Thursday, May 31, 2012

Has this ever happened to you?

I will never know what this flower is (unless someone out there recognizes it) or where it came from.   I'm thinking that it is some member of the mallow family.  It's not a hollyhock, although it has some of the same characteristics.

One June day almost twenty years ago, I ventured into the lower yard, which had never really been landscaped, and here was this charming flower.  It stood about four feet tall, came up from a basal rosette on the ground, and going up the stalk were white flowers with red centers.  This photograph was taken after its prime, but you can get an idea of what it looked like.

I was thrilled and had every intention of gathering seeds, once the blooms were over.  I even fantasized about introducing the flower for cottage gardens.  First, though, I had to go out of town on a scouting trip for A Gardener's Diary (to Wisconsin; I have a story about that, as well, involving a ghost; will get to that at a later date).

When I returned home a week later,  I rushed down to see if the seeds were starting to dry.  But wait.  Where was the flower stalk?  And the basal rosette of leaves?  The whole area, after having been neglected for probably 10 years, was neat as a pin.

What happened?  For the first time ever, my husband had bought a weed eater.  Here we were, with four acres of strangling wisteria, privet choking out the creek bottom, pokeweed rising up everywhere and a thousand scrubby sweet gums becoming too tall to pull up.  They were all intact.  Nothing else had been done on the whole property.  Just this patch where the flower had grown.  I frantically looked for any part of the stalk.  But no, for the first time ever, my husband had actually picked up the debris left behind.  The flower was gone forever.

Recently, I've hit another spate of things like this happening.  Probably 25 years ago, lightening hit a tree up at the little house (stripped it like a candy cane).  The tree eventually fell, leaving a six foot tall trunk that looked like petrified driftwood.  Every year, I thought how perfect it would be for a Carolina jasmine.

So, this year, Karen Villano dug up part of her vine and gave it to me.  I brought it home and went up immediately to plant it.  What?  Was I hallucinating?  The tree trunk was gone.  Not there.  I went over and saw it had been chopped down, literally to the ground.  How could this be, after all these years, on the very day I had the perfect vine for it?  A yard helper had brought a friend along who must have craved a workout with an axe.  I'm sure they both thought they had done me a great favor.

Okay.  Allow me just one more story (even though this type of thing has happened to me many, many times).  I came home from church on Sunday to check on some guys who were fixing the brick porch at the little house.  I almost fainted.  Gone were three 15 foot tall hollies.  They weren't my favorites, but they had been there forever and had provided definition to the corner as you come into the parking lot.

And, what else was missing?  More hollies and further down the hill two giant elaeagnus plants that I used for church greenery.  They were the only two on the property without bad thorns, and their foliage was actually quite attractive.  Any of the others could have been cut, and I wouldn't have cared.

The culprit was a teenager who accompanied the workmen.  I looked around at all the privet and wisteria, and yet again, the poke weed - all standing in good form.  There were a million chores I would have had him do if I'd known.

None of this is tragic, but it does happen a lot.  I'm not too upset about anything really, but I can't ever forgive my late husband for cutting down that flower.  I don't think he ever used the weed eater again.  It just sat there and rusted.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

500 and counting

Choosing a photograph from Harriet Kirkpatrick's yard took me about as long as it did to choose a name for one of my children.  When there are 500 hydrangeas in numerous garden rooms around a charming house on a big corner lot, it's nearly impossible.  Every place you look, it's breathtaking.

So, I eschewed the photos of the fabulous 'Annabelle' display in the front yard and passed up views of the sea of white and pink and blue and purple macrophyllas that fill the side yard and the large area between the back porch and a former playhouse.  I finally settled on the above "room", just inside a gate that leads to the adjacent street (where there is a long bank covered with 'Nikko Blue' mopheads).  I also had nice shots of others that spill over an antique iron fence that came from Harriet's father's house in Cairo, Ga., where she grew up.

Harriet has had hydrangea fever for a long time.  When she met the late Penny McHenry, who founded the American Hydrangea Society and whose garden was called Hydrangea Heaven, Harriet became a disciple.

Harriet figures she has about 50 different varieties.  Some blooms are as big as a soccer ball.  The colors  go from deepest purple to light pink, lavender, mauve, pure white and all shades of blue.  When I admired a light pink one she had in front, Harriet pointed out that those same flowers were blue last year.  You never know, she says, and it varies from year to year.

Harriet is well-known in Atlanta garden circles and has done some garden design for friends.  I remember seeing some wonderful containers she put together years ago with a mix of herbs and flowers.  She also volunteers her time in the garden of an Atlanta hospital.

I'm trying to find a macrophylla that will stay white (I can't grow the 'Annabelle' types, because the deer mow them down; for some odd reason they haven't ever bothered the big leaf ones - knock on wood).  Harriet thinks 'Queen of Pearls' will do the trick, and is layering one for me.  In the meantime, I'm going to start building up the soil in the areas where hydrangeas would grow.  Seeing Harriet's magical garden makes you want every hydrangea in the world.

There is one slight disadvantage to having so many beautiful flowers.  The hydrangeas planted along the street have proved to be too tempting to passersby. Once, someone stripped an entire plant, Harriet says.  When I was there, she pointed out where a hydrangea thief just the night before had helped themselves.  There are so many flowers, though, it is hard to see that any are missing.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Lavender on the lake

I am forever guilty of wanting what I cannot have, plant-wise, that is.  In Atlanta, with our heavy red clay and high humidity, growing lavender in the ground is not that easy.  I did go to a neighborhood party a few years ago, and the homeowner actually had what I call Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas), with its silvery foliage and showy purple flowers, growing in a bed in front of her house.  She said the plants had come back for the second year in a row.

