Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Where to go, what to do?



I have a trip coming up at the end of June.  My dear friend from grammar school is touring Scandinavia with her husband and their friends.  Then, she's flying in from Copenhagen to join me at Charles de Gaulle airport.  From there, we're going somewhere for two days before we take an apartment on the Ile St. Louis in Paris where we'll stay a week.  I like being with Linda in Paris, because she goes her way, and I go mine.  However, we go off on a lot of adventures together, too, so it is the perfect set-up.

Since I want to see gardens, I'll probably take day trips from Paris.  Pictured above is a path at Giverny.  I will go there again, but I'll probably sign up for one of those day trips on a tourist bus to get there.  When my daughters and I went to Giverny in 2006, it was in May (I think towards the end of the month).  It was so crowded that it was almost unbearable (check over to the left of the photo to get an idea).  We ate a terrible meal with terrible service at a huge price at the restaurant there, so I won't do that again.  Also, the line to visit the garden took at least an hour.  I'm sure it's always crowded in summer, but it will be fun to see what's in bloom at another season.

One place I want to see is the Roseraie de l'Hay.  I'm hoping it will be a cool spring and the roses will hold off until I get there.  But, that will be a day trip, as it is just outside Paris.  (An aside here:  I was in Paris in the summer of 1968.  My friend from college was there because her father, who later became Secretary of State, was involved in negotiations to end the Vietnam War  - which obviously didn't work.  There was a terrible heat wave.  My other college friend and I had planned to take courses in Paris for the summer, but it was so hot, we jumped a train to Scandinavia where it was sleeting and proceeded to go all around Europe and to England, Wales and Ireland, ending up in St. Tropez.  I could write for days about that crazy trip, but suffice it to say, it can be blisteringly hot in Paris in June.  I hope this won't happen again and ruin the roses).

But back to the question of where to go for those two days.  I've rented cars and driven in France and Paris before, but I don't like driving when I have jet lag.  Getting on the Paris peripherique is a nightmare anytime, but I can't imagine tackling it if I haven't slept.  So, we could take the fast train somewhere, but where?  Of course, I have gardens on my mind, and I'll be making that the focus of the trip.  Linda is agreeable to the idea.

I've never been to Brittany, and there's a garden I'd like to see there.  The catch is that it is closed on weekdays.  Even if I could get them to make an exception, once we got there by train, we'd still have to rent a car.  Linda's never been to the Loire Valley, but that would also involve a car.  Biarritz is another place I haven't seen, and there's a fast train to Bordeaux, but I don't know.  That seems too hurried.

I do have a book given to me by a French friend that lists gardens that are open to the public.  I need to study that for ideas.  I will report later when we decide where to go and what to do.





Monday, January 30, 2012

If at first you don't succeed

"

Every Sunday morning, for about 15 minutes, I am highly entertained by 98-year-old (she will be 99 in early May) Margaret Suddereth.  I pick her up for Sunday School at her high-rise apartment building on Peachtree Street, and she regales me with stories of our church, Peachtree Road United Methodist, where she has been a member since 1943.

Margaret is responsible for the garden you see above, which was originally conceived as a memorial to a minister's wife who died.  Apparently, the garden had languished over a period of years until Margaret, who is a go-getter and driving force behind fund-raising for many of the buildings at our church, took over the garden in the 1970's.  

"We've had every landscape architect in Atlanta out here trying to get it right," she said.  "It's been nothing but trial and error.  We've planted and then taken out I don't know how many times."

The garden has some disadvantages.  One, it is enclosed on all sides by buildings, making air circulation a problem.  Secondly, it's sunny and hot in most areas and shady in others, so watering requirements are different.

Margaret says that at one point, dogwoods (a symbol for our church is a dogwood blossom) were planted, but they performed poorly.  What did do well, however, were foster hollies, which got out of hand and eventually reached 25 feet in height.  No one could keep up with the pruning, and so they were cut down (I remember thinking this was a bad idea; I loved them).

The decision was finally made to create an all green and white garden.  Thus, some pink George Tabor azaleas were removed and replaced with 'White Empress' camellias (you can see their dark foliage up against the far wall).  The dogwoods were replaced with 'Natchez' crepe myrtles, and despite the poor air circulation, the latter have actually thrived.

On the sides, someone had planted 'Otto Luyken' laurels, which were spindly at best.  The dark green leaves looked like they'd been shot with bullets, there were so many holes.  Those were replaced with gardenias, which have yet to get white fly (I'm crossing my fingers).   The gardenias are special, because they are named for a nephew of our long-time fomer minister Don Harp.  Still, those vigorous bushes must be pruned after they bloom each year, but they do perfume the garden in June.

All sorts of ground covers have been tried, but dwarf mondo, pachysandra and ajuga have survived.  Other successful shrubs are Osmanthus fragens, the tea olive.  I love walking through when they're in bloom.

What you can't see is a raised semi-circle with a statue of St. Francis.  Margaret says this was originally a pool, but smokers would throw their cigarette butts in the water, and "it looked like a floating ash tray."

The hurdle now to overcome is the state of the American and English boxwoods.  They need good drainage and regular watering, so they've had problems.  I've suggested trying Korean boxwoods.  I feel they can withstand the extremes and grow well in planters and in the ground.

Even now, Margaret directs what should be done.  She can name every plant that's ever been in the garden, even the various annuals that have been tried over the years.

Margaret is one of those people who won't tolerate it when something doesn't work. She's ruthless.  If a plant languishes, it's removed.

"With gardening, you just have to keep trying until you get it right."

I think she has a great point.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Something I like in a country garden


I think I've mentioned before that my great grandparents lived along the Chattahoochee River in what I call a Southern salt box - a house with two stories on the front that sloped down in the back.  I wish I'd written down when the house was built - it was well before the Civil War.  Mother used to show us  holes in the wall where the Yankees had fired their guns.  There was also a secret closet behind the stairs where the valuables were hidden during the war.  On the top floor was an enormous spinning wheel, which disappeared along with other items when my Great Aunt Abby got dementia.

Anyway, the thing I loved most about this house was the yard with the giant gardenia bush and all the flowers that sprang up every year.  But, best of all was the scuppernong arbor.  I say scuppernong, because the fruit was golden instead of purple.  The purple ones we called muscadines.  I think that officially they're all one or the other, but I can't remember which.

At our family reunion in late August, the children would spend the entire time under the arbor, reaching up for the sweet grapes.  You had to hold them between your fingers and squirt the insides into your mouth, as the hulls were too tough to eat.

While I loved the delicious fruit (now when I walk into Publix in late summer when the scuppernongs are for sale, the fragrance takes me right back to that rickety arbor), I think it was just the shade of the vines overhead and the idea that you could find a little respite from the August sun that I liked best.  It was a good place to be, playing with your favorite cousins, after you'd stuffed yourself with Mr. Bill Melear's barbeque and Brunswick stew, along with white bread, potato chips and the sweet, but pungent pickles.

