Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A magical tunnel of roses

Okay.  You're going to have to do some work here.  Please put your hand over the blindingly bad camerawork in the upper left of the photograph.  Now you are able to make out the beauty of this rose-covered pathway.

Once again, we're in Dan Cleveland's cottage garden on a very bright day in May.  It was probably high noon when I took this picture, which never works.  Add in that this is my old camera which is not as forgiving as my new one, the latter actually getting quite elderly now.  

This tunnel of roses runs along the side of Dan's house.  I went from his sunny front yard, where foxgloves, poppies and roses grew in great profusion and walked under a wooden arch into this secret passageway.  The fragrance.  The cool feel of enclosure.  It was magical.

You can make out the bent rebar that is used as a frame for the climbers.   On the right side is Dan's house.  The lot is narrow and long, so his neighbor's yard is not far away on the left, but is screened by a line of narrow conifers.  

Often, we don't think of the area on the side of a house as a potential garden.  But here's a great example of what can be done with a space that otherwise might not hold much charm.  And, for those of us who don't have the time or wherewithal to tackle the front or back yard on a big scale, a narrow strip such as this might be a good place to start.  

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dan's ever changing cottage garden

One of these days I'd like to see a study (there probably are many out there that I don't know about) on what makes a person choose a certain garden style.  I know a lot depends on the lay of the land, what type of house you have, sun and shade exposure and, of course, personal preferences.  What pleases one person may not appeal to another.

This photograph was taken on a hot, sunny day in May 2005 in garden designer Dan Cleveland's cottage garden.  Dan grew up in north Georgia and was, as many of us were, influenced by his grandparents' love for growing vegetables and flowers.  There's a chicken coop at the back of the lot, so you have a feel of the country in a city neighborhood. When you walk up the steps and into the back yard, you know this is the right style for this place in every way.

Dan has incorporated not only the vernacular aesthetic of the South, but has included English, Italian and French influences, using plants that do well in Georgia.  That's sort of the key to this style thing.  That is, you can fix your garden to please your eye, you just have to do it with what works in your area.  

In this scene, roses clamber up a metal tuteur.  Digitalis 'Pam's Choice' intermingles with shrub roses and yellow Iris pseudacorus.  The garden is intersected with gravel walkways that are lined with boxwoods and filled in with ferns and hosta.  I have more photographs to share later, showing other areas of the garden that are just as entrancing.  

Recently, Dan built an addition to the house.  A friend and fellow designer said the garden has changed, but that one thing is consistent.  It's still a cottage garden, chock full of wonderful plants,  and it's spectacular on any given day of the year.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Creating 'Harmony' in the garden

Yesterday, trying to beat the rain (and now they're saying snow for tonight!), I finally got Hydrangea quercifolia 'Harmony' into the ground.  This is an oakleaf hydrangea I've wanted for years, ever since I saw a huge specimen loaded with big, showy blooms at the garden of the late Catherine Sims in Homewood, Alabama.

Like Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake', this unusual oakleaf hydrangea was introduced by Birmingham area nurserymen Eddie Aldridge and his father. The story goes that in the 1920's, their friend Joe McDaniel's father  brought a plant from the wild to the McDaniel plot in the cemetery at Harmony Church near Rainbow City in northeastern Alabama.  This oakleaf produced very tight double flowers that resembled the blooms of large flowering forms of the peegee hydrangea. 

When the Aldridge father and son went to the church in 1969, the plant was in bad shape.  It had been very dry, and the Aldridges weren't very hopeful.  They were able to take three cuttings, and miraculously, all three rooted.

'Harmony' is hard to find and has not caught on like other forms of oakleaf hydrangea.  This is probably because each bloom can weigh upwards of a pound and pulls the entire branch down to the ground.  This was not the case in Mrs. Sims' garden.  Apparently, if the shrub can reach a certain size, it can support the weight of the blooms.  When we filmed the plant for A Gardener's Diary, the editor kept saying the flower looked like a giant poodle's head.  I've read where it's called sheep's head hydrangea, which I can fully understand.

In the above photograph, another Alabama gardener, Jim Scott, solved the problem of the heavy blooms by providing a nice boulder for support.  The flowers are almost at eye level, and you can reach out and pick up the blooms to see how dense they are.

I just went out and checked on my plant.  It was in a one gallon container, so it's not very big, but the foliage is this jewel-like ruby red, shading to the deepest burgundy.  I'm not completely satisfied with where I have it planted.  I think I'll need more morning sun, but I can lop off a magnolia branch that will be shading it in the spring.  And, I have no way to do like Jim Scott and bring in massive boulders to prop it up.  But we'll see next May when I hope I'll have a couple of these big, showy blooms to contend with.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Artichokes to amaryllis

The Sunday after Thanksgiving is always an awkward time at our church.  Often, as it is this year, it's the first Sunday of Advent, yet the calendar still says November, and leftovers from Thursday are still in the refrigerator.  Somehow, it feels like you should cling to Thanksgiving a little longer.

That's the mistake a friend and I made.  This year, we did something on Tuesday in hopes that it will last until Sunday (usually the arrangements are done Saturday morning). The head of the Flower Guild suggested we use a giant cornucopia already on hand.  This seemed like a good idea to save money, because we could use leftover pumpkins and decorative squash.  The idea was for things to come spilling out of the large round end onto the altar.  

It turned out to be hard to work with, as it had to be propped up, and it was difficult to cover the mechanics.  We didn't have enough pumpkins and fruit and ended up using bittersweet and sticks and leaves that are sure to be shriveled by Sunday. At one point, I was ready to kick the whole thing over.  It looked like a giant bird's nest gone wrong.

