Thursday, September 27, 2012

How does this grass grow in shade?

Up at the little house, I used to have a square patch of lawn.  I guess lawn would be too big a word.  It was an area about 16 ft. X 16 ft., bordered by bricks.  Every fall and spring, my husband would plant grass, fescue, I'm quite sure.  If I recall correctly, the grass would look pretty good in late fall, and then he would re-plant again in spring.  By summer, one could hardly call it a lawn.  It was more of a rock hard place with enough grass that, from a distance, made it look sort of green.

Once you got up to it, though, you could see it was spotty, at best.  Still, he had a push mower and would cut what was there and water it during dry spells.  At that time there were a lot more trees to provide shade.  I'm thinking the lack of light, plus the poor soil made the small space inhospitable to grass.

Fast forward to now.  My heart races every time I go up there and look at the hard-pack, almost brick like surface.  There are a few weeds and some moss, but now I'm tempted to see if I can get a pick into the earth, try to dig it up and then get a ton of soil amendments in there so I can plant some grass.  Don't I hear on Walter Reeves' radio show a million questions about growing grass in shade?  And, doesn't he say there is a type of fescue now that tolerates shade?

Because the house blocks some of the sun, I'm not sure how the corners would do.  But now, with some trees gone, it gets a lot more light.  I would love to have just one little patch of grass again, although it would entail buying a push mower if I could actually get any to grow.

Which brings me to the above photograph.  That grass on the left hand side appears to be pretty thick, despite the shade.  It looks like a place for one of Renoir's picnics (although this is in Monet's garden at Giverny).   Of course, anything would look good next to that peaceful canal.  The water flows into the famous pond with the water lilies and the arched, wisteria covered bridge.

If the weather turns cool again next week, I think I'll take my pick axe and go up there and see what I can do.  I haven't checked out Walter's Web site, but I feel sure he has all the information on there I'll need.  I know I have to get some straw and a new sprinkler.  If I get up the gumption to do this, I'll report back in a month.  I hope deer don't eat new grass shoots.  They do stand on the intended "lawn" and nibble at the 'Snowflake' oakleaf hydrangeas, however.  This should be an interesting experiment.  I hope it won't be an expensive one.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Variation on a familiar native flower

On October 15th, my City of Atlanta taxes are due.  So, it doesn't seem right that I walk outside just now with my two dogs, who are looking over in the direction of the deer trails, and I glance to my my right, and what do I see in the lower lawn?  Three wild turkeys!  One nestles down into the grass.  The other two stand stark still.  I pray the dogs won't see them.  They don't.

I know this isn't New York City, but it's getting wilder every year here in Atlanta.  The dogs continue up the driveway to the little house, which we do around 5 p.m. each day.  Almost always there are deer about, so the dogs go flying into the woods. Not today, though.  On the way back down to the house, I hold my breath.  Maybe the dogs won't see the wild turkeys.  I should have known better.

Willa (who looks like an Australian dingo and is named for Willa Cather) is just too observant.  She stops, her ears go up, and she starts bounding through the trees.  Norman, the springer/Australian sheep dog (they are both rescues, so I don't know exactly what they are) follows in hot pursuit.

Then, the noise of the turkeys (my daddy had a wild turkey caller, so I know the sound well) and the fluttering of wings.  I never knew turkeys could fly so high.  They got away safely, way up into the trees.

I'm glad to say no harm done, but really, where did they come from?  I had one come last winter, so I guess I'm going to have them in residence now.  They may not like it here since Willa is around.  Norman is no threat.  He chases after them for a few moments, then remembers he wants his supper.

So, all of this has nothing to do with the photograph above.  I've had two shots of this flower, one from a nursery and one from a garden.  As is my usual practice, I failed to label either of them.  I knew they were probably a rudbeckia, but could they possibly be a type of gaillardia?

Then, as I often do, when I was desperately looking for something else, I came across a third photograph, which, miracle of miracles, I had identified.  This is Rudbeckia subtomentosa 'Henry Eilers'.  It is unusual in that the petals are in the shape of a quill.

