Thursday, August 30, 2012

The month was June, but where was I?

Here's something I used to be bad about - not taking the time to identify the year and place I took a photograph.  This was a slide I had converted to digital, so I know it was a good many years ago.  Nowadays, it's much easier to keep up with photographs on a computer, although I'm still guilty of taking 50 pictures at a time and then not labeling each one.

So, when I need to find a photograph of a certain flower, I can't type it in and have it pop up.  I could work backwards and do this, but with (ulp!) over 18,000 pictures in this computer, the task is daunting.  Still, I think, if I did ten a day, that would be something.

If the above scene was in Georgia, I can say with some certainty that the month was June.  That's when Asiatic lilies bloom here (or at least they used to; everything is moved up by at least two weeks now).  And, if anyone planted delphiniums in the fall, they would also flower in June.  Ditto Queen Anne's lace.  I can spot a foxglove that has pretty much bloomed out, so that would be another clue as to the timing of the shot.

Right down in the front, center left, there appears to be a marker of some kind.  Could I have taken this on the Georgia Perennial Plant Association's tour?  Possibly.  Or, did I take it where delphiniums would more likely be perennial, like in Colorado?  We can have them here, but we pretty much have to treat them as cool season annuals, meaning plants can be put in during the fall and will bloom in late spring.   I had one come back the second year, but delphiniums generally can't tolerate our heat and humidity.

I've racked my brain, trying to remember where I was when I took this picture.  It really doesn't matter, but it reminds me that I need to be more careful, especially when I want to know the name of a particular flower.  I always think I'll remember, but I hardly ever do.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

An American in Paris (with a Japanese friend)

Once, I heard a lecturer say that if it weren't for Japan and China, the state of Georgia would not be a very pretty place.  At the time, a gasp went up in the room.  I think the statement seemed blasphemous to several people in the audience.

If you think about it, though, so many of the azaleas we plant are from Japan.  Camellias, too.  Most all of the colored hydrangeas are Japanese in origin.  We have many native lilies, but the Asiatic and Oriental lilies are always good for a show in the garden.  Many roses we love come from China, and then there are the much beloved cherry trees which are a highlight of every spring, along with the big snowball viburnums.  I could go on and on.

I do like the attitude of the esteemed nurseryman Don Shadow from Winchester, Tennessee.  He doesn't care where a plant is from.  It's the beauty and joy plants provide that matters to him.

For some reason, I am always interested in the provenance of a plant.  If I see something new, I usually try to find out where it came from.  It's fascinating, for example, that dahlias are a New World plant.  And many of our natives are popular in Europe and Japan.

I took the above photograph at an apartment house in St. Germain-des-Pres, on the left bank in Paris.  Private gardens are rare in Paris, but this one was huge - a big green space surrounded on all sides by tall buildings.  I was amused when I saw that the pink mophead hydrangeas, which would have had their origin in Japan (although we say "French hydrangeas" because so many were hybridized there), were paired with the white Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle', which was discovered in the town of Anna, Illinois.

Tara Dillard posted a photograph I liked even better.  It showed an all-American scene in Provence.  An oakleaf hydrangea found originally in northern Alabama (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake') was growing next to a lovely stand of 'Annabelle' hydrangeas.  The backdrop was an ancient house in a village.

I think I was going somewhere else when I started writing this, but suffice it to say that beauty from flowers can come from anywhere.  On that June day in Paris, I appreciated the origins of both of these hydrangeas, but I was especially proud of seeing that beautiful American in Paris.    

Monday, August 27, 2012

Positive (flowers) and negative (grass)

I think I've mentioned before that I live in the woods in the City of Atlanta.  My lot is one that was broken off in the 1940's from a stone lodge that belonged to a governor of Georgia who used it as a retreat in the late 19th century.  Where I am - close to the Chattahoochee River - was once considered the country.  The roads weren't paved until probably the 1940s or early 50's, and there weren't many houses.  Actually, one cottage that the across-the-street neighbors just tore down was pre-Civil War.  I have to wonder what they were thinking to destroy something so historic that could have been charming if they'd fixed it up instead.

