Thursday, August 11, 2011

The happy accident


In the pilot for A Gardener's Diary, which aired on Home & Garden Television for 11 years, Ruth Mitchell, the gardener we visited, was talking about a mass of verbena that had clambered over a stump and was mingled with some low-growing roses.  It was a lovely combination, and when Erica Glasener, the host of the show, asked Ruth how she came up with the idea, Ruth answered with a laugh, "It was a happy accident."

I can't tell you how many times throughout the years we produced the series, gardeners would say, "It was a happy accident."  Sometimes, Erica would use the line to comment on a scene in a garden when there was an unplanned combination.  Of course, the editors and Kathryn (the executive producer) and I would jokingly apply the phrase to all kinds of situations, so a happy accident of some sort was always happening.

The picture you see above was a happy accident, for real.  An elderly couple who had been gardening for years asked me to come and identify the tree and vine that were blooming behind one of their huge rhododendrons.  I was so relieved that I recognized the plants.

The semi-evergreen vine, Bignonia capreolata, is native to the eastern part of the U.S.  If you drive up I-75 in Tennessee in May, you'll see tons of it climbing over trees and rocks in the median.  The species is reddish brown on the outside with a yellowish center.  The flowers in Tennessee appear mostly brownish yellow, if my memory serves me correct.  At the Atlanta Botanical Garden, the reddish-orange selection 'Tangerine Beauty' covers one of the arbors along the walk leading to the conservatory.  It makes a fabulous display in spring.  Another way I saw the vine used was in a back yard with a tall canopy of trees.  The gardener had installed chains that connected the trees and had strung 'Tangerine Beauty' all along the chains.  It was great looking, with those red trumpets hanging in a scalloped pattern above the ferns and stone paths below.

The white fringe tree is also a native.  Chionanthus virginicus is known around these parts as Grancy Gray-beard.  It's very showy when it's covered with big, fleecy blooms in May.  Although it's native to the eastern U.S. from New Jersey to Florida, it will also grow in parts of New England.

Even though both of these plants are native to the southeastern U.S., they will grow in a lot of places around the country.  You would want to seek out 'Tangerine Beauty', as it flowers more heavily than the species, and the color is more predictable.  It's hardy from Zones 6 to 9.  The American fringe tree grows in Zones 3-9.  This means a lot of us could enjoy this happy accident.