Wednesday, February 29, 2012

One hydrangea lost, another found

The mystery of the hydrangea is solved.  As soon as I saw the beige truck pull up late yesterday afternoon, it dawned on me.  I should have realized who would have had the strength and necessary help to load and unload a giant hydrangea that weighed a ton.

I can never tell a straight story, but I must set this up.  One December, a well-known Atlanta garden designer gave me permission to hire two of her crew to do some major cleaning out around my then 95-yea-old mother's house.  After they had finished, I showed them all around the farm (I remember a huge owl flew right in front of us as we were going down the lane to the shoals).  They thought it was a wonderful place, even in winter.

On the first Sunday in June, the two men appeared at my door, just as I was walking out to go to church.  "May we plant a vegetable garden at the farm?," they asked.  It was already late to be planting, but I said yes.  The next thing I knew, a big swath of bottom land had been cleared, a deer fence erected and the ground plowed.  Amazingly, there was a pretty good crop of squash, corn and tomatoes that year.

They've since come every year, and now have two huge vegetable gardens.  They've also planted lots of flowers and shrubs, which my mother would have loved.  The great thing is they keep me supplied with Silver Queen corn, cucumbers, beans, tomatoes, peppers, squash, okra and fun things like peanuts.

I had mentioned one time a couple of years ago that I thought Mother's hydrangea was in too much sun and that I wished I could have it at my house.  I never thought about it again.  This hydrangea had the most beautiful, dark purple blooms every year.  One June, I took a bunch up to Tate, Georgia, where my husband is buried in his family's cemetery.  Purple was his favorite color, and these were such big blooms that were almost jewel-tone.

So, the two men had remembered that I wanted the hydrangea, so they dug it last weekend, put black soil around it - the kind you'd expect to see in a nursery quality plant - and brought it here.  I didn't recognize it, because it looks so much bigger out of the ground.  They obviously got all of the root system.

Now the dilemma.  Do I leave it out of the ground and see if it has dark purple blooms, or shall I plant it and see what happens?  I'm thinking I might experiment and wait until fall to put it in a permanent place.

But what of the white hydrangea pictured above?  This is Hydrangea macrophylla 'Margaret Moseley', shown in Margaret's garden.  A local nurseryman saw it several years ago and asked to propagate it.  A lot of lucky people bought the hydrangea.

But then the nursery announced that it was closing.  I made a frantic call and asked them to save ten plants for me.  I called a few days later to say I was coming for them, and they told me the bad news.  Someone had mistakenly sold my plants, and there weren't any left.

I am going out to Margaret's on Friday (I'm glad to say she's improving and is laughing and joking again).  I know where two of these hydrangeas are planted.  I hope they are still there (Margaret moves things around so much; who knows?).  If so, I happen to ride around with bricks in the trunk of my car, and I may try to pull down some branches to layer (a method of rooting by scraping a limb and making a dent in the soil and then holding it down with a heavy object;  when it's rooted, it can be cut from the mother plant).

At least three decades ago, Margaret bought this lovely white hydrangea at a small nursery that no longer exists.  It was unmarked, and so far, no one has been able to identify it.  It's not 'Sister Theresa', and it's not 'Mme. Emile Mouliere'.  For the time being, it's H. macrophylla 'Margaret Moseley' until we know better.  I just want to make sure I have one.  It would look great next to my mother's beautiful plant.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A stone wall embellished

Kathryn MacDougald, my witty and brilliant fellow creator and executive producer of A Gardener's Diary on HGTV (now on, had a birthday party a few years back.  She specified that any gift should be in the form of a rock.  She is rock crazy, to say the least.

One time, she and I were driving back from somewhere in Tennessee (I was thinking it was Knoxville, where HGTV is headquartered, but it was another town where we attended a tomato festival).  We could hardly go a mile without stopping to inspect rocks on the side of the road.  I think it was okay that we filled the trunk of the car with stones that had fallen from a mountainside.  Perhaps by doing so, we saved a life.  At least, that was our story.

Back to the birthday party.  There were many clever gifts (why can't I remember even one at this moment?).  I contributed fake stone - a planter made from hypertufa - which consists of cement and peat moss.  I made a trough like I gave her when I took a course at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.  My ambition was to have hypertufa troughs as planters all over my garden.  I never did but the one.  I bought the one I gave Kathryn.

But I've gotten off track here.  The photograph above shows real rocks and what you can do to add some charm to a stone wall.  In this case, the gardener, Jim Scott from Alabama, another extreme rock and stone nut, tucked in northern maidenhair fern into the crevices between the stones.  If you shove some good dark soil into the cracks, then you can put in any trailing plant.  I've even seen a foxglove growing out of such a wall.  An errant seed must have landed in the right (or would that be wrong?) place.

At any rate, here's a good idea if you have a wall in shade.  For sun, you could plug in thyme or oregano, other herbs or sedums.  When I glanced at this photograph, I thought this was a wall to be used for seating.  I said to myself, "Wouldn't the fern tickle your legs if you had on shorts?"  Then I looked more closely and saw this is more of a retaining wall, not at the correct height for sitting.  Either way, you can make a rock wall look even better with a good choice of plant material.  Be sure to water well in the beginning or if you see signs that the plants are thirsty later on.