Anyway, when I moved here in August 1973, we lived in a 1926 cottage that had once belonged to the lodge.  The house was one fifth of a mile from the street.  It was also smack in the middle of a forest, with two large oak trees casting shade almost all day long.  From the cottage you couldn't see any civilization, even in winter.  It was totally isolated.

Needless to say, there was not enough sun to grow grass, although year after year, my husband would throw out fescue seed, thinking somehow we could have a patch of lawn.  Nothing ever took, except for the moss that would keep cropping back up.

I think it's important when you have a garden to include some negative space (I think that's the term landscape designers use, with plantings like shrubs, trees and flowers being the positive space, and lawn being negative space).  If you have a yard thick with trees, right up to the doors and windows, you get claustrophobic.  At least I did.  I longed for even a tiny patch of grass to relieve the forest.

The photograph above, taken at Giverny, France, has a nice balance of lawn and trees and flowers.  There's something soothing about the grass.  I took over 300 photos in Monet's garden and in the village of Giverny, and it was this one I kept coming back to.  The part of the garden near Monet's house is so jam-packed with flowers (not to mention people), your eye seeks some relief.  Just this amount of grass serves to calm this part of the garden, a welcome respite from the hoards of people and the thickly planted, though impressive, flowers.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Know your lotus terms before writing them in stone

I knew what I had done the moment the phone rang early on a Thursday morning.  I looked down at the Caller ID.  Sure enough, it was Don Jacobs, an erudite plantsman, explorer, collector, hybridizer and owner of a small specialty nursery in Decatur, Georgia.  He never called me unless I had made a mistake in my column in the Atlanta Journal & Constitution.

"You've misused the word 'peltate,'" he said gruffly (he had that kind of voice that sounds scarier than he really is).

I was writing about some lotus plants I'd seen in a swimming-pool-turned-garden-pond at a friend's home.  I remarked on the exquisite, perfectly-formed flowers and the gorgeous "peltate" leaves.

I'd gone out on a limb on that one.  I can't remember why I knew the word "peltate" or why I thought it was the best description for how lotus leaves are attached to their stems.

Here's the definition, as found in a Web dictionary: " (of a leaf) more or less circular, with the stalk attached at a point on the underside."  I had carefully examined the slide I had of lotuses at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia.  I determined that those were indeed peltate leaves.

Wrong.  Don then went on to explain that peltate actually meant having the petiole attached inside the margin and that the term usually referred to a shield-shaped leaf, whatever that all means.  I was standing ready for a deluge of humiliating phone calls pointing out my mistake.  No one else ever said a word.

So, I offer this photograph of a lotus flower, with a bit of pain and embarrassment at the thought of making such an error.  I took this at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York.  You can't see much of the leaf - peltate or not.  The flower and accompanying pod were pretty spectacular, though.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

In the box or out?

I have a confession to make.  Whenever someone tells me to "think outside the box," I go totally blank.  I can't even imagine what they have in mind, much less come up with a single idea of my own.

But, when it comes to a garden, I can actually tell when someone does think out of the ordinary.  I'm always in awe of people who have ideas I would never have thought of in a million years.

It used to be that I could tell when a certain very successful landscape firm had been to a property.  The now-retired head of the firm had a formula, and for every house it was the same.  A weeping yaupon or a crape myrtle would rise up from a large bed of liriope near the front door.  There were other markers as well, including the use of certain shrubs that, to my mind, had a commercial look. This guy definitely did not think outside any box.  In fact, his design was so recognizable that some of us would proclaim the landcape "________-ed" (name withheld).  Regardless of the lack of imagination, he made a fortune with his formulaic design.