My local Publix grocery store sells these plants pretty often.  They are so tempting, and I've fallen victim a couple of times, only to watch the plants bloom out and eventually succumb to the humidity.  But my heart leapt when I saw the above Provence lavender (Lavandula x intermedia) growing merrily on Lake Martin in central Alabama.  If you look at a road atlas, you can see that the location is even further south than Atlanta.  So, given the right planting medium (excellent drainage, for sure) and full sun, one might be able to pull this same look off here.  There's nothing more satisfying than pinching off a stem or leaf and savoring that special fragrance.

I have read that Provence lavender can tolerate more humidity than other lavenders.  Back in the 1980's when I thought I could have an English garden a la Jekyll here in Atlanta, I ordered some 'Munstead Wood' plants.  My idea of copying a planting at an English manor house where the dark purple lavender grew on a terrace overlooking an expansive lawn didn't work out so well.  I seem to remember the tiny plants just sitting there for a while and then literally melting.

I'm getting a late start this year with any summer annuals for the back terrace.  I've had good luck with petunias out there.  For some reason the chipmunks don't dig those up like they do everything else.  If I can find some Provence lavender, I'd like to give it a try.  If I succeed, I'll post the results.  If not, I'll not talk about another lavender failure and quietly settle for some nice bars of soap instead.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Happy birthday to our inspiration

Margaret Moseley is 96 today.  I'm trying to think what time of year I first got out of my car at her house and walked into her back yard.  I think it was in early June.  I hate to be melodramatic, but it was a turning point in my life.  Here was a garden that would furnish me with countless columns and articles for magazines and newspapers and would be the subject of two episodes of A Gardener's Diary on HGTV.  Margaret's garden would appear on the covers of Southern Living magazine and one of their garden books, as well as in numerous magazine and newspaper articles by other writers.  Tara Dillard would feature her on her television show.

It was great to have such a wonderful subject to write about (so many good quotes, you couldn't use them all), but what we all gained the most was inspiration.  You'd go to Margaret's garden, and on the way home, your heart would be beating fast with ideas you'd gleaned - plants you wanted to try (most likely, you had something in a grocery bag Margaret had dug and given you), combinations you hadn't thought of, and always, a renewed desire to garden.  She always reminded you that it was never to late to start.  I know several wonderful gardens now that came to be because of Margaret.

Here's something I wrote twelve years ago in a treatment for an episode of A Gardener's Diary:
"Margaret will be 84 years old on May 28.  Still, her sense of wonder and her planning for the future continues.  She wants every plant, every new variety.   She exclaims over every bloom."

Another quote from an earlier magazine article:  "This is the most exciting hobby in the world.  There's something new every day.  If I wake up at night and can't go back to sleep, I move plants around in my head."

And, that has been the key to the beauty of her garden - moving plants around.  If something didn't look right or didn't thrive where it was initially planted, it was dug up and relocated.  Here's what she said at age 92:  "Don't be afraid to move plants.  Last year, I realized my six-foot-tall banana shrub was in too much shade.  I dug it up and had to drag it across the yard.  Also, you can't plant too many dogwood trees, especially the kousa."

In that same column, the editor made a mistake and and attributed one of Margaret's quotes to another person.  The Public Editor of the newspaper printed a correction on Page 2, but Margaret still didn't like it.  Here's what she said:

"Growing old, I've been so blessed by the younger garden friends I've made through the years.  I can't say enough about what gardening has done for me. . . . I just wish everybody could have a garden."

Saturday, May 26, 2012


If I'd thought of it, I'd have bought some flowers from a fabulous shop near my daughter's new apartment in Cobble Hill in Brooklyn.  That might have legitimized this as a "gardenphotooftheday" entry.  I went to New York over Mother's Day weekend, and we had perfect weather.  As we were walking down the street late on Saturday, a very chic flower shop had buckets of hydrangeas and peonies and big bunches of billowy David Austin roses.  The inventory was  pretty much cleaned out, but the leftovers looked fabulous.  I wish we'd looked in earlier.

I'm taking license here by counting the botanical prints we bought in Charleston, S.C., (my daughter lived there after journalism school) as something gardeny.  Still, it's fun to analyze what's in this view.  This is, of course, a small space - very small, in fact.  But, at least in this apartment, there's a place for several people to sit and have a conversation without having to perch on the side of her bed.  That was the case in the previous studio apartment in the attic of a brownstone in Park Slope.  Still, she had to use a lot of restraint and give up some items that just wouldn't fit here.

I was eager to show the whole room, but I couldn't get a good angle.  Here is a love seat she just bought.  She's still thinking a bigger sofa would have been a better choice.  I don't agree.  There's a Swedish type arm chair to the left, and a larger fauteuil with ottoman on the right.  You can just see the tip of a padded coffee table she bought from a friend.  It holds the T.V. and a big round silver tray we got from John Derian's shop in the East Village.  The little leather stool was a close-out I picked up at Restoration Hardware, just before they went through the change that has them sending me an e-mail every single day (I was an early victim of their new look, I confess).

The little pine chest on the left came from my mother-in-law's upstairs bath.  When my other daughter was little, she decorated the piece with stickers.  Unfortunately, some vestiges are still on there.  The French iron stand on the right came from Anthropologie.  This was years ago.  I walked into the Atlanta store, and they had at least a dozen of these for $38 each - half off.  Why didn't I buy them all?  I only got two.  That mistake will always haunt me.  I could have given them for wedding presents or parceled them out over the years.  Oh well.

