Monday, July 9, 2012

Trouble at the gate

The year was 1982, and a friend asked if she could come over and use my IBM Selectric typewriter.  If any of you remember this pre-computer contraption (which seemed so advanced at the time), you could correct a mistake by backing up and hitting a key that would "white out"the mistake.  Then, you could type over the mistake with the correct letter.   At least, I think that's how it worked.

So, my friend came and was typing away, when the machine jammed.  It totally stopped working, and the carriage (I could barely come up with this word for the roll that went back and forth as you typed) wouldn't budge at all.  I ended up taking the (very heavy) machine up to a shop, paying $89 for a repair, then bringing it home where it jammed again.  After two more visits to the repair place, I gave up.

Just to be clear, my friend did not break the typewriter.  She was just the unlucky person who was typing when it decided to stop working forever.  But, I always had this little quiver of a notion that she did something  that caused it to jam.  That was wrong of me, knowing full well that someone typing along would not have made the machine quit.

Earlier this year when I was staying with my college friends Anne and Tommy McLeod in Birmingham, something happened that reminded me of the typewriter incident.  The McLeods have a beautiful garden with lots of roses and wonderful shade plants and and a lovely pond.  They also have a valuable antique iron gate that leads from the swimming pool area into the garden.

One morning, I went out early to take pictures.  Much to my horror,  as I was opening the gate, the antique latch came off in my hand.  I stood there for several moments wondering what to do.  My first thought was to leave it leaning against the post and let them discover it later.  I quickly rejected that devious way out and walked back to the house, iron latch in hand, to offer my confession.

Of course, the McLeods were gracious about the incident and made me feel better by joking about it.  Still, though, I felt a tinge of responsibility for having broken something that would now have to be welded back on in order to work.

The ironic thing is that I love garden gates, but I've forever been intimidated by them.  I don't have a logical brain, so I don't see immediately how the latches work.  Oftentimes, I fiddle around and can't get it open, and then someone comes along and pushes something the other way, and it opens readily.  This time, I just touched the latch and it broke (I promise!).

The gate pictured above leads from the sidewalk into internationally known designer Ryan Gainey's Decatur, Georgia, garden.   Ryan's garden has been featured in about every magazine I can think of and has been included in books and on TV shows, as well.  I've opened and closed this gate lots of times without incident.  I can assure you, though, the next time I approach any garden gate, it will be with trepidation and the utmost caution, lest I break yet another valuable antique.

Friday, July 6, 2012

A canal would help

I'm back in France (not really, but just in this photograph), specifically at Marie Antionette's hamlet at Versailles.  I am a sucker for sandy paths and green clipped hedges (oops, I see a couple of brown edges there on the right; the red on the higher hedge on the left is just new growth on the hornbeams).  That may explain why I like France.  They are keen on gravel paths and must spend a lot of time trimming hedges.  I like the lines of the hedges because they make everything else look good.  I'm not a fan of the formal gardens you look out on from the back of Versailles, but I do like the structure hedges provide.  I think this may due to some deep psychological need for order that I have.

Anyway, it is in the high 90's here in Atlanta, so I guess we're luckier than some of the other U.S. locations.  Thus, I decided to put up another picture with water.  I think this must be a canal going through the hamlet.  In another part, nearer the Petit Trianon, I took a picture of a swan floating about, but the surroundings weren't as green.

I would sure like a canal in my back yard.  There used to be a stream that flowed down from the hill above the house.  As a result, I had a ton of cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) that popped up every year and bloomed in the month of August.  There are still a couple of plants, but nothing like there used to be.  I also had Louisiana iris that grew at the edges of the creek (I planted those; the cardinal flowers were native to the spot).  One year, my husband was able to get water cress to grow.  That venture wasn't ultimately successful, despite the fact that he brought plants yearly from my mother-in-law's house in Virginia and kept trying to get them established.

Now, atop the hill where there used to be an old stone lodge, there is a 20,000 square foot house.  Not a drop of water ever comes down anymore, even when it rains a lot.  For whatever reason, that stream is no more.

