Saturday, April 28, 2012

...like a red, red rose - but which one?


Okay.  Here is a close-up of a rose in Diana Mendes' Atlanta garden.  I am hoping someone will be able to identify it.  Here's the description:  These big, bright red velvety flowers occur on a short (maybe two and a half feet tall, at most) plant.  The habit is compact; the leaves are dark green and glossy and exceedingly trouble-free.

The rose blooms heavily in May and sporadically during the summer.  In fall, when the weather cools, the shrub puts on another flush of blooms.  Diana doesn't spray, so this particular rose is pretty much immune to blackspot and also to pests, as the foliage stays healthy all season long.

Diana visits a lot of nurseries and buys what she likes.  Although she knows many of her roses by name, she doesn't remember what this one is.  This is understandable when you see the sheer number of plants in her garden at any given time.  When one flower fades, another comes into bloom.  How she packs so much into a small space (her deep borders surround a patch of lawn), I don't know.  She does say she deadheads and cuts back plants after bloom, and that certainly helps with the next season's show.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The subject is roses. But what is it?


Once again we're in Diana Mendes' garden, and before we change into a different flush of bloom, I wanted to see if there's someone out there who can identify the red rose on the right of the photograph.

Here are the statistics:  First of all, it is a very compact grower.  The flowers are huge, so it's of course not a miniature, but it is much shorter than all the other rose bushes Diana has.  The color of the very double flower which measures at least five inches across is bright lipstick red.

The foliage is exceptionally clean and stays that way all season long.  Diana says it is a repeat bloomer, with sporadic flowers during the summer and another healthy flush in October.  I have a close-up of this same rose taken at the end of October last year, and the flower is huge and perfect, and the foliage is clean and healthy.

Last fall, we were lucky that someone recognized Diana's Rosa 'Cinco de Mayo'.  Now, if we can just get an identification on this one.  Tomorrow, I'll run a different view to see if anyone recognizes it.

Meanwhile, note the sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis; a.k.a. dame's rocket) in the foreground.  This flower is invasive in some states and actually banned in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Colorado. Here in Georgia, it is not a problem.  I love its sweet scent and the impact it makes with the other April-May flowers.

A sideline about the above.  I used to have this plant, which I bought from a nursery.  It is a biennial or short lived perennial, and it didn't come back the next year.  One year, long after I'd had the other plant, I noticed a rosette of leaves in a container on the back terrace.  The foliage was there all winter.  As April progressed, I wanted to plant something else in the pot, so I yanked it out.

Then, I noticed there was an identical clump up at the little house.  This one I left alone.  Soon, a stalk started up, and then I realized what I had done.  This was hesperis, not a weed.  I was sick that I hadn't left the other one.

This happened years ago, and I never had another flower come up.  Now that I've seen it in Diana's garden and noticed that it's all over Monet's garden at Giverny, I want to try it again.  This time I'll know what it looks like and won't pull it up.  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Diana's cottage garden dazzles again


Diana Mendes posted some photographs of her garden recently on Facebook.  Someone asked, "Where do you begin?  How do you know what to add?"

I wondered this myself.  Diana's stunning cottage garden in front of her Virginia-Highlands is jam-packed with flowers.  Each week it changes, meaning that when one flower finishes, another takes its place.  For instance, Diana was lamenting the fact that most of her many bearded irises had already bloomed out.  I thought, "How could there be any more flowers than there are right now?"

On Sunday, roses were the stars of the garden.  Diana has lots of them and only knows the name of a couple.  There is one red rose that intrigues everyone who comes to the garden.  It has brilliant, large red flowers, and the foliage is pristine.  The shrub is compact and shorter than most of the other roses.  It's a red rose we all need, so I'll post a photograph soon to see if some rosarian out there can make an identification.  It's intriguing.

What's more intriguing is, "How does she pack it all in?"  I went there in late October, and the garden was overflowing with color.  Diana pointed out that I need to come back in a couple of weeks from now, as the garden will be changing again, and lilies and many perennials will be coming into bloom.

Amazingly enough, Diana is constantly adding to the garden.  She has already been out shopping for new flowers and still has trips to make to some favorite nurseries.  I'll be interested to see how she'll put anything else into the ground.  Her garden has even jumped out onto the strip between the sidewalk and the street, where larkspur have naturalized in the shade of Styrax japonica trees she planted.

"I threw some spent plants out last year, and this is what happened," says Diana.

If you put in "Diana Mendes" in the white space at the top of the blog and click on the magnifying glass, you can read Diana's story.  You'll see a rose that a reader identified as 'Cinco de Mayo'.  When I went in late October, there was a huge variety of chrysanthemums in bloom, and the roses were as fresh as if it were spring.

A sampling of what is blooming now:  Roses, larkspur, foxgloves, poppies, sweet rocket, amsonia, snapdragons,  Lychnis coronaria 'Angel's Blush', Siberian iris, bearded iris.  The charming bell-shaped clematis you see at the top right covers the entrance arch.

One last note:  It was very, very difficult to choose a view of this garden from the photographs I took.  Every view was an explosion of color.  I'll be sure to post some more from time to time.  Stay tuned for more beauty and some unbelievable roses.




Monday, April 23, 2012

Remembrance of Privet Past

-

The other day, my friend Kathryn and I were riding in the car when she jokingly asked if privet and deutzia are the same genus.