Anyway, we finally let it go, just because there was nothing else to be done.  I was not pleased because putting up a cornucopia to be viewed after Thanksgiving just didn't seem right.  I was even more in agony when I came home and was looking through photographs and saw the above arrangement, done a couple of years ago by Benjie Jones and Peggy Witt of our Flower Guild.  

This beautiful combination would have been perfect for this in-between Sunday.  The artichokes and green and red apples (can you spot them? There may be a pomegranate in there, too) echo back to Thanksgiving, while the amaryllis takes you forward to Advent.  

I have to say that this is one of my favorites of all the arrangements our Flower Guild has ever done.  The texture is so rich, with hydrangeas and roses mixed with lilies.  The rose hips, which are available this time of year, translate as berries and add yet another element to this stunning composition.  I just wish this very arrangement could somehow magically appear on the altar this Sunday.  It would be perfect for the changing seasons.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Mama's golden horn-of-plenty

In the 1950's, in our little town, "Miss" Sally Hutson (she was married to Mr. Hut Hutson; that was the way we addressed anyone older) was the person with the creative talent in the ladies' garden club.   At holidays, the members made whatever Miss Sally was teaching that year.  Usually, it involved gold spray, although there was one year when my mother followed Miss Sally's latest trend resulting in a white flocked tree with shiny pink ornaments.  A contraption made from white coat hangers and matching pink balls hung from our living room ceiling.  No one bothered to take it down until March.

The twin cornucopias Mother put on the table every year at Thanksgiving were made at garden club.  She pulled them out at Thanksgiving, with their gold spray and "fruit" stuck in a dry piece of light green foam.  There were plastic green grapes, miniature pumpkins the size and color of tangerines, some yellow squash type fruit that matched nothing in nature, a bunch of impossibly small carrots and tiny pears.  The "greenery" had berries that faintly resembled deep orange pyracantha.

As fake as they were, there was something endearing about them.  I could just imagine Miss Sally providing all the supplies to make the Thanksgiving centerpiece. Mother never said anything about the two gold basket weave horns, but they would appear each year in the middle of the dining room table, facing out from each other.

At my house, I use the cornucopias on the mantel in the dining room.  I let the green grapes stay, but I add things from nature - whatever I have on hand at the time.  In late October, I pick up the round orange fruit that falls from the lethally thorny hardy orange, Poncirus trifoliata.  I also use nandina berries, which I try to catch before they turn red.  If I have dried okra from the summer, I throw that in.  My yard is full of beech trees, so I'm usually able to cut some foliage when it still has green and orange (incredibly beautiful), although overnight, it turns to brown and shrivels.  Then, I use whatever fruit I have, usually apples, pears and pomegranates.  I've even used sweet potatoes, green tomatoes and jalapenos from the garden and hickory nuts and buckeyes I've picked off the ground. 

At the end, I add bittersweet (I used to risk my life to cut branches from a nearby bridge, but I've discovered some in a ditch along the driveway), which gives the whole composition a wild look.  If there's a chinaberry tree I can reach at the farm, I'll put a cluster of the yellow berries to cover the fake pyracantha.

Every year is different.  Even though I like to add everything natural, I don't mind if those funky little carrots peek out from the opening.  And, there's a lemon that looks real, so I let that stay.  This year I have two little cantaloupes that never made it to maturity.  I picked them up in the garden at the farm after everything froze.  They're a little soft, but so far they're still intact.  

I wonder what Miss Sally would say.  I bet these days she would have real fruit and nuts for the garden club members to choose from.  Most likely, she wouldn't use gold spray, but somehow, that's the charm of these two horn-shaped baskets - treasures that have seen many happy Thanksgivings.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A last look at fall color

The leaves are falling fast now, with just some of the Japanese maples and oaks holding on.  And the beeches - they've already turned a dark tan color.  Later, towards spring, the latter will bleach out and take on a silvery hue.

But for now, there's sort of a last gasp before Thanksgiving.  This is, once again, Bill Hudgins' garden in Atlanta.  I talked to Bill recently, but never got over to make any photos this year.  He said the trees were turning at different times, not like last year when so many of his Japanese maples were in their full glory all at once.

Earlier in the fall - maybe it was even in late summer - I received a call from a national garden magazine. They asked me to send pictures of Bill's garden, and I did.  They called back to say they definitely wanted to do a photo shoot in his garden, that they would contact Bill.

It never happened.  I guess they just never got around to it.  I still have several photographs of Bill's garden in fall I haven't posted, so I'll save them for next year. I definitely want to show what his garden looks like in spring.  He's going to be on tour in May when all the hostas and ferns are out fresh, and many of the Japanese maples will still be in their spring color.  That's when all the textures he's put together are at their best.

 I just love the above scene that shows one of the many paths that crisscross Bill's garden.  As gorgeous as those trees are (check out the finely cut yellow leaves in the upper foreground - amazing), they look all the better because of all the evergreens.  The stone and gravel and especially the beautiful bark all add to the composition.  I can't think of a better photograph to illustrate this beautiful season that seems to have, once again, passed so quickly.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Memories from a mixed-up still life

I like to stick to photographs of plants and gardens, but I kept coming across this picture I'd put on my blog list.  I'm not sure exactly why I included it among landscape features and close-ups of flowers and such.  It was a haphazard, unplanned arrangement - it must have caught my eye one day - and I snapped a picture.  Upon examination, it brings back a lot of unconnected memories.