The more I think about it, there also used to be a perennial wet spot in the lower lawn (now all weeds that are kept low). I had once thought I could make a little channel with iris on either side.  That damp place has been gone so long that I'd forgotten all about it.

I do have the perfect place for a canal, if the stream would ever come back again.  For the time being, though, the best I can do is gaze at the water in peaceful scenes like the one above.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A cool pool in Alabama

Sometimes you want a spot where you can sit and put your feet in and cool off.  This is one of my favorite garden pools ever.  Jim Scott, whose garden at Lake Martin in Alabama is mind-boggling due to its sheer size, designed this pool with rocks he's brought in from all over.

There wasn't so much as a single stone on the property when Jim started his garden, which covers several acres of steep slopes overlooking a cove in the lake.   Jim has hauled in literally thousands of boulders, rocks, flat stones - everything you can imagine.  Here, he's assembled large, flat pieces to form a small pond where the overflow heads downhill to larger pools.

Note the use of hostas, Japanese maples and ferns on the sides.  The pool itself is kept clear of plants, so you can see what lurks beneath the surface.  You feel as if you have an invitation to stop and participate rather than just admire the water.

When the weather is this hot (in the 90's and 100's in so many states), you might not be able to sit on the rocks.  However, it looks like you could settle on one of the steps going down into the pool and do a little cooling off.  At worst, this just looks like a cool pool, whether it is or not.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Remembering the Fourth of July

Every year at our Methodist church in Atlanta, we have what we call "Celebration of Freedom" Sunday.  The service starts with the National Hymn, God of our Fathers, as the processional (I pride myself in knowing all four verses, learned in the small town Baptist church of my childhood).  Now that I think about it, I believe they've changed the title in our updated hymnbook to God of the Ages.

At any rate, I always get chills and sing alto way too loud (anything above a whisper was too loud according to my two daughters).  In our service, we also sing My Country 'Tis of Thee, Eternal Father Strong to Save (the men of the choir sing this), the Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful.   After the benediction, everyone sings Irving Berlin's God Bless America (I sing too loud on this, too).  For the postlude, Scott, our choirmaster, gives a lively rendition of John Philip Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever.

But, the highlight of the service is the Veterans Parade.  All people who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces are invited to march down the aisle as the choir sings the Battle Hymn of the Republic.  By the time the music starts slowing down in preparation for the verse that starts, "In the beauty of the lily....", I've already used up several tissues.  Seeing those men and women coming down the aisle, the last ones usually walking more slowly or in wheelchairs, I am practically sobbing.

I wasn't here for this year's service, but since today is the Fourth of July, I think I'll get out the (um..borrowed) Methodist hymnal and play all the songs on the piano.  I won't be singing, but I'll be remembering lots of happy Fourth of July celebrations, especially those of my childhood.

There was one year, though, that I was pretty miserable.  I should have known then that I would turn into a chronic worrier.  My family had a cabin on a lake where we always spent the Fourth of July.  We would have grilled hot dogs and hamburgers and pass the day swimming or fishing (I didn't do much of the latter, but Daddy did) or riding around in a boat.

I don't know how old I was, but one year Daddy decided to keep our watermelon cool by putting it under a waterfall on the other side of the lake.  I was so worried that someone would steal the watermelon that I spent the entire day guarding it, missing all the fun.

All this has nothing to do with the photograph above.  This is an arrangement my Flower Guild team did for one of our Celebration of Freedom Sundays.  We have always avoided straight red, white and blue, but instead have used summer colors that evoke the season.  Let's see if I can name most of the flowers:  'Freedom' roses are the red ones, orange Asiatic lilies, lavender colored allium, violet hued liatris, white and purple macrophylla hydrangeas, white Queen Anne's lace, light blue delphiniums, green spider chrysanthemums, golden sunflowers and yellow and white foxtail lilies.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Giverny's tuteurs still holding up

Back in the 1980's, when interest in ornamental gardening was at its peak in the U.S., I would see metal tuteurs like the ones that hold Giverny's climbers for sale in catalogs.  Maybe I'm not looking in the right places, but I haven't seen them offered in recent years.  Basically, there were, in addition to arches, two kinds available.  One was a tall, semi-obelisk (which I bought - wish I'd gotten two); the other was in the shape of an umbrella.  I'm thinking the rose in the above photograph is trained onto one of the latter.