Monday, February 27, 2012

A hydrangea mystery to be solved

The title of today's blog entry does not refer to the hydrangea above.  This photograph was taken in Ryan Gainey's garden one year on the American Hydrangea Society's June tour.  What a sight this was in the corner of Ryan's patio.  I don't know what this variety is (actually, that fact does constitute a mystery of sorts); I should have taken the time to ask, and I'll do that the next time I see Ryan.

The mystery I'm talking about cropped up this morning.  As I was coming back down from my walk to the mailbox to get the paper (my dog and I perform this ritual, rain or shine, every morning about daybreak), I was startled to see a massive black plastic container with a very large, well branched hydrangea, sitting in front of the chimney on the left wing of the house.  When and how did it arrive here?

I don't think it was there when I got home from church; in fact, I'm sure I would have noticed it.  I was here all afternoon, then left to get some items to fix supper for an ailing friend.  I left to go to his house a little after 6:00 p.m., stayed for a while and watched the red carpet part of the Oscars and drove home.  It was dark, and I didn't notice anything.

I just went out to look again to see if I could figure this out.  There's no tag on the plant.  I can't tell if it has been dug recently or if it has been growing in the container for a while.  I do know one thing.  I can't  lift the giant plastic pot even so much as an inch.  The diameter measures 23 inches; the container is 18 inches high.  How many gallons would that be?  I can manage a five gallon plant, but this must be twice that, if not more.

The hydrangea is a macrophylla; I can tell by the snippets of green leaves here and there.  Whoever brought it had to have had a truck and another person to get it onto the ground.

Do I have a secret admirer?  I wish!  Surely an explanation will surface soon.  There's no message on my answering service, no note anywhere.

Ever since I saw a photograph at a garden in France where there were two enormous pink mophead hydrangeas in large pots, flanking the entrance to a walled-in garden, I've wanted a big macrophylla in a container.  Then, I saw Ryan's and vowed I'd do this one day.  I do have one started, but it was one a friend layered for me, and it isn't all that large yet.  I'm hoping it will turn out pink (everything I put in the ground here eventually turns toward blue).

But this one.  If I could figure out a more attractive container (build a box around it?), it could stay just where it is, and I think I'd have a pretty spectacular plant this June.  I'll let you know when the mystery is solved.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

White by the gate

On the subject of white gardens, here's a great addition for February-March bloom if you live where camellias grow outside.  This is Camellia japonica 'White By the Gate'.  It's an introduction from Louisiana (Hyman's Nursery, 1955).  I first saw this exquisite, formal double flower in Monroe, Louisiana, where my brother lives.   Quite appropriately, the shrub was growing by a gate in a wonderful garden.  I want to try to visit this spring to take advantage of the delicious crawfish.  Incidentally, my brother and his wife live on a bayou, and it is absolutely magical.

This particular photograph was taken (where else?) at Margaret Moseley's.  She has this camellia in front of her house, and it is always loaded with blooms.

On a not so good note, Margaret has taken a turn for the worse, and doctor's orders are that she can't be up and about for three months.  She is not a happy camper, to say the least.  A few days ago, she called  to say that she was looking out the window and she'd never seen a prettier sight than one of her favorite camellias,' C. M. Wilson'.  I hope to get out there next week to check out this light pink, gorgeous flower.  I think I'll take my camera and my computer so I can take some shots to show Margaret what's in bloom and remind her of the beauty she's created and shared with so many people.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Thinking white on an odd day

Today was one of those times I felt I'd drifted off into the Twilight Zone, so I can't get my thoughts together.

First, there were six deer in the parking area in front of the house this morning.  Not so unusual.  But then, I looked out my kitchen window at the bird feeders, and there was an enormous wild turkey, helping himself (herself?) to the extras on the ground.  It stayed around, and I must have taken 20 photographs.  The whole thing felt rather unsettling.  I walked outside after it had gone, only to hear the scratchy noise that sounded exactly like my daddy's turkey caller.  I looked around the corner, and there it strolled, seeming a little confused.  Occurrences like this make me feel as though I shouldn't have to pay City of Atlanta taxes, due to being in this non-city environment.

Last night, I went to a lecture given by the 7th Baron Sackville.  His family has lived at Knole, an English manor  house that covers four acres, since 1604.  Of course, he talked a lot about Vita Sackville-West, who grew up at Knole.  A renowned writer and gardener and creator of the gardens at Long Barn and more famously Sissinghurst, Sackville-West also lived an extraordinary life (an understatement) after she married Harold Nicolson in 1913.  The succession of Knole, of course, has passed to male heirs.  After the death of Vita's father, the estate was handed over to her uncle and younger cousin, Edward Sackville-West.

The current resident of Knole, which is owned by the National Trust, was a delightful speaker and showed a photograph of his young, hip family.  I confess I had some thoughts that here I was, feeling somewhat cash-strapped, contributing $35 so these lovely aristocrats could live in a portion of the largest house in England.

Anyway, there was a time when I devoured every book I could find about Vita Sackville-West.  The only one I could put my hands on this morning was Vita's Other World: A Gardening Biography of V. Sackville-West, by Jane Brown.  There's a photograph showing a view of the famed white garden from the Sissinghurst tower.