But back to the photo above.  I took this in a wonderful garden near my hometown.  The owner, Liz Tedder, has all kinds of gardens around an old plantation house which she restored.  This particular scene is of the muscadine (or scuppenong?) arbor, looking through to the herb garden.

Which leads me to the thought.  This is the time of year one should be planting these Southern grapes (they don't hang in clusters like Concord grapes).  Maybe this year, I can find a place at the farm for such an arbor.  I love how this one frames a view.  That would be ideal, but I'd be content with a simple one like my great grandparents had.  At least I would have a little taste of the past.  Sadly, Melear's (the one we frequented in Union City, Ga.) is long gone as is what I considered the one true barbeque.  I can't get that back, but I could grow scuppernongs, which would help recapture that feeling you had of being in the fold of your family in a place that seemed pretty enchanting on a hot August day.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A well-kept garden room



Yesterday's narrow entrance leads to the first of two very different garden "rooms" that make up Bill Reeves' back yard.  If I remember correctly, the wooden pergola in the foreground connects this shadier garden to a sunny garden with a lawn and flower borders.  The photograph was taken by Bill's son, Stan Reeves.

Here's what Bill wrote about this space for a garden club tour of his house and garden:

"Separated by a trimmed Leyland cypress hedge is the parterre shade garden of boxwood, hosta, pachysandra and hydrangea.  Guarding the pea gravel path is a pair of 19th century Italian stone dogs (labs) on pedestals.  The female figure in the center circle is probably English but was purchased in St. Simons, and the vintage birdbath (circa 1920) is from a Florida estate.

Miscellaneous terra cotta tiles are from a demolished structure (late 19th century) in Savannah.  A pair of Italian urns with zinc agave (French) flanks the garden exit."

Not all of the elements mentioned are visible in this photograph.  I could be disoriented a bit, but I believe the narrow passageway we saw yesterday is to the right side of the picture.  I seem to remember the pergola draped in Clematis armandii and the Australian tree fern were to the right as we entered. Then, we turned left to go under the wooden arch to reach the sunny English garden.

The garden room pictured here is more structured and formal than the sunny side.  Both gardens are embellished with ornaments gathered from travels.  The Reeves have been very generous in sharing their garden with visitors, and from the moment you enter, you can tell that the owners greatly enjoy every inch of their lovely creation.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The narrow way


Still channeling my childhood pastime of creating secret passages through the thick privet growing on the borders of our five-acre property, I'm drawn to places like the garden entrance above.  The owner, Bill Reeves, created this narrow passageway that leads to the back garden, which is divided into two rooms.

I was on a tour when I visited his garden.  It was so intriguing to walk through this richly planted area.  You had no idea of what lay on the other side, but you felt this great anticipation.  I was not disappointed.

A lot of times, you don't think about the side of the house as an opportunity to garden, especially if another house is not far away.  If you don't have a lot of room, the area could be a great opportunity to have a vertical garden.  In addition, that small strip on either side of the walkway is a good place for enjoying smaller plants that need to be viewed up close.  In this instance, a dwarf astilbe is tucked in on the left, along with heucheras with interesting foliage.  On the right, Begonia grandis, more heucheras and holly fern.  All of these plants appreciate shade.  This would also be a good place to try out some of those tiny hostas that might get lost in a larger setting.

Tomorrow:  What lies beyond this appealing passageway.



 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tunnel vision


I don't know if it's because I spent half my childhood carving hideouts from the huge privet hedges that surrounded my home, or if there is another reason that I am drawn to arbors and tunnels like the one you see above (the photograph was taken in early spring at a nursery in northern California), but I love that feeling of walking underneath such structures, especially when they are covered in foliage or flowers.

I have a tunnel that is 44 feet long.  It attaches to the back of my house.  The arches are made of iron and are covered with yellow trumpet vine, Campsis radicans 'Flava', which starts blooming in June and lasts through July.

I originally planted a double flowering wisteria, but it was a disaster in every way.  The blooms didn't appear until after the foliage came out and were hard to see.  The racemes looked like clusters of grapes that had gotten caught in an impossible tangle of vines.  And, quite naturally, the plants got away from me fast.  All of a sudden, I had thick, choking trunks going up the pillars of the arches.  On top, errant shoots stood up in every direction, looking like some Medusa-gone-wild with a crop of hair 40 feet long and six feet high.

The plants had been expensive mail order ones, but I was forced to cut them down to the ground.  Now, I can control the trumpet vine (believe it or not) much more easily.

But here's an odd thing.  I once noticed a snake skin - a long one - caught up in the canopy.  I somehow ignored this and didn't dwell on how it might have gotten there.  A few years later, I'd hired a young man to do some pruning, and had pointed out some pieces that were out of place to be cut back.  I was indoors when I heard this horrible scream.  I ran out to see the ladder knocked over and the young man pointing up.  There, resting in the vines was a coiled up black rat snake.  I had to admit it was a bit disconcerting, thinking I had probably walked under the creature a dozen times that day.

For days on end, the snake stayed, stretching himself along the iron connection pieces.  I was constantly checking to see if he was still there.  One day, I noticed that he was a lot longer than I had originally thought.  In fact, there was no way this same snake could have grown another four or five feet.  It dawned on me.  There were two of them.

In the spring, I see this type of snake a lot.  To be sure, I look up every time I pass through the tunnel.  I'll also find him/her coiled up in various places, especially in this new little garden I've made.

But, this isn't about snakes.  It's about the beauty of tunnels used in the garden.  Yesterday, I was searching online for garden arches.  I want to connect a series of arches in yet another garden place I'm making.  The above photo is of a laburnum tunnel.  You can see the line of trees and supports.  In another month or so there would have been long golden chains of flowers hanging down (note the cyclamineus daffodils; I love the swept back petals).

We can't grow laburnums in the South, but I did see such a series of arches in another California garden near San Francisco.  The gardener had trained deciduous magnolias on iron frames.  She had also planted clematis to grow up the trees.  It was a great look and lent some organization to an upper garden that might otherwise have been left wild.

I do have a photograph of my tunnel, but it was taken on a snowy day.  Finally, we have some sunshine,  and it's going to warm this afternoon.  Thus, I'll save my snaky, snowy tunnel for another time.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The beauty and the risk


On Saturday, I attended a lecture given by Scott McMahan, one of America's top plant explorers.  The subject of his talk was a recent trip to Asia to collect seed.  I was mesmerized.  His presentation took you to a part of the world most of us will never see - a little explored region (I'm not giving the country, just in case) where the tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans) grows into giant trees (the explorers at first thought they'd discovered a kind of evergreen oak), and the people consume only what they grow and barter with neighbors for their needs.  The outside world is all but cut off.

Scott, who owns a nursery in Clermont, Ga., and co-owns GardenHood on Boulevard in Atlanta, travels with Dan Hinkley (founder and former owner of Heronswood nursery in the state of Washington), who has made dozens of expeditions all over the world, and Ozzie Johnson, local plantsman and business owner, also a seasoned explorer.  The three have been on many trips together, looking for plants with ornamental value to share with the world.  Their tales of near death misses will make your hair stand on end.