I almost wrecked.  The common Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense) we have here in the South is in full bloom right now.  The plants are everywhere and are literally smothered with white flowers which grow in short panicles.  From a distance, one could mistake these shrubs/trees for something ornamental, and I admit there is definitely a resemblance to Deutzia scabra (seen in the close-up above).  This tall deutzia (as opposed to the dwarf types) is an old-fashioned shrub you don't see very often.  Although it has a gangly habit, when it is blooming, the arching branches with pure white flower panicles are stunning.

I've had a lifelong love-hate relationship with privet.  It has now turned into a war that I am losing.  The impossibly hard-to-get-rid-of plants have taken over the fence rows at the farm and have invaded the dry creek bed behind my house in Atlanta where I used to have Louisiana irises and stands of cardinal flowers.

If you'll indulge me, I'd like to include an article I wrote about privet for an Atlanta bookstore that is no longer in business.  I should leave out the part that shows what a horrible child I was, but I can promise you that I was severely punished for my cruelty and hope I am a much better adult.  I wrote this over twenty years ago, but the thoughts about memories of plants still ring true.   Here goes:

                           .    .    .    .   .    .   .    .    .    .    .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .        

"It's funny how when you're interviewing people for gardening stories, they can almost always trace their interest in flowers and plants back to a place they knew when they were growing up.

This is certainly the case for me.  Many of the trees and shrubs I love now used to grow around my homeplace in the little town of Palmetto, Georgia.  For instance, I planted a trumpet vine on an iron trellis at my house because I loved how it looked on the little brick smokehouse back home.  And even though it's not in a good place, I've left some mock orange standing because it bloomed along the lane that led to my grandmother's house next to us.

It is also true that seeing a plant or catching its scent will, like Proust's madeleines, trigger a flood of memories.  I have all kinds of associations with the plants that surrounded me as a child.  A pecan tree makes me think of cold fall days when my daddy would shake down the pecans, and my brother and I would scurry around with paper bags picking them up.  When my neighbor's cottonwood tree blooms here in Atlanta, I am transported back to the sandy place in our back yard where I would pitch flat stones into the squares of hopscotch outlines I drew.

But, of all the flower and shrubs and trees we had, it is the lowly privet that best conjures up the past.  Although I was switched countless times with its stinging branches, some of the associations I have with this pesky shrub are pleasant.  You could make great bows and arrows out of its limbs, and the hard, dark blue berries were good ammunition for blow guns (why we never choked to death or put an eye out, I'll never know).  On summer nights when we played Kick the Can, the best hiding places were in the privet maze in the formal garden beside our house.  And I adored the topiary basket my grandmother had clipped out of a single plant that came up near a row of her red dahlias.

I do have one privet-associated memory, however, that still causes me to shudder with shame and horror.  It happened when I was seven or eight years old and has to do with Miss Janie Mae, the eccentric, elderly lady who lived in a tumbledown Gothic cottage next door to us.

From a hideout in the privet thicket that separated our property, I used to spy on Miss Janie Mae's adult niece who would sometimes visit from a mental hospital.  When the niece was in the yard alone, I would yell mean things and when she would start after me, I would run as fast as I could back home.

One day when I had just gotten "Hey, potato knees" out of my mouth, I turned to escape and ran square into Miss Janie Mae.  She caught my neck with her cane and held me prisoner in the thicket until my grandmother came.
                                                       .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

All of the privet and most of the other original plants are gone now from my homeplace.  My parents moved out to a farm when I went off to college, and the new owners razed everything.

Even with things so drastically changed, there's not a chance I'll ever forget Miss Janie Mae; the floorboards from her cottage are now in my house (I got them out before the fire department burned her place for practice).  And, I'm sorry to add, there's enough privet in my yard now to keep my memories - good or bad - going for a long, long time."

- From the Oxford Review, March 1991















Saturday, April 21, 2012

Going back for the boxwoods


I called Bill Hudgins today to see how his garden is coming along.  It's going to be on the Atlanta Botanical Garden's Gardens for Connoisseurs tour Mother's Day weekend.  Bill had called about three weeks ago to say I should come, that things were really popping out early.  I didn't make it over there - it would have been when the scilla seen above was blooming, and the new growth on the Japanese maples was emerging.

Anyway, Bill says the garden is "in between" bloom times now, so I'll need to wait a couple of weeks.  I'm actually more interested in structure in his garden than I am in flowers.  Also, because his garden is so large - at least three acres are intensively cultivated - he emphasizes texture, i.e., pitting giant hostas against ferns, using rocks and ground covers and different shades of green to carry him through all four seasons.  While his Japanese maples are wildly colorful in both early spring and fall, and he has plenty of flowering trees and shrubs, the background for just about everything consists of boxwoods.

This leads me to the photograph above.  I saw some dwarf Korean boxwoods I am thinking about buying.  I need evergreen structure to offset the hodge-podge of flowers I've accumulated in the pocket garden on the side of the house.  I think I'd like to do something like Bill has done here.  He's created a small vignette using boxwoods.  In spring, the tall white scilla comes up.  Later, he'll pop in some handsome white begonias (I don't know the type, but they look great in this space).  These latter will carry him into fall.

I've mentioned before that it took me a while to realize that flowers look so much better - on a patio or in a border or bed - if there's some evergreen in there to soothe the eye.  I remember going to a greenhouse in the country where they had the best summer annuals.  I came back with a pick-up truck load, planted them out on the concrete deck (I can't bring myself to say a better word like "terrace"; it sounds too fancy), and then wondered why it all looked so garish.  It was because there were only flowers out there, and no basic green for contrast.

So, I'm going to jump on the structure bandwagon and buy those boxwoods for this little garden.  I may have to play around with the form, but that's important, because you look down into the "pit", which will also need a path and some other organization.  I think it will be fun, even though, as usual, I'm going about it backwards.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Why this year?