The balustrade lamps are from a shop in Charleston.  My daughter called and was agonizing over them.  They were too expensive, she said, but were a good size.  "Get them," I said.  "You'll regret it later if you don't."  I am a bad regretter of things I didn't buy, as you can probably tell.

The very faded rugs are from Scott's Antique Market, which happens the second weekend every month in Atlanta.  I bought four for my daughter.  One you can't see, and the other is in her office at Simon & Schuster and looks really good.

That antique map of the United States was in my late husband's law office.  In the lower left hand corner of the photo, just barely visible, is an iron and faded wooden French cafe chair.  It goes with a metal table (red, but that's okay), also from John Derian's shop, bought when my daughter lived in the West Village.

This deconstruction came about because I couldn't make a decision about all the pictures of hydrangeas I took in Harriet Kirkpatrick's fabulous garden yesterday.  I'll save them for next week, when it's not a holiday.  I may have to show some more of my daughter's apartment at some point.  I love her bookcase and writing table and the objects she's put around that are subtle, but interesting.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Remembering Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'

If you saw yesterday's post, you are aware that this is a garden structure that holds a swing.  Here's the view from a few steps below, next to a lovely garden pool.

This year, I'm going to have to be content with photographs of the popular 'Annabelle' hydrangea (above, with oakleafs over to the left).  The deer have ravaged mine.  Ditto the Casa Blanca lilies, purple garden phlox, a new clematis and the seedlings of Rudbeckia 'Indian Summer', of which I was very proud - I didn't know they would spread as they did (usually, they aren't hardy here).

While I was gone for three days, the creatures must have had a blast.  They pinched the tops from the pink daisy chrysanthemums (that won't hurt, as long as they don't do it again later in the summer) and ate all the bloom possibilities off four plants of Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight'.  Mercifully, I had a couple of Annabelles and one Limelight moved to the farm inside a deer fence.  I knew it was a matter of time until they got to the toad lilies.  Half of them are gone.

Amazingly, the deer don't bother (or haven't yet) the Hydrangea macrophyllas.  They have eaten the giant blossoms of H. quercifolia 'Snowflake', but they've left the big blooms at the back of the plant alone.  I'd better get my camera up there in a hurry if I want to capture those oversized flowers.

I took this photo a couple of years ago on the American Hydrangea Society's tour.  There were lots of hydrangeas in this garden and some good ideas, as well.  I'll be passing some more along soon.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A garden swing brings memories

This doesn't look a thing like the garden swing I had as a child.  Ours was mounted on the metal poles of a worn-out swing set.  It was located in what we called the "big lawn" (as opposed to the little lawn directly in front of our house) under a water oak tree.

It wasn't often that my mother and I would go there and swing, but when we did, it was sublime.  She would hum her favorite hymns, sometimes singing the words, but mostly not.  The air would be soft and sweet, like you would expect on a summer evening in childhood.  It would not be dark yet, but in the ebbing light, you would see the fireflies twinkle here and there (actually, we unpoetically called them "lightening bugs").

When we moved from our home place when I was 18 years old, Mother insisted we have a swing at the farm.  It was never the same.  Of course, I was older, and it was my brother's children who got to experience the moments with my busy mother.  Also, the shade wasn't the same under a black walnut tree.  It would have been different if all the American elms which were growing at the farm had survived, but they all succumbed to the Dutch elm disease.  One would come up and grow almost to maturity, and then it would die.

But back to a swing.  I'm not sure how comfortable the one above is, but it is attractive in its setting.  There used to be a swing on the porch of the little house here in Atlanta.  It must have rotted or fallen victim to the merciless onslaught of carpenter bees.

Soon, I'll be renting that little cottage out, but before I do, I hope to find a good, sturdy swing for the porch.  There's nothing quite like sitting there in the waning light, thinking of times long ago, next to your mother, when you knew everything was going to be okay.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Virginia sweetspire was there after all

Those jeep rides around the farm back in late March and early April yielded some wonderful discoveries.  First, the colony of Atamasco lilies. Then, the discovery of a Piedmont native azalea.  I posted a photograph of the latter when it was in thick bud.  At the time, though, I lamented that there was no Itea virginica along the creek where I'd seen it in profusion before.

It turned out, I couldn't see the forest for the trees.  A return visit to the site of the native azalea, already past its bloom, yielded a surprise.  I'd been so busy looking at the pink honeysuckle blooms of Rhododendron canescens that I'd missed the Itea virginica right next to it.

I was reminded of the plant this past weekend, when I went to Charlottesville, Virginia, to see my daughter graduate from law school.  I took a walk around her neighborhood.  The peonies were just going over, as were the roses.  But, in a shady glade that was quite beautiful, I saw a row of Virginia sweetspire in bloom.  I was reminded that I hadn't posted my own picture of this native plant.

This deciduous shrub grows along the creek banks of the Eastern U.S., but it does very well in shady garden situations.  In fact, it does too well sometimes, spreading rapidly.  But with a little management, this is a wonderful shrub to own if you don't have a lot of sun.  Despite its position in shade, it turns beautiful colors in the fall.

Here's what Dr. Michael Dirr says of the plant:  "An interesting native shrub valued for fragrant flowers at a time when few plants are in flower...on some specimens the fall color is fantastic.....not utilized enough in American gardens; it would make a good choice for naturalizing in moist areas...not given sufficient credit for drought tolerance which is considerable."