On Saturday, Scott had us laughing at some of the stories of this recent trip and gasping in horror at others.

He showed us a photograph of a hotel set in a desolate mountain valley with looming peaks right in back.  Atop the four story structure was a giant, and I mean monumental, golden Buddha, as large and wide as the hotel underneath.  Although they appeared to be the only guests, the three guys thought they were about to spend the night in the lap of luxury as they entered a lobby with a marble floor.  The rooms were a different story.  Small and cramped, they were at least carpeted.  But, there was a catch.  Apparently water running off the mountains ran right into the hotel, so when you stepped on the carpet, there was a loud squish and visible water.  Scott says it made for a very uncomfortable night, just thinking about getting out of bed.  In addition, they found out the impressive Buddha was actually made of fiberglass.  Nothing in this remote area is at it seems, apparently.

Another photo showed a Buddhist monastery perched at the top of an impossibly narrow, mountain peak, soaring, needle-like, thousands of feet into the air.  Ozzie elected not to go, but Dan and Scott decided to make the climb, a choice they were soon to regret.

As they were half-way up, they were faced with a sheer limestone edifice.  The only way up was to climb a heavy chain.  This seemed doable at first, but then it became difficult to hold on.  The catch was, there was no going back down.  Finally, at the top, the enjoyment of the view was quickly tempered by the realization that the way down was possibly worse than the frightening ascent.  The two started down narrow, precipitous steps that followed the mountain's edge.  At first there was a pipe that served as a sort of guardrail.  Then, there was none.  Absolutely nothing but air was between the explorers and a sheer, thousand foot drop.  There was no room to turn around and no other way down.

Knowing that Dan Hinkley is petrified of heights, I was thrilled to learn that he is alive.  It is Dan who gave me permission to use the photograph above, taken in Nepal at a rare moment when the clouds parted to show Mt. Everest.  In the foreground, you will recognize the foliage of rhododendrons.  Many of the fabulous mature specimens you see in England on the northern coast of France (and some in this country) came from the Himalayas.  Explorers traveled to these parts of the world centuries ago and risked their lives to bring back beauty to share with gardeners and nurseries back home.

Dan, Ozzie and Scott are doing the same thing, though very responsibly, but they encounter many of the dangerous conditions that faced their forebears.  Their finds will go to botanical gardens and hybridizers in the U.S. and several other countries and some possibly to medical research facilities.  The plants you have in your yard likely came through these same channels, by way of adventurers, some of whom met their deaths on such expeditions.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Can spring be far behind?


It is a gray, rainy day here in Georgia, a day my late mother would have called "disagreeable".  There was no wind to speak of, but it wasn't exactly warm, either.   The forecast is for gray, gloomy days, but with fairly mild temperatures.  Tomorrow, it's supposed to rain hard all day.  There may be a peak of sun on Tuesday before more clouds move in.

I am not complaining, as I watch another front coming into the Pacific Northwest, and see all the frigid temperatures in the upper plains states.  But I did look for a photograph to bring a little cheer and the promise of spring.  I love this picture of Margaret Moseley by her (giant) Daphne odora, taken last year a couple of months before her 95th birthday.  She has several of the intoxicatingly fragrant plants and says some are already open.  Despite the weather, she walked to the back of the garden today to find there was more in bloom that she had realized.

"There's not a thing out there," she told me this morning.   I laugh, because it was only last week that she told me it was the prettiest it's ever been.  But she called this afternoon and left a message that it's not all as bad as she had thought.  Still, she believes it will be early February before the camellias make a big comeback.

But that's how it is with a winter garden.  You hit a mild couple of days, and you think spring's around the corner.  A cold snap comes, zaps all the open flowers and everything retreats for a while.  We are lucky here in the Southeast that we can have winter gardens, although it can be very disappointing to have a yard full of flowers one day, and ruined brown blossoms the next.

So, for the next few days, I'm going to hang indoors and dream about retaining walls and deer fences and all the wonderful flowers I'm going to have in the near future.  I'll be thinking, too, of the last lines of Shelley's Ode to the West Wind:  "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?" That always gives me hope on a gloomy January day.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The gardener who went out of her way


Today,  I'm remembering my friend Jan.  She passed away six years ago on January 19th after a long battle with inflammatory breast cancer.  Jan's lot wasn't easy.  She had a daughter who was born with what was in the end diagnosed as autism.  I think it might have been something else, but Jan spent a fortune trying to find out and help her only child.

Jan was divorced when her daughter was only a toddler, so she went the route alone.  It was a hard row to hoe without any support.  Jan's parents had died when she was in her early 20's, and her only supportive relative was an aunt who lived several states away.

Enter Jo and Cindy.  Since Jan had no one else to turn to, these two stepped in.  Jo was one of the stars of our ALTA tennis team (Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association), and Cindy was our coach.  When I joined up back in the mid-seventies, Jan and Jo were already members.  We stayed together as a team for over 20 years, taking trips to France and Florida together, and sort of becoming like a family.

Jan moved to southern California after her diagnosis, so taking care of her as her condition worsened was no easy task. Cindy and Jo flew back and forth to California, helping put Jan's affairs in order and making provisions for her child down the line.  They were there with her when she succumbed to the disease.

That spring, Jan and Cindy went to California and brought back items from Jan's estate.  They hosted a luncheon that Jan had requested as sort of a memorial service and passed out gifts from Jan to each person there.  I received some garden books which I treasure greatly.

At that luncheon was a gorgeous bouquet of the brightest flowers.  I had absolutely no idea what the fabulous orange blossoms were.  It turned out to be a type of Scotch broom (Cytisus x 'Lena') from Cindy's garden.

It had been several years since I'd seen the garden Cindy carved out of a grassy yard and a spit of woods at the back of her large lot.  After the luncheon, I went out to see and was bowled over.  Cindy, who had by then mostly retired from coaching (before that, she had been a stockbroker), was writing a novel and gardening big time.

Cindy is a "jump in with both feet" type of gardener who doesn't pay attention to rules.  She never read that you can't grow cheiranthus (orange wallflower) in Georgia or that ninebark (Physocarpus) is difficult to fit into a garden setting (her dark bronze 'Diablo' is wonderfully situated among other shrubs and ornamental grasses).  Her garden, which is expansive and must take a ton of work, is mostly free form, but shows that she is not afraid to plant what she likes.  And, she makes a success of it.

The above photograph shows gaillardia combined with Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii in Cindy's sunny front garden.  The latter plant gets huge and out of bounds on the western coast of the U.S., but is usually spindly at best here.  I've never seen it so healthy in Georgia as it is in Cindy's garden.

Back to the memorial luncheon.  Cindy had combined the brilliant orange-yellow branches of 'Lena' with dark blue veronica and some other flowers.  It was one of the most charming bouquets I've ever seen.  There may have been some blue iris passed along from Cindy's grandmother's garden in there, as well.

