thankful for (I never did; too shy).  It was always a warm and special time, and we'd sing my favorite Thanksgiving hymns,"Come Ye Thankful People Come", "Now Thank We All Our God" and "We Gather Together."

On Harvest Sunday 2001, I looked up at the altar, and on both sides of the brass cross were triangular shaped flower arrangements containing pink gladioli and pink carnations.  What?  Where were the autumn colors?  The church paid a florist to come in and do the flowers on Saturday for Sunday's service. I'd been noticing that he'd gotten more and more careless with his choice of material.  He obviously must have had a wedding that called for pink and used the leftover flowers for us.

What made it even more maddening was the fact that I had just attended a flower festival at a beautiful old Episcopal church downtown, where their flower guild had used foliage from their yards - maple and oak leaves and bittersweet and dried hydrangeas, mixed with fresh flowers in autumn colors.   They'd also used fruit like pomegranates, apples and red and brown pears in the arrangements.  It was breathtaking.

So my heart started beating wildly, thinking of our new sanctuary.  Why couldn't we do the same as the Episcopalians.  Our new space would need arrangements at least six feet tall.  That would cost a fortune, and I couldn't imagine the same old gladioli and carnations.

So, we formed a flower guild to arrange flowers for Saturday weddings that would stay up for the service on Sunday.  We specified that we'd use foliage from our yards and buy the necessary flowers for two arrangements - one on the altar and another big, round one in the rotunda entrance.

It's been a great success and tons of fun.  We've gotten better as we've gone along and learned from our mistakes, i.e., crepe myrtle flowers and foliage shrivel within an hour of being cut.

I am the hunter-gatherer for my team; I just don't have the knack for arranging, but I'm good at finding weeds and sticks and interesting foliage.  Benjie Jones and Peggy Witt are in charge of putting everything together, along with some very talented people.

The bride that week wanted cranberry to match the bridesmaid dresses, thus the Stargazer lilies.  We lightened up the arrangement with white hydrangeas.  Most of the other material is either from the roadside or my yard.  See if you can pick out the following:  Abelia chinensis, elaeagnus, Canadian hemlock, winter honeysuckle, Camellia sinensis (the tea plant) and, yes, okra.  I'm hoping the bride never knew about the latter.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Will the real 'Nikko Blue' please stand up?*

In the vast line-up of photographs I've set aside for this Web site, this one keeps drawing me in like a siren.  Here it is fall, and I am choosing this dazzling blue, which stands out whenever I go to the thumbnails and look at several pictures at a time.

The macrophylla hydrangea blooms you see now in the South are either brown or wonderful shades of maroon and purple, often tinted with green (unless you have 'All Summer Beauty' or other re-bloomers, which could have bright blue blooms along with pink, maroon, etc.).

Around the first of June four years ago, I drove up to a garden in Alabama.  At all four corners of the parking lot, the gardener had planted a 'Nikko Blue' hydrangea.  The totally different colors of the flowers on the individual shrubs confirmed something, but I'm not sure what.  One, there's controversy over whether all those hydrangeas sold as 'Nikko Blue', an old cultivar that has been forever popular, are truly 'Nikko Blue'.

A second consideration when looking at the same plant so close together is the variation of the soil.  Could it be that in one corner there is more acid or aluminum in the soil, whereas 15 feet away there's a totally different composition of elements?  I did ask if these were plants he'd bought separately, or had he propagated from just one plant.  The former was the case.  He'd purchased four individual plants at the same time.  So, which one was the real 'Nikko Blue', or were they all the real thing?  Whatever the answer, the above flowers were much more intense and beautiful than the lighter blue flowers on the other plants.

A friend who has macrophylla hydrangeas which now are the loveliest wine color has invited me over to show her how to layer the plants.  I'm bringing some bricks, and all we have to do is choose some lower branches that will bend down to the ground, make an indentation in the soil, then scratch the stem where it will make contact, cover with a bit of dirt and put the brick down to hold it.  I've done this at different times of the year (well, not winter), and it works.  I'm hoping by next May we'll have some rooted plants that we can detach from the mother plant.