Not that the above photograph has a thing to do with Sissinghurst or Knole, but it does show a small, rustic version of a white garden.  I have different views that reveal many more white flowers, but they are in slide form (soon to be converted to digital).  This may be the very opposite of grand a English manor, but it is a lovely garden in Madison, Georgia, and slightly more realistic for someone like me.

By the way, in the left corner next to the post is a white flowering money plant.  I once had the seed to a version that had leaves with a white picotee edge and white flowers.  I've since lost the seed, but I'm hoping that a chance seedling will pop up one of these days in the place where I used to have masses of them.

In the meantime, I'm going to think about making a white garden - one for spring (easy to do; so many choices) and one for August (sounds hard, but think sweet autumn clematis, peegee hydrangeas, snow-on-the-mountain, white phlox if it's been cut back after its first bloom, moon vine, and white petunias).  I also want to re-read Vita's Other World, most especially for the great vision she had in planting things in such profusion and not being afraid to experiment.  I need that sort of inspiration just now.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A cherished ornament changes with the seasons

When Margaret Moseley's dear friend Phyllis McGuinn moved from Atlanta to Florida years ago, she gave Margaret one of her prized possessions - a rusty iron birdbath.  I don't know how many times I've photographed this charming ornament, but through the seasons, Margaret has managed to give it a different look.  I shouldn't be surprised, because she has constantly moved plants and experimented as long as she's had her garden.

One year, Margaret planted copper iris, which echoed the exact color of the rust.  Another spring, I caught an angle which showed the new copper hued growth of autumn fern.  My latest photograph shows a mass of light peach colored Iris 'Beverly Sills' growing up around the base.

The blue scilla photographed from this angle may be my favorite of all.  I like this scene, too, because it shows how Margaret has configured her beds, all lined informally with rocks.

Margaret once told Steve Bender of Southern Living that she could name just about every friend she's had by looking out at her garden. Phyllis did move back to Atlanta ("She didn't ask for her birdbath back," laughs Margaret), but only recently returned to Florida for good.  Her cherished friend is never far away, though.  Margaret can look out the window and see the two delightful birds perched amid the flowers, reminding her daily of her friend and her very thoughtful gift.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The right time, but not the right place

I am suffering from letdown from Downton Abbey.  If you were hooked, you know what I mean.   Last night was the final episode for this season.  I was pleading for it not to end.

Back in the 1970's, my late husband and I were glued to the television every Sunday night, watching Upstairs, Downstairs.  Part of the series also took place during WWI.  It was the same sort of thing, with  convoluted plots involving both the upper crust of the upstairs of 165 Eaton Place in London, and the downstairs servants.  I went back and read the synopsis and had forgotten all the twists and turns.  Mrs. Bridges and Mr. Hudson.  Rose.  Ruby.  Lord Bellamy and Lady Marjorie.  James and Elizabeth. Georgina. Hazel.  It all came back.

But this Downton Abbey has been just as habit forming.  The night of the Grammys, I fell asleep watching the singing acts and missed the first hour of Downton.  You would have thought something tragic had happened.  Even though I was recording all the episodes, I stayed up and watched the replay of the entire thing - the hour I missed and the second hour I had already seen.

Not having visited England since my honeymoon, I have no photographs of English manor houses or gardens.  I need to put that on my list, and soon.  I've watched many of the BBC productions of Jane Austen's books, but the A&E version of Pride and Prejudice is the one I know by heart, and only Colin Firth will forever be Mr. Darcy for me.  Please don't even suggest the movie made later, the one with Keira Knightly as Elizabeth.  No comparison.

But, this is a blog about garden photos.  Here is part of a garden belonging to a French house in Normandy, designed by the English architect Sir Edwin Lutyens.  It looks nothing like Downton Abbey, and is not nearly as old, but it did survive WWI and WWII, as well.  It's all I had to vaguely stay in the atmosphere from last night's season finale.  Tomorrow night, I'm attending a lecture called "400 Years of Knole", presented by Lord Robert Sackville, 7th Baron Sackville.  Maybe that will help my Downton Abbey withdrawal symptoms.

Friday, February 17, 2012

One view from the window

No wonder Margaret Moseley is anxious to get home.  Although this photograph was taken in June, you can see why I frequently get a call saying, "You ought to see it out here today.  It's the prettiest it's ever been."

Indeed, when Margaret gets out of the hospital (any day now), she'll be looking out at a sea of camellias in bloom.  This is one of the views from her sun porch, which is entirely glass on three sides.  It's almost dreamlike when you stand and look out at the garden.  I've told Margaret so many times that part of the wonder of her garden is the way the light comes in.  Of course, it doesn't hurt that she has so much in bloom all through the year and has ample evergreens to provide a stunning backdrop for colorful foliage and flowers.

A word about the organization of her garden.  She started her beds by picking up rocks along the road and bringing them in to outline the area around tall trees.  As the years passed, some of the trees have either fallen or had to be taken down (mostly very tall pines), but she's planted smaller ornamental trees like sourwoods and Prunus mume to take their place.  One view, if you stand to the left of where I was when I took this photograph, you'll see the trunk of a pine that broke off.  It reaches up about 10 feet and is smothered with a type of climbing hydrangea, Schizophragma hydrangeoides 'Moonlight', creating a billowing column of very handsome silvery foliage.  In May, the white lacecap blooms are spectacular.