I've forgotten what year it was - maybe 2007 - that I took all the millions (well, it seemed like that many) of tiny foxglove seeds I had bagged up and scattered them over some ground I'd cleared.  Nothing ever happened.

Then, last June, I began to see them coming up, little tufts of fuzzy leaves.  I'd had a few foxgloves pop up almost every year in another area, and I began seeing lots of babies there, as well - way more than usual.

So, I'm wondering what it was that all of a sudden I had foxgloves, long after having given up on ever seeing any from the many seeds I had cast about.   Those seeds had been lying dormant for years.  Maybe there was just the right amount of rain last year at the right time.  I do remember now that I lost many of the seedlings when the oak tree fell on the little house on June 28, 2011.  That meant that the plants were well on their way by that time.

Today, just for fun, I picked winners in several different categories.  There was the biggest, thickest overall - a chunky stalk with giant magenta bells with white spots.  The flowers were jam packed on the thick stem.  Not so pretty, but by far the most robust looking.  I also chose the best white and the best pale pink.  A dark pink one won for the tallest.

Biennials are tricky, perhaps.  Who knows why these foxgloves finally appeared as tiny plants last year and grew into magnificent flowers?  I once bought some foxglove plants in October from someone in the Market Bulletin.  They grew into giant flowers, with some stalks reaching seven feet tall.  I saved the seeds and scattered them, but nothing came up the next year.  My present crop is modest in height, but each plant is fascinating.  This year, I'll try the seeds again and see what happens.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A new peony arrives; an old one survives


First, I must apologize for the unpolished silver and the shabby sheets in the background.  You'll note that I have a spent peony on the left, and a new, fresh pink one on the right.  Both are in an olive jar which I plopped into the tarnished silver container.  I was after a photograph of the newest addition - a luscious pink, raggedy, fragrant peony - to the now confused looking sunken garden on the side of the house.

Speaking of sinking, I have returned to some old bad habits.  I used to order out of catalogs and go to nurseries and buy plants with no earthly idea where I would put them.  It was an addiction.  I ended up with a huge nursery of my own, with dozens of potted plants with nowhere to go.  Finally, I reined myself in and just stayed out of garden centers for several years.  It was torture.

Now I'm back.  I had to buy some light bulbs the other day, so I thought, just for fun, I'd see what the garden area had to offer.  I fell off the wagon.  I could hardly get the viburnum, spirea, banksiae rose, crossvine, clematis and peony into my car, especially with two dogs in the back seat.

I'm happy to say that all of these purchases have been planted, and I've moved the Viburnum plicatum already (it was labeled Viburnum opulus, which it was not), as it was way too close to another shrub.  I'm going to have to do the same with the spirea.  It's going to need more room, as well.

But back to the peony.  I saw it in bud only, but I was hoping that it would be a big, blousy pink flower like the one my mother had, but which has been lost.  I think it's even prettier than Mother's.  I also think it will like its new home.  I was careful to plant the "eyes" at ground level so they can capture the necessary cold during winter.  This fall, I'll put some fireplace ashes around it, as the late Berma Abercrombie always did.

There's some good news about Mother's 'Festiva Maxima' peony, which I thought I had lost when the tree fell on the cottage, and it was smashed for at least a month.  Before I moved it up here, I had found the peony chopped down at the farm, after it had lived there for 50 years, less than half of its life.  A well-intentioned friend with a weed eater had cut it down over and over before I realized what had happened.  I was able to salvage three pieces.  Two of them survived, and one even bloomed one year.  When the tree was removed last June, there was no sight of them.  I mourned in this blog about the loss of what had provided the most fragrant, big bouquets for years and which was definitely an heirloom.

The two plants came back up this year.  They didn't bloom, but they will next year, I think.  I was disappointed that for the first year ever, my 'Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt' peony did not have a single bloom.  I've got to figure out what has happened.  It's a lighter pink than the flower I just purchased, but it is exquisite.

Which leads me to a very embarrassing admission.  The tag of the one I just bought only said peony, no cultivar listed.  There were two words that said "gran altura".  I decided to look it up to see if it was a new introduction and to make sure that it is an early flowering type (the later ones melt here with the heat).  Those of you who know Spanish are already laughing.  I should have known, as it said "tall height" right by the Spanish words.  So, this is not Paeonia lactiflora 'Gran Altura'.  This is an unknown peony that is very tall in Spanish, as well.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's birdbath


Another story about my late mother-in-law.  I think I've said how incredibly gorgeous she was, and how, even in her 80's, she would walk into a room, and every eye would turn in her direction.  Part of it was just sheer good looks, but she had style and fabulous taste and wore clothes beautifully.

One time, when she came here to visit, she had some great-looking earrings that I'd never seen before.  I complimented her on them, and the next day she wore them again.  Once more, I made a fuss over the earrings.  Finally, on the third day, she appeared with the earrings, and I went on again about them.  All of a sudden, she snapped them off and thrust them in my hands.  "Here, if you love them so, I want you to have them."

I was so embarrassed.  I had definitely crossed a line in my compliments and must have sounded like I wanted to have them for myself.  I bring this up, because Margaret Moseley and I have a joke about the rusty birdbath pictured above.  I have photographed it many times throughout the seasons and am always saying how great it looks with so many different types of plants.  One day, I was going on about the birdbath for the umpteeth time, and Margaret said, "Why don't you take it, since you love it so?"

I told Margaret about my mother-in-law's earrings (which I did not accept), and she started laughing.  So, now, every time I show her a photo of the bird bath, we get tickled.  "There's your birdbath," she will say.