My goal is to go back to Alabama about the first of June next year and see if that same hydrangea in the photograph is still the same stunning color of blue.  Then, I'll ask permission to layer the plant.  It would be an experiment, because I might get the newly propagated shrub back over here to Georgia and find that it's a completely different color.

Which makes me think of the late Penny McHenry, founder of the American Hydrangea Society.  What a character she was.  She kept passing a house which had the deepest, most beautiful shade of purple hydrangea she'd ever seen.  She stopped one day and obtained permission to layer the plant.  A couple of months later, she had her rooted hydrangea and took it back to her own garden.  When it bloomed, it was a pale shade of blue.  You just never know.

*For those of you too young to remember, there was a TV show called To Tell the Truth, where three  contestants would try to convince the panel (who asked them questions) that they were the person described at the beginning.  The panel would try to guess from the answers given.  At the end, the host would say, "Will the real (name of person) please stand up?  And he/she did.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The season's new look

Here we are, back in Bill Hudgins' garden (check out the post for Thursday, August 18, 2011, and for Tuesday, October 11, as well).  Since yesterday, I looked back at some facts about Bill.  He grew up in Barnesville in middle Georgia and had his own greenhouse by the age of 14.  He began growing ferns for florists and would put them in fancy wire baskets so he could charge more.   He wanted the money to buy more and more plants.  He experimented with vegetable gardening and growing unusual things from seeds, but he soon discovered there was no market for 15 kinds of exotic peppers in his isolated town.

By the time he was in his early 20's, Bill had acquired his first Japanese maple from a man out in the country.  It was love at first sight, and before he knew it, he had 100 different kinds crammed onto a small lot in Decatur where he had moved.

He gave up his beautiful and much photographed garden there to move to northwest Atlanta where he is now.  The original three acres (he's acquired more property now from neighbors) had lovely hardwoods and a wide, rocky stream that resembled something you'd see in the mountains.  Bill carefully carved out paths and added to the native mountain laurel that was there.  He also left a huge azalea that had been planted by the former owner.  He renovated the house and added on.  The before and after pictures are not even recognizable.

Bill moved the 100 maples from Decatur, and only one didn't make it, but he still has the first tree he purchased.  A collection of boxwoods which are planted throughout the property create a dark green backdrop for the maples.  He also has drifts of ferns and hostas and many, many large containers, which are set along the paths and hold Japanese maples and other shrubs.

I have many other photographs I want to share, so I'll tell the rest of the story as we go along.  Bill has recently made some changes;  I'd be curious to see if you can tell where his latest influence is coming from.

But about this photograph.  If I am not mistaken,  in yesterday's view I was standing just in back of the second large container on the left, looking back towards the bottom of this scene.  At any rate, it's the same area, but with a very different ambience.  To my mind, it's beautiful both in spring and in fall.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

You should have been here last week

Often when we were producing A Gardener's Diary on HGTV, gardeners would ask if we could come several times a year to show how their gardens changed from season to season.  How I wish we could have done that.  Unfortunately, the cost of travel, hiring camera, sound, producers, host, etc., to revisit the same garden for just one episode would have been prohibitive.  Thus, we were forced to capture a garden on a given day that we set months, sometimes even a year, in advance.  As a result, it was not unusual to hear the same rueful phrase over and over: "You should have been here last week."

Every garden changes with the seasons and can look totally different.  The above photograph was taken in mid-April in Bill Hudgins' extraordinary garden.  It is set on four wooded acres where he has respected the land (a wide creek runs through the property), yet made it more beautiful.  At every turn, there's a unique shrub or flowering bulb or interesting ground cover.  In addition, he has over 270 varieties of Japanese maples, some with leaves so intricate they hardly seem real.

All sorts of paths meander through the woods.  Some are straight like the one above, some are wide and curving, and others are narrow and lead to clearings in the woods or up steep flights of steps.

To give you an idea of how the same spot looks in a different season, I am going to do a back to back sort of thing.  You see the path today with the fresh foliage and special light of spring.  Tomorrow I'll post another view of this same path, but taken from the opposite end and in a different season.  I'm lucky that I don't live very far from Bill.  His garden is definitely one to follow throughout the year.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Soon the scene will change

If you live where there are deciduous forests, you know that moment.  The leaves begin to trickle down, along with acorns and twigs.  No matter if you pick up every stick, you turn around and there are ten more in its place.  Most everything is still green, though, with just a few leaves that have already turned red or yellow.