As Margaret added plants, the rocks had to be moved further away from the trees, creating a series of large, irregular beds, all chock full of perennials, shrubs, bulbs, ground covers and trees.  Lush grassy paths connect the beds and wind through the garden past evergreen rhododendrons, Camellia sasanqua and C. japonica.  Viburnums come to life in March and April, followed by iris, peonies and roses in May and a large collection of hydrangeas, hostas, daylilies and gardenias in June.  All during the summer, there are healthy mounds of ferns and lacier fronds that come up through shrubs or perennials.

Of course, I can only begin to name a smidgen of what's in this garden.  I've already forgotten to mention all the varieties of clematis that wind through the smaller trees, the bottlebrush buckeye that has become a giant, and the mass of fragrant Confederate jasmine that hangs from the carport.

The garden has changed over the years.  Some things are gone now, but other plants have taken their place.  I'm going back through the dozens of slides I have of the garden so I can get them made into digital images.  I've also contacted a writer at a magazine (Margaret's garden has been in many national publications and on TV and in newspapers, as well) who said he'd try to find photographs that appeared in several issues and in a book on Southern gardens.

What I'd like to do is organize everything into a book.  I have all the newspaper columns and magazine features I did.  Margaret is a garden writer's dream, with funny quotes and lots of good information for both novice and more experienced gardeners.

Margaret and I used to grouse about a best selling book a woman had written about her garden that was not nearly as large or complicated (nor as beautiful) as her own.  Margaret's story is about friendships made, sharing who knows how many thousands of plants, welcoming local garden clubs and visitors from as far away as Australia, the thrill of watching the seasons come and go, and just the pure enjoyment of creating a well-loved garden over the course of four decades.  I hope I can pull this together.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Missing Margaret

Our gardening guru, Margaret Moseley, is in the hospital.  At 95, she's had a pretty good run, but two weeks ago, she suddenly woke up with an excruciating pain in her back.  Then, this past weekend, her legs began swelling.

Long story short, Margaret developed blood clots and has gotten a stent put in.  The back trouble, it seems, comes from a fracture of the coccyx, which can be repaired with an outpatient procedure.  Throughout the ordeal, she's been laughing and joking and anxious to get back to her garden.

This is all such an odd story for us.  Margaret has been an inspiration to so many.  Just over two weeks ago, she was leading three of us around the garden, identifying every camellia and poking around in the beds to see what was coming up.  The next morning, she woke up with the back pain.

Margaret will be 96 in May, but she's been out there just about every day, thrilling over the hellebores and enjoying the scent of her daphnes.  The day we were there, she explained why she had one of her beds sheared almost to the ground.  It was the pesky alstroemeria, which I encouraged her to plant years ago.  I don't think she'll ever forgive me.

Margaret loves her cats, and I've always been charmed by this photograph, "Cat Contemplating Epimediums."  Just joking, but it does look like the kitty is thinking hard about the drift of this great shade perennial.  Margaret has it planted along a grassy path that runs the length of the garden on one side.  In back of it are various ferns and hydrangeas, and further down are rows of hostas.  For years, her friend Bud Martin, a hosta grower, has made sure she has the newest introductions.  You can also catch a glimpse of camellia foliage.  The blooms are long gone, but the glossy green leaves serve as a backdrop for the May and June flowers.

I understand that Margaret is going home tomorrow, which seems so soon (she went to the emergency room on Monday).  I already know she's not going to like all the rehab, but I think she'll do what's necessary to get back in the garden.  More camellias will be opening, and the early viburnums will begin perfuming the garden.  Then, spring will break open in all its glory.  I'm thinking Margaret will heal very quickly and be back out there before we know it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

More arches in the snow

This is that same February snowstorm in 2010.  I look at this picture and can only see all that's wrong about it.  There's no railing around the edge of the terrace.  I had bought just one cast concrete baluster and a length of the base, but decided that wasn't the way to go.  So, I did nothing for three decades. Maybe this will be the year to put up a simple iron railing.

Again, I should have pruned the trumpet vine after summer.  This is a red version of the native Campsis radicans.  Hummingbirds love it.  I ordered it from Wayside Gardens, but I haven't seen it for sale in a long time.  The color of the flowers is a dark red.  It's a good cover because it's deciduous in winter to let in light and makes good shade in summer when the sun comes in from overhead and then the west.

Where did I get the idea for this terrace, which is bordered on two sides by the house and has a set of steps coming up the side?  This is crazy, but I was in the back seat of a rented station wagon in the Loire Valley when I saw a house sitting way back from the road.  I yelled for the driver to stop (one of my tennis cronies), but she kept going.

So, I only had a glimpse to go on, but I knew the minute I saw steps leading up to a terrace covered with arches that this would work for a space that had been left blank on the northwest side of the house.  The hard part was getting it executed, but I was pretty much able to copy the vision I had in my head.

I guess the moral of this tale is:  Keep a lookout for things you like, and don't be afraid to copy them.  Only be more forceful if you are in a moving car and need more than a passing glance to go on.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Thinking of cut flowers and Valentine candy

As a child, I looked forward to Valentine's Day.  It wasn't because of school - I don't remember getting special Valentine's cards from anyone - that means the big ones that boys would buy separately - in comparison to the packs of little ones that fit into the small envelopes and which everyone received.