But, the reason I'm posting this photograph today is not about our joke.  The picture was taken on April 17, 2009.  Today is April 17th, and if I were in Margaret's garden taking pictures, this scene would be very different.  The tall scillas you see have been spent for at least a month or more.  Like so many other spring plants, they bloomed way early.  In fact, Margaret and I were talking today, and she said she'd seen early springs before, but nothing like this.  "You'd have warm spells, but things would eventually even out.  Not this year," she said.

So, we'll see how this all plays out next spring for comparison.   Meanwhile, I'm going to try to avoid talking about the birdbath.  Since the thing weighs a ton, it's safe to say I won't be walking away with it.  However, that doesn't mean that I won't be coveting it in secret.

Monday, April 16, 2012

This spring really is different


Anne McLeod from Birmingham and I were talking this morning about how this spring has progressed.  First of all, winter never really came.  I still remember the mid-January post of a bearded iris blooming at the farm (must not have hurt, because the ones blooming now are spectacular).  Anne pointed out that as March came, things that never had bloomed together did.  And then, they bloomed out.

Right now, today, we are at the place where we should be on Mother's Day.  Foxgloves and roses are just about in full bloom.  Peonies are coming out.  I remember that it was a tradition for Berma Abercrombie to furnish peonies for church for Mother's Day out in the rural community where my mother grew up.  I dare say, there won't be a peony around (in the Atlanta area) on May 13.

The above scene from Margaret Moseley's garden was photographed on April 17, 2009.  You can see that the big snowball, Viburnum macrocephalum, is at its peak.  Below it is a pink azalea in full bloom.  While I haven't been to Margaret's in a couple of weeks, I can say for sure that this scene looks radically different.  Every giant snowball in town is finished, as are almost all the azaleas, even the native ones which used to bloom around mid-April.  I even saw an oak leaf hydrangea blooming its heart out yesterday.  May 15 to 20 is usually when they come into flower.

You know how it says on ads for buying stocks that previous performance is no guarantee of what will happen in the future?  I guess it's the same for spring blooming time.  Next year, we could have a long, cold spring, and this scene, which seems about right for most years, will look like this again on April 17.  We'll just have to wait and see.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sweet shrub of youth


I was walking down a street near my church in Atlanta when all of a sudden a sweet scent wafted through the April day.  There was a patch of woods, and I knew that somewhere in there was a sweet shrub, Calycanthus floridus.

This is a fragrance I know from my childhood.  We had a cabin on a lake out in the country.  We swam a lot off the dock, and sat on the porch and watched to see when our friends from Atlanta arrived at their place across the lake.  While my daddy, mother and brother enjoyed fishing, I did not.  Well, that's not exactly true.  I only liked it if the fish were biting and if only a minute or two passed between each tug on the line.

What I liked to do was walk around the lake, a trek of at least a mile, if not longer.   Along the way, there were all these outcroppings of granite rock.  It was fun to climb on them.  We had one outside our cabin where water had washed niches in the stone.  My older brother told me that Native Americans had lived on this rock and that the worn down areas were the sink, the stove, etc.  It made no sense, but I believed it until way after I should have.

During the month of April, there were certain areas I would pass when the special fruity fragrance of sweet shrub wafted through the air.  I would then cut into the woods to find the burgundy flowers and break a couple off to take with me along the way.

So, the day I took the above photograph in Ozzie Johnson's garden, I caught the scent before I saw the shrub.  This particular plant is very special, as it is one Ozzie hybridized to obtain bigger flowers.  He is also working on a variation of 'Hartlage Wine', the N.C. State hybrid of Sinocalycanthus chinensis and C. floridus.

But, I'll always love the native species, too, even with its much smaller, dark flowers.  It fascinated me as a child and these days, that scent, like no other, brings back memories of the lake, of family and friends and huge rocks where you could spend hours pretending you lived in another place and time.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A legend creates an enchanted forest


It was a difficult site - extremely steep and shady with precipitous drop-offs - not the kind of space you think of when you set out to make a garden.  But Dan Magill, the second winningest tennis coach in NCAA history, founder of the Bulldog Clubs which helped popularize and support the University of Georgia's sports teams, journalist, author and creator of the Dan Magill Tennis Complex and a University of Georgia legend, took his back property and turned it into an enchanted forest.

Preserving the hardwoods and native plants like buckeyes and dogwoods that were already there, Dan and his wife Rosemary added thousands of flowering shrubs, trees, perennials, ground covers and bulbs along paths and steps that were dug from the hills and led to a creek at the bottom of the property.  I can imagine that his children and grandchildren have loved playing in these woods; I know when I went there, it was such fun to explore each trail and look at the treasures popping up everywhere.

Once the woods were cleared of undesirable undergrowth (a prolonged and daunting task), Dan was able to plug in shade-loving plants like hellebores and hostas.  At the bottom of the photograph, which is actually the top-most part of the garden, Dan planted perennials like Japanese roof iris, which can tolerate shade.  The forest floor is splashed with yellow wood poppies, and shrubs like hydrangeas provide blooms from summer through autumn.

Dan and Rosemary were featured in an episode of A Gardener's Diary on HGTV.  There was so much to see that we weren't able to cover it all.  The highlight for me was the novelty of walking down a true primrose path.  All up and down the steps, Dan had, over the years, continued dividing the yellow primrose, Primula veris, until he had enough to line the paths that go through the woods.  You can see the flowers in this photograph in front of the variegated hostas at the base of the tree on the right.