The original flower was found in southern Illinois next to a railroad track.  The flower may well be a part of a remnant of an original prairie.  A few of them do exist where the ground has never been plowed and cultivated.  Apparently, according to one Web site, some virgin prairie remnants lie along railroad tracks dating to the 1800's.  This was the case for this rudbeckia, which is named for a retired nurseryman who discovered the unusual form.

I definitely want this plant.  It is five feet tall (although it doesn't look to be in this photograph) and has straight stems rising from a basal rosette.  It is at its best in August and September.  I'm thinking it would look great with the yellow patrinia, some iron weed, Aster tataricus and sun-loving ferns.  But, I'm also really interested in it as a long-lasting, sturdy cut flower.

So, put this on your list of perennials.  You would be ahead of the game to obtain it in the fall and then watch as the stalk rises from the rosette in June.  Then, by the time the garden is on the wane, here come these tall, festive flowers.  This type of rudbeckia is native to the heartland, from Texas, up through Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois and on to Michigan.  It is most prevalent in Illinois, according to Ridgecrest Nurseries' Web site.  That's where I found the best description of the provenance of this black-eyed Susan.  That's the thing about gardening.  There's always something to look forward to, and a plant you don't know seems to be around every corner.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

In defense of (some) vines

If I were to go into my attic (which would take a lot of courage), I would find amongst the Halloween costumes I saved up but never wore and the broken down Cabbage Patch Kids swing my daughter wouldn't let me throw away, a stack of Country Life magazines from England.  They were given to me by my friend Helen Fraser.

I thumbed through to find interesting articles, but I always read Christopher Lloyd's garden column (I did write a post about his coming to my house for dinner, and how the caterer wanted to impress him by attaching dyed carnations in pastel colors to the rack of lamb).

But mainly, I would study the real estate ads.  There were manor houses or country parsonages and such, with a rustic cottage thrown in here and there.  What interested me was why I was drawn to certain houses and not to others.

Finally, I figured it out.  The houses I liked best had roses clambering up the walls or Magnolia grandiflora (our American native) espaliered up two stories high or Boston ivy clinging to the facade or wings of the house.  After I realized this fact, I painstakingly went through the issues again and again to verify that it was the houses that had vines growing on them in one way or another that captured my fancy.

When I posted a photograph of the deciduous Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) growing on my house, I immediately was met with protests.  "Vines are destructive, will ruin a wall and harbor insects," said one respondent.

It's true.  English ivy, in particular, will cling hard to any surface and is hard as the dickens to get off.  If you do manage to extract it from its furious crawl, unsightly tendrils are left.  English ivy should not be allowed to grow up trees (guilty as charged; there are still many on my property that are festooned in the aggressive evergreen; I have freed many, but I have a lot of work to do).

Wisteria is another thug.  It will pull down an arbor in a heartbeat and entangle itself so fast in any shrub that you don't stand a chance once it's loose.  In late winter and early spring, when the hideous, velvety seed pods literally pop open, I try to find all the smooth dark brown seeds I can.  I collect them and put them in a trash bag, hoping they'll never see the light of day anywhere else.

But, I have to defend some vines.  I know having vines on your house is not for everybody, but it is for me.  Right now, the Boston ivy that was so beautiful most of the spring and summer looks terrible.  Also, I have some trumpet vines covering arched iron arbors, and if I'm not careful, they'll stick to the wall and start running up to the roof.  Still, I don't mind the hassle.

The photograph above was taken about four years ago before a hard freeze (it has to get below 14 degrees F.) fried the fig vine (Ficus pumila).  I knew perfectly well I was taking a chance on having the vine in such a prominent place (my back terrace).  What you see here comes from a story and a half down.  I was proud of the way it looked for many years, and then the cold came.  It killed it back in the open spaces.  Where it was protected, it remained green.

Right now, I'm growing it back and am hoping we won't have one of those knock-back freezes.  I will say that where I had to remove it, it doesn't look so bad.  And, I am quite positive that it doesn't attract insects.  What it does do is get out of hand, and it has to be snipped back several times during the growing season.