Cindy and Jo are still responsible for Jan's child, who is well into adulthood now.  They make sure she has a job and a place to live and receives an allowance.  So, in remembering my generous friend Jan, I also think of her two angels who have given so selflessly of their time and who brought much comfort and care to their friend during her long and hard fought battle.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A cheerful shrub for the right backdrop


I must really like this shrub, because in the photos (way too many) I've set aside for this blog, it appears three times.  Actually, I do love this plant, and every time I see it in bloom, it just bedazzles me.  The lemon yellow color, the dangly flowers and the lovely scent - all coming at the end of winter when you're so anxious for spring and need a cheerful sight.

If truth be known, I'm not sure which corylopsis this is.  The common name is winter hazel, but there are thirty-odd species (this, according to Wikipedia, but I could only read the beginning of the entry, as the site is dark today).   Mike Dirr lists only a few different species, which are hardy from Zones 5 or 6 to 8.  After reading posts from colder areas, I see that the shrub should be planted in a protected place, and blooms are not always reliable.  Here in Atlanta, in Zone 7-B, we have pretty good luck with the flowers; at least that's been the case in recent years.

At the Southeastern Flower Show one year, an exhibitor had a specimen in his display garden that had exceptionally long chains of flowers.  He had forced the shrub into early bloom, and it was just breathtaking.  Sad to say, I didn't write down who the exhibitor was, but I do remember that he was surprised at the length of the racemes, as well.  Also, he didn't know which species he had.

This is a marvelous shrub to grow, especially if you can give it an evergreen background as pictured above (I'd say this is crucial to show off the flowers).  This particular plant was tall - maybe to seven or eight feet.  If you prune just after bloom time, though, you can keep it more in bounds.  Ideally, if you have room, you could just let it go and enjoy all the light lemon color.

I'm writing this at least a month or more before corylopsis will be in bloom in Atlanta (well, one never knows;  it's in the 30's this morning, but it's supposed to be 68 degrees on Sunday; anything can happen).  However, given the confusion about the different species, it's probably best to buy a corylopsis when you can see the flowers.  You'll want to make sure you get one with two to three inch long chains (some plants have only one-inch racemes) and the light yellow color that literally glows on late winter days.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Color echoes in the garden


I don't know why I pick up a garden book at the end of the day when I don't need to get my heart pumping furiously.  While I was looking for something else, I came across British garden writer Pamela Harper's Time-Tested Plants:  Thirty Years in a Four-Season Garden.  I started thumbing through and wishing I could rob a bank to get all the plants she listed and a deer fence and retaining walls I so sorely need for my new garden areas (still in dream stage).

Pamela lives in Tidewater Virginia, and I went there to scout her garden for an episode of A Gardener's Diary.  I was there in early March, and we taped her show in early May.  Both times made my heart beat with the thrill of such wonderful plants so artfully arranged.  She had a red camellia that I lusted after (I wonder if it was destroyed in the hurricane that pummeled her garden the very next year).  I wrote to her to ask the name, but it turned out it was an unknown variety that had been given to her.  It was the most beautiful camellia I'd ever seen - big, bright red with semi-double petals.

But, there were many other things in bloom when I was there, although it was early.  She had these crazy cultivars of ranunculus.  My favorite was 'Brazen Hussy'.  I once bought that one, but it disappeared on me.  It had dark bronze leaves and bright yellow flowers.  Pam had a whole collection of buttercups.  I hadn't any idea there were so many different kinds with such interesting foliage.

In the episode of A Gardener's Diary, Pam talks about another book she wrote called Color Echoes.  The idea is that you pick certain colors and weave them throughout the garden, but with different flowers and foliage.  This especially works in her garden, which is basically a long rectangle bisected by a curving gravel driveway.  Since there are no "rooms" or different levels to speak of (she has created berms to lift certain plants out of the high water table), the concept is successful in drawing the eye to different areas and making the garden cohesive.

As I was scrolling through some photographs, the above scene made me think of Pam's color echoes.  I took this picture in an Atlanta garden that is mostly shady.  The owner has brightened things up by using splashes of yellow-chartreuse.  I tried to picture how uninteresting the rock would look if the plants were solid green.  The splotches of color on the farfugium (the large, rounded leaves in back) are picked up by the bright sword-like foliage of the hakonechloa (try to pronounce this!).  The latter literally glows, especially set against the dark dwarf mondo.  I love this simple, but striking combination.

For now, I'm going to put Pam's book away.  I'll bring it out when I can look at the photographs of such plants as Salvia 'Wesuwe',  Lunaria annua 'Stella' (which I used to grow, but no longer have the seeds), Rubus cockburnianus 'Golden Vale' and Phlox paniculata 'Norah Leigh' (with variegated leaves, no less) without risking my wildly beating heart keeping me awake all night.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Some musings on Margaret's winter garden


I wasn't surprised when I got the call last week from 95-year-old Margaret Moseley. "You ought to see out here," she said.  "It's the prettiest it's ever been."

If I had a nickel for every time I've heard these exact words from Margaret, I'd be rich.  Here it was, a day before more temperatures in the low 20's were expected, and there was no way I could get out to her house (I have to go through downtown Atlanta to get there; even in the middle of the day, you never know if there'll be a traffic jam) to see the spectacle.  Still, I could picture it.

"The Prunus mume is in full bloom, and, and oh, the 'Fragrant Pink' looks like a fountain, and 'Lady Clare' is loaded with flowers.  I wish you could see 'White By the Gate.'  I've just picked all the blooms so they won't freeze."

I remember when Margaret planted the Prunus mume (I'm thinking she had two and cut one down to make room for something else).  It was literally a little stick.  It's now a tall tree.  Japanese flowering apricot (which does produce fruit that is not edible) blooms pretty reliably in January in the Atlanta area and flowers for a good month or more.  Margaret's has light pink blossoms.

If you'll look at the post from June 9, 2011, you can see what Margaret means about her 'Fragrant Pink' hybrid camellia looking like a fountain.  This shrub literally covers itself in the loveliest pink flowers that run along the stems.  It's a prolific bloomer and seems to have an endless supply of buds.

'Lady Clare' is an antique camellia brought to England from Japan in 1887.  It has rose colored flowers with yellow stamens that stick straight out.  The leaves are large and dark and exceedingly beautiful, making this a plant that looks good in mid-summer.  Its other name is 'Empress'.  Margaret has the white form and has issued the following advice for years:  "If you see 'White Empress', buy it.  You may never see it for sale again.  It's hard to find."

'White By the Gate' is in front of Margaret's house.  It originated in Louisiana, where I first saw it.  The formal double blooms are the purest white.  I feel like this shrub doesn't grow as tall as other camellias, but it may be because Margaret keeps hers trimmed back.  The camellias in her back yard are like big trees, although she lets the foliage come all the way to the ground.

Now, to the photograph above.  I've used this as my computer wallpaper every January and February for three years.  I can't remember how I got above the bird house to take the picture.  I love the lichens growing on the roof.  The camellia, according to Margaret, is 'Governor Mouton', although this 18th century flower usually has white splotches.  Apparently, there can be a solid red form, as well.  The growth habit is spreading, as compared to the more upright 'Professor Sargeant'.  This is a brighter red flower and is a bit larger than the aforementioned.