But, I could depend on my daddy.  He always bought Mother those large, heart-shaped boxes with the satin cushiony covers and silk flowers.  My grandmother - his mother - got one, too.  February 14th was her birthday (oddly enough, she died on that date). My brother and I each got the junior size heart with the red cellophane.  Mother was always generous in sharing her larger box, so I basically got her chocolate covered caramels and mine, too.  I didn't like any of the other kinds.  Wait, the coconut ones were favorites, too.  No raspberry cremes or anything like that for me.  And, did anyone actually like those pastel almonds that were in every box?

But, thinking of Mother.  Before we moved to the farm when I was 18 and a senior in high school, we lived in town in a pre-war brick house.  I don't say ante-bellum, because that conjures up a two story house with columns.  But, our one-story house was supposedly built in 1852 of bricks that had been made in the front yard.  It was set on five acres and had all sorts of vegetable gardens, orchards, a formal-type garden (best for hide and seek) and a pasture out back.

I'm rambling here.  I meant to get to the fact that my mother loved cut flowers and grew them primarily to give away or to have flowers in our house.  She had a rose garden out by a free standing wooden garage (I looked the other day, and it is still there - hard to believe it could have survived).  I thought Mother's one red rose was Mr. Lincoln, but it couldn't have been, because we moved before Mr. Lincoln was hybridized.  All the other bushes were the pink grandiflora rose 'Queen Elizabeth', which was wildly popular in the 1950's.  There would always be armloads of these to pick.

The rose you see above was grown by Anne and Tommy McLeod of Birmingham, Alabama, (Anne, nee Wall, was my classmate at Vanderbilt; Tommy went to the University of Virginia, but visited Vandy on occasion).  When I stayed with them in late October, the exquisite rose you see above was in my room, along with two other perfect specimens from their beautiful garden.  I went crazy over their roses, which were mostly hybrid teas but in great shape.  There it was, the end of October, and the roses were thriving.

The only thing is that Anne and Tommy didn't know the name of this rose.  But, it really doesn't matter.  They have a lot of fun cutting the roses and putting the stems into interesting vases and then sharing them with others.  My mother always said she had to have a flower you could cut.  I don't think there's anything more rewarding than going out into the garden and gathering flowers to take to a friend or to an office or to a teacher.

So, on this Valentine's Day, I'm thinking of my parents and boxes of candy and Queen Elizabeth roses - all good memories.  I'm thinking, too, of the future and of all the flowers I'm going to plant and enjoy cutting and how much it fun it will be to gather up big bouquets to share.  I think this whole trend is making a comeback, and well it should.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Snow shows a need for a clean-up

February 12, 2010.  Two years ago yesterday.  A good snow (the kind that doesn't freeze over and stay around on the roads for days) fell, and I took a ton of pictures.  How I wish I had tidied up the trumpet vine on what I call my tunnel.  The yellow/apricot blooms were probably hanging down from those straggly vines in front, and I either didn't have the heart to cut the blooms off in late summer or was too lazy to prune them or just didn't notice and had let them go.  It's a shame, because this photograph would have showed how nice the tunnel could look.  Plus, the dog tracks don't help.  Oh well.

I also see on the right hand side that the fig vine had gotten zapped, and the brown foliage should have been swept off.  It could have used some shearing also.  Fig vine is iffy here.  It was a chance I was willing to take to grow it and let it take over.  We had a good run for several years, and then in 2010, it all froze. It's just now making a comeback.  I'll show a picture one of these days of how it looked at its best (it had crept up onto the inside walls of the terrace on the upper right).  I hope I can get it to look that good again, but I may be quite old when that happens.

But, back to this structure.  This was built in the late 1980's.  I copied it from a restaurant in the Perigord.  I had a newspaper clipping that showed a stone sitting-height wall with iron arches coming up and attaching on the opposite side to a wall.  I drew it all out for the iron man, and when he arrived, I nearly had a heart attack.  The horizontal pieces looked too big, and the pieces on top looked too small.  But, when he got them installed (the wall had just been built; that was another story; I made the mason turn all the stones around and then put the grout in real sloppily.  He thought I was crazy), everything turned out as I had envisioned.

I seem to remember the iron work was done in spring.  The great English gardener Christopher Lloyd came to Atlanta to give a lecture, and we had a dinner for him here.  The iron pieces had just been installed and were still a maroon color (now they're painted dark green).  Christopher Lloyd went over to the wall and looked down, saying he thought the pergola would look good in several years.  I was crestfallen, but at least he thought it would work out some day.

Now, I look back at my bravado in having such a famous English gardener to dinner.  There were maybe 40 of us.  I had it catered by my husband's client's daughter.  She was so excited at the prospect of serving a gardening celebrity.   She arrived just before everyone came and unveiled her surprise.  She had made rack of lamb and cut them into beautiful chops.  But, attached to each bone was a dyed carnation.  She was so proud of what she'd done.  I couldn't hurt her feelings by removing them.   Besides, she wanted to stay and watch his reaction.  It's the only time I've ever seen lime green, light blue, purple, etc., carnations attached to lamb chops.