First, see those tiles on the backsplash?  I bought them in a little town in France sometime in the early 80's.  They came with either green or blue hearts in the corners.  I'm a regretter, and the moment I had them packed up so I could carry them on the plane (remember those days?  I also brought an iron rooster weather vane home on the same flight), I wished I had bought the ones with the green.  Sorry to say, I haven't ever let that go.  I did go back to the little town (name escapes me now) in 2002 to see if they still had the green ones.  They didn't.  Nor did they have anything similar in any color.

The trip to Provence in 2002 yielded the peeling still life painting that is propped up in back of this little kitchen scene.  I was staying with friends, but I rented my own car and drove over to a tiny village where I found a very scrubby market, just as it was closing.  I bought some mustard colored pottery pieces and this painting.  It's not very good, but it goes with my kitchen.

The market basket belonged to my mother and daddy.  They were great vegetable gardeners, so that basket was filled many, many times over the years.  And, the canned soup mix and tomatoes were put up by my mother.  The date on the piece of masking tape on the tomatoes:  2001.  My mother was born in 1910, so that meant she was 91 when she did that canning.  It also meant that Daddy and Mother had grown the Silver Queen corn, the baby limas, the okra and the tomatoes.

The bronze fig was made by Frank Fleming, a well-known sculptor from Alabama.  His large animal figures sit in a fountain at Five Points South in Birmingham.  Frank was a subject for an episode of A Gardener's Diary.  He took objects from nature and used the forms for sculptures and pieces of furniture.  His most famous works, though, are of whimsical animals.

The yellow bowl I picked up at Scott's Antique Market in Atlanta, and the vase, I'm embarrassed to say, is one of the few survivors of my attempts to become a potter.  That effort back in the early 1970's mercifully didn't last long, as I never could get anything balanced on the wheel.  If only I'd spent the pottery lesson money on some nice pieces from a talented artist.  The bouquet consists of Sedum 'Autumn Joy', and a bunch of weeds and grasses from my late parents' farm.

Last but not least are those buckeyes in the yellow bowl.  My daddy believed that buckeyes brought good luck.  Every September he would go down to this little lane on the farm where a 20 foot tall buckeye tree grew.  He would collect the shiny dark seeds that came out of a shell that sort of looked like a cross between a kiwi and a walnut.  He kept them in his pockets, and every time he would meet anyone new, he'd give them a buckeye.  He'd done it for years, and almost everyone in our small town had one of his buckeyes.

His health began to fail in 2002, and he died in September 2004.  The Saturday before he died, I took him down to see if we could find any buckeyes.  I gasped in horror to see that his buckeye tree had fallen over and was dead.  He was so disappointed, and I was just sick.  We started riding further down the lane, and I happened to look over and see a spindly little tree with what looked like khaki colored eggs hanging from the branches.  Buckeyes!

I pulled over and rolled down Daddy's window, and he reached up and pulled off the capsules, which were beginning to open.  We took them back to the house, and he had a great time pulling out the shiny brown seeds, some almost as large as a ping-pong ball.

At his funeral the next week, we passed out buckeyes.  My niece and I had gone back down there to find  dozens more small trees laden with fruit.  I wrote a tear jerker eulogy about how the big tree was a metaphor for life.  It had fallen over and had its day, but a lot of fresh new trees had come along to take its place.

To end on a cheerier note, I'm glad to say the buckeye trees are still producing, and I have a great time riding around the farm and picking weeds for arrangements at Thanksgiving and cedar and sweet gum branches for Christmas.  All that stuff is still there on my kitchen counter, in addition to the six jars of okra pickles I put up this year.  I'd like to try my hand at some soup mix.  We grew okra, tomatoes and Silver Queen corn this year.  Next year, we'll have to grow some lima beans.  Then, all you have to do on a winter day is cut up some onions and potatoes, boil a soup bone, and you have yet another good memory.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Beauty along the driveway

One particular editor at the Atlanta Journal and Constitution admonished me, "You are writing about Margaret Moseley way too often.  What's the deal?"

One visit, and he understood, and pretty soon, he was writing about her as well.

Truth is, I had trouble not writing about Margaret.  First of all, she was eminently quotable, but mainly her garden was a treasure trove of good subjects.  She collected camellias, sasanquas, hydrangeas and viburnums.  She also had a variety of ground covers that included epimedium, ajuga, lamb's ear, hosta, yellow creeping jenny, and selaginella, just to name a few.  All sorts of ferns were mixed in among hundreds of hellebores.  She had about every shrub I could think of, and she was always adding the newest selections.  If she heard or read good things about a vine ( Schizophragma hydrangeoides 'Moonlight' comes to mind), tree, shrub or perennial she didn't have, she called around until she found one.  Thus, her garden was also a sort of laboratory for figuring out what would grow well in our area.  If  something didn't work, she got rid of it.

In addition, the photo ops were great.  Granted, you could never capture the incredible beauty of her garden as a whole, but you could always zero in on individual flowers or a path here or there.  Margaret is also a master at plant combinations, so you could marvel at a row of deep blue iris growing in front of a yellow Exbury azalea.  One of my favorite slides (wish digital had been back then) is of a purple jackmanii clematis blooming in a maroon colored smoke tree.  Stunning.  Another combination I loved was a clump of dark maroon hellebores next to a daphne with dusky pink flowers.