In other sections of the woods are large drifts of azaleas, and along the path that follows the creek are thousands of wood hyacinths and other bulbs.  On one side of the house at street level, Dan planted grape arbors and grew muscadines and scuppernongs in a grassy, sunny area.

An expert on native azaleas, the renowned coach amassed an extensive collection, part of which he donated to the tennis center that bears his name.  He also swapped plants with Michael A. Dirr, woody plant guru, and perennial plant authority Allan Armitage, both University of Georgia colleagues.

This garden contains great ideas for people with woods and for people with steep terrain.  Terracing has been the key, according to his daughter Sharon Brown, who says that she and her brother and sister all developed a love of gardening.

As picturesque as the woodland is, though, Dan has admitted that this is not a low maintenance situation.  Twigs and leaves are constantly falling onto the paths and invasive plants are forever getting out of hand.  Now 91, Dan still enjoys going out into the garden and discovering what has come into bloom that day.  For someone who contributed so much to the University of Georgia, it is amazing that he was able to accomplish so much in what little spare time he had.  But as his daughter Sharon said, "He didn't play golf or have other hobbies.  Gardening has been a passion.  He's loved every minute of it."


 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Going from big to small


I had always wondered who lived at the intersection of two beautiful Atlanta residential streets.  On the lawn was a stone well house with a wooden shingle roof.  The estate-like landscape included many flowering shrubs and trees artfully placed around an expansive lawn that came down to the street.

When I first started writing for the Atlanta Journal & Constitution, a friend of mine told me about her mother's courtyard at a condominium complex and offered to take me there.  I was enchanted the moment I walked through the gate into a 20 x 20 foot patio surrounded by a high brick wall.  There was so much to see in this very small space.  It was beautifully composed, mostly with containers, but with other vines and shrubs planted in the ground.

"Where did you get such a variety of plants?" I asked, intrigued that she had such an interesting mix of things like native wildflowers, climbing roses, Japanese roof iris and hosta.  On the wall to the right as you entered was the dwarf, small-leaf version of Boston ivy ('Lowii'), perfect for the space.  Going up the iron railing on one side of the steps to the front door was a lovely Clematis texensis hybrid, 'Duchess of Albany', with pink bells.  On the other side was the native crossvine, Bignonia capreolata, with its yellow and burgundy red flowers.  An odd combination, but it worked.

For color, my friend's mother, who I later found out was a well-known gardener, would go to grocery stores and buy hanging basket of petunias and other flowers and plop them into beautiful urns.  "I buy a lot of hanging baskets and put them into containers," she explained.  "It gives you an instant effect for very little trouble."

In the photograph above is a fig vine-covered basin filled with water lilies.  "I brought these from my home, along with the native plants.  I loved the crossvine, and if you ride by there you can still see it in the trees."  I asked where to go, and then she told me.  She had been the owner of the house and grounds I had admired so.  She and her husband had downsized to a condominium.

"I tried to bring a few things that I loved," she said.  It was truly one of the most charming small gardens I had ever seen.  She had rosemary topiaries and some herbs, and roses and large-flowering clematis climbing up the walls.  The space was small, but she had transformed it into a garden where she could still enjoy working with plants and have a taste of home.  Even if the space was not so grand, she had managed to capture a feeling of elegance - aided, amazingly enough, by hanging baskets from the local Kroger.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Oh, what fun they had


Looking back over my slides from the early 90's (this is one converted from digital; disappointing, but you can still get an idea), a smile came over my face.  I took this photograph on the day we shot the pilot for A Gardener's Diary on HGTV.  In the upper right hand corner, you can see the tip of the front porch of Ruth Mitchell's house.  At the time, she and her husband Dennis were having a ball tending a giant cottage garden that covered several acres.  I'd never seen so many flowers.

Ruth was the first woman to obtain an agronomy degree from the University of Georgia.  Her historic farmhouse was built on land that had been in her family since the 1840's.  Ruth had moved away and lived most of her adult life in California.  On a trip to Australia, she met her husband Dennis, who grew up in a coal mining region of England.  The two returned to Ruth's homestead in Georgia and for years planted flowers and vegetables and raised chickens.  They flew both the American flag and the Union Jack from the side porch of their home.

In this photograph, you can see but a portion of the enormous garden.  The white, frothy plant in the center of the frame is Crambe cordifolia.  To the left are Ruth's beloved red corn poppies, which she called Veteran's Day poppies.  In the middle are reseeding petunias, which were everywhere and made you wish for the wonderful colors and variety of these old fashioned flowers.  That spot of red to the left of the pink and rose colored petunias is a tiny patch of sweet williams, Dennis' favorite flowers.

If you put in Ruth and Dennis Mitchell in the search box in the upper left hand corner of the blog, you will come to the post of June 21, 2011.  The photo shows yet another view of the garden on a different side.  The Mitchells grew thousands of poppies, which were interspersed with blue cornflowers.  They also had hundreds of peonies in rows, and antique roses like 'Cecile Brunner', 'Perle d'Or' and 'Mutabilis'.  Dennis, who loved growing vegetables, had his rows interspersed with colorful irises from Ruth's collections.  There was dazzling color everywhere you looked.

Twenty years have passed since the heyday of this garden.  Dennis died years ago, and Ruth says her memory is not what it used to be.  Looking at this picture reminds me of these two people, who were in their early 70's and mid-80's when I used to visit.  They took advantage of every day to get out and enjoy what they loved to do.  When I asked Ruth what she liked best about the garden that she and Dennis created, she said, "Oh my.  I loved all of it.  We just had so much fun."

