Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Roses still hanging on at Giverny

Lest you think this is in Monet's garden, I have to say that it's not.  It was so crowded in there, it was tough to get good shots.  Plus, for some reason, I sort of panicked.  I do have some photos that are worth sharing, but I liked this one that's in the village of Giverny, just up the road from Monet's house and garden.

I had previously heard from my friend Carol that I would be too late to see any roses.  But, the weather has been cold and rainy this spring (since I arrived last Thursday, we've had alternating sunny and what I call "set-in" rainy days).  If this pattern continues, tomorrow should be a nice day.  I'm going early to the Jardin des Plantes, which isn't too far away.  Then, my daughter arrives from New York around noon.  She may be tired and might choose to rest (I know one shouldn't do this; she should stay awake).  We have reservations at a bistro at 9:30 p.m., so we'll see who falls asleep at the table first.

Anyway, I still want to go to the Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne in case there are any roses left there.  I also need to get to the Parc Monceau.  I can usually depend on some lovely flowers there.

One interesting thing today:  We came across the biggest fig tree (with limbs the size of trees) in the Marais on our way to the Place des Vosges.  I looked and saw more fig trees and then noticed the name of the street - Rue Figuier or something like that.  I need to check that spelling.

Back to the roses at Giverny.  This was in the side garden of a house there.  I only recognized one rose in the garden ('Graham Stuart Thomas' - the color gives it away), and it's not in the picture.  Still, I loved the way the gardener had planted with abandon - quite a lovely scene.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Some poppies at Giverny

I'm sitting in the dark at the moment, watching a bateau mouche on the Seine, its lights making the apartments below the towers of Notre Dame look quite spectacular.  Oops.  The lights have passed now.

My friend and I are renting a 5th floor apartment at the top end of the Ile St. Louis in Paris.  I am looking over at Notre Dame from the window where I sit typing this.  The Eiffel Tower is lit tonight, but it hasn't done the light show yet.  It's 10:19 p.m., and it is twilight.  It's hard to go to bed until it gets dark around 11 p.m.

I went to Giverny on Friday.  It was a bright, sunny day, and I pretty much over-exposed all the pictures.  Plus, half the world was there.  We thought we were smart to take the 8:13 train, but all the tours got up early, too.

The flower situation was mixed.  I had caught the bearded irises at their peak when I was here in 2006. Right now, there are lots of poppies (the ones above were so unusual that it looks like I've doctored the photograph), and still some roses hanging on.  Even though I took over 300 photographs, I did not get all that many good ones.  I was disappointed.

However, wouldn't it be great to have the seeds from poppy pictured above?  I wonder if they would come true.

Today was a disappointment - one of those day trips where everything goes wrong.  I will only say that I mistakenly used the four expensive RER train tickets we bought to visit Barbizon by mistake yesterday in the regular Metro.  You can imagine how much sympathy I got from the woman at the guichet today when I explained what I had done.  Had to buy four more tickets to go to Barbizon - a lovely little village, but no gardens to see.  Don't ever think there's an inexpensive bus to take you there from Melun.  There isn't.  I could have bought myself a new raincoat for the money we wasted on taxis.

So, I'll be hoping to take more pictures of worthy landscape ideas.  So far, the hollyhocks everywhere win the prize.  More from Paris later.  I have to say the postings will be sporadic this week, as I'm borrowing a computer, and I can't figure out how to turn on the lights in this room.

The towers of Notre Dame are lit, as is the Hotel de Ville in back of me.  The Eiffel Tower isn't sparkling (I have to get up out of my chair to see that), but it is still beautiful.  It's just about dark now, faster than I thought, so I say good night from Paris.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Nothing like Charleston, South Carolina

The first time I went to Charleston, S.C., I felt like I was visiting another country.  I couldn't believe it - the old brick, the wrought iron, the shutters, the window boxes, the narrow alleys, the live oak trees shading the streets (many of them went with Hurricane Hugo in September 1989).  Still, this scene above is the aesthetic that was so intriguing to me.  It seems European, yet there's something about it that's unique to Charleston.

I love the fastigiate yaupon holly - I think this is Ilex 'Will Fleming' on either side of the window.  Framing the window and the Charleston black shutters is Confederate jasmine.  All of this is growing out of a very narrow border.

Peeking out in the left foreground is Clematis armandii and fig vine.  What you can't see (I had another view, but I liked this one better) is an espaliered podocarpus on an adjacent wall.  Actually, you do see the edges of it coming over to the door.