Margaret, who is now 95 and who called this afternoon to tell me how beautiful her garden looks today (it was 32 degrees this morning and in mid-afternoon, it's 48), has scheduled things to bloom all year.  Of course, most years we can get away with that in Atlanta.  But even with setbacks with drought or early freezes or below zero temperatures (haven't had those since the 1980's), her garden bounces back and keeps blooming.

One thing I've taken for granted is the fact that when you pull up into Margaret's driveway, there's usually something in bloom.  I took the above photograph in late October.  In the foreground is Abelia chinensis.  Why this plant is so unknown in Atlanta, I don't know.  It starts blooming in July, attracts butterflies like crazy, and then fades to green in fall.  The flower panicles are shaped like lilacs.  In this photo, it is shown with Camellia sasanqua 'Pink Snow' in the background.

So, here I am writing about Margaret again, something I've done over and over on this site.  But, I can't help it.  There's always a new or old variety you haven't seen, the newest "Hosta of the Year" to check out, a miniature ajuga to admire that came from her friend Lindy, or a great combination to copy, like this cascade of flowers along her driveway.  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

If dreams came true

A friend of mine went through a phase of telling me what she had dreamed the night before.  You may agree that there's nothing harder to listen to than someone's stream of consciousness tales that make little sense.  My eyes would glaze over the moment she said, "You'll never guess what I dreamed last night." (Not to worry; this was long ago, and the person isn't reading this).

I mentioned in yesterday's post that I had a recurring dream (please, don't yawn) that I had a garden packed with sunny flowers.  It was a small garden, but I would go out and pick armloads of larkspur (don't know why that particular flower).  At the end of the dream I would discover that the garden really belonged to Ruth Mitchell, who in reality had acres of flowers around her 19th century farm house (the pilot for A Gardener's Diary on HGTV was shot in her vast garden).  I never knew what the dream meant.  It probably had to do with the fact that I longed so for full sun and had only shade (I now appreciate what one can grow in the latter, having seen so many great shade gardens).

There are so many types of gardens I admire and would like to have.  The above photograph was taken in Monet's garden at Giverny.  Oddly enough, this is not the garden of my dreams, although I would wish to be able to grow all those flowers.  I would need a little more green structure to reign in the chaos.  I think this is because I am such a disorganized person, always longing to be neat, but never am.

Anyway, yesterday's post showed a stiff, formal garden, so I thought I'd counter it with an opposite look.  Both are in France and couldn't be more different.  Given a choice of the two, I'd take this one, of course.  But, I'd definitely borrow some of the green borders from that stiff, formal garden in Paris, just so I would feel a little less chaotic.

Note:  I've tried to focus in on which flowers are in this photograph.  Here's what I can discern:  cherianthus (the orange which dominates), sweet william (one of the dark reds, but I'm not positive), hesperis (dame's rocket), poppies, iris, creeping jenny, lady's mantle and pansies.  The white in the background has me stumped.  I have a photo of a single white rose, but it's over by the lily pond.  In another view, I can see lots of white hesperis.  That may account for some of the white.  I tried to zoom in, but it was too digitized for me to figure it out.  Any ideas?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A garden to look down on

Lately I've been thinking a lot about garden styles since I've lost so many big trees and now have some sun - something I've never had here in 38 years.  I used to dream that I had a cottage garden full of sun-loving flowers.  Of course, the house and lot didn't look anything like mine (dreams are like that), but I do think that my obsessive longing for sun must have had an impact on my sub-conscious.

So, what does this have to do with the above photograph, obviously a formal style I would never want or even have a grand space for?  The fact is, I've already borrowed something from this garden, something I never dreamed I would do.

 I took this photograph in Paris from an apartment I rented in the Marais district when my two daughters and I took a trip to celebrate birthday/graduations.  I never saw one person in the garden, nor did I ever see anyone enter the opposite building.  I don't know if it was another apartment building or some kind of business headquarters or offices.  There was no one to ask, since the rental was through an agency.

I do have good memories of sitting by the open window with my breakfast (part of a fresh baguette slathered with unsalted butter and cherry Bonne Maman preserves - I haven't found that flavor in any store here) and a piece of Caprice des Dieux cheese (can't find that here, either), along with my cafe au lait.  I would study the garden and try to identify the plants they'd used - I could see peonies and an allium, and I thought those variegated trees could be some sort of cornus.  There is Clematis armandii over on the left. And those espaliers in the boxes looked like sasanquas, but why would the left one have flowers at the end of May?

If I looked to my right or left out of the window at my level, I saw something much more to my liking - charming mansard roofs with window boxes overflowing with ivy geraniums.  The photos I took almost looked like paintings of an old, rustic Paris.  The style was in total contrast to the scene below and was something that pleased my eye much more than the stiff lines of the formal garden.

Yet, here's what I did.  I have a rectangular space surrounded by a rather unkempt hemlock hedge.  When I go on the back balcony (actually, I've always referred to it as a concrete deck), I look down on that area.  This past May, as I was staring down at the tall hedge with boxwood borders, wondering what on earth I could do now that two large oaks were gone, it hit me.

I came in here to the computer and brought up this picture.  See the two squares flanking a rectangle on each side of the center lawn?  At my house, where there used to be a rectangular lawn that never had enough sun to survive, I have made this same configuration, only I just have a single row.  Right now, I have cobblestones as the outline, and I haven't covered the surrounding hard pack clay with gravel (may have to go with sand to save money).   I put a wire obelisk in the middle of each square.  In the rectangle I have a taller tuteur I bought 25 years ago.