On the other hand, we would extol the landscapes of designer Ryan Gainey.  He also had a certain recognizable look, but it happened to be much more attractive in my view.  We would visit one of his gardens and proclaim it "Ryanized."  This was a compliment.  Ryan would often think outside the box, though, with some very original combinations of both plants and hardscapes that would boggle the mind.  

The garden in this photograph was designed in conjunction with the owner by Louise Poer.  She's another person who thinks outside the box, in a good way.  I often marvel at what she comes up with.  She is very skilled at making a garden look good, even at off times like the months of August and September.  Here, she has used evergreen fig vine (well, evergreen if it stays above 14 degrees F.) to  soften a pierced brick wall.  A peegee hydrangea has been limbed up to allow plantings of autumn fern, boxwood and seasonal annuals underneath.

I bought a card with a New Yorker cartoon on the front.  There's a drawing of a man in a business suit looking down at a cat, who's looking up at him.  You see a litter box in the background.  The man is saying, "Never, ever, think outside the box." I admire gardeners and garden designers who are able to come up with concepts out of the ordinary and are able to make them into reality.  It's a real talent.        

Monday, August 20, 2012

Light in August and what might be in the garden

My late husband was a great fan of William Faulkner.   There are two shelves in his library devoted to Faulkner's works.  Of course, I couldn't find what I was looking for and got distracted reading some of Faulkner's speeches and essays.  There went an entire hour I was supposed to have spent cleaning house or writing a post for today.

So, I had to resort to the Internet.  I was looking for the words Faulkner either spoke or wrote about the inspiration for the title to his book Light in August.  I had finished this novel on the plane coming back from Paris (this was long, long ago, before I ever met my husband).  Sitting beside me were two French guys, maybe a little younger than I was, but they happened to be on their way to Oxford, Mississippi, on sort of as a pilgrimage, being Faulkner fans.  I finished Light in August before we landed and gave it to them, even though my book was in English and theirs were in French.  I also invited them to stop over at my parents' house near Atlanta, as they were working their way to Mississippi (this didn't go so well;  my mother got sick changing the sheets because the fellows had not bathed for some time).

I've gotten way off subject. Back to Faulkner's title.  Every year it happens.  I'll either strike out for the mailbox or look out the window, and I'll recognize that special light that only happens around the middle of August.  It came this year this past Friday afternoon.  I was sitting at the computer, and all of a sudden the sun came out, and there it was, the soft, luminous quality of light Faulkner spoke of - that "suddenly there's a foretaste of fall...  It lasts for a day or two, then it's gone."

The light is there again today.  It's hard to explain, but it's something that can't occur in July or September or any other month.  It usually comes with a bit of a cool down (and there is one, just not the hint of autumn that usually accompanies this fleeting light).

When I went out to cut some sweet autumn clematis for a bouquet (the few pieces the deer couldn't reach; I had to get a ladder), I started thinking of all the white flowers you can have in an August garden.  To name just a few: the invasive Clematis terniflora; of course, peegee type hydrangeas, the snow-white, fragrant blooms of Hosta plantaginea, acidanthera (used to have that; also fragrant) and rain lilies (if it ever rains enough).  And, for the southeastern U.S. and other mild climates, you can have the above pictured Formosa lilies.

Garden writer Tom Woodham's mother gave me some seeds once.  I planted them, and lo and behold, in a couple of years, I had some super tall, fragrant lilies for a few Augusts in a row.  Then the plants disappeared.  At Tom's mother's house in South Carolina, the lilies would pop up all around the yard.  She never knew where they'd be.

I took the above photograph in August outside Raleigh, N.C., at Plant Delights Nursery.  This is a wonderful lily that would make a special show at a time when the garden is on the wane.  I sound like a broken record, but when I get a deer fence....