So, I'm taking a stand and obstinately growing the fig vine to cover the stucco wall in back.  I don't like vines everywhere.  If there are too many, it is suffocating.  But for my purposes, I like vines growing on a wall for softness and for a green backdrop.  In the spring, I hope to add (in another place on the side wings) a climbing rose.  I also want to dig up some Confederate jasmine which I planted on a stump.  Its tendrils are reaching way out into the air for something to cling to.  I'll move the vine up here so I can enjoy the fragrance in May.

Meanwhile, there must be some psychological reason I like vines so much.  I'll have to give that some serious thought, or maybe not.  It's just probably that I like the way vines look, and I hope there's nothing wrong with that.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Clematis expert to the rescue

I had no idea what to do.  On July 9, 2012, I opened up my blog to write a post.  A sign from came up, really an advertisement, to buy a domain name.  No matter what I did, I couldn't get rid of that window.

Finally, I called GoDaddy (thank goodness they have a phone number, unlike Google), and they told me that my domain name,, had been auctioned off because it had not been renewed.  Someone else had bought my Web site.

"You can call the person and see if they will sell it to you," they said.  "That's about all you can do."

I pictured some person with a bandana and gun holding the domain name for ransom.  "You can have it for a thousand dollars," I imagined them saying.

I didn't even try that.  I thrashed around the house, then sat down to see what had happened.  My daughter had started this blog for me last June, after I'd paid another company over sixty dollars and wasted six months to find out their templates didn't work with an Apple computer.  My daughter had the site up and running within 15 minutes.  We bought the domain name for $10.99, and she showed me how to write posts and do the photographs, and I was good to go.  It all went very well, and every day I relished looking at pictures and writing some (usually rambling) text.   It was so much freer than writing for the newspaper, and I was having a ball.

Then, came that fateful day.  My domain name was gone.  The next day someone had put up a picture of a Japanese garden where my photographs used to be.  There were cute ladybugs and bubbles on the borders.  None of my followers knew what had happened.  There was no way to explain, except to the few people who had my regular e-mail.

What happened could have so easily been avoided.  I had seen a charge on my American Express bill for and assumed that was my renewal.  It was not. My daughter also has a blog, and it was her renewal.  I looked at my gmail e-mail and saw the notice:  The name would be sold if I didn't renew by July 8, 2012.  That notice was sent on May 16th to an account I never checked.  GoDaddy didn't have my regular e-mail listed.

I won't go into the paroxysms of regret I experienced.  Every day, I would beat myself over the head.  I didn't know what to do.  Finally, when my daughter came home from law school, she set me up with a new domain name and rescued my archives.  But, the followers who had been there were gone, and she couldn't fix that part.

One day recently, Lyndy Broder, who knew what happened, e-mailed to say her daughter Mia, who is a computer whiz,  might be able to help me.  And she did!  It took a little experimenting (I was no help; I had some passwords written down, but not the ones she needed), but, if you were a follower and couldn't sign back up, you now receive the e-mails again.  Hooray for Mia!

I had taken the rest of July off, wringing my hands over what to do.  I started writing again in August, hoping something would catch on.  I would have only five page viewers in a day where I used to have hundreds.  I kept plugging along, though, and was happy one day when I had 13 hits.

But, we're back in business now.  That's Lyndy's clematis above.  She has hundreds of varieties in her expansive garden in Stockbridge and travels all over the world to visit clematis hybridizers.

I love this clematis (I also loved every single one she has).  This is C. viticella 'Blue Belle', originally raised by the famous hybridizer Ernest Markham, head gardener of Gravetye Manor in England.  My clematis book says it was temporarily lost to cultivation, but was re-introduced by Raymond Evison of Guernsey Clematis Nursery in the 1980's from a clone found in Canada.  That was a close call, sort of like my blog, but much more serious.

So, thank you, Lyndy and Mia, for getting me back on track.  Thanks to all of you for your patience, and I'm so sorry about what happened.  It's no fun falling off the face of the earth!