Margaret didn't say anything about the hellebores, but I'm sure they are blooming, too.  She did mention that her daphnes are about to open.  I'm hoping to get out there next week and capture some of this  beauty.  How wonderful to be almost 96 years old and still be so excited about every day in the garden - especially in mid-winter.

Friday, January 13, 2012

How 'Annabelle' got her name


One of the hydrangeas the deer and I like best is the American native Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'.  Before the deer appeared in my woods around seven or eight years ago, the wild Hydrangea arborescens were plentiful, especially on the banks along the driveway.  These plants had flowers shaped like small domes and were a dull white.  Still, I had so many that it was impressive to see them in bloom all at once.

Today, I have one plant (wait, looking out my window, I'm not sure it's still there).  Most, I'm sorry to say, were whacked down by a man named Marvin.  He had removed a tree for me at a fair price, so I hired him to do some clearing.  We walked the property, and I asked him to get rid of all the privet and wisteria in a certain area.  As we walked down the driveway, I said, "Don't touch this bank.  These are all wild hydrangeas."

Well, you guessed it.  I came back to find Marvin glassy eyed and with alcohol on his breath.  All the hydrangeas were mowed down to nubs.  The privet and wisteria were still intact.  I had a terrible exchange of words with Marvin, and although he had done nothing I'd asked, he demanded the price we'd agreed on.  I said I wouldn't pay him until he had done the job.  Then he threatened me, and I stormed in the house, made out a check, threw it at him and told him never to come back.

The wild hydrangeas had just started making a comeback when the deer came.  At first they only snipped off the blooms.  Then, they started eating the leaves and stems.  I guess the plants couldn't take the double whammy, so I don't have them anymore.

Now, back to what I had intended to write about.  A local plantswoman, Linda Copeland, and Allan Armitage, the perennial plant guru from the University of Georgia, wrote an interesting book called Legends in the Garden, giving stories of some plant cultivars that originated in the U.S.  One of the chapters is about the 'Annabelle' hydrangea.

 Joseph McDaniel was a colleague of woody plant guru Michael Dirr when Dirr was at the University of Illinois.  McDaniel first saw the arborescens hydrangea with big balls of white flowers in Urbana in 1960 and traced the plant back to Anna, Illinois.  A man named Hubbard Kirkpatrick said that in 1910, his mother, Harriet, was horseback riding in the hills of Union County, Illinois, when she saw a hydrangea with large white ball-shaped flowers.  She and her sister brought the plant back to their garden on Chestnut Street.  Fifty years later, McDaniel found the original plant still growing in what had been the sisters' garden.  The plant had been passed along to other Illinois gardeners, but had never been named.

It was McDaniel who registered the name 'Annabelle' and who convinced nurseries to grow and sell the plant.

One of my best photographs ever is (unfortunately) in the form of a slide and shows a row of Annabelles with gobs of huge flowers, in Islesboro, Maine.  In the background is the sparkling blue Atlantic dotted with sailboats.  'Annabelle' is hardy where the macrophyllas are not, so that is a big plus.

The drawback?  Deer.  I stayed pretty much ahead of them this year by using the fertilizer Milorganite, but they still chomped some of the blooms and foliage.  I hope to have a deer fence up by the time the Annabelles are putting out this year.  I also want to get 'Incrediball', which is 'Annabelle' on steroids but supposedly with sturdier stems.

By the way, even though 'Annabelle' is named for a town, the town was named for the founder's wife Anna.  Yet another fact dug up by Linda Copeland and Allan Armitage.  Next, that is, after I take a photograph in the spring, I'll pass along the story of how the white azalea 'Mrs. G. G. Gerbing' got its name.  I'd always wondered who Mrs. Gerbing was, and now I know.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Longing for order in chaos


My friend Cathy Stopher is the kind of person I want to be.  She is amazing.  For years, she has taken charge of planning functions and heading up huge fund-raisers and organizing anything, whether for hundreds of people or for ten.  Whereas I might think of getting a group together for lunch, say, she will actually make the calls and do it.  Meanwhile, the day I would have chosen would pass with nothing happening, except my woeful regrets.

Cathy's home in Florida where she spends part of the year is perfection.  The soaps match the towels exactly, and the glasses in the bar are all lined up perfectly.  The cabinets where cereal and such are kept look like a display in Williams-Sonoma.  When something gets out of place, she cleans it up immediately.  By contrast, sometimes I go into the kitchen at dinnertime, and I will have forgotten to clean the coffee pot.  But Cathy can be organized and neat and is still tons of fun and the life of the party.  She is so dynamic that for weeks after I'm with her, I find myself mimicking her gestures and her infectious laugh.

I long for her kind of order, with the exuberant personality attached.  I think that's why gardens like the one pictured above appeal to me.  I like the granite paver borders, the clipped boxwood, the symmetry of the trees.  But I also like the vine clambering up the structure in the background and the varied plantings within the box borders that don't quite match.

This photograph was taken at probably one of the worst possible times for an Atlanta garden.  I called the owners, Pat and Ted Plomgren, and asked if I could run over and take a few pictures.  It was a hot July day, and they weren't expecting visitors to the garden.  Still, with the good hardscapes and well laid out plantings, it was all still so pleasing to the eye.  At once ordered and perfectly arranged, but with personality and tons of appeal.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Not a normal year, or is it?


This photograph of what we call jonquils here in the South, but which are officially Narcissus pseudonarcissus, was taken February 28, 2011.  A similar shot (also revealing the poor condition of my countertop) shows a huge bouquet of these same flowers, gathered from my woods on March 10, 2009.

So, on this past Monday, which was January 9th, I was up at the little house transplanting some sasanqua seedlings when I spied something yellow on the slope behind the cottage.  Daffodils (these days I say daffodils and not jonquils), already blooming!

I picked nine of the flowers before it started to rain.  I'm not showing them, because they are in an empty jar of Paul Prudhomme's Blackened Redfish Magic seasoning.  Plus, my countertop is in even worse shape than above.

But, what on earth?  We've certainly had bouts of unseasonably warm weather before.  However, I don't recall these flowers blooming in early January.  Late January, yes, but not this soon.

On Sunday, I noticed a scattering of yellow blooms on some Carolina jessamine on a neighbor's fence.  I also have a few blooms on my white flowering quince, and a couple of open flowers on some forsythia.   The 'Ice Follies' daffodils are up and budded.  The yellow mahonia flowers, usually at their height in February, are beginning to taper off now.  Never have I seen the latter bloom in December as happened this year.

But, not to worry.  The plants always seem to survive these crazy fluctuations and return to normal the next year (if there is a normal anymore).  Last week, it went down to 22 degrees and turned all the open camellias brown.  Yesterday, I noticed the flowers were blooming like crazy once again.  They are certain to take a beating at the end of this week when it turns cold again.

Even though these daffodils were early, they still had that unmistakable fragrance.  One whiff, and I am transported back to my yard in Palmetto, Georgia, and I am picking jonquils for my teacher.  The juice is running out of the stems, and my mother, who has been watching me out of the kitchen window, brings some wax paper and wraps them up.  The next morning I arrive with my offering.  The gesture doesn't make my first grade teacher Miss Nellie Keith any sweeter, but I feel good about giving her the flowers.