Right now, I'm looking out the window (actually a glass door), and there's that special light, reflecting off a Japanese holly that's a pretty good look-alike for a boxwood.  It's the way the sun settles softly on the leaves.  It may be hot, but in that light is the promise of autumn.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Parc de Bagatelle - where I didn't get to go

First of all, I want to give credit where credit is due.  My friend Carol Tessier, who lives right outside Paris, took this photograph in the Parc de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne.  I think I mentioned earlier that I never made it there when we went to Paris in June, so I was glad that Luc and Carol had been and had taken a camera along.

Thinking back, the last time I was even in the Bois de Boulogne was in the summer of 1968.  A French friend took me to the Bagatelle and then to the Racing Club de France, also in the Bois.  That was the year of the roundtable negotiations for the Vietnam War.  My sorority sister and her family were living there because her father, Cyrus Vance, later Secretary of State, was one of the negotiators.  At the Racing Club we saw Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver (sister of President John F. Kennedy).  Mr. Shriver was the ambassador to France, so it was quite a thrill.

Sorry to digress so; I just remembered about being in the Bois.  So, it has been a wish of mine to go back to this beautiful park, especially now that I'm so interested in flowers and landscaping.  The Bagatelle is most famous for its 1,200 varieties of roses.  The parc dates back to 1777, when it was first opened to the public.  Marie Antionette had made a bet with the Count d'Artois, who had purchased the land, that he would not be able to establish a garden in 64 days.  The queen lost the bet.

Not to go into any more of the history (the Bagatelle changed over the years), but if you're in Paris from mid-May to mid-June, you'll hit the peak of roses, peonies and iris.  This time of year, dahlias are on display.  My dream is to return to the Bois de Boulogne, go out in a little rowboat on one of the lakes and then walk under the rose-covered arches in the Parc de Bagatelle.  I think I'll appreciate being there a lot more than I did so long ago at age 22.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Something different, but maybe not

This happened a long time ago, but some acquaintances had me over to get my take on the area next to their front door.  A walkway led from the driveway to the entrance.  Up next to the house was a stone wall that formed a long rectangle, with the stone stacked higher in back and lower in front along the sidewalk.

The couple asked what I would do.  At that point, there were some scraggly, overgrown azaleas in the space.  I mentioned that it seemed a shame that the azaleas only flowered for two weeks out of the year, that maybe they should think about something else for this prominent place.  I proposed taking the shrubs out and defining the area with dwarf boxwoods that would surround a blank space which could change with the seasons.  I suggested bulbs for spring, annuals for the summer and fall and violas for the winter.

I could tell immediately that they weren't willing to let go of the azaleas.  I went back a couple of years later, and there was that potentially attractive space, looking about the same.  It just seemed a shame, because something on the order of the above arrangement would have worked nicely and would have kept the area around the front door from looking so scruffy.  It was obvious they thought my proposal was too formal for their tastes.  Of course, I reasoned that since the front yard was very informal (and had lots of azaleas) that just this one little place of structure would have been a welcome contrast.

The above scene is just one of hundreds of vignettes in Bill Hudgins' Atlanta garden.  He has many, many informal areas, but he also has some very defined spaces.  In this case, he's planted white Spanish bluebells (Scilla hispanica) for spring.  Later, he filled in with white impatiens.

There are very few instances where I can look at a space and envision from scratch what to do.  I know something's good when I see it, I just can't invent it.  I certainly wasn't offended that the couple didn't follow my suggestion, but I still think something on the order of Bill's design above would have looked great next to their rambling, clapboard cottage.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Mama's summer flowers

I picked prettier zinnias at the farm last Saturday, but I was in a rush when I took this (oops, blurry) photograph.  Thus,  the best ones are on the other side or in another vase.  If you've grown zinnias, you know how astounding a single flower can be.  In fact, a close-up I took of one zinnia in the long border where my Mother grew summer flowers was so perfectly exquisite in color and form that it didn't even look real.