I caught the above scene at just such a time.  This is Bernadine Richard's eight acre woodland garden around a 1929 stone house.  Despite her first name, Bernadine is not French, although she is married to a Frenchman.  She actually grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania surrounded by apple and peach orchards.  

"I've been gardening all my life" she explained.  "Both my grandmothers were gardeners.  My mother's mother grew up in England, so it's in my genes."  Bernadine is also a go-getter.  Her father died suddenly when she was 28.  She drove his three school bus routes, organized other drivers' schedules and oversaw bus maintenance.

This same take charge attitude is evident in her garden.  She's definitely gone out on a limb, carving out paths and trails and creating allees (and even a maze) and making the most of the up and down topography.  Her garden is always in flux, and she's constantly planting new areas on the mostly shaded property.

Bernadine has gardened in a lot of different places, and she admits it took her a while to learn what would grow under a canopy of tall trees in Zone 7B.  She started off in Connecticut, then moved to Long Island Sound, where she had a one acre garden.  "It was very different because it was on the sea,"  she says.  She's also gardened in Buffalo, England and Memphis, three places with very disparate climates.

I love the color of the bench in this photograph and the way the ferns, hostas and hydrangeas ebb and flow along the gravel path.  Bernadine has planned every inch of this expansive garden herself, often incorporating unorthodox elements (like painting the posts in her astilbe garden a bright red) that elicit smiles from visitors.  It's a highly unusual garden where something interesting is always going on, even at the moments when the seasons are just beginning to change.


Friday, October 7, 2011

How Jewish friends came to the aid of my Easter cross

It is Yom Kippur, and I am thinking of my great gardening friends, Davee and Milton Kuniansky, and how they helped me out on my Christian holy day. 

Our Methodist church has a tradition.  On Easter morning, we decorate the cross that stands on the front lawn from the beginning of Lent (Ash Wednesday) to Easter. The congregation brings flowers from their yards, and we put them on the cross.  When it's finished, people come with their children and take pictures in front of the incredible floral display.  

But there was trouble this year.  Easter was extremely late, coming on April 24, the latest I can ever remember.  All the flowers we count on - azaleas, dogwoods, viburnums, banksia roses, cherry trees, kerria and the like, had already bloomed out.  Tulips, daffodils and hyacinths were also past.  

Once before, in 2008, Easter came extremely early, and we had a deep freeze the day before.  All the blooms succumbed to the cold.  Fortunately, the weatherman had predicted what was about to happen, so I called the Kunianskys.  Not a problem, they said.  I raided their garden, taking practically all of their showy, bright pink azaleas and a number of other flowers, including some of their thousands of hellebores.  That frigid Easter morning, the cross was saved.

This year, I kept driving around in despair.  Everything had bloomed out.  I called up the Kunianskys, and they said come on over.  Davee assured me that they had a bumper crop of rhododendron blooms, and I was welcome to pick what I needed.  

So, on the Saturday before Easter Sunday, I took a bunch of buckets and drove over to the their house.  As I rounded the corner, I knew everything was going to be all right.  I don't think I've ever seen so many blooms on their many rhododendrons.  There were masses of lavender flowers all along the street. And when I pulled in the driveway, I was met with a mountain of huge rose-colored flowers.  I literally filled up my whole car with the hot pink blooms of 'Anna Rose Whitney' (above, with Davee) and the lavender pink flowers of 'Roseum Elegans'.  

When I drove up on Easter morning, the lovely couple who is in charge of the cross, was thrilled when they looked in my car.  The Kunianskys had come to the rescue once again.

Next year, I can give them a reprieve.  Easter falls on April 8th in 2012.  That's a peak time for azaleas and dogwoods, so we'll have plenty of flowers.  Still, I'll probably visit their garden as I usually do, and  maybe that will be our own little tradition.  They'll give me some of their flowers once again to put on the cross.  It's a nice feeling for such warm-hearted gardeners to cross religious lines and share their flowers so generously.