Right now, my composition looks awful.  There is a jumble of moribund tomato vines clinging to the wire frames, and some zinnias flopped everywhere, a couple still producing bright red blooms.  These temporary plants are headed to the compost bin soon.  Then, I'm going to make some decisions about what to put in the middle and how to make a very low box border to replace the cobblestones.  For the winter, I'm going to put two tall ivy topiaries in each square (that is, if I can get the containers moved - I'm afraid the ivy roots have grown into the ground where I plopped them some years ago by the basement door).

So, by next summer when I have it all together, I should have two squares and a rectangle within a rectangle surrounded by two rows of boxwood and a hemlock hedge (both already there).  Of course, it will be much smaller and narrower than the garden above and looser in feel.

 I've dreamed of gardens I wanted, but never, ever would I have thought I'd ever choose this one to copy.  I must say, though, that I love it already, as crudely done as it is, and I look forward to next year when I can show you my version of a garden to look down on.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My avoidable baseball error

Finally, I am able to look at the above photograph of this beautiful chartreuse version of Boston ivy and not cringe.  But, it's taken me a while.

Back in the era when I depended on catalogs and books for plant information, really before we were googling everything, I wrote something that was totally wrong in my column in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution.  Before that day, I had made mistakes (misused the word "peltate", said a tree was an oak, when it was really a pecan, etc.), but nothing like this.  I still remember the sting of embarrassment over making such a glaring error that it caused an uproar among readers.

Here's the story:  My husband died suddenly of a heart attack in 1999.  He had many passions, but at the top of the list was baseball, and at the top of that list was the preservation of Fenway Park, the venerable home of the Boston Red Sox.  He was beside himself that the old ball park was in danger of being torn down.  He wrote letters and talked to anyone who would listen.  He even had a bumper sticker on his truck that read "Save Fenway Park".

He was such a devotee that the evening before he and I were to take our daughter to St. Paul's School for the first time (she was going into 9th grade and was petrified over the whole boarding school idea), the three of us sat shivering in the misty cold to watch the Red Sox play, so he could experience Fenway Park.  A couple of years before that, our family was touring Boston, and he had begged a worker to let us into the ball park even though there was no game.  My husband showed us the famous left field wall known as the Green Monster and explained that it was so high a player could be robbed of what would be a home run at any other ball field.  I took a photograph of him pointing to the Green Monster.  He framed the picture and put it on a shelf in his library.  I must have looked at it a zillion times.

Fast forward a handful of years after his death.  I was looking through one of my favorite catalogs and saw a chartreuse form of Boston ivy called 'Fenway Park'.  I went crazy.  What a great plant to have in his memory.  I could put it on the wall of the family cemetery in Tate, Georgia.  Also, I was excited about introducing a fabulous new cultivar to readers of the AJC.

I found someone who had a good specimen so I could take a photo (on the above mailbox) to go with my column.  But here came the error.  The writer of the catalog said the plant was a sport from the Boston ivy growing on the Green Monster at Fenway Park in Boston.  I repeated the information.  It never occurred to me to verify the story, nor did I think to look at the picture of my husband.  I did think about how pretty the Boston ivy was at Wrigley Field in Chicago and how Cubs fans valued the vine, even though at times balls had gotten stuck in the foliage and caused problems with plays.

But that's all the thinking I did. 

The paper came out on Thursday, and the e-mails started. The Features editor called.  The "Corrections" editor called.  There was no vine on the Green Monster and never had been, one man informed me.  A woman wondered if I had gotten Fenway Park mixed up with Wrigley Field.  Another irate man said you never call a ball park a "stadium".  Even his eight year old son knew better (I used "field" and "ball park", but I also used "stadium", as the writer of the catalog had done).  

I called Dr. Michael Dirr, who was kind, but said he knew the minute he read it that the information was wrong.  He gave me the telephone number of the man from the Arnold Arboretum who had discovered the sport so I could write a correction for the paper. 

The real story was that Peter Del Tredici, a senior research scientist at the arboretum, was walking to a baseball game with his son in September 1988.  He looked up as the sun was setting and noticed that some of the Boston ivy on an apartment building a few blocks from Fenway Park seemed to be glowing.  The lower portions of the vine were the typical dark green, but the leaves up high were bright yellow.

A few weeks later, Del Tredici obtained cuttings. When he determined that the plant was stable and would hold its color (depending on the exposure, either chartreuse or chartreuse/yellow), he sought permission from the Boston Red Sox to name the vine 'Fenway Park'.

I'm glad to say that I'm just about over the incident and am ready to buy the vine (sorry to say, I can't plant it in Tate due to a family feud over spaces in the cemetery).  But guess what.  When I looked on-line, there it was - the exact story about its being a sport from the Boston ivy growing on the Green Monster.  That's okay.  At least Parthenocissus tricuspidata 'Fenway Park' is still for sale.  And, maybe all those readers no longer remember the lady who "needs to go to a Red Sox game so she'll know what she's talking about."

Friday, November 11, 2011

To my favorite veteran on 11-11-11

Dear Uncle Claude,
It was so great to talk to you on this Veterans' Day.  You and I were on the phone at the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day in a year that ends with 11.  You sounded so good, so sweet and friendly and caring, as always, and you called me by my name.  I can't tell you how much that meant to me.  Aunt Wynette tells me that you won't remember our conversation, but that's okay.

The picture I've posted today is of Flanders Field poppies in a Georgia garden.  I noticed the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were wearing plastic ones at a benefit last night for England's National Memorial Arboretum.  You, of course, served in World War II, but the poppies are a reminder for all veterans everywhere that we'll never forget your bravery.