I remember seeing this in a garden on the Atlanta Botanical Garden's tour on Mother's Day weekend several years ago.  It was amazing what the couple had done with a shady situation.  The Virginia sweetspire 'Henry's Garnet' was dripping with long white flowers and blended well with all their Japanese maples and hostas.

So, it was a wonderful surprise to see it growing over the creek at the farm, so beautiful against the flowing water.  I look forward to going back and seeing the plants in the fall.  As I remember, the leaves were a translucent, glowing red.  We shall see.

What can happen to Easter lilies after Easter

It was in a book either by or about Eudora Welty that I saw a photograph that inspired me.  The grainy black and white picture showed Easter lilies that had been planted in a cemetery and looked a lot like the ones pictured above.  Apparently, the flowers came up year after year, and people with relatives in the cemetery added to them each Easter.

Only once, when I was in charge of potted Easter lilies at church (never again!  Stressing over whether the flowers would open in time or be over for Easter day was too much), did I plant some.  I had kept a couple of pots that didn't work out.  I put the bulbs in a larger container and forgot about them.

The next year, the foliage began to emerge, and by late May, I had Lilium longiflorum blooming.  I meant to put them in the ground somewhere, but never did.  I'm not sure what happened after that (squirrels may have dug them up), but the lilies disappeared.

The Easter lilies in the above photograph are planted in the ground in an Alabama garden and come up year after year.  They bloom in the South in late May.  In colder climates, it's June or July.   In this scene, you can see the bell-shaped Clematis texensis 'Princess Diana' on the right and a large flowering blue clematis (I'm not sure which one, but looks like C. jackmanii) on the left.  Overhead in the background, some form of trumpet vine (Campsis radicans, perhaps) is already starting to bloom.

I just looked for that Eudora Welty book.  I can't find it, but I'll keep searching. This past year, I didn't buy a pot of lilies for anyone.  Next year, I will, and then I'll ask if I can have the bulbs afterwards.  By then, I'll have my deer fence and can add bulbs each year so I can enjoy their beauty and fragrance in a garden setting, even though I really liked the way those Easter lilies looked in that cemetery,

Friday, May 18, 2012

If I could have this secret garden

My pocket garden is not looking so good.  I was going through some photographs and came across this one.  What a delightful little spot this is.  It's really a hidden garden within a giant garden.  In fact, this is only one of dozens of such clearings in the huge hillside Jim Scott has carved out overlooking a cove on Lake Martin in Alabama.  All the paths that connect the secret gardens are just as beautifully planted.

I'm thinking I don't have room for any grass, but I like the stone paving and bench.  That I could do.  And, I have some 'Sky Pencil' hollies for something vertical.

Jim has a zillion hydrangeas of every hue.  It must be beautiful over there with everything blooming so early.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

It's okay to keep it simple

When I first started gardening, I thought that when it came to container gardening I had to cram in as many plants as possible in all different colors and textures.  I still like that look, but I eventually figured out that having one good plant makes an impact, as well.  Sometimes, that's all you need.

On a trip to Brooklyn, N. Y., last weekend, my daughter and I were walking down a lovely shaded street when we came upon two stone planters sitting on the sidewalk.  Each held one big, beautiful hosta - green with yellow margins and huge leaves.  My photographs didn't do the plants justice, so I'm not using them here.  Suffice it to say that the hostas looked beautiful and were a good choice for the conditions on the street.

The exquisite container above is yet another one of Bill Hudgins' lovely imports from Asia.  I don't know what the fern is - maybe a tropical one - but it is spectacular and just right for this pot.

When I returned home Monday night, I went out onto the terrace (that sounds pretentious - I usually say "concrete deck") to check a water gauge (we finally had some rain on Sunday; it was a shame that it was the second day of the big garden tour here), I noticed several pieces of white styrofoam lying about.  I was puzzled.

The next morning, I saw that some creature had dug up a large Japanese holly that I had cut into a ball (I have three of them in matching pots to provide some green back there; I use the styrofoam for filler so I don't need as much soil).  Last year there was a yellow jacket nest down in that particular container, so it didn't get a lot of attention.  I can't imagine who has totally dug out all the fillers I had in there (it's a huge pot).  And why did they just choose that one?  It's going to be quite a chore to put the styrofoam back and fill in with new soil.  This was too much work for the chipmunks or squirrels, I think, and they've never dug out there before (although someone ate my Black Seeded Simpson lettuce plants two years in a row; I've given up on that).

I've gotten off the subject here.  What I'd like to say is that I now have several very large containers with just one plant apiece.  There are two 'Emerald' arborvitae and some 'Winter Gem' boxwoods, in addition to the three holly "balls".  So, when I add the dark purple, velvety petunias I like, it's going to look nice.  I also have a peegee hydrangea back there ('Silver Dollar'), and its white blooms go well with the green and purple.  I need to plant my moon vine seeds (what have I done with them?), along with some basil, and I'll just leave it at that.  Next year, I'm going to get an early start and have some of those mixed containers with lots of flowers and interesting foliage.  For this year, with all that's going on, I'll just have to keep it simple.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Let the seeds fall where they may - or not

In late winter, I noticed that some poppies were coming up next to my front door in Atlanta.  That seemed odd, as the nearest poppy plant I had anything to do with was 40 miles away.

The plants, with their silvery-gray foliage, came up in pea gravel, next to a limestone stoop.  I left them to grow, and about three weeks ago, they began blooming.  The young couple who visited here from California week before last must have wondered why six tall flowers were blooming in front of one of the two boxwoods that flank the front door.