Monday, April 9, 2012

Green is my favorite color


After rushing around for three weeks, with the last three days spent decorating the church for Easter, I arrived home Sunday afternoon, and while I was unlocking the front door looked over at the most soothing sight - green.  I had camera in hand, so I put everything down, pointed over to the side door and snapped this picture.

That's one of two boxwoods that flank the front door in the foreground.  The other two - I forget to trim them so they'll green up all the way to the ground - are from the same batch that came from my mother-in-law's garden in Virginia.  She and her husband had tons of them, and she had rooted these for her son.  My husband and I borrowed my daddy's white truck (medium sized) and drove to Salem, Va., after he got off work to get the boxwood.

I'll never forget the scene.  We got there in the wee hours of the morning, and my mother-in-law met us at the door.  She didn't know me all that well, I guess.  She was drop dead gorgeous and she was not the sort who would ride for eight hours in a dump truck.  I had on mustard colored pants and a white and brown and mustard colored top.  Nowadays, I am aware that this was a color that made me look like a zombie, but back then, I bought the outfit, which was too matched, thinking it would be very serviceable.

When my mother-in-law came to the door, she literally started at my feet (canvas espadrilles) and stared all the way to my hair, which couldn't have looked good.  I'll never forget how that felt (not good).   Even though I had bought the outfit at Saks Fifth Avenue, I never wore it again.

I don't remember how long we stayed, but we drove home with a truck bed full of English boxwoods of various sizes.  The best two went next to the front door, and the others I heeled in down in the woods.  Many of them are still there, waiting for a permanent home.  Let's see.  This would have been in the 1970's, but I am eyeing them now to anchor a couple of new garden spaces.  They will be moved in the near future.

So, that's the story behind the boxwoods.  I've already explained in an earlier post that I first saw Parthenocissus tricuspidata in France.  I plucked a huge leaf off a restaurant wall in the Perigord, hoping to bring it back to see if I could get it identified.  The leaf shriveled, of course, but it wasn't long until I saw the vine in an old black and white book that identified it.  Here in the U.S., we call it Boston ivy.  That's funny, because it is definitely native to China and Japan.

It wasn't long after we built this house that I was able to buy some Boston ivy plants from Wayside Gardens (by the way, that's where I learned about a lot of plants, by looking at the pictures and reading the explanations in their catalog).  I now have to keep the vine trimmed back pretty often during the growing season.  No, it's not like English ivy.  It won't destroy a surface.  Non-vine people are always scolding me for having it, saying it breeds insects or will destroy my stucco walls.  Even if that were true, I'd still grow it because I love the way it looks in April, May and June.  By the third weeks of June, you walk out the door, and the sound of bees buzzing around the new berries is deafening.  After that, the vine doesn't look as fresh, and by September, it is positively ratty.

But here I was, on Easter Day 2012, liking what I saw - the vine I wanted so much and the boxwoods that mean a lot to me, despite the fact they remind me of my mother-in-law's obvious appraisal of my outfit.  I love all the green, which is my favorite color, and I don't mind that there's not a flower in sight.


Note to self:  Have the threshold on that door painted a dark color.  A workman painted it all cream colored, and it looks funny.  Also, pressure wash the limestone this year, and find a stone ball to camouflage the Sentricon disk.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Easy-to-grow orchids for shade


First, I have to say that these are not my orchids.  They belong to Ozzie Johnson, and he has several clumps growing in an area in his front woodland.  In another part of the garden, he has some with all yellow flowers.  These latter may be Calanthe sieboldii.

But thanks to Kevin Holcomb of Atlanta, I now know that my mystery orchid, which appeared out of the blue in my woods in the mid-90's, is probably one of the Takane hybrids of Calanthe discolor.  The ones pictured above almost certainly are.  Contrary to my first assumption, my orchids are not native, but are Japanese.

If you write in "Calanthe" into the search box at the top of this blog, you'll be taken to a post on Monday, August 29, 2011.  This is when I wrote about discovering an orchid growing in my woods.  I still don't know where it came from, but I am now anxious to have more.  I'm always looking for something that will flower in the shade.

Also, if you google Plant Delights calanthe, you'll go to Tony Avent's catalog where you'll see the orchid above.  Mine is more yellowish, especially this year.

But I have an announcement to make:   I now have two plants growing side by side.  Ozzie told me he thinks they are the same plant, but I don't think so.  I've gotten down on my knees to examine, and I think I now have two distinct plants.

In addition, I cleared all the ivy from around a stump, so the other calanthes (they are about 30 feet away from the original discovery) are shooting up now and will bloom next week.  They are different colors.  One, if I remember correctly, is white and brown.

According to Tony Avent, I should expect colonies to form.  Ozzie has me beat by far - he already has two nice patches of the ones pictured above.  I've cleaned out all around both my areas, so if any seed drop, I can expect some more orchid blooms in seven years, according to Tony.  But then he turns around and says I'll have a colony in three years.  I'm not sure what to make of this.

I've already calculated how old I'll be in three years and in seven years.  I guess if I get to live that long, I'll be delighted to have more orchids growing in my woods.  But, I'll forever wonder how they got there.  We built this house near their location, although we lived at the back of the property before that.  Why would someone plant the orchids so far from a house?   I don't think there's a soul around who can tell me, so I am just going to enjoy the fact that they came so unexpectedly and inexplicably and that they are very easy to grow.  A happy accident, as we used to say on A Gardener's Diary.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A collector talks about his garden


Yesterday, Kathryn MacDougald and I went for our annual tour of Ozzie Johnson's garden.  Ozzie is one of the three plant hunters we had hoped to feature in an adventure series about searching for ornamental plants in the world's most dangerous and beautiful regions.  We may yet get our show when people have seen enough alligator wrestling and tuna wars.