Friday, September 21, 2012

I hope this is 'Fisherman'

Since today is September 21, and I took this photograph a few years back on the same date, I thought it might be interesting to see what can be on display on the first day of fall.  The only catch is, the last time I posted a picture of a dahlia, I had the totally wrong name.  Luckily, John Kreiner of the Dahlia Society of Georgia saw it and e-mailed me immediately.  I was able to change the name, but only after a few dozen people probably caught my mistake.  He was so nice about it, and I was so embarrassed.  I mean, I put up a yellow dahlia and called it something it was not.  In fact, it wasn't even close.

I went on Google images and saw only one dahlia named 'Fisherman' that matched this one.  All the others so named looked totally different.  I'll be anxious to see if the dahlia experts will give me some help again.

Every time I've visited a dahlia grower, I've come away making a vow.  "In my next life, I'm going to specialize in dahlias," meaning really that I hope one day soon I can have a lot of dahlias in my garden. Dahlia growers are always taking flowers to hospitals and to friends, and I would love to be able to do that, too.  Plus, I need some colorful flowers to brighten up the House of Shabby Sheets, which has only white slipcovers (covered with sheets for dog relaxation) and brown floors.  It takes a lot of preparation and staking and fertilizing and choosing dahlias that do well in your area to be successful, so I'd better get busy preparing soil.

I remember going to Brian Killingsworth's garden.  It was almost time for a dahlia show, and he had rigged umbrellas to keep the sun and rain off some of the show flowers.  I might not ever go that far, but to see all those different shapes and sizes and colors - it set me afire.

So, perhaps by next May when it's time to set out tubers, I'll have that much-talked-about deer fence up, and I'll have the red dahlia above ready to go in the ground, along with the yellow one I called the wrong name.  If all goes well, please check back next September 21st to see if I have these same flowers in my dream garden.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Small flower - big impact

The moment I opened the car door on Sunday night, I knew what had happened.  While I was gone for a week to Pawleys Island, S.C., with my daughters and their friends, the orange tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans var. aurantiacus) had come into bloom.

The perfume, which is sweet and unmistakable, has a tinge of orange essence.  Or, is it because I know the flowers are orange, I just imagine the fragrance is imbued with orange or tangerine?

The most amazing thing about this evergreen shrub, which was given to me well over a decade ago by Erica Glasener, host of A Gardener's Diary on HGTV, is the reach of the fragrance.  Where I park my car is on the opposite side of a two-story wing of the house.  One would think that the structure would block the perfume, but it must waft through the air a great distance.

I have noticed that the orange flowers (this year's crop pictured above) are a much deeper color than usual.  In years past, especially when the shrub was young, I would have described the flowers as light apricot.  Now, they are a deeper tangerine color.

I also have Osmanthus fragrans 'Fudingzhu', which is supposed to have the best display of white flowers and is allegedly one of the most fragrant of the tea olives.  While ago, I snapped off a bloom of the orange and took it around to the white to compare.  Oddly enough, the white, just coming into bloom, had been fragrant a couple of days ago.  This afternoon, I couldn't catch any scent at all.  'Fudingzhu' has only been in the ground since last fall.  It's grown a few inches, but I imagine I'll get the full benefit in a couple of years.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying the wonderfully fragrant orange blooms.  These small flowers, which actually make quite a show now (but are so, so difficult to photograph) bloom along the stems. The aurantiacus is supposedly the most hardy of the tea olives, too, so it might work in a more northerly clime than the white blooming varieties.

So, first it was the gardenias (which are still blooming intermittently), then the ginger lilies in August - they have the loveliest scent of all to me - and now the tea olives.  Talking about fragrant plants reminds me that I need to replace a Daphne odora (February blooming) that died suddenly a few years ago.  If I work hard enough at it, I can have some fragrance (thinking now of getting a Chimonanthus praecox for December; the fragrant viburnums in March), I can pretty much have a sweet-scented garden just about all year round.

Note:  I'm leaving out several fragrant plants, but I'd better stop with just the above few for this post.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The day the gravel came

First, I must say I've been blogged down recently.  I went to Pawleys Island, S.C., for a week.  The weather was great, and I didn't work much.  I meant to, but just didn't.

Then, yesterday I was exhausted and surrounded by suntan lotion-scented beach towels that needed washing, not to mention everything else I took over there.