Back to the present.  I don't know who planted these bulbs or when (the contractor who repaired the little house found newspapers on the walls from 1937; the deed lists it as having been built in 1926), but they have been going strong since I came here in 1973.  There have been years when they were early and years when they were late.  One year, we had a blizzard on March 13, and it broke all of them off.  That's the only time I can remember that they succumbed to the weather.

Even though it's turning cold and windy now, I'll go up this afternoon and see if any more are blooming. I imagine there are lots more to come, so I needn't worry that these few were extra early.  I'll keep you posted on whether this is a normal year or not.  It's pretty likely that I won't be able to tell.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I knew Pearl when


I remember the exact year I met Pearl Fryar.  January 1990.  The reason I can recall the month and the year is because when I first saw Pearl's topiary garden in Bishopville, S.C., I could see the destruction from Hurricane Hugo in the distance.  The massive storm had laid waste to places like Charleston and Pawleys Island, S.C., in September 1989.  Pawleys is the beach where my family (my husband, children, his mother and sister and her family) had vacationed since 1976.  The Tip Top Inn where we had stayed was washed away.  The island recovered, and my girls and I still go there.  The only year we missed was 1990.

At any rate, here it was January, and I was looking for something suitable for winter to write about.  I called up another writer Tom Woodham to see if he knew anyone who did topiary.  How fortuitous.  Tom, who then lived in Atlanta, had just been home to Bishopville, S.C., where he had made an incredible discovery.  A man named Pearl Fryar had a yard full of topiary he'd trained and clipped himself.  "You're not going to believe your eyes."

And I didn't.  I drove four hours (with the blessing of the AJC editor) and turned down Pearl's street.
What I saw were these objects everywhere, like green pieces of art.  Pearl had carved almost every shrub you could think of into all sorts of shapes - some classical that you would see in an English garden; some abstract that reminded you of giant ballerinas; animals (he had a tiger for Clemson and a gamecock for the University of South Carolina); letters that stood about four feet high, spelling out L-O-V-E; tall complicated sculptures that revealed limbs in a wish-bone pattern; plus spirals, hearts, balls and diamonds with balls sitting atop.  I can't even begin to list the shapes, nor can I write down the variety of plant material he had used.  Besides the obvious Japanese and yaupon holly (he had his address spelled out parterre fashion with dwarf yaupon), he had every evergreen you can think of.  Even deciduous trees like dogwoods had been coaxed into various shapes.  I remember one dogwood that had limbs forming a swing.  It was mind-boggling.

My feature article came out in the Atlanta paper in February 1990.  Pearl always claimed that was what set off his career, which is laughable.  He was already being pursued by newspapers, national magazines and television.  Before we knew it, Rosemary Verey, the famous English garden writer and author of many books, was paying a visit.  Busloads of tourists began arriving,  many of them from other countries.  Pearl had to hire an agent to book lectures and demonstrations all over the U.S.  To this day, he is pursued by the media and has caught the attention of the New York Times, Martha Stewart, CBS Sunday Morning and on and on.  Someone made a documentary about him.  He even has his own Web site, PearlFryar.com.

All this publicity is well-deserved.  Pearl has a talent that I don't think we'll see again.  He can look at a plant and envision what it could become.  On my first visit, he sent me home with an upright juniper and some string dyed with shoe polish.  I was supposed to wrap the string around the plant, then cut into it to make a spiral.  I only completed the first part and then had to remove the string.  I couldn't make myself do the necessary cut.

I believe Pearl could fashion a topiary in his sleep.  He uses gas hedge trimmers and cuts so fast that you can hardly follow what is happening.  Most of the specimens in his three acre yard have taken time and much trimming to fulfill his vision.  But, he can also make a spiral in seconds or do a cloud form, Japanese style topiary in five minutes' time.

Erica Glasener took the photograph above when A Gardener's Diary did our second episode on Pearl.  I had been mystified when I first saw what he'd done in 1990, but by 2005, I was incredulous.  There Pearl was, walking about on a giant mushroom made of live oak, trimming yet another piece on top.

I have to stop here, because there's so much to Pearl's story that I'm omitting.  Suffice it to say I'll be writing about Pearl again.  Once, I was supposed to be his Vanna White type assistant in a demonstration.  It turned out to be a disaster, due to my faint heartedness.  Pearl was kind, though, and smoothed things over.  More on what happened later.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Stella's last request


One of the rewards of writing a garden column for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution was getting to meet gardeners.  I'm trying to think.  Maybe there was one grouchy, unpleasant person in the whole bunch (actually, I believe this may have been someone I scouted for A Gardner's Diary), and I bet I interviewed at least a thousand gardeners, if not more.

A person I'll forever hold dear to my heart is Stella Smith.  I don't remember who gave me Stella's name, but to this day, this wonderful gardener continues to inspire me.

Stella was a barber.  Not a hairstylist in a beauty salon, but a barber in a barber shop.  A jolly person who was short of stature and who wore her hair cropped extremely short, Stella loved her garden, which was set in a spit of woods on a gently sloping hillside near the State Farmer's Market in Forest Park.  Of all the people I heard say, "Put a $1 plant in a $10 hole," or versions of the advice, it is Stella's quote I remember most.  She had stacks of bags of manure and Nature's Helper, and the health of the flowers, shrubs and trees in her garden served as testimony that her strategy worked.

I particularly remember a large patch of Madonna lilies she had growing in a sunny spot by the road.  These  beautiful white lilies don't usually do well in Georgia.  Early on, I fell victim to the catalogs and for several years running ordered them, only for them to bloom once and then disappear.  They came back for Stella, though.  I don't know her secret, but she also had bags of lime she used in her soil concoctions.  That could have been it.

One day, Stella called to tell me that she had terminal liver cancer, and the doctors didn't give her very long to live.  She said she had a favor to ask me.  She wanted to see Ryan Gainey's garden.   An avid reader of garden magazines, she knew all about the Decatur garden of this world famous garden designer.

I called Ryan, and he graciously said to come any time.  So, on a beautiful day in May, I picked Stella up.  She was weak and had trouble catching her breath, but was beaming with anticipation.

Stella was thrilled to meet the renowned designer, and she mustered every ounce of strength to examine his magnificent garden.  She said it was even more beautiful than she had ever imagined and marveled at the profusion of flowers and interesting plants.  She knew them all.

When I dropped her back at her house, she asked me to wait a moment.  She came back out with a book.  It was a well-worn copy of Wyman's Gardening Encyclopedia.  She said it had been invaluable to her, as the volume listed information on just about any plant and contained explanations of garden terms, as well.  She had written an inscription:  "To my friend, Martha Tate.  Enjoy!  Stella Smith, May 18, 1994".

I never saw or talked to Stella again.  There was never any answer when I would call, so I don't know when she died.

