Friday, November 30, 2012

A bench in time

I doubt that Bill Hudgins has had a lot of time to sit on this bench in his garden.  In fact, I'm guessing that no one has sat here in a long time.

But, the picture reminded me of something. I am continuously trying to fight the "I should have" speech that I so often lapse into.  The way I talk sometimes, you'd think my life is one big regret of roads not taken.  It's not, but there are things I still stew over.  Like the fish painting I didn't buy with my Christmas money one year.  It would have looked so good in my kitchen.  I waffled while I was in the antique shop, went home and realized I couldn't live without it.  I went back to the store, and it was gone.  The shopkeeper said, "Oh, one of our best customers just bought it.  She saw it and just had to have it."

To this day, I look at the blank space where that painting would have hung and remember the sting of walking in and seeing that the painting was gone.  Nothing life-changing or serious, but I sure wish I had bought it.

Back to the bench.  I read on Facebook that one of my friends has a paved driveway a half mile long (she lives on a beautiful farm and is a great gardener).  Her post reminded me of something.  I moved to this property when I was a new bride.  We lived in a 1926 cottage at the back of the lot.  Our unpaved driveway was 1/5 mile long.

Then, nine years later, we built another house, about halfway to the street.  That left a good part of the driveway, a part that was flat and pretty long, as an approach to the new house.  My husband did not want to pave it, and I did.  I wish I had insisted.

And here's why.  Children couldn't learn to ride a bicycle on a gravel driveway.  My older daughter was six years old before she learned to ride a two-wheeler.  I had to take her over to a school parking lot so she could practice.  Finally, they blocked off the area, so we had to give that up. There was no place for her to ride.

When I was little, we rode everywhere in my small town.  I could go up and down my little private street for hours, practicing all kinds of tricks (Note:  never tie an English setter to your bicycle and expect to come out without severely skinned knees).  We also had a great place to roller skate that was nearby.

So, my regret?  That we didn't invest in asphalting the driveway because we didn't think it would look good with our house.  What a difference it would have made for my children.  They could have spent hours roller-blading and riding bikes.  We could have put up a basketball goal.  Instead, we didn't want to change the look of the 4,000 cobblestones that made up the front parking area.  It was hard enough to walk across the things, much less to ride a bike on them.

Here's what I should have done (with apologies to my friend Kathryn, who always got after me for this kind of talk):  Paved the front driveway and put a bench in a space about halfway down the drive.  I could have sat there, caught up on reading while my children played or just enjoyed watching them have fun.  I could have used the in-line skates I got for myself (they're still in the box, untouched, along with the elbow and knee pads).  Well, it's probably for the best that I didn't try to roller blade, as I was used to skates with four balanced wheels.

Remember that line from the song by Tyrone Davis?  "If I could turn back the hands of time."  Well, if I could do that, I would have a garden bench alongside my driveway and would watch in delight as my children whizzed back and forth by me.  If there's anyone out there who chooses the atmosphere and beauty of the approach to your house over fun for children and ultimately for yourself, please reconsider.  Likewise, if you have children and a yard, make it a great place for them to play.  The beauty can come later, and you'll have all those memories, besides.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lovely on the ground, too

It didn't happen as usual this year.  The leaves on some ginkgo trees around the area didn't drop all at once.  After the foliage turns completely yellow, a few leaves always sprinkle down to give warning.  That did occur this year, but instead of the whoosh of all the leaves falling at once, a few more fell, and then more, until at last, after several days, most landed on the ground.  

I checked several times with 96-year-old Margaret Moseley earlier this month.  For her, the falling of the ginkgo leaves is an event she looks forward to every year.  In fact, she doesn't let anything get in the way of "the drop".  Not even Thanksgiving.  She laughs when she remembers the look on the face of one of her daughters when she announced one year that if the ginkgo leaves didn't fall before Thanksgiving Day, she was not leaving home to come to dinner.

Margaret sensed that this year would be different.  She knew it was going to be perilously close to Thanksgiving Day, but she also thought there wouldn't be the grand finale as in every other year.  It's her habit to have a chair ready for the viewing.  When the leaves all come raining down within a matter of hours, she's right there looking at the spectacle just outside her glassed in porch.

Still, most of the leaves on the giant tree fell on Friday.  Some were still hanging on yesterday.

"When I planted this tree, it was no bigger than this cane," Margaret told Ari Douthit, who was visiting here from New York and went with me to her garden.  "That was 30 years ago."