I am so happy to have a DVD of an interview with you, conducted by Georgia Public Television for their World War II veterans' project. The only thing is that you didn't tell the really horrible things that happened.  You were so humble and never took any credit for your great courage.  Nor did you complain about all you endured.

Until the last decade (you are 88 years old), you never talked about what happened to you during the war.  I found the letters you wrote to your mother (you were the youngest of nine children, born when your mother was 43 years old).  My grandmother never knew what you were really going through.  You told me a couple of years ago that you didn't want her to worry.  Not once did you say that your feet froze as you crawled along the ground in the cold forests of the Vosges Mountains in eastern France, hoping to avoid the Germans whose shouts you could hear only a few yards away.

I won't go into the terrors you experienced as you made your way all the way to Berchtesgaden or how you came to have the swastika armband of an SS officer.  You were so young, from the community of Rico in the Georgia countryside,where there was only a crossroads with two churches and a one-room country store.  And, to think how many there were just like you.

Okay.  You would not like all this maudlin carrying-on.  I will, however, say how much my mother and her six sisters and brother all loved you, as well as your son and daughter and grandchildren and great-grandchildren and your many nieces and nephews.  You have been the executor of so many wills and have carried out the wishes of your aunts and sisters and have been the backbone of my mother's large family.  You and Aunt Wynette have comforted all of us when we've needed your strength.

So, I think of you today and am grateful for you and for everyone who has served in the armed forces.  Thank you so much.

Your loving niece,

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Staying home for the ginkgo

Margaret Moseley has dug in for the duration, and nothing can pry her away from home for the near future.

"Everybody who knows me knows I will not leave home this time of year until the ginkgo leaves have fallen," says the 95-year-old, whose garden has been the subject of television shows and has appeared in magazines, newspapers and books.  "I'm not going anywhere, even to get my hair fixed."

What is this about?  Margaret planted a ginkgo tree right outside her large sun porch around 30 years ago. "It was about the size of a broom handle, about three feet tall," she recalls.  "It's now over 40 feet high.  My friend Cy says they are slow growing, but mine just took off."  Every November, the leaves turn a bright gold and then all at once, within an hour's time, they fall to the ground.

"It starts with just one leaf coming down," she says.  "And then, there will be three, and that's when I know that they are all about to fall.  If you see that one leaf, you'd better find a comfortable chair because you're about to see a show.  One of my daughters happened to be over here one year when the leaves started falling.  She went out there and stood while they just rained down on her.  She couldn't believe it."

Several years ago, a pine tree crashed down in Margaret's yard, taking out one side of the ginkgo.   "Everybody in Atlanta knew it, because I called them up and told them about it.  I cried for days.  But now, you can't even tell it ever happened."

Yesterday, as I was driving around, I noticed the ginkgo trees around town had turned yellow.  This morning I called Margaret to check on the progress because last night, it rained, and today is gray and windy and cold.

"It looks like the sun is shining out there, it's so bright overhead," she told me.  "It's the prettiest thing you've ever seen."

Margaret estimates that the leaves still have at least a week and a half, because some of them are still green.

"My daughter has invited me to Thanksgiving at her house, and I've already warned her.  If the ginkgo leaves haven't fallen, I'm not coming.  I wait a whole year to watch this happen, and I'm not going to take a chance.  I'll just stay here and eat a peanut butter sandwich."

Note:  I took the above photograph several years ago at my church, Peachtree Road United Methodist in Atlanta.  I'm taking my camera this Sunday in hopes of capturing the tree before the leaves fall.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Obsessed with an American native

If only I'd had my camera with me on Monday afternoon at approximately 5:15 Eastern Standard Time, I would have finally gotten my picture.

Every day for three months, I've pulled out of my driveway to admire my favorite native tree, the sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum), in its glorious autumn color.  On my property, I have several sourwoods, but they are all very tall, so I don't have a prayer of getting a decent photograph.

But the one on the edge of the neighbor's woodland, right across from my mailbox, is within the camera's zoom capacity.  You just have to be there at the right time, because if the sun is not shining at the exact angle, it doesn't work.  I came close with the above photograph, but the ideal time would have been that moment when the afternoon sun was shining on the luminous red-orange leaves, and you could see the cream colored flowers still clinging from the month of June when they first appeared.

I don't recall what year it was that I discovered the beauty of the sourwood tree, but I was late to the game.  Once I saw there was a tree that bloomed in June with cream-colored, bell-shaped panicles on glossy green leaves, I couldn't believe I'd never noticed it before.  And then, I started seeing them everywhere, especially on trips to north Georgia (sourwoods are native over a wide range of the eastern U.S., from Virginia and Ohio over to southern Illinois and down to the Gulf Coast).

The sourwood is the first tree to turn, usually by August.  The color persists well into November, so you have months of fall color that is either the color above or deep red that is sometimes splotched with purple (like one of the trees I stalk up on Ridgewood Road).

Speaking of the latter, if my dog knew to be embarrassed, he would have been ducking down the other day while I was parked on the side of the road.  I kept dashing out into the street to get my shot.  It really wasn't any good.  Cars kept coming, and it was beginning to get dangerous.  Plus, I noticed that people weren't exactly smiling as they passed by.  Surely they would have been more cordial if I could have told them that this was a special tree, one they'd be obsessed with, too, once they'd come to appreciate its great beauty.