This is a great way to have greenery but still preserve space, which is at a premium in Charleston.  I know that each time I've been there, I've come home inspired.  There are a lot of good ideas, particularly if you're looking at a narrow space on the side of your house or want to add some charm with upright plants.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The hunt for the darkest flower

Someday I need to visit a psycho-analyst who can figure out why I am drawn to black or near-black flowers.  I remember being on the Kitsap Peninsula (or was it Whidbey Island?) near Seattle when I saw a black hellebore. I thought it was the coolest thing.  Before that, I was in a garden in Marin County, California, when I looked down to see a black pansy for the first time.  Now, they sell them in late October for Halloween.  They're usually in containers with orange pansies.

One thing that happened to me in my pursuit of a near black iris makes me chuckle.  I was in a garden in Michigan where the woman sold plants out of her yard.  I spied a very dark bearded iris, and asked if she would please send me some when the time came to divide them.  I gave her $10 and my address.  Sure enough, during the summer when the bearded iris were dormant, I received three fans.  I put them in a container so they'd be sure to have a lot of sun and good drainage.

The next spring, I eagerly looked forward to my almost-black iris.  Imagine my surprise when thick buds of two-toned brown and mustard unfurled.  I have to say that I didn't know there could be a flower color combination that unappealing.  I wondered later if I'd given her $20, would it have made a difference.

Now, as to the beardless iris above.  I captured this photograph in Milton and Davee Kuniansky's garden.  I raved so that he kindly gave me some.  Because of the bloom time, he thought it must be a Louisiana iris (surprisingly, they are hardy way north of Lousiana).  Year before last, I had one bloom, and it was this same iris.  I was thrilled.

But here's the rub.  I have another Louisiana iris that is a lovely medium violet color.  It's planted right across from the dark purple ones.  My discriminating deer ate the latter one, but left the lighter ones alone.  I didn't have one bloom on Mr. Kuniansky's iris this year, thanks to the marauders.

Anyway, I will continue to be on the lookout for very deep purple or near-black flowers.  I took a photo of a rose in France that looked like it was cut from the cloth of a fancy bordello (how would I know this?  Just guessing, really).  It was a dark, dark velvety burgundy, and very appealing.

So, the hunt is on.  I'm about to go to France, and I'll have my camera ready to capture anything interesting.  I hope to have some good photos to share when I return.  Maybe there'll be a dark, mysterious flower I haven't seen before.  On verra.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The lowly liriope gets some class

It's about to turn really hot here in Georgia.  It's also dry.  At the farm, the ground is cracked, and the crops are stunted.  Anything around here, especially plants in containers, has to be watered almost daily.

When it's like this, I like to look at all green scenes, like the one above.  It just seems to cool things down a bit.

The interesting thing to me about this plant composition is that right there in the middle is an attractive variegated form of liriope.

If you live up north, you probably don't depend on this grass-like plant like we do.  There was a landscape company that for years used liriope extensively in their designs.  In fact, I could ride around Atlanta and tell you which yards this very successful firm had done.  The tell-tale signs were weeping yaupon hollies by the front door, and, seemingly always,  a crape myrtle rising out of a mass of liriope.  There's no arguing that it's an easy care plant (it does need to be cut back in late winter to let the new foliage come up, although it's not necessary.  The present year's growth will cover the scraggly leaves from the previous year).

In recent years, an all-white form has been introduced, as well as one with chartreuse leaves.  There are also some great looking variegated plants which can lighten up a corner in shade.  In the photograph above, Bill Hudgins inserted white-striped liriope as a ground cover where bulbs had been.  The grassy leaves serve as a good texture contrast with the boxwoods.

One story about liriope.  It was everywhere when I moved to this property almost 40 years ago.  I decided I wanted to remove a good portion of it, as it had spread to areas where I wanted to plant other things.  I worked diligently to dig up huge clumps.  It was hard labor.  Once I had the plants dug, I pitched them into a large pile over next to the woods and forgot about them.

The next year, I was walking past where I had discarded the liriope.  My first thought was, "I didn't know there was any liriope over here."  Then I realized what had happened.  Every one of the clumps had rooted.  At one point, there was even a liriope "mountain", where I had piled the plants on top of each other.  They were doing just fine.

I'm a little kinder now towards the plant.  It has a lot of uses.  But, I still don't like that crape myrtle coming out of a sea of liriope.  That just never has looked good to me.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The un-hosta hosta

I started this post earlier using another photograph.  It showed a hosta with a large lime-colored center with dark edges.  It was a lovely plant, beautifully filled out.  Up in the corner was the above oddity.  This is Hosta 'Praying Hands'.  What I wanted to show was that this interesting hosta looks great next to a cultivar with wide, spreading leaves.

But, there wasn't enough of 'Praying Hands' in the photograph to make my point.  It may not be possible to see from this view that this hosta grows very upright.  The leaves are heavily corrugated (you can see that in this photograph), have yellow splotches and yellow to cream-colored margins.  The long, narrow leaves are tightly curled and remain that way.  Thinking of Albrecht Durer's famous drawing, I can see how the hybridizer, Gerald Williams, came up with the name.  It is, indeed, a curious looking plant, but one that looks great next to a "regular" hosta.