But, today it's back to business.  For some reason, I started thinking about a day I'd rather forget.  It was the day the pea gravel arrived at my house.

The background:  When we built this house in 1980 at the very highest mortgage rates ever, I advertised in the paper for cobblestones to make a front parking court.  I ended up buying 4,000 Belgian blocks - the ones that look like a big loaf of bread and weigh a ton each.

My husband and my daddy, using a dump truck from Daddy's business,  fetched them from a huge pile somewhere down near Marietta Street.  The stones had come from the site where the CNN complex is now.  I assume they had originally been ballast for ships coming from Europe.  A lot of that area of downtown Atlanta had cobblestone streets at one time.  I think there are some that are still paved over.

Anyway, I got the cobblestones, and soon afterwards, I made a huge mistake.  Our builder sent over someone who needed the money for a heart operation for his baby.  I was skeptical, but he had the sweet, very sick baby with him.  We agreed on a price.  I am very sure the father had never installed a cobblestone, or any stone for that matter, in his life.

So, I got what I paid for.  Lines of cobblestones so curvy they'd make you dizzy.  Also, he ordered river sand and did not set them in concrete (which might have been a blessing, after all).  The first time it rained, I had a lake in my front parking lot.  In fact, you needed waders to get from a car to the front door.  I had the young man come back and install some grates and drain pipe, none of which worked.  If we had a party or guests, I just prayed it didn't rain.  Also, when my mother-in-law first visited, she had to grab my husband's arm to maintain her balance, so uneven (up and down) were the cobblestones.

I can't tell you how much I grieved over this mistake.  I won't go into the years of rain followed by silt that would cover half the parking court.  Every week, when he could have been doing something else to enhance the landscape, my husband shoveled silt and wheelbarreled loads of it to the compost pile.  We weren't the kind to fix things.  We just managed what we had.

After my husband passed away, things got worse.  The cobblestones sank even more, and I couldn't keep up with cleaning them.  There were lakes when it rained, always followed by a fresh sea of mud.

Something had to be done.  I contacted a landscape designer, and she gave me a price to re-do the front of the house.  I should have known when she came back with a drawing that put a lot of foundation plants where I had none that she didn't understand the aesthetic of my stucco and limestone house.  And, the price to remove the cobblestones and use some of them to outline a pea gravel parking lot was astronomical.  I had paid 40 cents apiece for the Belgian block.  She wanted $12 to handle each stone.

So, I became the contractor.  I hired a Bobcat driver I knew who said he could dig the cobblestones.  I then got a driver from my daddy's business to say he would come get the cobblestones and haul them to the farm.

The first breakdown came when the Bobcat driver quit halfway through.  He suggested I find a landscaper to come buy the rest of the cobblestones and remove them.  Then, the driver and I had a disagreement over his hauling price, so he said he couldn't do another load.

It was a disaster and remained so for what seemed like several weeks.  Somehow, I found another Bobcat man, and he had a friend with a dump truck.  They finished up the cobblestones, brought in crusher run and packed it down, and put a thin layer of pea gravel on top.

I've been happy with the results.  I thought I would miss the cobblestones, but I love the gravel.  It brightens the look of my house.

The above photograph was not taken here.  It's the entrance courtyard to an architect's office.  But the idea is the same.  Gravel, boxwoods (I only have two flanking my front door - they had to be raised and re-planted when this all took place) and vines (I have Boston ivy going up the wings of the house).  It's a simple concept, but I like the look.

I shudder when I think of standing there that day, half the cobblestones gone and a hideous mud pit in front of my house.  I can't believe it ever got it fixed.  There's still more work to do.  I'd like to bring some cobblestones back to outline the gravel, but it might take a few more years before I have the gumption to fool with anything like this again.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Carol's retribution - did the punishment fit the crime?

Back in June, my long-time friend Carol Tessier (originally from South Africa) and her French husband Luc had three of us for dinner in their garden.  We had hors-d'oeuvres out on the lawn, surrounded by Carol's miraculous garden.  We then moved into the conservatory for dinner, as it was a bit cool still.  Summer was late coming to Paris this year.