The mystery as to how they came to be there will never be solved.  The red, very double flowers, though, were very similar to the ones my mother always had in a strip outside her kitchen window.  When my parents were in their late eighties, the little strip grew up with weeds.   I finally got in and cleaned it all up.  The next winter, here came Mama's cherry red poppies again.  She was delighted when they bloomed in May, after an absence of years.  The seeds had been there all that time, just waiting for some smooth ground and air to germinate.

The poppies have been blooming ever since.  Each year, I've marked the poppies that looked best and saved those seeds in the refrigerator at her house.  Every spring, they've been coming up and making a show.  This year, I failed to mark the good ones, but most were the cherry red ones.  I think the plants morph, and you get a variety of colors.  One I saved was a pretty good dark lavender that was very ruffled.

The scene above is from Bob Clinard's Atlanta garden.  I missed seeing his poppies in bloom, but as you can tell, I caught the larkspur at its peak.  I like the look of the poppy seed pods in this gray-green form; they're very decorative.  Pretty soon, though, they'll turn brown, and I imagine Bob will pull them up.  He keeps a super neat garden.

Now, just as I am writing this, I've thought of something.  I believe I had some dried pods that were still intact in the kitchen at the farm.  I sort of remember bringing them back up here to put on the mantel in Mother's cornucopias at Thanksgiving.  Maybe I put them down beside the stoop, and some seeds dropped out.

This fall (the time to plant poppy seeds and all cool season annuals like bachelors' buttons, larkspur, ox-eyed daisies, etc.), I want to plant some Flanders Field poppies.  I found some packets my late husband had bought back in the early nineties.  I hope they're still viable.

In the meantime, I need to check at the farm and see how the poppy pods are coming along.  I still have a bloom on one of the plants by the front door.  And, I'm enjoying looking at the gray-green pods, but they'll soon have to be pulled up.  I don't know that I want poppies growing by the front door again.  It does look pretty weird.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Looking for peace and order in chaos

Am I the only one who gets into a situation where I feel totally surrounded by chaos, so much so that I can't decide what to do next, and I end up doing nothing?

Today has been that way.  I went to New York to visit my older daughter for Mother's Day and to attend an event Sunday night she had helped organized (I wanted to get my photograph taken with the famous author, but she said no).  I had left home in a whirlwind, learning that a dishwasher I bought for a cottage I've renovated was broken and will have to be replaced.  Then, I noticed that the curtain rods  a workman installed were up against the ceiling, and it would be impossible to put the sort of curtains I needed on the rods.

This is very un-serious stuff, but then to get clothes washed, pick up dry cleaning, get the dogs' food and beds ready to take to the kennel and get packed, etc., etc.,  I ended up leaving the house in a frenzy and barely made it to the park-ride at the airport to catch my plane.

I came back to dishes in the sink, an unmade bed, papers scattered everywhere, floors that crunch when you walk on them, a million calls to make and schedules to change and on and on.  Once again, none of this is in the least serious in the scheme of life, but are minor annoyances that made me spin my wheels until I had to rush out to a meeting downtown at 11:30 and finally make it back to the computer to do this entry.

But, this is the soothing part for me.  I love looking at garden pictures, thinking up what to write - if life could only be doing this blog.

Anyway, I chose a photograph from Bill Hudgins' garden that is very calming to me.  First, I like the urns sitting there in a row.  Beneath them, Bill has organized ground covers in a pattern, and the whole is backed by boxwoods from his extensive collection.

In my next life, I am going to be an organized person.  My bags will be packed days in advance, and I will have paid my bills before the last minute, and I will be able to find things on my desk without rifling through piles of paper.

Most importantly, I'll be able to create a quiet and beautiful scene like the one above, so that I can just go out and stroll around the garden and have time to stop and smell the roses, or, as in this case, stop and appreciate the beautiful order of things.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Yellow roses and thoughts of Mama

In our little town, it was a tradition for Mother's Day to wear a rose in honor or in memory of your mother.  A red rose meant that your mother was still alive; a white rose was worn if your mother had passed away.

Every Mother's Day morning, I went off to Sunday School with a red rose pinned to my dress.  My own mother would wear a white rose, although I think Daddy sometimes gave her a white corsage instead.

I continued this tradition until Mother died in July 2007.  That next year, I just didn't have the heart to find a white rose.  Ironically, the red rose I used to pick disappeared in the spring of 2008.  A guy in my Sunday School class still wears a white rose.  He grew up in Atlanta, so I guess they had this tradition in the city, too.

But this Mother's Day, I'll think of Mama, who loved yellow roses the best.  She had several through the years.  Today, Rosa 'Golden Showers' climbs a trellis at her house.  I haven't been down there in a couple of weeks, and I imagine the first flush of bloom is probably past, like most of the other roses in Atlanta (until recently, roses were at their peak on Mother's Day).

The rose pictured above is the David Austin English rose 'The Pilgrim'.  This is from a slide I took several years ago at Brooks Garcia's east Atlanta home.  He had the  rose growing up through other shrubs and vines along his front walk.  I love the lemon yellow color and the very double flowers.  If I can figure out this deer thing, I'd love to grow this rose.  I'm sure Mother would have loved it.  I think it's about as pretty as any yellow rose she ever grew.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Your mission, should you choose to accept it

When I was a couple of years out of college, my friend Kathi Woods and I traveled around Europe one summer on a Eurail pass (Oops.  I've forgotten how to spell the train pass that a lot of us bought back then; it allowed you to hop on a train, travel first class just about anywhere on the continent).