For plant lovers, Ozzie's garden is a paradise.  There were so many wonderful things going on - plants he's hybridizing or growing from seed collected in China or Vietnam or shrubs he's brought from nurseries in Japan to introduce to Americans.  I was so overwhelmed that I had to lie down for an hour when we got home.  I was exhausted from all the excitement and the thrill of knowing that lots of new and wonderful plants are coming down the pike.

I guess it's been over 20 years since I first went to this garden.  I remember the weeping katsura tree wasn't much taller than I was.  Now, it reaches forty feet into the air.  You could have a picnic under its curtain of leaves.

This tree brings up a confession I need to make.  I am a regretter.  A bad one.  I constantly dwell on the plants I didn't buy when I first knew about them.  Like the katsura tree.  Or, the 'Graham Blandy' boxwoods Ozzie has.  I saw them for $11 each - this was also 20 years ago - and walked away without buying any.  I thought they were too little for the price.  Ozzie's are probably eight feet tall and make the most beautiful green columns.

As we walked around, looking at his collections of weeping and fastigiate trees (have you ever seen a 20 foot tall, narrow flowering peach with burgundy leaves?), I was mesmerized.  A new dwarf weeping redbud called 'Ruby Falls' had leaves that are coming out almost red.

And, he had all sorts of plants that aren't normally variegated or chartreuse or burgundy.  There was a golden Vinca minor called '24 Karat' and a new lacecap hydrangea he's working on, 'Lemon Ice', which has lovely chartreuse leaves and pink flowers.  He also has a spectacular yellow leaved Hydrangea quercifolia next to a burgundy Japanese maple.

I could go on and on, but I'll show some of the highlights in future posts.  For now, in the photograph above, note the tall, dark green column center-left towards the back.  That's one of a pair of Leyland cypresses that Ozzie has been clipping for years.  The one on the right is getting its annual shearing right now.  I don't think Ozzie has ever done anything - including impaling himself on a bamboo stake on the side of a high mountain in Vietnam - as dangerous as his getting on such tall ladders to trim these Leylands.  They are really cool looking, though.  You can see them from about everywhere in the garden.

Ozzie is a true plantsman.  He's an explorer of the wild, he brings back seeds and grows things out and tests them for years for hardiness and desirability, he makes crosses to get an even more wonderful plant and then he finally gets them into production and out into the market for gardeners.

I was whining about the fact that I hadn't planted all the things I knew about way back when.  I just feel so overwhelmed by what I didn't do, I said.  Ozzie's reply:  "What if you had thousands of plants in the ground and in pots and flats, and all of them needed something - pruning, watering, transplanting?  That's what I call feeling overwhelmed."

He does have a point, but I still wish I'd planted a weeping katsura and had bought at least two of those boxwoods.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Miss Willie's Phlox divaricata


Miss Willie must have moved to my hometown after I had left.  She wasn't there when we were growing up, because she lived in the former pastorium.  Pastorium?  Yes, that's what we called the house where our Baptist minister lived.  My late husband used to get a kick out of that word.  By the time Miss Willie came, we had a new house for the minister - a brick ranch vs. the white clapboard cottage I had known as a child.  We still called it the pastorium, which now makes me sort of chuckle, too.  It doesn't quite have the ring of a parsonage or vicarage or rectory of other denominations.

Before I get to the main subject of the above photograph, I have to tell what happened in that little white house.  When I was growing up, all of the pastors at our church lived there.  I think it only had a small living room, a dining room, a kitchen, two bedrooms and one bath.  My friend Linda and I used to babysit for one of the ministers.  He had four little boys (I think they eventually had seven boys), and the house was chaotic and smelled like dirty diapers.  The mother of these children played the organ at church.  She was very sweet, but always looked frazzled (understandably so) and wore no makeup.  Her dresses were too big for her slight frame and were made of very old fashioned prints.  Her husband was tall and good looking in a way, but he was very strict.  He didn't believe in dancing and would say so from the pulpit.

So, one day Linda and I - we must have been in about the fourth or fifth grade - tuned into the Mickey Mouse Club on their TV.  We proceeded to do the dance mimicking the Mouseketeers - we knew every move exactly.  Little did we realize that the preacher's boys were old enough to tell on us, but they did.  Our mothers received calls, saying that we were not allowed back in their house because we had been dancing.

This was fine with me, as we weren't paid anyway.  Our mothers thought it was funny (he was the only minister we ever had who railed against dancing, something at which I considered myself rather expert)

So, it was strange when Miss Willie moved into that house and changed the yard into a wonderland of flowers.  When I would go to visit my mother, I'd always slow down to see what Miss Willie had blooming.

The spring after she moved there, I noticed a lovely patch of blue flowers.  I'd seen these wispy, delicate blooms in a circle around a tree in a yard near my house.  I'd always wondered what they were.  One day I stopped when Miss Willie was out in the yard, and she showed me that they were a type of phlox - about 12 inches high, with delicate stems and a sweet scent.

Not too long after that, I went to Mother's, and there was a bag for me.  In it was the blackest dirt I'd ever seen - absolutely the perfect soil.  It had come out of Miss Willie's yard along with a little bunch of blue phlox.  I took the sack home and divided the clumps, planting them in two borders, the black dirt spilling against my red clay.

When I called Miss Willie to tell her how much I appreciated the flowers (I've always been superstitious about not saying "thank you"for a plant), she told me she was always adding amendments to her soil.  That must have been the secret to her success.