In the summer, I'll have to tidy up this area and try for some more pictures.  I just recently put in another yellow trumpet vine (Campsis radicans 'Flava') at the far end, where I've been needing one for years.  I saw it on a half-price table at the end of autumn, so I was thrilled to have it.  The canopy is pretty much finished, but this will help cover the very end.  I can't wait until June when it blooms, and the hummingbirds come.  But before that, I'll be looking for the rat snakes as I walk under it this spring.  They like to hang out up in the foliage.  I'll have to show you a picture of one very soon.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A (rustic) bridge too far

We're back in the garden from yesterday's post.

As I mentioned, this garden encompasses several acres, but despite its size, there were many great features that would fit into an ordinary lot.  Well, maybe not this bridge.

I do like the combination of the stone and wood (looks like the bottom piece in the foreground will have to be replaced soon).  I'm not sure if this is a dry creek bed or not, but the "river" of golden creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea') - a plant that appreciates damp conditions - tells me that water is probably present part of the time.

If I do win the lottery, I wouldn't mind having a bridge like this.  Given the topography of my property, I would have lots of places to build either a raised walkway or a bridge.  What fun it would be to have a woodland trail with yesterday's tunnel and today's bridge.  Children would love it.

That's the fun about gardening.  Whether you ever get to realize all your dreams or not, there's always another hardscape to wish for, another plant to lust after . . . I feel like gardening constantly renews your sense of hope.

Thinking of the above stonework, I am saddened that one of Atlanta's great gardeners died yesterday after a valiant battle with a particularly virulent form of breast cancer.  I wrote about Brencie Werner for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution.  Although she had a great collection of plants on her steep, wooded property, it was Brencie's stonework that was the main subject of my column.  Unbelievably, she had paved a mile of walkways around her garden, perched on a high ridge overlooking the city of Atlanta.  She had made steps and built walls and large terraces.  Her car looked like a drug runner's vehicle, constantly weighted down in back with a load of heavy stone.  She must have worn out lots of sets of shock absorbers.

I went over to watch her one day, and there she was with her level, stakes and string, a cement trowel and bags of cement and stacks of stone.  She would have been in her early fifties then, and she was in the process of building a woodland walk with steps down the steepest hill imaginable.   She was so accomplished and so fearless that I don't think she would have had a problem building this bridge.  She was truly amazing - a great stone mason, a great gardener and a lovely, brave person.  She will be sorely missed.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

An idea for a patch of woods

I've just come in from tromping though the woods, following deer trails to see if anyone has shed a rack. At the Home Depot where a sales associate gave me a great and less expensive idea for a deer fence, I found out that this is the time of year the bucks get rid of last year's antlers (is that the proper word?).  Last year, my around-the-corner neighbors Kathryn and Dan MacDougald, found a nice pair a few steps from their house.  I had to let Kathryn know of my resentment, as I didn't feel the deer at her house had eaten as much as they had here.

Anyway, as I was tromping through the woods (I did this last year to no avail), I started thinking how fun it would be to have at least one good, wide path where I could walk along and enjoy the spring ephemerals.  Not that I have many here, but there are trilliums and tiny white anemones and one, yes one, bloodroot plant that I know of.  But, if I cleaned out some of the ivy and raked some clear spaces, I bet more would spring up.

I took this photograph in an Atlanta garden that covers several acres.  I love the idea of walking along and then coming upon this rustic tunnel.  I'm thinking that this one is made of black locust (the posts) and rhododendron (the twisted parts).  The iron arches give it stability and make it look like it would last a while.  Maybe when my ship comes in, I'll have one built.  I'm going out again tomorrow to look for antlers, and I'll keep my eye out for the perfect spot for one of these charming garden structures.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Marsha's gift keeps on giving

On December 19, 2011, I took a photograph of this hellebore, which was a gift from Marsha Yeager, a generous friend and designer/installer of gardens  (who has a beautiful garden of her own).  This is the Christmas rose, Helleborus niger HGC 'Jacob', which has just recently come on the market in the Atlanta area.  As you can see, today, February 8th, it is still blooming.  There are several buds yet to open.

I am pleased as punch over this flower, as my other Helleborus niger has not bloomed since 2006 (I had allowed someone to divide the latter, and it has never recovered).  I do think I'll dig it up and plant it next to 'Jacob', just to see if it performs better.

Since the foliage is evergreen, I'm thinking if I could rob a bank and buy a couple dozen of these, I could line a path in my new pocket garden.  I'll have to see how the new foliage fares and make sure the old leaves are cleaned up.  What looks good in February in Georgia could have trouble in July and August.  Generally, though, hellebore foliage, if the old leaves are pruned away, holds its own.

But here's another unknown.  We've had a mild January.  I'm not sure there would be such continuous bloom if temps went way down.  But, I think the plant would bounce back.  One source says this hellebore is hardy from Zones 3-8.  I guess the jury is still out, but this year we're off to a great start.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A reminder of simplicity

One day, I might delve into the story of how I came to possess 4,000 Belgian block cobblestones (the big, heavy, loaf of bread sized ones).  Just briefly, I obtained them when we were building our house in the early 1980's to make a front motor court.  Getting them here was the worst (God rest Daddy's and Chip's souls), but then I let someone who didn't know anything about drainage or using a level, put them in.  The young man needed the money for his baby's heart operation.