'Praying Hands' was introduced in 1996 and was named the 2011 Hosta of the Year.  It grows to about 14 inches tall and will form an 18-inch wide clump up north (less in a more southern climate, but still respectable).

I watched a YouTube video of a nurserywoman telling about the hosta, and she made an interesting suggestion.  She said that this is a good plant to honor someone or to put in a memorial garden.  I doubt many of us have the latter, but I like the idea of a plant with special meaning.  However,  just from an aesthetic point of view, 'Praying Hands' will look good with most hostas and would blend well with ferns and other shade-loving plants.  It's definitely a hosta to consider, even though it looks decidedly unhosta-like.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A spider with a rock 'n roll connection

I have always been fascinated by people who specialize in one kind of plant.  You go to their gardens when the flowers are at their best (I'm talking roses, dahlias, irises, etc.), and you just go crazy.  You want every one. That's how I felt when I visited Claude Carpenter's daylily garden.

Claude moved to a smaller place three and a half years ago, which means he had to cut down on the number of different daylilies he grows.  He's now down to just 200.  But, he's still active in the American Hemerocallis Society and has served as president of Region 5 for the past two years.

I took this photograph of a wild looking spider-type daylily in Claude's former garden.  I'm probably partial to those red and peach ones you can see in the background (although I like the light lemon colored ones and the types that have light petals and a dark eye best.)

But I would grow this daylily just for its name - 'Long Tall Sally'.  This happens to be one of my favorite Little Richard songs.  I can remember dancing in my living room in the 50's, pretending I had a partner.  I usually danced holding on to a door handle, since I had no live dancer around (I confess I still do this!), but Long Tall Sally was too fast to grab hold of anything.  All my twists and turns had to be done solo.

Oops. I digress.  Going back to gardeners who devote so much time to one special flower.  These are the people who keep up with the latest introductions, who are constantly looking for a better color, stronger substance, good foliage, etc., and who make sure special flowers are available to the public.

Another daylily authority and hybridizer who lives nearby is Bill Waldrop.  He's introduced many beautiful flowers and has acres of gardens.   I just looked on his Web site (google his name, and his nursery will come up).  I see that he has 'Long Tall Sally' for sale if you're looking for a big, spidery flower that steals the show.  At the farm, I have a yellow spider daylily I got from Bill.  I forget the name, but it's pretty spectacular.  The name, though, can't beat 'Long Tall Sally', especially if you like to fast dance.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A friend's cheerful gift keeps on giving

On the American Hydrangea Society's tour last Saturday, I saw this gladiolus in several places around Carol Williams' garden.  Due to the size and coloring, I thought she had bought some corms and planted them around the edges of the driveway.  I commented on the flowers, and she told me that no, they were hardy glads that come back every year.  The flowers are very special to her, she said, because they were given to her by Carolyn Bryant, a friend who died of cancer.

"She died three years ago after a seven year struggle with breast cancer," says Carol.

The two were golfing friends initially.  They went on to form a monthly bridge club that has met consistently for 14 years.

Carol and Carolyn also discovered that they both loved plants and would visit back and forth to see what each other had going.  About eight years ago, Carolyn brought over some corms.

"I don't know where she got them, but they are perfectly hardy," says Carol.  "They form big clumps really fast.  I've given tons and tons of them away."

Carol says the plants are so robust that she never knows where they'll pop up.  Three years ago, her driveway had to be completely moved and redone.  The next year, the glads came up in odd places.

"I didn't plant them.  They must have broken off when the work was being done."

What amazes Carol is that the flowers, which she says are not planted very deeply, have withstood some very low temperatures, but always came roaring back the next year.  She has never bothered to dig and store them over winter.

"It's amazing how fast they multiply.  I gave buckets of them away this spring."

The flowers are as tall as annual glads and are a cheerful yellow blotched with an orangy-red.

"They are so special to me," she says.  "Carolyn was such a good friend. I will always have such an affection for her in my heart."

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

One person's weed . . . .

As you can see in the above photograph, I was trying to be artistic.  I hope you'll ignore the fact that I didn't quite succeed.  The idea was good, but the execution was not.  But this photograph is actually just an excuse to talk about Verbena bonariensis, a flower that will grow in a lot of places.  In fact, it grows too well in some parts of this country and on other continents where it has been outlawed.

But, here in the southeastern U.S., this Brazilian native is fairly tame.  It will re-seed, and although it will form colonies, it is not likely to be a problem.  In fact, it is a good addition to the summer flower border and a good cut flower.