But the point here today is that the yellow flowers that provided my parents with a butterfly show outside the kitchen window every summer are alive and well.  Mother had these for as long as I can remember.  She would pick bouquets in July and August that would include the most incredible zinnias and these yellow flowers.  It was not until 1994 that I learned that they are a type of rudbeckia.  I would have guessed a helianthus of some sort.

The only other time I've seen this flower was in an early episode of A Gardener's Diary that featured Susan Felts' country garden near Nashville, Tennessee.  Susan and host Erica Glasener stopped and talked about the big splash of yellow flowers rising from large clumps of foliage.  Susan identified the flower - the exact one Mother had - as a rudbeckia.  Susan named the species, but I've long forgotten.

As I said before, I wish I had made notes about where Mother got her flowers.  The zinnias came back year after year, as did the orange cosmos.  I know the providence of her peonies and the pink daisy chrysanthemums (now gone, with another similar one in its place), but I don't know about this rudbeckia. This flower, although it grows on tall slender stems that branch out, is pretty tough.  I picked the zinnias you see here and the rudbeckia on Saturday afternoon.  I didn't have a container in the car, so I just lay them on the seat and proceeded to visit an elderly friend for a couple of hours.

When I got home, everything was limp.  Very, very limp.  I re-cut all the stems and stuck them in water.  On Monday I decided to take this picture to see if I could get a positive i.d. on the rudbeckia.  Although I wish I'd taken time to arrange better, the flowers themselves have held up really well and still look good today.

Flowers are a great way to connect to the past.  I love remembering how it was to sit at my mother's kitchen table with the flowers and the fresh vegetables and look out the window at the butterflies darting from one colorful bloom to the next.  Those are good summer memories.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Where have you gone, Lycoris squamigera?

Somewhere in my disheveled files marked "Garden Ideas", I have a page torn from a Southern Living magazine.  The photograph shows a garden in either Alabama or Mississippi where every year, dozens of naked ladies (Lycoris squamigera) pop up in the lawn.  The bulbs have been there for decades.

When we used to go to Pawleys Island, South Carolina, I would see rows and rows of pink lycoris like the one pictured above growing on what looked like an abandoned estate.  Once, when I passed that way in August, I saw Formosa lilies - lots of them.  Finally, when we started going in September, I would see the other lycoris so popular in the South - Lycoris radiata, or red spider lilies.  Someone must have lived there who knew all the old-fashioned bulbs that would keep on going.

Not long after I moved to this property in August 1973 (could that mean I've been here 39 years?  I don't feel old enough!), dozens of red spider lilies appeared.  I was elated.  Over time, though, they've diminished greatly.  Now, I only have a few come up.

I planted the above Lycoris squamigera the year my great-grandparents' 1832 house was sold (at least 15 years ago - maybe more).  A passel of cousins got together and bid on the contents of the Southern saltbox, which sits on a hill above the Chattahoochee River in extreme southwestern Fulton County.  There was a huge bidding war for a hatrack that, to my mind, looked more Sears & Roebuck than antebellum.  I came away with a $1 chair no one else wanted (great lines, but Great Aunt Abby had covered it in mud-colored naugahyde), a nicely beat-up bucket, some sheet music for piano and a milking stool.  My cousin Anne and I also dug some Lycoris squamigera.

I was thrilled the next July, when the pink fragrant naked ladies came up.  The foliage had appeared in winter, then had died down and disappeared.  In July, all of a sudden there were the flowers.

So, what has happened?  Last year, I didn't have a one.  Ditto, this year.  The foliage was thick and plentiful this past winter; I've cut down anything that could have crowded them or blocked the summer sun, so I don't know what the trick is to have them come back like in the yard in Southern Living.  Ginny Jarrard, who lives just down the road from my ancestors' home, had several blooming this year.  She says there are fewer than usual, though.