Stop the story right there.  For two disastrous decades, I had a lake in front of my house when it rained.  The cobblestones would be caked with mud.  They've now been dug up and are at the farm, awaiting their next incarnation.  In front of my house, I have pea gravel, and it's my favorite thing ever. Miraculously, the pebbles weren't too deep  (a few people get stuck, but only for a moment).  I love the look of just the two boxwoods in front, and the simple pea gravel against the limestone and stucco of the facade.

But, pictured above is a garden I really like.  I'm not sure if it still exists, but it was just the most pleasing entrance to a commercial building in a warehouse district.  Simple lines.  Simple plantings and very reminiscent of European gardens you'd stumble on sometimes.

What brought all this to mind was Tara Dillard's popular blog, showing how she was making a cobblestone border for a client and filling the middle of a courtyard (or was it a parking area?) with gravel.  Last year, I dug some errant cobblestones from around the house and lined them up in what used to be a rectangular lawn.  I made two squares and a long rectangle in the middle.  But, then I proceeded to fill the outlined spaces with tomato plants and zinnia seeds.  By July, it was a wreck.

This year, I'm rethinking the spaces.  Where the lawn used to be (it's been covered with black landscape cloth for several years), I'll have to use sand instead of gravel to save money.  I'm going for the look of a Parisian park.  I've just got to be disciplined about what goes inside my cobblestone outlines.  I can still do the obelisks in the middle, but I need simple green outlines instead of tumbling, riotous color.  The whole thing is seen from above, so I can't go wild again with plants that flop everywhere.

It's going to be hard, but I'm going to take a cue from the above garden and try my best to keep everything uncomplicated.  The space above makes me want to sit down and linger a while.  There's something soothing about the organized lines that give way to the vines going up the walls.  A very nice place, indeed.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Michelia maudiae - splendid, if a bit early

Okay.  Here are the recent full-bloom dates for Margaret Moseley's beloved Michelia maudiae:  March 20, 2010;  March 8, 2011;  January 28, 2012 (the photograph above).

The first time I ever saw this fabulous shrub/tree was when clematis expert and avid gardener Lyndy Broder brought a branch to the Southeastern Flower Show one year.  We all followed her to the woody specimens table (that's the place where people exhibit their cut branches of shrubs and trees) to find out what this magnificent white, fragrant flower was.  It had long, glossy green leaves that looked a lot like a sweet bay magnolia.  And, the blooms were also magnolia-like, but were held in clusters on the branch.  It was sensational, and Lyndy deservedly took home an award of excellence.

As is usually the case, Margaret Moseley heard about the fabulous flower, and Lyndy acquired one for her.  At some point, when Margaret was in her late 80's or maybe early 90's, she decided to move the shrub, as it wasn't in the right place.  She still laughs when she talks about dragging the six-foot tall shrub across the yard to its new home, where it has reached twenty feet in height.

Margaret's michelia is early this year, but the good thing is that several of us got to see it in bloom - a gorgeous sight.  I was confused as to the species, but an e-mail to Lyndy Broder cleared this up.  This is definitely a desirable plant (if a bit gangly in form) that may be a challenge to find for sale.  I can say for sure that it brings a lot of happiness and pleasure to Margaret, who beamed when she told us it's one of her favorite plants ever.

Friday, February 3, 2012

A sight I'll never see again

I may have mentioned that on December 19, 2011, around nine o'clock in the morning, I walked over to my kitchen sink and looked out the window.  I froze. Standing there on the edge of the driveway was an eight point buck.  He was looking down at what I first thought was a big orange cat.  But, it was a red fox, right there beside him.  I was transfixed for a moment, unable to move.  Then I ran to the other room to get my camera.  Just as the fox turned around and started to move away, I caught them in a blur.  I wish I'd been faster.  Moments later, I was able to get a clear shot of each animal.  Still, that fuzzy picture recorded something I don't think I'll be seeing again.

Ditto the images in the above photograph, taken on January 15, 2012.  I went to the farm, and there by the front steps was this stalk of iris with multiple blooms.  I brought it home and watched each day as one flower faded and another opened up.

In the meantime, I picked bouquet after bouquet of daffodils.  You can see in the background that some had already faded.  The first flowers started blooming at the end of December.  Last year I took a picture of a bunch I'd picked on February 28.  In 2010, the daffodils were at their peak on March 10, according to another photograph.  The above iris was in bloom on April 14, 2011.  Plenty of bearded iris are re-bloomers, but they usually flower again in the fall, not in January.

We've had wacky warm spells before like this, though it's been a while.  I can remember one year when the peach growers didn't have enough cold to form crops. That was years ago.

We're all wondering what the rest of spring will be like.  I looked back to see about snowfall.  On March 1, 2009, it snowed, this after a hailstorm in February that pummeled the house at the farm causing a lot of damage.  In 2010, it snowed on January 8, February 2 and March 2.  Last year, on January 9, we had the big snow that then got rained on, making it impossible not only to drive, but to walk anywhere, as the sheet of ice that formed was so thick and slick.