So, my phlox spread rapidly, and soon I had two nice colonies of what I learned was Phlox divaricata.  Miss Willie died a long time ago, but her phlox has spread all over the woods and up and down a steep hill.  Just yesterday, I looked out to see it naturalized everywhere.  I thought of Miss Willie, her kind face and quiet, lovely manner.  So different from the stern, scary man who used to occupy that house.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A long dreamed-of garden replaces the pool


For two decades, in the 1980's and 1990's,  Rosemary Verey (1918-2001), English garden designer, lecturer and prolific garden writer, spent a good deal of time in the United States.  She gave talks in many cities, interviewed American gardeners and wrote books about them and even did design work for private citizens and public places like the New York Botanical Garden.

Barnsley House, Mrs. Verey's home in Gloucestershire, was one of the most visited gardens in England when she was alive.  Her famous laburnum walk is in just about every book I have on English gardens and is on the cover of at least one.  She is credited with making the French potager popular and was known for adapting elements from large public gardens and bringing them to scale for home garden use.  Among her British clients were Prince Charles and Elton John.

When Mrs. Verey came to Atlanta, she often stayed with my friend and sometimes tennis partner (she was the forehand, and I was the backhand), Mary Wayne Dixon.  Mary Wayne has been a trustee and active volunteer for the Atlanta Botanical Garden since it was created.  She's been on countless garden trips abroad and in the U.S., and has a great appreciation for plants and garden design.

I posted a photograph yesterday of a scene from Mary Wayne's front entrance garden.  The above photo shows her knot garden, one of Mrs. Verey's designs.  The all green and variegated boxwoods grow on the site of a former irregular-shaped swimming pool, which the family no longer used.

After I sneaked into her garden on Saturday, I came home to read something that ruffled my feathers a bit.  I know that Mary Wayne had wanted a knot garden for a long time, but only recently had the work done.  For her, it is a reminder of a good friend and mentor, and she is ecstatic with the results.  So, when I read one critic's opinion that knot gardens are "so 90's" and that Mrs. Verey's aesthetic is passe (I don't know how to put an accent on that final e), I was sort of irritated.  That may be true, but it's not like everyone has the resources or the desire to follow every garden trend.  I like many different gardening styles (although when they tried to say that the "new American garden" consisted of waves of grasses and black-eyed Susans, that wouldn't do for me) and admire some of the edgy work being done by younger designers.

But, I'm probably stuck in the last century because I still look at Mrs. Verey's books about the gardens at Barnsley House and admire all the alliums and the clipped hedges spilling over with flowers.  It's an aesthetic I like, and it was a grand achievement over a half century (the house was bought from Mrs. Verey's son and has now been turned into a hotel).

One thing is for sure.  Mary Wayne's back garden is lovely and peaceful and suits the style of her house and furnishings.  It also looks good all year long.  I feel if we're lucky enough to be entrusted with a spot of land, we should do what makes us happy, trendy or not.  I think of the woman in my hometown who has about every whirligig you can think of in her front yard.  You might say she's "so 50's", but I'm sure she's delighted with the way it looks.  And I think that's the way it ought to be.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The surest way to the front door


Does this ever happen to you?

You pull up to a house and park.  You haven't been there before, and you consider your choices about where to go.  You're closest to carport side entrance which the family obviously uses.  Then, you look, and going around to the front of the house is a sidewalk.  Somehow, it looks like it's seldom used.  What to do?

Several months ago, I ran across something on the Internet, and now I can't remember where I saw it.
Anyway, I  I laughed out loud when I read about the famous French film maker and comedic actor Jacques Tati in a scene from Mon Oncle (which I saw more than 40 years ago!).  He was trying to get from the street to the front door of an ultra modern house.  The "path" consisted of round concrete pads that were neither set in a direct line nor at the right distance for stepping.  The result was that Monsieur Hulot (Tati) started leaping from one stone to the next, each time losing his balance and almost falling into the forbidden grass.  The path, instead of a comfortable and direct way to the front door, was like negotiating a minefield.

I remember when it was all the fashion for designers who, instead of allowing a "boring" straight line from the sidewalk to the front door, were leading visitors on a curving, over planted path, I assume, just to be different.  How many times have I seen examples of having to walk around in an unnatural fashion to arrive at the door.  My church has at least two glaring examples.

My friend Mary Wayne Dixon, whose garden will be on the Atlanta Botanical Garden's Gardens for Connoisseurs tour this year, solved the dilemma of which way to go from the parking lot in a very attractive way that avoids confusion.  And, by creating a front garden that is inviting and which has an obvious path, she also drastically changed the look of her house.  Now, once you step into her front courtyard, you feel like you're in Europe.  Also, you know exactly where to go.

The scene you see above used to be a typical, sloping lawn to the street.  A retaining wall was built and filled in to reach the level of the front door.  Monsieur Hulot could have easily negotiated the wide slate path from the side parking lot to the door.  If he lost his balance, he would only fall onto gravel that is flush with the path.

What you can't see is the iron arch which directs you from your car to the proper entrance that leads to the front door (one can drive around to the back, as the family does, but you don't see that option).

Where grass once grew on the sloping front lawn, cryptomerias and hollies are planted to screen the garden from the street.  The other day when I stopped by, the Kwanzan cherry trees were in bloom, with the puffy pink blossoms hanging over part of the courtyard.

To see the front door of this house, go to the post of Wednesday, September 21, 2011.  It's entitled "Changing the mood".  I took that photograph when the yellow Lady Banks rose was in bloom, as it was last week.  To see the garden in back, tune in tomorrow.