I'm wondering.  I have a book with old photographs of Giverny.  One shows Monet's head gardener, Felix Breuil, deadheading a rose in the same location I took the above picture.  The rose appears to be growing on an identical tuteur.  The photograph, which is not dated, shows irises in full bloom.  I missed the peak of the season for roses, and all the irises were gone, so the above rose must be a late bloomer.  I think I caught it just in time.

From what I've observed, Americans seem less likely to use structures to add height to their gardens.  This is a total generalization, and I can think of dozens of exceptions, but you just don't see very many scenes like the one above.  Elsewhere in Giverny, there are iron structures that hold clematis high above the rest of the cottage-type garden.  One period photograph shows rows and rows of upright iron posts, crisscrossed at the top with perpendicular bars.  Each is festooned with Clematis montana 'Alba'.  These supports still exist, but I don't think there are as many now.

At any rate, no one much here is thinking about anything but keeping plants alive.  But, when the weather cools off, it would nice to plan for more tuteurs and climbing plants to add to existing beds.  I'll keep looking out for sturdy ones for sale.  If not, I might need to learn how to become a welder so I can make my own.  I do have plenty of bamboo for some temporary ones, but since time seems to pass so quickly, and given the vagaries of weather, I'd like something a little more permanent.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Steak and Ale style, circa 1783

Saturday night, I returned from the land of clipped hedges, potagers, grapevines draping over walls, hollyhocks springing up from cracks in the sidewalks and hideous graffiti covering every possible surface along the highways and train tracks.

I have been a francophile ever since I first stepped into the country on February 2, 1966.  I still have a pale colored photo I took of a friend in front of the Eiffel Tower on that cold, gray day.  From Paris, we went to Aix-en-Provence, where I spent the spring semester of my junior year in college.  When our bus rolled into town, I was taken aback.  That winter, the branches of the enormous plane trees which line the Cours Mirabeau, the main street of Aix, had been clipped and looked like giant, ugly stubs atop tall, thick trunks with multi-colored bark.  I was disappointed.  But by May, the wide street, dotted with fountains in the middle and lined with cafes, was completely shaded over.  It was an aesthetic I grew to love - allees of trees in almost every little town and along roads in the countryside.

It's hard to know where to begin for this trip.  I took hundreds of photographs, and wish I could show them all at once.  But, I'll start here in Versailles.  Many of you will recognize the Hameau de la Reine, Marie Antoinette's contrived country village near the Petit Trianon at the far end of the gardens of the Chateau de Versailles.  As old as these buildings are (built in 1783), the rustic compound still reminds me of a Hollywood set.  Only the various vegetable gardens, tunnels covered in grapevines, winding canals and paths bordered by clipped hedges make the farm village appear more authentic.

I had several views of this cottage, which was surprisingly planted on one side with a mix of cabbages and calla lilies.  I purposely cut off the top of the house, because the roof was too pointed and reminded me of a cross between the old lady's house in Hansel and Gretel and a small Steak and Ale restaurant (do they have those anymore?).

But the vines draped along the front, the low clipped box borders and the clever plantings were inspiring and quite charming.  If you look along the top of the cottage on the right side, you'll see what I assume are Iris tectorum (Japanese roof iris), growing on the thatched roof.

For at least 25 years, I've had stones piled up along my driveway.  They came from the walls of a late 19th century lodge that was up the hill from me.  The abandoned house burned, and my late husband and I scavenged the granite from the sides of the house.  I have enough for a small stone cottage and am always looking for ideas.  I wouldn't copy this house, but the approach and and the thought of being surrounded by vegetables and flowers are definitely appealing.  All I need now is a sunny, flat piece of land surrounded by centuries-old trees and a lot of euros or dollars to help me realize my dream.