More facts about sourwoods:  Sourwood honey is highly prized; the panicles are fragrant;  it is also known as lily of the valley tree; if you travel along the back roads of north Georgia in late June, you'll notice the trees in bloom; it's said if you chew the leaves, it relieves dry-mouth, but since there's a laxative effect, that may not be a good idea.  Mike Dirr says this:  "Truly an all season ornamental...many gardeners feel, among native trees, this is second only to Flowering Dogwood; certainly one of my favorite trees...".

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A hybrid camellia through war and peace

What irony.

This beautiful hybrid camellia,  C. x 'Showa-No-Sakae', blooms in fall along with the sasanquas.  It was named in honor of Emperor Hirohito of Japan (1901-1989), meaning Glory of the Showa (Showa indicating the Era of Enlightened Peace beginning with the ascent of the emperor in 1926).  It is actually a very old Chinese/Japanese hybrid which was brought to Europe by Dutch traders in the mid-19th century.  It was officially named in Japan in 1928.

So, where is the irony in all this?  Probably in my mind, as someone who was born four years after Pearl Harbor and who spent her early childhood years being terrified that the Japanese would attack us again.  Maybe it was the fact that so many war scenes were shown at the movies.  Or, perhaps it was the long summer days my brother, three years my elder, would invent war games and terrify me, telling me that the plane that had just passed over our house had an orange sun painted on the wings.

But that was long ago, and really the only irony is that this innocent flower, which is named for "enlightened peace", lived through some of the worst times of war - the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and and then Pearl Harbor and the horrifying atrocities of World War II.

Let me assure you that my fear of the Japanese and the names Hirohito and General Tojo - the latter much scarier - only lasted from about the first through the third grades.  My first grade class picture shows us all wearing dog tags, when we practiced what to do in the event a bomb was dropped.  I didn't know any better that it was the new Cold War and the Soviets that I should be afraid of, and not the Japanese.  

I am very off base here and am rambling indeed, but this thought process started when my 95-year-old friend Margaret Moseley pointed out this flower in her garden (she did not hesitate a beat in telling me the name of it, spelling it out for me to write down).  I'm always interested in the provenance of a plant, and I immediately raced home and looked up the history of 'Showa-No-Sakae'.

The important fact here is that 'Showa-No-Sakae' is an excellent plant to espalier against a low wall.  Some of the flowers on Margaret's shrub were semi-double with bright yellow stamens.  Others were very double, like the one pictured above.  All were beautiful and were more reminiscent of the sixty-odd years of peace we've had with Japan since the end of World War II than any of the times that came before.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The guru chooses a tree

Like so many followers of Dr. Michael A. Dirr,  I own a well-worn copy of his 1990 edition of Manual of Woody Landscape Plants.  He's written more books since then, but I've practically memorized many of his comments in his original tome about certain favorite plants.

For instance, when I see a katsura tree, I know what he says about this Japanese native.  "...if I could use only one tree this would be my first tree..."  

If you've ever seen this tree in spring, summer or fall, you can understand why.  The new spring leaves are a striking reddish purple.  In summer the color has changed to a bluish green.  By mid-October, the color is yellowish green with a tinge of apricot.  

Plant explorer Ozzie Johnson grows the weeping form right outside the back window of his home in Atlanta.  I first saw that tree 17 years ago in fall.  I should say I caught its fragrance before I saw it.  As fall progresses the leaves emit a smell that reminds me of cotton candy at a fair.  Dr. Dirr calls it a "delightful spicy (cinnamon) brown sugar odor."  

Anyway, this past June when I was in Ozzie's garden, I didn't even recognize the tree because it presented itself as a curtain of beautiful leaves at eye level.  I had to look straight up to see the top.  The branches cascade down like a fountain.  It is breathtaking.

But even the more rounded form of this tree is beautiful.  I caught the one above in October.  Unfortunately, I caught my shadow there at the bottom and someone's red sweater over to the side, but you get the idea of how this tree literally glows in the sun.

Cercidiphyllum japonicum  (sorry, I type in italicized words, but they don't appear so in the finished blog)
Deciduous; grows over a large part of the U.S., Zones 4-8; fast growing; plant in full sun and keep evenly watered until established.  Be mindful of watering during periods of drought.

Dr. Dirr has noted outstanding specimens of the tree near the town square in Amherst, Massachusetts, at Callaway Gardens in middle Georgia, at the Morris Arboretum in suburban Philadelphia, and on the campuses of Michigan State, the University of Illinois, Purdue University, the University of Georgia and the the University of Maine.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The lion's head maple - and it's orange

So sorry, but I had to.  I'm back in Bill Hudgins' garden with yet another orange tree.

I have photos of bright, gorgeous buttery yellow Japanese maples that form an umbrella above you, and of scarlet leaves that seem to be on fire when backlit by the sun.  But, I wanted to talk about this particular cultivar, and it happens to turn orange in autumn.

I started off the week on Halloween with a Japanese maple with very finely cut orange leaves.  I'm ending on an upright, compact plant that was one of the first Bill ever showed me.  This is Acer palmatum 'Shishigashira' (a.k.a. the lion's head maple).  I confess I can only identify it because of the bark.  And even then, I wasn't sure.  In the summer, the leaves of 'Shishigashira' are small and curled and remind you of parsley.  Here they appear larger, partly because of the angle and partly because Bill says that some of the leaves can be a bit larger and not so talon-like.

If you look closely, you'll see that the trunk of the tree is green.  The horizontal rings give it the look of bamboo. When you see it in person, it's such an unusual combination and completely unexpected.  Bill has this popular Japanese maple at his garden shop, and we featured it in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution several years ago.