Anyway, Carol was to fetch (a word she would use, but I wouldn't) the three of us - my older daughter Anne, my beloved childhood friend Linda and me - at the end of the Metro line.  For some reason, Carol and I start laughing the moment we see each other.  This time, I was all apologies.  We had forgotten the bottle of wine we'd bought to give them.  We were early, so I dispatched Anne to buy another.  The catch was that we were in a very unlikely spot to find any sort of store, surrounded by high rise apartments and office buildings as we were.  Anne had gone dutifully off in the direction that looked the least deserted.

Carol arrived, and we waited and waited.  No Anne.  It seemed like an eternity.  I was worried.  Had she gotten lost? These streets all looked alike.  But finally Anne came running up, totally out of breath, wine bottle in hand.  Amazingly, she'd found a Monoprix (sort of an abbreviated WalMart), but the line had been long.

We were laughing at our folly as Carol drove over the Seine and pointed to some flower-filled boxes on the bridge. "They always have very beautiful hanging baskets,"she explained.  "Last autumn, I decided to help myself to some slips.  When I was taking the cuttings, a bee stung me really hard and said, 'Good for you; one doesn't do that sort of thing!"

When we got to her house, she showed me the tiny courtyard outside her kitchen where the purloined cuttings had just been put in.  Not much was going yet.  However,  I just recently received the above photo with Carol's observations:

"I thought you might like to see what our kitchen courtyard and window boxes are looking like. Most of the plants seeded themselves including the petunia bravely coming up between two paving stones. The lobelia seeded from last year and the purple tobacco as well.  What amuses me is the large white tobacco coming up in the window box; heaven knows how the seed got there. Otherwise all the other plants came from slips that I took last autumn on the Pont de Courbevoie over the Seine."

It was hard to choose from the three photographs Carol sent.  That yellow begonia and the trailing blue lobelia in the box on the left are great seen up close.  And this view doesn't show the mysterious white tobacco that came from who knows where.  But from the looks of the courtyard I'm thinking that crime did pay, after all.  But perhaps Carol should consider wearing some thick gloves this fall if she decides to be a repeat offender.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Anna's idea for a column

This photograph of clematis was actually taken at well-known rosarian's home.  For years, Anna Davis had a front-yard rose garden which she would so generously put on tour.  I especially remember a long wooden fence covered with the pink double rose 'Eden.'  At her mailbox was a charming, low-growing  yellow rose, which I particularly loved (I have the name written down somewhere).  Elsewhere around the yard were rose covered arches and all manner of shrub roses and more climbers.  It was spectacular.

And then I heard the news.  Anna was moving.  She was downsizing.  We all thought we'd die.  I could not do any more drive-bys (when her garden was not on tour, you could stop in her neighborhood, park your car and walk to her corner.  Most of the roses were in the front of her house).

For several years, I lost track of Anna.  Finally, it was announced that she was going to be on the Atlanta Botanical Garden's Gardens for Connoisseurs tour, which is always held on Mother's Day weekend.  I was ecstatic, but I couldn't feature what a downsized garden could look like.  After all, the other garden was not really huge.

But I needn't have feared.  Anna had moved into a cluster home (I'm not sure this the right term; the houses are very close with just a narrow strip separating each one.  The tiny lawns in front all looked alike) and had turned it into a showplace.  Although the garden was tiny, you didn't get that sense.  She had clematis and roses climbing the walls of her house.  As you went down the alley to the sunny, postage stamp sized back yard, you felt as if you were walking through a fragrant tunnel to enter The Secret Garden.  At the end was a rose-covered arch with clematis woven in.  Just after this sat Anna in a rose bedecked swing, gazing out at a colorful display of dazzling flowers, all in the best of health.  Mixed in with the roses were several varieties of clematis.

To find out the name of this large-flowering type, I called Lyndy Broder, who is an active member of the International Clematis Society and who travels all over the world visiting gardens and nurseries.  Here is what Lyndy wrote back:

"The clematis should be 'Hagley Hybrid' which was sold in the states as 'Pink
Chiffon'.  Google clematis on the web.  It is a wonderful search site for
identifying clems.  They say it is group 3 which is hard prune.  Anna Davis
has the most beautiful clematis.  I asked her how she did it and she said
she listened to me!  So  I guess I should follow my own advice.  Her soil, of
course, is impeccable and the size of the garden is manageable.  Her
combinations are fabulous."