You read that lycoris aren't very reliable, and that's certainly proven to be true.  One year I had maybe a dozen stalks.  The next year there was only one.  There must be some rhyme or reason to this.  Does anyone know what it is?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Thank goodness for black-eyed Susans

During all those years I wrote for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, August was a tough time.  One, no one wanted to let you into his or her garden, especially if we had been suffering from a drought.  And two, most people around these parts plant for April, May and June, which are almost "you can't miss" months. In addition, most nurseries were either closed or had limited stock due to the heat and its not being a particularly good time to plant.

But, as I look out the window next to my piano,  I can see the exact flowers pictured above - Rudbeckia 'Indian Summer' - a good black-eyed Susan for mid-August and great for cutting.  Granted, I don't have the cone shaped boxwood or a nice hedge or a stand of rosemary and some colorful zinnias to complete the scene.  I'm just grateful to see several of the outsized yellow flowers with the dark center, since the deer have taken a liking to them.  I'm surprised at this latter fact, as the foliage is very fuzzy.  I think the critters are pretty desperate right now, given the lack of rain.

I've seen these exact flowers or the smaller Rudbeckia hirta planted en masse next to maroon elephant ears.  This is usually a commercial planting or maybe a combination for the entrance to a subdivision.  But I like what this gardener has done here.   She's plugged in a bright spot of color from a rustic plant and backed it with plenty of green, some of it in a formal pattern.  I like the contrast.

Many times (in fact, most of the time), I analyze vignettes in gardens and try to figure out why I like a particular combination.  In this case, various textures of green and the summer flower colors work well together.  It's also the rustic vs. the formal that gives the picture personality.

Tomorrow, I will know if a special rudbeckia that my mother had for at least four decades, has survived the drought.  I never knew what the flower was until we made an episode of A Gardener's Diary at Susan Felts' garden outside Nashville, Tennessee.  She had it, too, and was able to identify it as a rudbeckia.  It's the only time I've seen the plant - it's very tall, has super double yellow flowers (no dark center) and shoots up from clumps of basal foliage.  Hummingbirds love it.

I wish I had written down the name of who gave it to Mother.  Chances are, they're all gone now, but it would be nice to know.  Now that I have some sun, I need to bring some of this special rudbeckia up here.  Eventually, I'd like to be able to share it.  Mother and Daddy got so much pleasure watching the butterflies and hummingbirds hover around the flowers.  And there was usually a bouquet on the table in August, along with zinnias and orange cosmos and bounty from the garden - sliced red tomatoes and light green banana peppers, squash, black-eyed peas and so on.

One word about 'Indian Summer'.  This is the first year the plant has spread and come true from seed.  I guess the winter was so mild that this flower, which is usually treated as an annual,  came back and multiplied.  Just another nice surprise from the garden.  You never know.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The good morning glories

Morning glories were the bane of my parents' existence.  Well, maybe privet was, but during the summer, when their huge vegetable gardens took up most of their spare time, there were continuous complaints about morning glories.

The plants came up everywhere, all along the fences and particularly in the pole beans.  If you didn't get them as they came up, it was a losing battle.

When I got married, my mother-in-law gave me a packet of 'Heavenly Blue' morning glories.  I don't think I started them soon enough, because they didn't bloom until well into fall.  I would plant them in a container on the back stoop.  They were very blue and very heavenly.

It's been years since I've thought of growing them.  When I was in Charleston one year, I saw the above arch covered in blue morning glories.  Someone had planted these early because it was just before the Fourth of July when I snapped this photo.

I have a picture of some lovely blue morning glories backlit by the sun.  It was taken in Diana Mendes' Atlanta garden in late October.  Diana has them on her entrance arch, which in spring, is dominated by cobalt blue, bell-shaped clematis.

I noticed on one Web site, morning glory is called "bindweed."  Mother and Daddy would have agreed with that descriptive name.  But, I do remember some pretty white ones my grandmother grew, so they weren't all bad.  Used in the correct way, the larger flowering ones are worth growing, especially the 'Heavenly Blue' ones.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A time to plant - iris, that is

The one place I didn't get to on this Paris trip was the Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne.  One afternoon after I had dragged my friend to see the terribly overcrowded Parc Monceau, we toyed with making the trek to the Bagatelle and decided it was too late in the day.