So, it will be interesting to see what the spring will be like.  The prediction is for warmer than normal temperatures in February.  On Monday, I'll post a photograph I took last Saturday, January 28, of a very unusual and beautiful shrub/tree in full bloom.  In 2010, I photographed the same plant in full bloom on March 28, a pretty big difference.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

An intriguing entrance

If all this is going on at the entrance of this garden, a first time visitor might wonder what on earth lies inside.  Yes, it gets even better.

I took this photograph on August 22, not a prime time for Atlanta gardens.  Yet, if you crop out the browning blooms of the Hydrangea paniculata that has been limbed up and hangs overhead, everything else looks pretty good, considering.

First, I have to comment on the stone columns.  They had just been completed maybe a week before I was there.  I've already had them copied by the same person who built them.  He obtained the exact stone and made entrance columns for the farm.  In the middle is an iron-looking gate (really aluminum painted black).  I must say it looks great.  I winced at the cost of doing this, but already the compliments have poured in.  Several people stopped by as he was building the columns and asked for his card.  The leftover stone is at my house in Atlanta, awaiting some magical cash that I hope will materialize soon.

Anyway, I would like two such columns at the entrance to my yet-to-be-planted pocket garden.  I'll probably go with an iron gate (I hope to find an old one), as it matches my house better.

But it's the plantings here that fascinate me.  There's a lot going on.  Confederate jasmine is trained on the wall of the house to the left.  Above that is Clematis armandii hanging down.  Cast iron plant, hostas, boxwood and autumn ferns are crammed in at ground level.  

On the other side I can make out 'Sky Pencil' holly, a standard of some sort, a couple of conifers (hard to discern here, but I have other views that show them), a scalloped bird bath, and an oakleaf hydrangea in the foreground.  

This is only a fraction of all the different plants here.  There's lots more jammed in on both the left and the right.  Behind the left hand column is a limbed up Camellia japonica.  And, so it goes when once you pass through the gate.

I won't be able to have all this.  You can imagine that this is a high maintenance garden.  The owner, who has designed and installed gardens for years, makes no bones about it.  There's constant pruning and clipping and shaping, and she likes it tour-worthy at any given time.  This is great for me, because I can call her on the spur of the moment and ask to come over, and there are never any excuses (i.e., there's nothing in bloom right now).  Sometimes, I'll go over and wander in, just if I need a little inspiration or even a pick-me-up.  There's always a wealth of ideas to consider, and I always see something I've never noticed before.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Not afraid to fail

Next to my house, I have cleared out a formerly congested space to make a pocket garden.  I use the latter term because the area is small and contained on the sides by 1) a hemlock hedge  2) magnolia trees and 3) a hill that leads up to a paved terrace.  The entrance (not yet defined by anything) is slightly uphill and narrow.  I have timidly put in a few plants, but you'd think someone who has looked at hundreds of gardens would immediately envision what this garden should look like and be busily getting it installed.  Yet, I'm afraid that I will make a wrong decision; therefore, I make none.

So, to bolster my confidence, I've been looking at photos from Louise Poer's garden.  Here's someone who took a mud pit with only some builders' trees and has made a small but very complex Eden.  Granted, Louise has been a garden designer for years, but she came about it naturally.  She credits her ability to imagine a garden from having lived in England when she was a young bride.  Her aesthetic comes from taking ideas from both grand gardens and tiny cottage gardens alike.

But the real gift she has is not being afraid to experiment.  And, I must say, she's not timid about packing things in. "I don't like to see bare ground," she says.  She's constantly on the prowl for ground covers and comes up with clever ways to cut into her borders with smaller vignettes.  Even though her entire garden is not much larger than my dining room, kitchen and maybe part of a hallway, she's somehow rigged it to look much larger.  There's enough plant material in there for an estate.

Around my disorganized property, there are numerous boxwoods that have been waiting for years for a permanent home.  I could start right there by studying Louise's use of various types of boxwoods for structure and contrast (I have one variegated one that lives miserably under a water oak and hasn't grown an inch since I bought it). I also have two captive pyramids that have soldiered on in containers for over a decade.  I think they'll be so glad to make an escape.

I'll need a path, not only to access the garden, but as a way to organize the plants.  I won't be able to do any paving, but I have 4,000 cobblestones (this is a story for another day), and I could use some to make an outline for a gravel path.   I could do some cut-outs, like Louise does, so I can pack in even more plants.  My garden will be viewed from above, so I'll need some real strong lines to make it attractive.

I'm already feeling better.  Tomorrow, I'll show you an entrance to Louise's garden.  I already have the stone to copy the new columns she put in this year.

But, I just remembered.  My white tailed interlopers.  They've already gotten in there and laid waste to a hydrangea.  I think if I could pack in enough camellias and sasanquas around the edges to hide some sort of fence, I could keep the deer out.  That's crucial, because I want to copy one hosta combination (will show you that soon) in Louise's garden.   An unprotected hosta doesn't stand a chance.

Okay.  I'm going out there right now and make a drawing.  My heart is beating wildly, thinking of the possibilities.  The boxwoods should be moved now.  Plus, I need to act while I have the nerve, although I can always come back in and look at photos of Louise's garden if I lose confidence.  Wish me luck.