I took this photograph - actually it was a slide I had transferred to digital - in upstate New York.  The crew from A Gardener's Diary had traveled to the Catskills near Woodstock.  We arrived there during one of the worst droughts I've ever seen.  The normally green, lush trees in the mountains were brown and crispy, and the fields were yellow and dry.  The three gardens we taped were mercifully small, so that the owners were able to keep them looking good, despite the fact that it was August and there hadn't been any rain to speak of for months.

The above photograph was taken in Dean Riddle's garden.  Dean was a garden designer and also a garden writer for some very prestigious magazines.  I had already been there to scout in April, and I remember looking at the two small square plots of dirt next to his rustic house and thinking, "How is this going to work?"  My younger daughter, who was in boarding school in New Hampshire at the time, went with me on the trip.  I took her along because Dean helped Kate Pierson of the B-52's in her garden.  My daughter was thrilled.  She was now in the 10th grade, but in the third grade, she had dressed as Kate Pierson for Halloween.  This time, she got to try on one of Kate's red wigs (even bigger than the one that had weighed her down in elementary school).  We came away with autographed albums and rocks from Kate's yard as souvenirs.

But back to the Verbena bonariensis and Dean's garden.  When we arrived the second week of August for the taping (we did Kate's garden, too), I couldn't believe my eyes.  Those two empty plots had turned into a lush riot of colorful flowers.  Most everything had been grown from seed or had re-seeded.  Verbena bonariensis was among the latter.

Just yesterday, I went to a fabulous country garden I hadn't known about before, and the gardeners had some V. bonariensis mixed in their huge borders.  I am still fretting over the fact that I didn't have my camera with me.  My IPhone pictures did not do it justice.  But that will be a story for another day.  It's one of those gardens you need to visit often.  I'm astounded it's been there all this time, practically under my nose.  I can't wait to go back.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Drama made simple - well, maybe

One bold plant.  One stunning urn.  A simple way to add drama to a corner of the garden.  Right?

Maybe not for everyone.  I've often thought about the reaction of readers of this blog to the fact that many of the photographs I post were taken around Atlanta, Georgia, in the southeastern United States.  A lot of the plants - especially the colorful macrophylla hydrangeas featured recently - won't grow everywhere.  So, does that really matter?

In the case of not being able to have big, gorgeous hydrangea blooms, and memories of your grandmother's favorite bush, yes.  But then, I don't have the experience of growing up with fragrant lilac hedges, so dear to people in northern climates.

I'm a big believer in taking inspiration from other gardens, though - no matter where they are - and translating them to your own back yard.  For instance, I saw some photographs from Danish gardens recently, and I thought, "I can do that here."  I could, but I'd have to use different plants.

 I read often, especially with beginning gardeners or those who have just moved to another part of the country with an altogether different climate, the lament that there is no handbook on plants that will succeed in that area.  Although many garden writers have tried to customize plant selection for different parts of the country, that is sometimes very hard to do.  New introductions arrive, and then some plants depend greatly on a microclimate within an area to thrive.

A good approach is to visit local nurseries, go on the Internet, look at other gardens and yards around your area, talk with residents and determine what will succeed.

When it comes to scenes like the one above, I confess I am more of a stealer of ideas rather than an originator of my own landscaping concepts.

For instance, on a trip to the Perigord when I was first married, we went to a restaurant with an iron trellis that formed a long tunnel.  One part of the iron arch was fastened to a wall.  The other end went down into a wall about the height for seating.  Wisteria wound up the vertical poles and made a canopy.

I had bought a newspaper in that town which had a picture of the restaurant "tunnel."  Years later, I used it to show to a stone mason and then to a representative from an ornamental iron company.  I was able to duplicate the look (although my vertical poles were square and thicker than the ones in the Perigord; I was horrified at first, but then I got used to the scale for my particular circumstance).

Then, I proceeded to plant wisteria.  Fine in the Perigord where it doesn't get so out of hand.  After a few years, I had to remove the wisteria (with great effort), because it threatened to take the whole tunnel down.  I finally have a more manageable yellow trumpet vine (although it has to be kept in bounds) that is not as vicious as the wisteria.

Now, connecting this disjointed sermon with the photo above.  There are places where hosta doesn't grow (Miami, Florida?).  But, there are any number of wonderful tropical plants with giant leaves that might offer the same look.  One simple plant; one great looking urn, and you've got yourself a lovely vignette for the garden.

The only drawback here is that someone in Michigan might have a hard time with the already large Hosta 'Sum and Substance' pictured in an Atlanta garden.  Up north, this plant would soon overtake the scene.  In that case, a smaller leaf hosta, set at a distance from the urn, might work better.

Still, the idea is the same.  You can use your local plants to duplicate an idea from another region.  Now, as for leaving an urn such as this out in temperatures that dip to 25 degrees below zero, that's another problem - one that would definitely take the "simple" out of the title of this post.