Note:  I write this on my MacBook Pro.  I think back to when my children were little, and we upgraded to an Apple IIGS, from a previous model.  They're still Apple, and so am I.  With great appreciation to Steve Jobs.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fall at Wilkerson Mill Gardens

The countryside around my hometown of Palmetto, Georgia, consists of rolling hills and meadows and piney woods and hardwood forests.  When I was a child - I must have been really little - I remember going with my mother down a dirt road to an old mill.  I have a very distant memory of a big gray building and the loud, rushing water of a creek.  A man handed my mother a white cloth bag about 15 inches long.  Inside the bag was corn meal.  Mother had taken corn (whether she and Daddy grew it or not, I don't know; they had a huge vegetable garden) to be ground, and we were there to pick it up.

When I became acquainted with Elizabeth Dean through a mutual interest in gardening, I was delighted to find out that she and her husband Gene Griffith were about to purchase Wilkerson Mill.  The house wasn't weatherized, and the mill was derelict, but the land was just right for growing the specialty plants that Elizabeth planned to offer to the public.
There was a lot of restoration work to be done.  Amish workers came one year and shored up the mill building.  Elizabeth and Gene also worked on the white clapboard farm house, turning part of it into an office.  They planted orchards of deciduous hollies and surrounded the house with wonderful shrubs that produce flowers and berries.  All through the growing season, perennials come up and make a show.  It's just the most beautiful place now and will make a plant lover almost faint.

Wilkerson Mill Gardens has become a well-known specialty nursery and mail order firm where you can purchase hard-to-find plants through their Web site,  The nursery is open on certain weekends in the spring and fall.  Gene and Elizabeth specialize in hydrangeas, but they have many, many other shrubs, trees, vines and perennials for sale.

I took the above photograph of Viburnum wrightii on a beautiful fall day at Wilkerson Mill Gardens.   I'm so thankful that Elizabeth and Gene rescued the historic mill and the beautiful land that surrounds this special place.  And, I'm grateful they've persevered through droughts and storms and other challenges (deer, especially) to offer wonderful plants to gardeners who are looking for the out-of-the-ordinary.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The comeback kid

If you garden in Colorado, you might be thinking, "What's this about?  A tulip that doesn't come back spring after spring?"

Here in the southern U.S., it's cause for celebration when what I call a regular Dutch tulip hybrid blooms several years in succession (two years back to back is pretty extraordinary).  I remember my mother-in-law once sent me some 'Angelique' peony-flowering tulips.  I planted them in the fall, and the next spring they were magnificent.  

The next year she asked me about the tulips.  I'd forgotten I was supposed to have them; they were nowhere to be found.  I can't remember if I told her the truth.  I hope I did.  She was this beautiful woman, tall and glamorous, who scared me to death, so it's possible that I could have fudged a little. 

Every few years, a yellow and red striped tulip I planted some 35 years ago comes up and blooms.  There's no explanation for this, except maybe we had ample cold weather in the fall and winter.  It's been a couple of years now since I've seen it, but who knows?

I do have some white lily-flowering tulips a friend salvaged from an apartment complex where the landscapers were digging the bulbs and throwing them away.  They make a valiant appearance every year, but as soon as I see them, the deer do, too.  They snap the heads off all at once.  It's discouraging.

About five years ago, I bought a pot of species-type, 'Lady Jane' clusiana tulips from nurseryman Scott McMahan at his booth at the Southeastern Flower Show.  The pinkish-red and white flowers have come up and bloomed every year since.  After doing a bit of research, I see that this is touted as a perennial tulip for the South and is listed in the Southern Living Plant Collection.  

So far, the squirrels and chipmunks (notorious bulb diggers) haven't bothered this tulip. And, I think the fact that on June 18, a huge oak tree fell on the place the bulbs are planted won't make a difference.  The only thing I have to worry about is getting a deer fence in place before next spring.  That's my big goal now.