The lessons from Anna's garden are many, but the striking one is that she uses the vertical surfaces of her home to showcase climbers - both clematis and roses.  The treatment of this brick column is just one example of how an otherwise plain space can be transformed into a thing of beauty.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Organized chaos for this time of year

This garden in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, always intrigued me.  Kit Flynn, the owner, had turned her entire sloping front yard into a garden.  She had a few paved walkways and some nicely placed urns, but she did have a point in calling her composition, "organized chaos."

I've heard other gardeners use this term.  Kit had all sorts of plants - roses, perennials, flowering shrubs - packed into what was once a quiet lawn, like her neighbors all had.  In fact, as you drove down her street, you were all of a sudden startled by what you saw.

I visited her garden in September.  What I remember most were the grasses.  She had them everywhere - in the ground and in containers.  Somehow it all worked, and there was plenty to see and admire in what is usually a down-time for a Southern garden.

You can't see in this view, but the front walkway going up to the street was lined with ornamental gingers, not the kind you see in Florida, but a dwarf variety.  Elsewhere, she had a mishmash of yellow composite daisies (there is a crude term for this, but I can't remember it now and wouldn't write it if I did), sedums, including a flopping patch of 'Autumn Joy', Japanese maples, boxwoods, banana plants and several other tropicals.

I liked her garden a lot (it was featured on an episode of A Gardener's Diary on HGTV), but I'm already so chaotic that I would not be able to keep up with a garden like this.  The main thing, though, is that she enjoyed her creation so much and loved every minute of the experience.  She didn't mind taking chances, and some of her combinations were quite stunning.

I think the thing that saved her was that she had invested in stone paving and some evergreens that gave the eye a bit of relief.  Otherwise, it would have been a very chaotic sight.  For a September garden in the South, though, I would say it was quite successful.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Cheerful flowers do the trick

Is it the heavy air outside, the gray skies, the mosquitoes?  I know cooler days are coming.  It's in the seven day forecast.  But, for some reason I needed to see something cheery today.  All day I felt sort of gloomy (maybe it was because I had to clean the house and wanted to be doing something - anything -else).

So, I scrolled through some photographs and came upon this view of Monet's Giverny that I don't think I've posted yet.  When I began examining the flowers, I realized it won't be long before it's time to scatter the poppy seeds I've saved.  I marked the flowers at the farm I wanted to preserve last June.  Most of the blooms were double and cherry red, but there was one flower that was almost purple.  I'll have to wait until next May to know if my selections worked.

Poppies remind me of zinnias.  You never know what you're going to get from last year's seeds, and I don't know if selecting only the ones you want always works.  Mother had a patch of cherry red peony poppies that went on for years.  I don't remember seeing the single pink ones that seem to be dominant if you let everything go for years.

Earlier in the week (or was it last week?), Diana Mendes posted pictures of her garden.  It set me afire.  I need flowers.  I dream about having flowers and have for years.  So, it's time to get aggressive and figure out how to get this deer problem solved. They've eaten practically everything (just saw they'd mowed down the crossvine I planted in the spring).  The good news is that the Aster tataricus still has buds.  They clipped them all last year.  The pink daisy chrysanthemums have been sheered again, but I'm hoping I'll have a few buds.

But, back to the poppies.  They do best when you prepare the soil and smooth it over.  That means no grass or weeds, just good, bare ground.  Ruth Mitchell, poppy expert, would put the tiny seeds in the palm of her hand and blow them out onto the ground.  It seems like a long time until next spring, but getting everything ready will definitely pay off later.  Poppies make such a great show, it's worth the effort.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The rose I'd like to have

The first February after I got married 39 years ago, my husband and I fell victim to the packages of roses at the grocery store.  We selected several in different colors and planted them in probably some of the worst clay on the planet.