Friday, June 8, 2012

What to do with Mama's hydrangea

Penny McHenry, founder of the American Hydrangea Society, used to tell a story about how unreliable bloom color could be.

For years, she had passed by a house with an extremely dark bluish purple hydrangea that she described as a "jewel tone", it was so rich in color.  Finally, she stopped and asked if she could layer the hydrangea, meaning she would take a branch, bend it to the ground and make a scrape on the stem.  She would then make an indention in the soil, put the branch down where it had been scarred, cover it with dirt and put a brick on top.  Within a few months, she would have a rooted hydrangea.  She would cut the new plant from the original, dig up its root and existing stem and re-plant it.

Well, Penny got permission from the homeowner to layer this special hydrangea.  The months passed, she went back, got the new plant and brought it to her house.  The next year, she could hardly wait to have this wonderful new color in her garden.  Only, it wasn't.  As I recall, the blooms turned out to be  a nondescript light mauve.  Hydrangeas will make a fool out of you every time, Penny would say.

As to the flower above, I'm in a dilemma about what to do.  This was my mother's hydrangea.  It grew in the worst possible place at my parents' house at the farm.  It was planted against white brick, facing south and west, with no shade anywhere in the vicinity.  But, year after year, it soldiered on, putting out the darkest, richest purple blooms that would look dead in the afternoon only to be fresh and colorful by the next morning.  It was hurt in the Easter freeze of 2007 and hadn't looked all that great since then. I had told this guy who keeps vegetable gardens at the farm that I would like to move it one of these days.  I never thought anymore about it.

One day, back in February, I drove up to my house to find a giant plastic pot with a bunch of sticks coming out at the top.  What on earth?

I got out of the car and went over to the plant and realized it was a hydrangea.  I knew it had to be this guy, who also works for a garden designer here in Atlanta.  No one else would have the strength and help to move such a large container.  I figured he must have had this left over from a job and had brought it to me.

When he dropped by one day, I asked what hydrangea this was, thinking it must have come from an important client.  I couldn't even budge the container, which was filled with black soil.

"It's your mother's," he answered with a big smile.  I could scarcely believe it.  They must have dug halfway to China to get all the roots.  He asked where I wanted it planted.  I had no idea, and I also remembered Penny's story.  If it were put in the ground, would the pretty purple color be lost?

I didn't want to take a chance, so the plant has stayed in the giant plastic pot, where it has made a great comeback.  I can't get my camera to register the dark purple color, but the grape hue above is pretty enough.

I never asked my mother where she got the hydrangea.  It was either a cutting from a friend or a florist hydrangea she planted in the ground, probably the latter.  It always had a compact habit and never grew all that big.  It got no fertilizer and no care, although Mother regularly used cow manure on her plot outside the kitchen.

So, what should I do?  I don't know if they even make pots big enough to put this in.  And, if it were planted in the ground, would the color change?  My husband's favorite color was purple, and he always admired this hydrangea.  Every year Mother would cut some blooms for him.  After he died, I took some of the flowers up to the cemetery in Tate, Georgia.

The man who dug the hydrangea suggested planting it where it is.  I don't think I want to chance that.  Maybe I can come up with the design of a box to go around the plastic pot.  It could be painted dark green, which would go well with the purple blooms and healthy green foliage.  But would it be too vulnerable if we had extremely cold temperatures in winter?

Right now, the blooms are such a pretty color, and every time I go outside, all kinds of wonderful memories come flooding back.  For the time being, I think I'll just enjoy it where it is and decide what to do later.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A sunny garden in the round

So, you have a big, sunny lawn.  But, you want flowers.  Where do you put flower beds, and how do you change from grass to deep, rich soil?

A gardener in Asheville, N. C., was showing me around her terraced garden on a mountainside when she pointed out her newest bed, dubbed "The Wall Street Journal garden."  She explained that she had killed the grass by putting down layers of opened pages of The Wall Street Journal and then covering them with manure and mulch.

After a year passed, she tilled the whole thing under and had excellent soil for a garden.  Sure enough, if you dug down with your hand, you came up with rich, dark soil - and some tiny pieces of The Wall Street Journal.

Above is a garden created by Claude Carpenter, an active member and former president of the Daylily Society of Greater Atlanta.  Claude carved seven beds out of what was once a solid acre of Bermuda lawn.  The inspiration for the rounded and oval shapes came from a visit to a south Georgia daylily garden.  "I get a lot of ideas by going around and looking at other gardens," he says.  What you can't see from this view is that he has stone paths going into the beds to access the flowers.  There's even a fountain in the bed in the foreground.

In Claude's case, he removed the sod and built the beds up with mushroom compost.  Running along the side of his lot, he also has a two foot wide, 100-foot-long border in front of a rail fence to accommodate his vast collection of daylilies.