Tulipa clusiana 'Lady Jane'; native from Iran east to the Himalayas; 10-12 inches high; sun to part shade; plant in well-drained soil.  Plant out of the line of fire of a sprinkler system, especially in summer; allow the foliage to yellow and mature as you would for a daffodil.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The French Connection

The time: late February 1971.  The place:  Argentiere in the French Alps near Mont Blanc. 

I have quit my job at an American bank in Paris so I can go skiing for a month.  My best friend from grammar school has been visiting for several weeks.  When her husband arrives, we leave for the Alps.

After they go back to the U.S., I join a ski club group, a sort of poor person's Club Med.  I'm rather miserable until I meet some wonderful people from Paris.  Among them is a beautiful blonde South African named Carol.  All the guys, especially the son of the French ambassador to South Africa, are taken with her.  She's the kind you would be jealous of, except she is very funny and kind.  Her parents are British, and her accent is very high brow.  She says odd things like, "I'm from Johannesburg, but I attended Varsity in Cape Town."  Varsity?  I meet a journalist, a writer for Le Figaro (he later had a career at Le Nouvel Observateur), and he and I and Carol and the ambassador's son all hit it off and have a great time on the slopes and off.

Back in Paris, I hang out with my new friends from Argentiere until I have to go home in April.  I've run out of money.

Fast forward to 2006.  I have come to Paris and brought my two daughters, one who has just graduated from college, and the other who has just finished graduate school.  Carol has us over for a lovely dinner in her conservatory.  She and I take a flashlight and walk around the garden.  I can tell it is fabulous. 

Through the years, Carol and I have kept up, and the few times I've visited Paris, she has had me over for dinner (the year after our French ski trip, she married Luc Tessier, a Parisian architect who went on to have a career as an expert in the restoration of historic buildings).  Carol worked at the Louvre and was the author of books about children and art (more details on her accomplishments later).  She and Luc have three grown daughters and are grandparents.

What we wouldn't have known back when we were in our 20's, is that one day we would both love gardens and gardening.  In 2010, on my last visit to Asnieres (just outside the walls of Paris), I finally got to see Carol's garden in the daylight.  Luc opened the door in the high wall along the street, and I walked under long chains of wisteria hanging overhead, leading all the way to the back garden.  It was magical.

The photograph above was taken by Carol and shows the conservatory she built with an inheritance from her grandmother.  That's where she serves lovely dinners with views out into the garden.  Another photograph she sent me years ago shows clematis and roses climbing up the side of the conservatory and trained over the back door of the five story house.  

As you can see, her borders are chock full of all sorts of shrubs, trees and perennials.  This is just one border in this beautiful garden, where an irregular-shaped lawn is surrounded on all sides by sumptuous plantings.  

More about Carol and her artistry and garden in future posts.

Monday, October 3, 2011

On the path to the doghouse

Even though I think of myself as a rather circumspect (ahem) older adult, I admit I was somewhat of a terror in kindergarten.  Anyone who misbehaved was sent to the "doghouse'.  I was a frequent visitor and the only girl to be so imprisoned (I still don't think that beating two boys over the head with a rolled up coloring book page deserved such punishment).  Ours wasn't really a doghouse, but a little room just inside the back entrance to the community center where classes were held.  To this day, I can still see the crate of empty Coca-Cola bottles and the metal folding chairs stacked against the walls and velvet boxes they must have used on the stage.

The doghouse you see in the photograph isn't real either.  The owner of this garden is crazy about animals, and her dogs and cats live inside in luxurious circumstances.  But the cast concrete doghouse seems just the right whimsical element for this shady path.  

The photograph was taken on May 15 a few years ago.   The key to the beauty of the scene is the blend of textures she's chosen - the broad leaves of hostas, the lacy but durable ferns, boxwood, yew and mondo grass.  Just beyond the doghouse, the light green tips of new growth on a conifer add yet another interesting color to the composition.  

Just to get a better picture of the circumstances, this is a fairly narrow space between the owner's house and a neighbor's fence.  It's chock full of plants (many in graduating heights) that are out of this view. The informal path leads from the side gate and entrance to the back garden to the sunny parking area in the front.  All in all, I can't think of a more appropriate setting for a doghouse that isn't real.