The shape of the tree and its growth habit make it an ideal specimen to grow in a large container.  It also has a sculptural quality that works to frame a view, as it doe here.  In the background is the path that runs along the front of Bill's house with yet another Japanese maple in fall regalia, this time a soft burgundy.

Once again, it's the combination of the evergreens, the stonework and of course the extraordinary fall color (the spring is amazing, too, but that's another story) that make this garden one I keep going back to over and over again.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Diana's autumn garden sparkles

If I'd only known about you, Diana, back when we were desperately looking for autumn gardens for HGTV's A Gardener's Diary.

Every year, programming directors at the Home & Garden Television network told us we had to include gardens that were at their peak in fall, preferably October and November.  Easier said than done.  Just about everyone I called told me to try again in spring.

So, when Diana Mendes posted photographs taken October 12 in her garden on her Facebook page, I couldn't believe my eyes.  Every fall flower I could think of was represented - Korean apricot daisy mums in addition to several other chrysanthemums, Japanese anemones, all kinds of asters, including a bright blue one; golden rod, Mexican sage, swamp sunflower, Encore azaleas, Camellia sasanqua (an entire hedge of it) and roses everywhere.  She even had a yellow re-blooming bearded iris looking as fresh as if it were the month of May.

I finally got to see Diana's garden two weeks later, on October 29th.  You enter her sunny front yard through an arch covered with 'Heavenly Blue' morning glories. A patch of grass is surrounded on all sides by deep borders thickly planted with flowers.  Even though a few of the perennials I saw in the photos of October 12 had passed their prime, most were still going strong, and there were dozens more that had come into bloom  Her roses were gorgeous and came in every color imaginable.  More daisy chrysanthemums had opened up in shades of lemon yellow, peach, red and bright orange.  I don't know if I've ever seen that many fall flowers in one place.  Even spring perennials like adenophera (lady bells) and coreopsis were in bloom.  It was an explosion of color.

I had trouble choosing just one photograph, but I love the color of this rose (Diana regrets she doesn't know its name) and the contrast of its yellow center with the helianthus.  Diana says she picks flowers she likes and then brings them home and tries to find a spot for them.  It's hard, because the garden is so jam packed, and this doesn't even count the spring and summer flowers you can see are there.  

Diana has owned her house in the heart of the Virginia-Highlands section of Atlanta for 28 years.  During her career, she was able to manipulate the hours she worked so she could spend mornings in the garden.  She's retired now, and when she's not in the garden, she's out on hikes or doing dog and cat rescue transports.  In fact, she had to leave to pick up a dog that afternoon, so I told her I would be back.  She has a big patch of Amsonia hubrichtii that hasn't turned golden yet and I definitely don't want to miss that glorious sight.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bill turns toward the East

It used to be that Bill Hudgins regularly visited the flea markets of Paris or the pottery factories of Tuscany, looking for treasures for his own expansive landscape and for Lush Life, his shop in Atlanta where he sells accessories and plants for the home and garden.

But lately, Bill has been traveling to Japan, and I can now walk into his garden or into his shop and tell the difference.  More and more, a Japanese influence is manifested in the his choice of ornaments and plants, whereas before both the shop and the garden felt decidedly European, mainly Italian and French.

In the scene above, the placement of the boulders seems to suggest a penchant for Asian motifs, even if there were no Japanese lantern in sight.  The same goes for pruning techniques found throughout the garden.  Many of the trees are shaped to echo the forms seen in bonsai.  Even though classic obelisks and geometric shapes still abound in the garden, a large terra cotta pot that once would have contained a pyramid shaped boxwood might now hold a conifer pruned into a cloud form.

No matter what Bill's latest influence happens to be, he still captivates with his use of color and texture and form.  In the end, whatever he does, he does it well, and it is beautiful and pleasing to the eye.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It might as well be spring

The call can come at any time of the year, even in the dead of winter.

"You ought to see my garden today.  It's the prettiest it's ever been."  I can't tell you how many times I've answered the phone to hear these words from Margaret Moseley.  Margaret is 95, and every day she's out in her garden, inspecting the trees, shrubs and perennials she's planted over the last 40 plus years.

Last Friday, she called, as she does every autumn around the end of October.  "You've got to see these sasanquas," she said.  

While Camellia japonica is the star of Margaret's winter garden, it's her collection of the species Camellia sasanqua that makes her fall garden look like spring.  

Named varieties like 'Cleopatra', 'Cotton Candy', 'Jean May', 'Mine-No-Yuki' ( a.k.a.'Snow', 'White Doves'), 'Pink Snow', 'Setsugekka',  'Sparkling Burgundy' and 'Pink Icicle' (actually a hybrid, but in bloom now) add mostly white and pastel color throughout the garden.  The 'Pink Snow' planted along the driveway looks like a fountain of pink, with branches laden with flowers cascading down from a 20 foot tall shrub.  Next to it, 'Sparkling Burgundy', though not yet in bloom the other day, must have had thousands of buds on the enormous plant.

Pictured above is 'Martha's Dream', which is planted next to the house, something Margaret warns against with sasanquas.  "We had to cut half of it down last year," she said.  "I was just sick. But I should never have planted it here where it didn't have enough room."

From the looks of it, and the number of buds and flowers, 'Martha's Dream' never suffered a bit.  I could see on this visit that I will have to return in a week or so.  There'll be even more flowers that make you think of peonies and roses and spring.