Claude's beds have no square corners; all are rounded "to make it easier to mow."  He keeps all the margins groomed with a gas edger.

"You've got to be willing to do a little work, " he says. "But you could do the same thing on a smaller scale."

Note:  I took pictures of dozens of daylilies in Claude's garden.  I wanted them all.  You can see that he has Verbena bonariensis (the tall purple flowers) mixed in with the daylilies.  In the back beds, the red you see is monarda, or bee balm.  Claude's tips for growing beautiful hemerocallis:  Give daylilies plenty of sun and loose, rich soil and good drainage.  Keep them evenly watered.  Divide every three to four years in the fall.  Keep yesterday's spent blooms picked off for a neat look.  My own warning:  Deer adore daylilies.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Thoughts of Normandy on D-Day

When D-Day, June 6, 1944, arrived, the above manor house in Normandy had long been taken over by the Germans.  The occupiers had hidden mines throughout the extensive gardens, which had been so carefully created by Guillaume Mallet, starting at the turn of the century.  While the estate at Varengeville-sur-Mer was far from the beaches where the Allied forces landed, the house and grounds sustained damage from the occupation during the war years.  Guillaume's beloved gardens, filled with thousands of exotic species, were neglected and quickly covered over by weeds and giant brambles.  The land mines were not removed until 1946.

Guillaume Mallet had hidden the furniture and books before the Germans came.   Robert Mallet, Guillaume's grandson, writes in his book, Renaissance d'un Parc, that his grandfather had "marked the most significant passages in the books with slips of paper; a precious guide for future researchers."

After the war, the Mallet family faced the dilemma of whether to abandon the property or to reconstruct.  Robert's father Andre made the difficult decision to restore the damage from the war and reclaim the gardens.  Stripped of resources, a valuable gold coin was discovered and was sold to buy a tractor for the initial clearing.  It would be 1955 before the house, designed by the British architect Edwin Lutyens, was livable again.

When my two daughters and I visited Le Bois des Moutiers in 2006, we were shown around the acres of gardens by Robert Mallet.  We hit at a good time.  The rhododendrons planted by Guillaume were in full bloom (they were enormous), and the Gertrude Jekyll-influenced borders were filled with flowers; Clematis montana 'Alba' festooned the windows (above), and other flowering trees and shrubs (like the viburnum in the upper right hand corner) were at their peak.

Leaving such beauty, we drove down to the Normandy beaches.  It was a beautiful, clear day with the bluest sky and white, puffy clouds.  In fact, it was Memorial Day in the U.S., and we had just missed a ceremony attended by French dignitaries and U.S. army officers.  It was okay, though, because we were able to stay for a long time in the American cemetery overlooking the ocean - a sea of white crosses and Stars of David in rows that seemed to go on forever.  We walked among the graves and read the names of the fallen soldiers.

We ended up at Omaha and Utah beaches, where we stood quietly, trying to imagine this "longest day" in history.  The entire trip to Normandy was poignant, having seen a beautiful garden that had languished during some of Europe's darkest hours, and the beaches where history changed course and so many lives were lost.  It was a strange contrast.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Hydrangeas - up close and personal!

If you're anywhere within striking distance of Atlanta (actually Marietta and Roswell), there's a great tour on Saturday, June 9th, sponsored by the American Hydrangea Society.  This is their 18th annual tour.  They hold it rain or shine, and it looks like it's going to be a beautiful on Saturday - a great day for an excursion.  Gloria Ward, AHS Vice President and head of the tour, says this is a banner year for hydrangeas, and the gardens are not to be missed.

I can't tell you how many great ideas I've gotten by going on these tours.  Last year, I learned I had to have 'Merritt's Supreme', a spectacular mophead hydrangea with beautiful coloring in variations of red and sometimes purple, and a nice habit.  Also, I got to see for the first time the "'Annabelle' on steroids", 'Incrediball' (yes, it was incredibly big).

Year before last, I garnered a lot of ideas from Marsha Yeager's garden.  She had a lovely sunny front garden, and then the back wooded area had been turned over to hydrangeas and a shady walk.  Marsha also had some great container combinations and hostas to die for.

The seven gardens this year are chock full of ideas of how to use various types of hydrangeas in the landscape.  The plants are usually labeled (if not, ask the owner), so if you see one like 'Ayesha', with its huge blooms and curled petals, you can jot it down for your own reference.  Don't forget to bring a camera and notebook!

Here are the particulars:
The seven-garden tour is this Saturday, June 9, 2012, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  (Regretfully, the tour is not wheelchair accessible)
Tickets for the tour are $25 for each person and include a one year membership in the American Hydrangea Society and three informative color newsletters mailed to your home.
Family memberships are $40 and include two tour tickets and a year's membership in AHS, plus the newsletters.
Three meetings with informative speakers are held throughout the year at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Atlanta, at the corner of Northside Drive and Mt. Paran Rd.