Anyway, Kathi was fun to travel with because she would study the Europe on $5 a Day guide (!), and pick out a mission for each city we visited.  For instance, we'd have to find a rather obscure scene or object or statue, just to make things interesting.  One example I remember was this:  Whose heart is buried in a jar in the Pantheon in Paris?  I actually remember that one, though I've forgotten many of the  others, like the ship we had to find in Stockholm.

What does this have to do with the scene above?  The Atlanta Botanical Garden's annual Gardens for Connoisseurs tour is this Saturday and Sunday, May 12 and 13.  I am disappointed that I am going to miss it, as there are some really fabulous gardens to see.

So, I ran over to Bill Hudgins' house this afternoon to take some photographs.  The light was not good (finally, a clear, crisp day, but not good for photography, at least not in mid-afternoon), but I managed to get a few shots in.  I'm definitely going back.  I took 157 pictures, and I didn't even scrape the surface.  So many paths; so little time.

I am proposing a mission for those of you who attend the tour.  See if you can recognize where I was standing when I captured this scene.  I was going to make it a lot harder, as there are so many paths to take and so much to see.  For instance, I took a photograph of Hosta 'Thunderbolt', and that was going to be my proposed mission.  But, that's pretty hard, although Bill has it in several places (google the image, and see if you can locate it in the garden).

Anyway, the above view is easy enough, although Bill has so many great terra cotta jars and containers placed throughout the garden (we're talking several acres).  Also, look for his prized Japanese lanterns.  They're everywhere.  Also, he's changed portions of the garden to reflect his interest in modern Japanese landscape design.

I just checked the weather, and by Saturday, the sky may be overcast, which will make for good photography.  I will say, though, just as I was leaving today, I caught some leaves of an orangy (no such word) Japanese maple, backlit by the sun.  That made up for the harsh glare I encountered earlier.

Tickets may be purchased at the gardens, which are listed on the Atlanta Botanical Garden's Web site.  The gardens all look fascinating.  It should be a great tour this year.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

All quiet on Wisteria Lane*

Yesterday, you saw the disaster that happened inside Carol Tessier's courtyard entrance in Asnieres, just on the outskirts of Paris.  It looked like a wisteria explosion.  Here's a tamer view that shows how amazingly long the chains of flowers are on this selection.  This view from the street was taken after the clean-up, and if you'll look through the door, you can see that the canopy over the courtyard is breathtaking.

Many of you who live here in Georgia know the Asian wisteria as a thug and although not as widespread as kudzu, has become a rampant and very strong beast of a plant (we do have the very desirable native Wisteria frutescens that behaves, but blooms later with shorter flower chains).  When I first moved to this property, I was enchanted by the purple fairyland that appeared overhead in early April.  Soon, I realized that this is one of the toughest vines to get rid of and a formidable enemy.  After it roots and grows to over a few inches tall, it's impossible to pull up.  In late winter, the velvety pods explode and then fall, throwing the smooth brown seeds in all directions and making them hard to find if there's a ground cover.

But, I haven't seen any wisteria around here with chains this long.  I did order four plants of the white version after I saw it in a California garden.  I ended up selling the plants to an acquaintance who desperately wanted them.  This was years and years ago.  He moved away, so I don't know how the plants fared in Georgia's climate and if they had the long chains like the ones in Marin County, California.  I can imagine, though, that the wooden trellis he had built over his patio was no match for mature wisteria vines, so I doubt anything good came out of it.

A neighbor of Carol's sent her a photograph of all the wisterias on their street.  They were all lovely, but Carol's was the prettiest and by far had the longest chains.  Wisteria is a high maintenance vine, but for the beauty it brings during this season in Paris, I believe it's well worth the trouble.

* Wisteria Lane is the name of the street in the TV series Desperate Housewives, so people outside the U.S. or who haven't watched the show (I never got hooked, but my younger daughter was a fan) won't recognize the reference.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

It happened one night

My lovely friend from long ago, Carol Tessier, and I have been e-mailing back and forth about her fabulous Wisteria floribunda 'Longissima'.  I visited Carol and her husband Luc a couple of years ago in early May and was dazzled by the super-long chains of flowers in her entrance court.

Carol lives in Asnieres, just outside Paris, on a street with high walls.  Only the top of the house is visible from the sidewalk.  At this time of the year, when you step through the doorway and into the entrance court, you walk under exceptionally long, fragrant wisteria blossoms which hang overhead.  It's like you've entered some magical kingdom.

So, a while back, I asked Carol if she would take a photograph for me to post here.  She agreed and kept giving me reports as to the progress of the flowers.  Here's the e-mail I received on Sunday.  The subject was "Great Catastrophe!!!":

"Yesterday I admired the wisteria and said to Luc that it should be just right to take a photo to send to you today. Well as you see I did take a photo this morning but not exactly of what I'd hoped!!!  We had friends for dinner last night and while we sat in the convervatory we could hear the rain drumming on the glass roof.  When we went out to see our guest off, we got a shock as we could hardly get out of the front door. Our wonderful wisteria was feeling very tired and heavy and probably fed up with all these great expectations, and had just decided to go on strike and lie down!!  Luckily nothing is broken, but it's so heavy and laden with water at the moment that we're going to have to find a plan, plus people to help to get it up again. I hope that by then all the flowers won't be spoilt and I'll be able to send you the promised masterpiece. France is voting today and I also wondered if it wasn't a bad omen for the results."