So, when we had dinner with Carol and Luc Tessier (more about this fabulous "cocktails in the garden", "dinner in the conservatory" later), they were telling us how magnificent the roses in the Bagatelle (a garden within the Bois) had been this year.  "And the iris," Luc added, "were just unbelievable."

I was disappointed that we had missed the display, but I sort of had this feeling of satisfaction.  Only a couple weeks before, I had received a gift - an entire box of bearded iris, all cut into fans and cleaned and ready to put in the ground.  My benefactors were two gardeners I met recently - Carl and Vosco.  They live a little ways out from my hometown and have a wonderful garden and chickens and eggs and a superb composting operation.  Even though it's been terribly dry where they are, I'm betting you can take a trowel and plunge it way down into their soil, which is loose and black and rich compared to the surrounding red clay.  As a result, their flowers are prolific and healthy.  This year I caught the tail end of the perennial season in June, but they still had lots of day lilies and lilium and coneflowers (even roses that weren't 'Knockout').  I can't wait to become a regular visitor and keep up with their seasonal flowers.

Anyway, I was concerned that I had to leave the iris here while I was gone.  Then, when I returned, it was too hot to work out in the yard.  But, I do have a plan.  The soil in the gardens at the farm is good and friable and dark.  I plan to put most of the iris out there, and then move them up here when I have the ground improved in the section where I now have full sun.

Carol Tessier took the above photograph in the Bagatelle this past spring.  When I finally see the colors I get from Vosco and Carl, I may want to do a mixed bed like this.  Or, I might parcel the flowers out according to color to mix in with roses and peonies.  My friend Karen says the guys may even have some more for me, and then I could do my dream allee like the one at Giverny (well, it wouldn't be as long; see the blog archives, Wednesday, July 6, 2011).

I must point out those electric blue iris in the left center towards the back.  That's a color I love, in addition to white and also dark purple and yellow, and on and on.  My friend Kathryn gave me some iris one year, and we got so tickled we couldn't talk when they bloomed.  Truly, there aren't many ugly irises, but these were hideous - a sick, two-toned gray purple.  I haven't had the heart to get rid of the things.  Some pretty white flags I used to have disappeared, but these ugly ones never fail to come back year after year.  I might have to mix them in when I get the good colors from Karl and Bosco, or maybe I should surprise Kathryn, so she'll have some, too.  We shall see.

Note:  I took heart in the following excerpt from Iris City Gardens, a nursery in Tennessee.  It appears I still have time to get my iris in the ground.  Here goes:

"Bearded iris

July and August are the best months to plant the bearded iris although they can be planted almost any time of the year except winter.  They prefer sunny, well-drained locations and should be kept moist until the first new center leaf appears.  Take care not to overwater.  Plant the rhizomes just below the surface of the soil so that after the first rain the top is exposed.  Do not mulch or overwater."

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Poppies for painting, maybe

Here's the difference between a true photographer and me.  I'm actually referring to my friend from childhood who takes photography lessons and has won awards.

She and I went to France for the last 10 days in June.  She had a zillion dollar camera with her - one that she had just purchased and which weighed I don't know how many pounds.  She wouldn't tell me, but I know it weighed more than my second child when she was born.  The lens alone looked to be burdensomely heavy, judging by its size and protrusion.  The camera was too large for a case, but she carried it everywhere, gripping it tightly to her chest.  Other photographers-in-the-know would stop her to admire the professional looking apparatus.

On our second day in France, we went by train to Vernon and took the city bus to Giverny.  I've never seen so many people.  After we toured Monet's garden, we had lunch in the village (great gazpacho) and then walked up to the end to see the church and graveyard.  I think it was on the way (or was it past the church?) that we came across this field.  Some children were sitting on the grass with their sketch pads, each drawing or painting the above scene.