Tickets may be purchased in advance at Ashe-Simpson Nursery, Buck Jones & Assoc., Boxwoods, Habersham Gardens, Scottsdale Farms and Wilkerson Mill Gardens.  Check the Web for your nearest location and nursery hours.

On tour day, you may purchase tickets to all gardens at Garden #1:  802 Oakton Pond Ct., NW, Marietta GA 30064;  or at Garden #3:  680 Atlanta Country Club Drive, Marietta GA 30067

The above photograph was taken this year at Harriet Kirkpatrick's Atlanta garden.  Those are 'Annabelle's in the foreground, and that's Harriet in the background.  I'll be posting some photos from this year's gardens soon.

Monday, June 4, 2012

My hydrangea is bigger than your hydrangea

Last Saturday morning, Kathryn MacDougald and I went over to Amy Linton's house for a tour of her garden.  Amy is special to Kathryn and me, not only as a fascinating, talented, nice friend, but because she was one of our two editors of A Gardener's Diary on Home & Garden Television.  It doesn't hurt that she's so kind to your animals and children and always asks after them.

Kathryn and I walked down the driveway, admired a light blue hydrangea with one pink bloom, and commented on every ground cover and plant Amy and her husband Gregg showed us (he's also talented - a well-known sound technician for films)   Kathryn had given them a lot of plants through the years, and it was fun to see that they were faring so well in their new home.

But then, we rounded a corner, and I promise you, my heart about stopped.  There in front of us was  the largest hydrangea I've ever seen - both the plant and the extraordinary blooms, which ranged from true blue to purple.  We couldn't believe it.  I made Kathryn put her head up against one of the blooms.  Not that Kathryn has an outsized head, but I'd say it's normal size.  The blossom you see in the foreground dwarfed Kathryn's entire head.  It was amazing.

I couldn't take pictures fast enough, but the sun was out bright and the light was dappled, and I couldn't get the true colors.  Nor, could I get a good perspective on the size of the plant itself, which seemed to go on forever.

So, when Amy posted this beautiful photograph on Facebook, I asked permission to use it for the blog.  The credit goes to the owner of the hydrangea, Amy Linton.

But, there's more to the story.  In September 2009, it rained in Atlanta for an entire week.  Homes that had never flooded and weren't even in a flood plain floated away.  It was disastrous.  Amy and Gregg went out onto their porch and looked down at what had been their beautiful yard.  There was a lake there, instead.  Amy sent me a photograph, showing this very hydrangea bush, underwater, so that you could only see a few inches of the top of the plant.  Unbelievable.

A word more about Amy.  It would take an entire page to list her accolades for editing.  Briefly, she has edited numerous award-winning documentaries and feature films.  She and Peter Miller, a documentarian who produced several of Ken Burns' films, are the principals in Willow Pond Films. One of the films she edited, Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust, was a Sundance winner and selected for the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.  A documentary she edited and Peter produced, The Internationale, was short-listed for an Academy Award.  Jews and Baseball: A Love Story, a collaboration by Amy and Peter, captured the award for best editing  at the Breckenridge Festival of Film.

Here's what Amy had to say on Facebook about her hydrangea:  "Best year ever for these hydrangeas.  Everything aligned, weather and water-wise, just perfectly!"

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Did you think I couldn't see you?

When I was in grammar school (that's what we called elementary school), I grew accustomed to having a snake around.  My brother had a Southern hognose snake named Pancake.  He lived in a cage (which I now realize was not in the creature's best interest) for at least a couple of years before he was set free.  I won't go into the lengths my parents went to in order to feed this snake, but it involved frequent trips to a lake at night with a flashlight.

Anyway, my brother and his friend Richard (who is now my go-to snake information person) were constantly playing with snakes.  In our yard, we had mostly ring neck, garter and green snakes.  I'm not talking about a lot of them, but I would see a snake on occasion.  Of course, we took Pancake out and played with him.  Once, someone (probably Richard) brought over a rather large king snake, and I remember bravely wrapping the snake around my neck to show off in front of my friends.  I secretly didn't like the feel of it, but I wanted them to think I was brave.

The only thing I didn't like was when a snake was hanging overhead.  This happened to me once.  Not that green snakes ever got very big, but I was in my hideout in a big stand of privet, when one came dangling down next to me.  I screamed and ran out as fast as I could.  I never went into that hideout again.  When my brother laughed, I accused him of putting the snake in there.  He denies it to this day.

 I think it was three years ago that a guy I'd hired to neaten up the vines in my tunnel arbor let out a blood-curdling yell.  I came running.  The young man pointed to a very long rat snake lying camouflaged in the vines just a few inches from where he was clipping.