When May came, we were disappointed.  What had been a space with full sun was now in deep shade, thanks to the leafing out of a giant oak tree.  I'm thinking we did have some blooms that year, but the plants suffered from black spot, and all the foliage had fallen off by the end of the summer.  We were left with spindly bushes (if you could call them that) which, in two or three years' time, had succumbed to the poor conditions.

Fast forward to last fall, when I came home to find a 40 foot long branch (it could have been a whole tree, given its size) lying in my driveway.  It had fallen from a 100+ year old white oak tree.  I had the city arborist come out to give me an opinion.  It was the second such limb that had come down.  The man said the impossibly tall tree, part of which hung over my slate roof,  had to to be taken down.  The only good part to the expensive procedure was that I avoided the pounding of acorns on the roof, which had always kept me awake and filled the gutters to the max.

This summer, I realized that I now have a spot for a climbing rose at the corner of my house.  I have full sun there, now, starting in the morning.  And, now I know better than to leave the soil unimproved.

The problem is zeroing in on which rose.  I know I don't want a thorny monster like 'New Dawn' (although it's so beautiful and reliable here).  My house is stucco with limestone trim, so it's sort of a beige-gray.  I really ought to opt for a red rose, but there aren't any I'm in love with (I do like 'Dortmund', but I want a double flowering rose).  'Zephirine Drouhin' is not quite the color I want, although it's close, and I love its fragrance.  I need to check with Erica Glasener, who grows this rose at her house on the other side of Atlanta.  I'm concerned about whether the rose does well in our heat and humidity.

What I'd like is a big, double cabbagy rose like the one in the photograph above.  Maybe it could be a shade darker, although I'm okay with this pink.  It needs to be fragrant, and it can't be a rambler that would go everywhere.  I would be able to see it from where I'm sitting right now, and I could open the window in spring and catch its fragrance.  I would like a repeat bloomer, of course, which would give me a big spring show, some sporadic blooms in the summer and another flush of bloom in October.

So, if there's someone out there with a suggestion, I'm open.  I do need to call Pat Henry at Roses Unlimited in South Carolina to see what she would recommend.  In the meantime, when the weather turns cooler and the humidity is down, I'm going to work on the ground at the corner of the house.  This time, I'm going to be prepared and give the yet unknown rose a good home.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

It's wrong, but I can't resist

Lyndy Broder, clematis expert, please forgive me.  And, to all the people in the southeastern U.S. and the mid-Atlantic states, know what this plant does before you let it into your garden.  It is invasive.

Still, I couldn't resist.  It was the frothy white blooms, the sweet scent and the view against the blue sky. This is Clematis terniflora, also known as sweet autumn clematis.  The above is growing on a fence at the farm.  For some unknown reason, the deer have not ravaged it like they have my plant here in Atlanta.  In fact, I wanted to cut some strands for an arrangement at church yesterday, but the deer had eaten all my flowers except for those they couldn't reach.  Of course, I couldn't reach the blooms, either.

I did see a photograph of sweet autumn clematis growing on an arch at a well-respected nursery near Athens, Georgia. Garden designer and blogger Sandra Jonas had posted the picture on Facebook.  It made me feel more justified in taking this picture and delighting in how lovely the vine looked on the fence.  This time of year, when there aren't a lot of blooms in the garden, the starry white flowers are a welcome sight.

It's been probably thirty some odd years since I attended a wedding reception at a private home.  Tables were set up in the garden, even though it was late August (somehow, it was not very hot that day) for the afternoon reception.  Butterflies were flitting about on colorful zinnias, and there was a whole wall of the white blossoms of sweet autumn clematis (back then, it had an impossibly long species name).  I've loved the plant ever since.  It was perfect for a wedding.

I found a map on a Web site that showed the states where Clematis terniflora is listed as invasive.  Georgia is one.  I suppose the wind and the birds distribute the seeds.  I did see a mass of white blooms climbing up a small tree in my neighborhood.  I guess the deer don't wander down that way.  As for here, I won't have much of a problem with sweet autumn clematis taking over.  My many white-tailed residents will see to that.  If only they liked wisteria, I would be a happy camper.