Today, Carol sent me two more views, showing the repair with a rather reduced amount of blooms.  She said it was okay to use the above "catastrophe", so you can see how impressive the sight must have been.  You can get an idea of how it's supposed to look if you zero in on the upper left hand corner, where the blooms are still hanging in a straight fashion.

Tomorrow, I'll post a photo taken from the street.  You won't believe how long the racemes are.  I've seen the white version, 'Longissima Alba' in a garden in California, but I believe these chains are even longer.  Incredible!

Monday, May 7, 2012

One good turn

Yesterday, I was a little early to meet some friends for lunch and decided to turn onto the street where Bob Clinard lives, as it was just around the corner from my destination.

I never know what I'll find at Bob's.  Two weeks ago, I would have seen his roses in bloom and a gazillion red poppies.  But, the faded roses - all but a handful - had been deadheaded, and the poppies had been pulled up or left as seed pods.  What I did find was a sea of larkspur next to the street and traveling down into the borders around his neat-as-a-pin lawn.

I wrote about Bob years ago when he planted and maintained a garden next to an antiques store.  That garden was near a major intersection.  People were constantly pulling over and looking at the flowers.  He had gorgeous roses back then, too, and later in the summer grew sunflowers and zinnias.  There was always something colorful going on, well into fall.

Bob now lives on a quiet cul-de-sac and works at the airport in one of those lounges where first and business class flyers go to wait to board.  I always think of the episode on Friends where Monica and Chandler were flying out for their honeymoon.  The couple in front of them revealed to the agent that they were newlyweds and were given an upgrade to first class.  When Monica and Chandler asked for the same treatment, they were turned down.  The other couple proceeded to one of those exclusive lounges and were welcomed in.  When Monica and Chandler tried to sneak in, they were kicked out.  I think I tried this once - I can't even remember the circumstances because I usually don't have enough nerve to do things like that.  I, too, was turned away.

Anyway, Bob works in one of those lounges for the lucky few.  Maybe he'll let me come visit him one of these days.

Yesterday, I got out of the car and started snapping pictures.  I could hear a dog barking, but I figured Bob was at work.  Finally, he yelled out the door that he'd be right out.  He had recognized me, and fortunately is always very welcoming.  Of course, he said I should have been there two weeks ago, but I thought the larkspur extravaganza was breathtaking.  Bob keeps his garden so clean that everything seemed fresh and beautifully groomed.

Bob obtained the larkspur seeds from an across-the-street neighbor who is now deceased.  His red Flanders Field poppies also came from that same source.  Bob said that just about every neighbor on the street is in his or her late eighties or nineties.  He helps do some lawn care for several of them.  I joked that I thought this was a good street to be on, that maybe some of those genes will rub off on him.

Bob grows a lot of things from seed, so I left with a tropical plant (will have to wait to see what it is; the seedling is about to pop out and is very sturdy) and a fatsia he'd potted up.  I hope the deer don't like the latter.  I never know.

The photograph above shows a loquat tree Bob has trimmed up (most of these trees disappeared from Atlanta after the freezes of the early 1980's) and a view into the front yard, which is a few feet below street level.  The yellow daylily already in bloom is 'Moon Traveler'.  It was very difficult to choose among the photographs I took.  I also went into the back yard, where there is a lovely hosta garden and a koi pond with some of the biggest specimens I've ever seen.

All in all, my snap decision to turn onto Bob's street was a good one.  The only thing was, I was late for lunch.  I tried to make my friends understand that I had actually been early, but, I'm sorry to say, my explanation didn't go over very well.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Little things can inspire big dreams

You would probably think I'm crazy if you knew how many times I've studied the very simple scene in this photograph.  An old door with faded paint and worn iron hinges.  Stone that looks haphazardly grouted by some mason long ago.  Flowers that may or may not have been planted on purpose.

I don't know how many times I've wondered how the French grow things that seem to come from only a crack where the sidewalk meets the wall.  Of all the photographs I took on a 2006 visit to Giverny, it's this one that I keep coming back to.  In fact, I was so inspired that I came up with a crazy idea that seemed to make sense at the time.

You'll remember that in May 2006, we didn't know the growing danger looming in the housing market.  I don't know how many developers had contacted me, even before my mother died in 2007, about buying her farm and turning it into a subdivision (never, ever would my brother and I have let this happen to this beautiful land).  One even tried to tell me that if she sold it to him, there would be no capital gains taxes to pay, even though my parents had bought the 151 acres in 1957.  I should have had him arrested.

Anyway, I saw the little village next to Giverny, and I thought, how wonderful it would be to build some stone houses out of old materials and have all the occupants be gardeners.  On my little rural street (which would be situated on the abandoned runway my daddy built on the farm in 1960), the houses would have slate or tile roofs, and we'd all have walled-in plots for flowers and maybe a few cabbages and herbs.  Further away, there'd be a large space for vegetable gardening and an orchard where little blue star flowers would come up in the grass in spring.  I can't tell you how many nights I lay awake planning this little street that would look nothing like any other subdivision.  It wouldn't look like a street in a movie set either, and all the materials would be old and put together properly.

Well, thank goodness I didn't have the gumption to do any of this.  When the crash came, I'd have gone down in flames, or perhaps in a pile of stone.