For days, I watched the snake.  Sometimes, he would curl up.  Other times, he would be stretched out in the tangle of vines.  One day, I looked up thinking, "Wow.  This snake has grown to about 12 feet long." Then, I realized that there were two of them.  I don't know what they were doing, but it did look like one super-long snake.  At one point, I went out, and there was only one snake, but he was hanging down, which sort of gave me a bit of a start.  He must have dropped to the ground after that.  I didn't see him anymore.

I have a strict no-kill snake policy around here.  I've only once in 39 years come upon a copperhead, and I admit that gave me a scare.  I took the dogs and put them in the house and ran back with my camera.  By that time, he had moved off the driveway and disappeared.

This year, I've seen one king snake and an extremely long rat snake.  The dogs were barking at the latter.  He was so long that he wouldn't fit in the frame of my camera from a reasonable distance.  He was also pretending to be a rattlesnake.  I looked on in amazement as his tail vibrated and made a hissing sound.  I put my camera on movie mode and watched as he finally slithered away.  My friend Richard later i.d.'ed the snake and explained the rattling.

Okay.  I have many snake stories (like the time I was in my kitchen and saw a stick on the dining room floor.  Then, the stick moved.  That one ended up coiled around the top of a copper bucket under the hunt board).

Here's the last one, I promise.  My beautiful, elegant mother-in-law was visiting one May.  It was a lovely Saturday morning, and we were all sitting out on the music room terrace, reading the newspaper and drinking coffee.  All of a sudden, I saw the head of a snake coming up from a hole in the stone that had been cut out to plant trumpet vine.  Then, came the body.  He was long, and to my horror, was headed right for my mother-in-law's feet.  I couldn't breathe.  If I said something, she might have a heart attack.  If I didn't, and if the snake slithered across her quilted silk bedroom shoes, she might have a heart attack.  I was too frozen to do anything but watch.  The snake, not making a sound, came within inches of her feet.  My husband, thank goodness, didn't look down.  The snake crossed the entire length of the terrace and disappeared into some liriope along the side of the house.

I've gotten careless of late and forget to look up when I walk under the 40 foot long trumpet vine arbor. As I said, I don't believe in killing harmless snakes, but I admit I get a chill when I look down (or up) and see one slithering along or curled up under a bush.  I'm not like Richard, who still picks them up and plays with them for a bit before letting them go.  I just walk in the other direction as fast as I can.

Friday, June 1, 2012

An orchard again some day

When I was growing up, we lived on either five (or was it six?) acres in the small town of Palmetto, Georgia.  Our house had been built before the Civil War, allegedly in 1852.  Mother always said the bricks had been made in the front yard.  I don't know if that's true, but when I became an adult, I discovered a memoir that had been written by the woman who lived in our house before my parents bought it in 1941.  Her father, a lawyer, died young, and when she was twelve years old, her mother had to move back to Atlanta to go to work, as the family had lost everything during the Depression.

She wrote:  "Our house was built of hand-packed brick; the paneled doors and woodwork were solid walnut; the doorknobs were white china.  The inside brick walls were sixteen inches thick, covered with white plaster, their foundations several feet below ground.  In 1905 my grandparents had bought the house from a doctor and added a dining room and kitchen of weatherboard."

In the future, I'll tell more about this woman and about the gardens of her homeplace, which was also mine.  After some searching, I found her in Atlanta, in my same Zip Code.  She sold me some of her books.  Now, I wish I'd bought every one, as I've lent them out over the years.  I only have one copy left.

But, what does this have to do with the above picture?  I took this photograph on a garden tour a few years ago.  I don't know the owners, but this is a wonderful garden, with paths to roam through the woods, a big, flat lawn for touch football, a vegetable garden and (above) an orchard.

As you can see, this area was roped off for the tour, but it looked very inviting.  My daddy planted an apple orchard at our homeplace.   There was no intriguing path like the one above, but the trees were in rows, and in the spring, little bluets came up in the grass.  You reached the orchard by way of a path between my mother's rose garden and an impenetrable hedge of super thorny Cherokee roses that surrounded our clotheslines.  I really preferred the golden delicious tree that was in the vegetable garden, which had been laid out and planted by the former owners.  But, I also liked the red June apples Daddy planted, whatever they were.  Most of the other trees were "horse" apples that mother dried and made fried pies from during the winter.  In late summer, though, she would make fresh apple cobbler, which made our kitchen smell so good.

Anyway, I'd love to have an apple orchard again.  I like the one pictured above, and I am bowled over by the idea of a walled "ancient"orchard that garden designer, author and popular blogger Tara Dillard did for a client.  But, I'd be satisfied with a simple one like Daddy's, where the thrill of picking the apples and plunking them in a big basket to take to Mother lingers in my memory as if it were yesterday.