This treasured book turned out to be a godsend for me and still sits on my desk today.  Before the days of DSL and quick access to information via the Internet, I depended on this comprehensive work to research newspaper columns and for writing plant portraits for A Gardener's Diary.  The book had been a gift to Stella, as well.  Another inscription read:  "Merry Christmas and Best Wishes for a prosperous New Year.  Jim & Linda, 1975".

The above photograph shows one area of Ryan Gainey's garden years later in the month of June.  I've seen his wondrous creation many, many times, but being there that day in May, with a seasoned gardener who appreciated every leaf and flower, was perhaps best of all.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A famous landscaper's mystery camellia


It was almost dark Monday evening when Susan Butterfield Brooks and I ventured out into the cold wind that was descending fast.  She had a pair of clippers.  We crossed the street and headed down the driveway to the back yard of Susan's neighbor, 98-year-old Jimmy Henderson.

We were on a mission to pick as many camellia blossoms as we could before the temperature plummeted that night.  By the next morning, all the open flowers would be ruined by the predicted 22-degrees.  Susan had permission from Jimmy to pick bouquets anytime.

The camellias were really trees, limbed up from the bottom and reaching a height of at least 15 feet.  We had to reach up and pull down branches.  Susan would hold, while I clipped.  She let me know right off that she liked longer stems, so I quickly changed my modus operandi.  I'm glad she directed me.

First, we picked Camellia japonica 'Professor Charles S. Sargent'.  The red camellia is easy to recognize, with its tufted middle.  Next, we hit a tree loaded with red and white variegated blooms.  The flowers were larger than 'Professor Sargent', also with a tufted middle, only much looser.  The variegation I would describe as red splotched with white.

It was getting colder and darker when we reached the tree with the white flowers.  I first thought 'White Empress', but soon realized the blooms weren't large enough.  The idea was the same, though, with semi-double petals and yellow stamens that stood out in the middle.

When I got my bounty home and made some bouquets, I was most intrigued by the white flower.  It was so exquisite and so delicate that it appeared to be artificial.  The flowers were, in fact, see-through.  I could put my finger behind a petal, and you could see the outline.

All of these camellias are special because they were planted by someone I greatly admired.  Jimmy's wife was the late Edith Henderson, a much-admired and well-known landscape architect who designed many gardens in Atlanta and around the Southeast.  In the years when I was becoming obsessed with flowers and gardens, she wrote a column for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution.  I hung every word.  When they changed columnists, I was bereft.  I was glad when her book, Edith Henderson's Home Landscape Companion, came out in 1993.  By then, I was a garden columnist for the paper, but I still missed her weekly descriptions of plants and ideas for landscaping.

I have some detectives on the case.  I first called 95-year-old Margaret Moseley who studied pictures in her camellia book.  She called me back to suggest 'Silver Waves'.  I looked it up online, but the petals on this camellia are more oval.  There's an ever-so-delicate "spoon" edge, meaning that the rim of the petal is curved in.

Then, I caught North Georgia Camellia Society guru John Newsome as he was walking in the door.  He immediately said 'Silver Waves', as well.  There's definitely a resemblance, but it's those rounded-oval petals that are different.  John now has a computer, so I've sent him a picture.  I'll be interested to see if it can be identified.  He said there are many old varieties around that remain a mystery.  This may be one of them.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

O Happy Day! A Gardener's Diary is back!


This is a great day!  I just watched an episode of A Gardener's Diary, one of HGTV's original shows that launched with the channel in 1995.  The show was about a beautiful garden around an ancient mill on a river in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  There are some great ideas for landscaping in this episode and some great plants to consider.

Kathryn MacDougald, Mimi Fuller Foster and I started A Gardener's Diary, and it ran for 11 years on Home & Garden Television (HGTV).  We went all over the U.S. and even to Canada to tape episodes.  Our idea was, instead of giving you a quick six-minute tour of a garden as was the case on Victory Garden (at the time we launched one of only a few garden shows on television), we'd take you to a garden for an entire episode.  That way, you'd get to know the gardener, see a lot more plants and have an in-depth look at a private garden you'd otherwise not get to see.

We shot the first episode in June 1994.  The channel came on the air on December 31, 1994, and our show debuted the next day.  At the time, there wasn't a lot of programming, and the episodes would run several times a day and into the night.  We've never had an official count, but we ended up making well over 225 episodes.

In late 2006, we were set to do two more years of 26 episodes per year.  I had already scouted some gardens, and we were all set to go.  Then, a terse e-mail from our editor at HGTV.  There will be no more episodes of A Gardener's Diary.  "Tomorrow is my last day," he wrote.  No further explanation.

A new president had just arrived at the channel, and I'm guessing that because it was the height of the housing boom, they wanted to make more shows about flipping houses and couples deciding on which house to buy in a hot market.  The garden shows that survived were about quick makeovers, with a team coming in and sprucing up a lot.  Our show was basically a comprehensive tour of an already established garden.  We had a lot of followers who were disappointed when it was canceled.  People who desperately missed the show asked to buy video sets.  Some of the old episodes were shown for a while, but then it was taken off the air.

But, we're back, this time on Hulu.com.  Erica Glasener, the host of A Gardener's Diary, sent me an e-mail with a link to our show.  I don't know enough about technology, and I don't know how many of our shows they'll stream, but this is an exciting day.  A Gardener's Diary is back!

Pictured above is a path in Louise Poer's garden which was featured on an episode of A Gardener's Diary.
http://www.hulu.com/watch/315463/a-gardeners-diary-a-renovated-mill-garden

If I only had a sidewalk


I love sidewalks, but Atlanta is not much of a sidewalk town.  Not that certain neighborhoods in the city don't have them; many do.  But mine doesn't.  Not even close.

But if I did have a sidewalk, I'd want it to look like this.  The garden pictured above is in the eastern part of Atlanta, in an area that had once fallen on hard times, but has made a huge comeback.  All through good times and bad, it has had sidewalks.

Brooks Garcia, a popular and very experienced garden designer, moved into this house (seen in the upper right hand corner) several years ago.  He immediately started planting in every available space.  The scene above, which includes the climbing antique rose 'Silver Moon' and a mass of yellow Phlomis fruticosa, is actually on the street that runs down the side of the house.  Brooks constructed an entrance to the back garden.  Clambering on top of the rustic structure is the American wisteria, 'Amethyst Falls'. It has smaller blooms, flowers at the end of April, well after its destructive Chinese cousin.

If you walk up the sidewalk past the Herbie (that's what we call the green garbage containers in Atlanta) and look to the left, you'll see more roses planted in borders alongside the house.  Go around to the front, and the sidewalk there is overflowing with flowers.  In May, the large chartreuse heads of Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii hang over the pavement.  On a fence and scrambling up a tree are more roses, namely the lemon yellow David Austin rose 'The Pilgrim'.

Needless to say, passersby often leave notes of appreciation for Brooks.  I've known Brooks for years.  His first garden was in back of his mother's house near Chastain Park.  It was magical and chock full of interesting plants and ideas for economical structures that looked great.  One of my favorite magazine covers ever shows Brooks in this garden (the magazine was Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles).   Next, he lived in an apartment building in Buckhead, and with the owner's permission, he transformed the courtyard into a flower and vegetable garden, complete with tall topiary birds made of privet and patterned borders of parsley and white lily-flowering tulips.  It was charming.