My friend with the complicated camera was ecstatic.  She explained that she would never take a photograph of just the field. "It's much more interesting to see the children in context," she said.  "Otherwise, you have a boring photograph with no personality."

So, I surreptitiously took my camera and avoided every child, while my friend asked the supervising adults if she could take close-ups of the children's work with the field beyond.

I never saw the results from the "real" camera.  My friend was careful to carry several memory sticks, as her camera was set on an exceptionally high format, and she could only get a few pictures at a time.  I know the results must have been good, because she had so meticulously lined the scenes up, making sure each frame was perfect before she snapped.

Meanwhile, I came home with the above photograph, which sort of conjures up Monet's Poppies at Argenteuil (he had a woman and a child in his painting, so my friend must have been right).

What I saw in this picture was a scattering of Papaver rhoeas (red Flanders Field poppy) and the blue cornflower Centaurea cyanus.  The field makes you think of Monet and the Impressionists, for sure.  It also made me think of Ruth Mitchell in Orchard Hill, Georgia, who in her heyday planted a garden with thousands of poppies and cornflowers.

Which reminds me.  Although it's hard to think of planting anything in this heat and humidity, it won't be long until the ground should be prepared if you live in the southeastern United States and want to emulate the above scene.  These cool season annuals need to planted on bare ground in the fall.  We call them wildflowers, even though they are not native to the U.S., but to Europe.  There's a field near the farm in Chattahoochee Hills, Ga., where the blue cornflowers have naturalized.  Every April, a blue haze appears at the top of the rolling meadow.

But back to this photograph.  If I had one of those apps that turn photographs into paintings, I might have something here.  But I probably should have included the children.  Maybe I'll do that someday if I return to Giverny.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Grape arbors, box borders and explanations

Well, I'm back!  This is a first entry under a new domain name:   I have some explaining to do and I need to apologize for a comedy of errors, which was sort of a tragedy for me (not in the sense of a terrible tragedy that changes people's lives; maybe "big disappointment" is more appropriate).

At any rate, on July 9, 2012, I went to post my blog entry, but all that came up was an ad for to purchase a domain name.  Long story short.  My daughter kindly set this blog up for me in late May 2011.  It was done under an email address ( that I never use.  The "renew automatically" box wasn't checked.  In May, I received my American Express bill with a charge to  I assumed that was my renewal.  It wasn't.  It was my daughter's book blog.

In the meantime, I had received a notification on my gmail account that I needed to renew my domain name.  I didn't see it.  So, someone else bought the name and put up their Web site.  I called, and they said there was nothing I could do.

I was sick at heart.  I thought I had lost all the entries I had made for the entire year.  But, thank you Google, for saving the archives.  They are all there.

So, I begin anew.  When I first started, you had to go through several Google pages to find me.  By last spring, I came up first automatically.  I want to thank all of the almost 100,000 page viewers who visited the blog at the old address.  I hope I can find you again!  Right now, I'm back where I started - way down the line.

Wait.  I said this would be a long story short.  Sorry.

Anyway, the above photo was taken in Marie Antoinette's "farm village" at Versailles.  I'm a sucker for grape arbors, and one day soon, I'm going to have one.  This one forms a long tunnel.  You can walk under it for a good ways.  What you see here is the middle where you can cross under it the other way.  On the opposite side is a cascade of red roses.  I was tempted to use that view, but this shows the vegetable gardens in the distance, planted inside boxwood borders.

So, if you happen upon this post, please help me get re-established.  I've checked the "renew automatically" box and have my real email listed for notifications.  If you to to Google and type in " marthatate", the first listing that comes up is my old Web site (that means he/she is more popular than I), but the rest are my old blogs, but with the new Web address.

Thank you all for your inquiries.  It was so frustrating not to be able to explain what had happened.  I just vanished without a word.  I hope you'll come back.  I promise not to let this happen again.