Still, I dream of a cottage (I have stacks of cut granite from an old lodge sitting all along my driveway, plus 4,000 cobblestones piled up at the farm - another story for another time).  I'd have gravel  or simple pavement going right up to the walls, and then you'd see a little mass of flowers like above.  All very simple and somehow old.  A climbing rose would ramble up the corner of the house, and a little side yard would be overflowing with flowers.  On the south wall would be espaliered apple trees.

Okay.  Time to wake up and face reality.  But that's the way with the love of flowers and ancient stone and old wood and such.  One can always dream and imagine, and, even though time is passing quickly, it's not out of the realm of possibility that some of it might come true one of these days.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Learning from Lyndy

Several readers reminded me that Lyndy Broder's garden was featured on an episode of A Gardener's Diary on HGTV.  I meant to include this fact in yesterday's post, but there was so much to say about Lyndy and how she has made such a big garden in such a short time that I forgot to mention the show.

The above photograph was actually taken in Anna Davis' garden when it was on the Atlanta Botanical Garden's Gardens for Connoisseurs on Mother's Day a few years ago (note: the first flush of roses will be over this year on that weekend, due to high temperatures in April and May.)

Still, this image is a good example of how beautifully clematis combine with other flowers.  Here, Anna has trained Clematis florida var. sieboldiana with a single pink rose.

Back to Lyndy.  The first time I ever saw the above clematis was on the cover of a Wayside Gardens catalog at least 20 years ago.  I was entranced.  I also made an assumption that this was a native species, thinking of Cornus florida.  I should have known better.   I obviously wasn't thinking, since "sieboldiana" or "sieboldii" referred to the German Philipp Franz von Siebold, who, as far as I know, never stepped foot in Florida.  This clematis originated in China and came to Europe via Japan.  Lyndy straightened me out on this.  I also did the same thing with Clematis montana for years, thinking that this was a clematis native to the state of Montana.  I blame all this on Clematis texensis, which really is from Texas.  That's my story, and I'm sticking to it, however embarrassing.

Anyway, Lyndy had a spectacular cultivar of C. florida called 'Vienetta'.  It had a pom pom center that was even more impressive than the species.  My photos were dark, though, so I'm going to have to work on them to see if I can lighten them up.  By the time we got around to this 150th clematis, the sun was bearing down hard, and I lowered the light too much.

Lyndy also has some great clematis combinations in her garden.  One of my favorites was the light blue 'Arabella' coming up through the pink version of evening primrose.  There's just no end to what effects can be had with clematis.  One of my favorites ever was Margaret Moseley's C. jackmanii threading up through a purple smoke tree.  At Lyndy's, I still think of the pure white, old fashioned French clematis 'Huldine' having as its background the lacy branches of Pseudolarix amabilis.  A splendid combination.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Lyndy and the queen of climbers

When I left Lyndy Broder's incredible garden the other day, I had 158 new photographs and about six new chigger bites (when I was growing up, my brother used to get them, and I would sort of gloat that I never did; now I'm being punished; they love me and find a way to get to me even though I am always covered up).

But back to Lyndy.  I found her laying sod all by herself, cutting the edges to make large curving swaths throughout her expansive back garden.  This might not seem so extraordinary until you see the size of the garden and learn that she has planted every tree, shrub, vine, perennial and bulb on the three acres she's cultivated.  There are thousands of specimen plants, many very rare.  Going through her garden is like visiting a botanical garden.  I can't think of many plants she doesn't have.  There's something in bloom all year long.

Lyndy started her garden after a full time career in community mental health and raising four children.  In 1997 she finally retired from her job; in 1998 she completed the Master Gardener's course, and "the obsession began".  She quickly became one of the Atlanta region's most knowledgeable gardeners and began assembling a huge collection of plants.

Although I took photographs of various blooming shrubs and climbing roses and a rare tree I'd seen only once before, most of my attention was concentrated on Lyndy's famous clematis collection, which she has been amassing in recent years.  Lyndy is active in the International Clematis Society and has traveled all over the world to study this "Queen of Climbers".  I was there to catch the large-flowering types, which scramble up through shrubs or cover tuteurs or grow at the base of trees.  It was like being in a candy store.  You'd look at one and think it was the most beautiful flower you'd ever seen, only to move a few feet and find one just as phenomenal.

In addition to visiting gardens and nurseries in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Europe, England, Ireland and Japan, Lyndy's pursuit of clematis has taken her to places like Finland and Estonia seeking out hybridizers.  One of her most memorable trips was to Poland where she met the late Brother Stefan Franczak, a Jesuit monk who began hybridizing clematis in the 1960's and introduced some of the world's most beautiful clematis.

"He was so humble," says Lyndy.  "Just imagine, for years, no one knew of him.  All that time, he was quietly hybridizing clematis behind the Iron Curtain."

Lyndy is partial to blue clematis, although she has every color ranging from stunning reds to deep purples to pure whites. Choosing a photograph to feature was difficult.  I wanted to show every one she had.  The above cultivar, 'Yaichi', was hybridized in Japan.  I loved Lyndy's favorite 'Arabella', which weaves through beds all over the garden with charming, light blue flowers.  I also was taken with Brother Stefan's nearly black 'Syrena' and the velvety bright red, 'Bourbon' (great for patio containers, according to Lyndy), from the famed clematis hybridizer from the Isle of Guernsey, Raymond Evison.  And then there was 'Rhapsody', an intense blue beauty from England, and on and on.

Down the road, I'll post more of Lyndy's clematis.  She also has many species clematis, some of them from the U.S.  In the meantime, to see many of the clematis Lyndy grows, go to, Brushwood Nursery's Web site.