Brooks has designed many wonderful gardens for clients and has even worked at the Chelsea Flower Show in one of their display gardens.  His designs were always a hit at the Southeastern Flower Show, as well.  I like everything he's ever done, but I am especially fond of his sidewalk plantings because they bring joy to so many people.  Plus, I can drive by and see the beauty anytime I'm in the area.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Warm thoughts from abroad


It's cold here in Georgia again this morning (for you in the northern states, it would probably seem balmy).  The thermometer on my back stoop is usually pretty accurate - 22 degrees yesterday morning;  23 today.  When my dog and I went up to the street to fetch the paper, the gravel driveway was frozen solid.

To warm things up, I chose a photograph taken last July by my friend Carol Tessier, who is a keen (a word she would use) gardener in Asnieres, just outside the city limits of Paris.

This is one of the borders at the stunning Kerdalo Gardens in Brittany.  Started in the mid-1960's by Prince Peter Wolkonsky, a Russian aristocrat who moved to France with his family in 1914, the garden has been managed since his death in 1997 by his daughter, Isabelle Vaughan.

Prince Wolkonsky built his gardens around a derelict stone farmhouse which he restored and added onto (from its looks today, I'd call it a manor house).   The thirty-odd acres are planted with collections of many rare and unusual shrubs, trees and perennials from around the world.

The steeply sloping land was terraced to create lawns with thickly planted borders.  Water from a spring in the forest was channeled to create a formal canal, which then flows downhill, forming waterfalls, quiet pools and a misty grotto.  My business partner Kathryn MacDougald will be interested to know that the latter area is planted with exotic gunnera, which she has tried over and over to grow here in Georgia.

As he was creating his gardens, the prince would bring new introductions by the boatload from English nurseries.  Even a partial listing of the plant material at Kerdalo would range into the thousands.  His collections were not planted at random, but artistically woven into the hillside and leveled-out areas.  For example, a line of glossy green camellias with red flowers forms an avenue that borders a grove of some fifty varieties of magnolia.  The range of design extends from more formal areas near the house to an area that resembles a tropical jungle further downhill.

I've never been to Brittany, but I think of it as a cold, windy place that juts out into the wildest part of the Atlantic Ocean.  However, as you can tell by the photograph, the climate is fairly mild, allowing for a wide range of plant material.

Carol sent me several photographs of Kerdalo Gardens, so I'll be posting some more as we go along.  Meanwhile, I've got to figure out a way to visit this magnificent garden.  It had gone into decline in the prince's later years, but it looks in great shape now.  It's heartening to learn that this very complicated series of gardens has been saved and is open for the public to enjoy.  I think there are other gardens nearby that merit a visit, as well.  I hope I can get there soon.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The race for 'Dainty Bess'


This entry should be called, "Confessions of a plant crazy procrastinator".

This is so difficult to admit, but for a long time I had a terrible habit of buying plants and letting them sit in their containers for years, sort of like a hoarder.  For example, I had a daphne which bloomed on my back doorstep for seven years.  It was in a one-gallon pot, and it was never fertilized.  In that particular case, I was so afraid that I would plant it in the wrong place (daphnes are notorious for up and dying for no good reason) that I just kept it as it was.

Even worse, I had a whole forest of camellias, gardenias, hydrangeas, roses and other flowering shrubs that I would drag in and out of the basement in winter.  It was insane.  In summer I had to water almost every day.  Somehow, I managed to keep most of them alive for years.  Oddly enough, they would continue blooming, and I guess that fact allowed me to continue this awful habit.

I think one of the worst cases involved the beautiful early hybrid tea rose, 'Dainty Bess'.  I saw it in someone's garden and thought I couldn't live without it.  I rushed home and called around.  Finally, I found a nursery that had one - but only one.  "Will you hold it for me?" I asked.  No, they couldn't because it was on sale.  It would be first come, first serve.

I dropped everything and rushed to the nursery, which was several miles away.  My heart was pounding with fear as I got out of the car and ran into the greenhouse.  I was panicked that someone had beat me to it.

They hadn't, and I brought the healthy plant home.  It had been a close call.

Eight years later, 'Dainty Bess' was still blooming in the original three gallon container.  I finally gave her away to someone who had lots of sun and was willing to nurse the now spindly rose back to health.

There was only one redeeming thing about this period.  If someone gave me a plant, I made sure it got  in the ground immediately.  If I could only have been so good with my purchases.  I was always waiting for my ship to come in so I'd be able to have the perfect garden setting for them.  That didn't happen.  It was an embarrassing case of the cobbler's children.  The garden writer with no showcase garden.

I'm glad to report that I no longer do this sort of thing. I finally remedied the habit with a self-imposed moratorium on buying plants.

But, I'm back at it again.  This time, though, I have some spaces cleared out and someone to help dig holes.  Once I get some other things done like retaining walls and a deer fence, I want to give 'Dainty Bess' another try.  This time, I'll make sure she gets the home she deserves.

Note:  'Dainty Bess' is an exquisite hybrid tea rose - one of the few single-flowered ones.  It was hybridized in England in the mid-1920's.  I took this photograph in Anna Davis' garden in Atlanta in early May.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A green thumb and a gold heart



How ironic.  I planted the type of ivy you see above (Hedera helix 'Gold Heart') some 15 years ago.  It's like it's frozen in time.  It does nothing.  There's one little loop of it standing about 12 inches high.  Another piece goes up the wall about three feet (what happened to the saying, "the first year it sleeps, the second it creeps, the third it leaps"? How is it that I'm stuck in"it sleeps"?).  I envisioned a patch of this lovely English ivy on the north side of my house, where I wouldn't mind a bit of color and could control its growth.  I could use it at Christmas or just enjoy the pretty variegation to light up a shady area.

About the same time, Margaret Moseley planted 'Gold Heart', at my recommendation.  I assured her that this selection was not very aggressive.  All was well for a while, as in the photograph above showing a pillar of Margaret's carport.  Now, she's very unhappy with me.  The ivy has spread everywhere in her garden - on trees and on the ground.  She has to rip it out, and it's a constant battle, just like the one I'm forever waging with the common, all-green English ivy.

I've read that there's no such thing as a "green thumb", but I don't know.  Margaret has an instinct about getting plants to grow.  One thing that probably determines her success as a gardener is if something isn't doing well where she's planted it, she moves it without hesitation.  She doesn't wait 15 years.

So, a New Year's resolution:  Move my stunted plant to the base of a newly cut tree stump and see what happens.  I have a feeling that if I live to be 95 like Margaret, that stump will not be covered.

But, we'll see where I am ivy-wise at the end of this year.  The area around the stump should have the exact right type of soil for 'Gold Heart' - rich, woodsy dirt that is both moist and well-drained.  Maybe since it's been sleeping so long, we can just skip that part and go directly to "it creeps."  I hope I can give you a good report well before the dawning of 2013.