I took this photograph yesterday, and you can see why Margaret enjoys the aftermath of the fall about as much as the event itself.  The entire ground was golden.  In the above area, some leaves of a Japanese maple were also mixed in.  All in all, everywhere you walked in the vicinity of the tree held a visual delight.  The ginkgo leaves felt like silk, and the whole experience of being there under this tree dating from ancient times was other-worldly.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Letting go of the season

I just walked into my dining room and realized I had to let go.  The fall season is over, essentially, even though it will officially be autumn until almost Christmas.  People around here already have their mailboxes wrapped in pine and fir.  Many neighbors have hung wreathes on windows and doors, and the person who finally bought the spec house built before the housing collapse, has outlined some newly bare trees in white lights.

Still, it's hard for me to think about dismantling my mantle.  I've had fun every Thanksgiving since I inherited my mother's gold spray-painted cornucopias.  Mother used them as a centerpiece on the adult table at home.  She made them back in the fifties when Miss Sally Hutson was the floral design instructor of the Palmetto Garden Club.  The same plastic miniature pumpkins, lemons and oranges are there.  The berries that don't mimic anything I know of in nature are still stuck in the styrofoam blocks inside.  The soft, pliable grapes that actually did look real are nowhere to be found.

So, what I do is cover up the plastic fruit with dried things I've gathered (i.e., okra from the garden at the farm), along with fresh fruit and berries (this year, I broke off some orange nandina berries from the barber shop in Palmetto).  For the last several years  I've had the round yellow fruit from the hardy orange, Poncirus trifoliata, which unfortunately is gaining ground out near the stick pile.  This year, they ripened early, so I had to throw away all the ones I gathered.  Last year, I had picked basketfuls of green tomatoes when I knew there was about to be a freeze.  Some had turned the color of persimmons and looked like they belonged with a fall collection.

This year, I was in a hurry and stuck bosc pears and a couple of onions on the mantle, along with some little orange lantern things I rescued from the trash can at church.  I usually have some walnuts or pecans around, but not last week.  I did put a couple of buckeyes from the farm on the mantle.  Last year, I had black and red peppers, but they had already frozen by the time I thought to pick them.

Out in front of my house is a small oak tree with giant red leaves (I haven't a clue what oak this could be).  Those served as the backdrop for the cornucopias, situated at either end.  I picked some nandina foliage to have a touch of green and then topped everything with bittersweet, which I found tangled up with kudzu on a hillside near my house.  There were some cattails and some pieces of sorghum in that same trash can at the church, so I added those to the cornucopias.

One embarrassing fact.  I went to vacuum in the dining room before I brought anything in and  discovered some hulls from last year's bittersweet stuck between the pine boards on the floor.  This says volumes about me, I'm afraid - that I'm more interested in decorating than I am keeping up with any cleaning chores.  This is not good.  When I take everything off tonight, I'll make sure to clean thoroughly.  I've got to get ready to put up the cedar garland.

Second confession.  I found some pieces of last year's Christmas greenery, too.  Some fir needles were stuck between the pine boards, as well, and there was some dried holly in a carved out log on the hearth.  I vow this isn't going to happen again.  It's just that gathering all the natural materials is so much more fun than cleaning it all up.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanks to an American treasure

The beeches beat me this year.  Usually at Thanksgiving, the ones on this property still have mixed fall colors of yellow, orange and bronze with the lingering bright green of summer.  Those branches are always the prettiest, and I go from tree to tree to choose the showiest combination.

This year, the beeches turned earlier, but they have been breathtaking.  Driving from my house to the grocery store has been like passing through a tunnel of gold.  My neighborhood, which is rather close to the Chattahoochee River, must have conditions beeches like.  In late winter, when the leaves turn a light silvery ecru, you are especially aware of how many there are.

Every Thanksgiving morning, I go out with my loppers to gather branches to put in this silver punch bowl in the dining room.  One year, I had some red rose hips mixed in.  This year, I cut some bittersweet from the side of a road near my house.  I also fished some millet (or is it sorghum?) from the trash barrel at church.  I meant to stick some more pieces in, but I see I only put the one.  I was in a hurry.

There are some gorgeous specimen beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) in Atlanta.  Mine are all in the woodland, so the tall ones don't give you the full effect as ones in parks or that have lots of room to spread.

A story about a specimen American beech:  Up on the hill next to me was a huge stone lodge.  Allegedly, it was a summer home for one of Georgia's governors around the turn of the century.  Coincidentally, the people who lived there when I moved onto this property had lived for a time out in the country from my home town of Palmetto.  The man was a friend of Daddy's.  If I remember correctly, he was a fishing tackle salesman, and Daddy would bring him home for a noon meal at our house.  He was very loud and jovial and from somewhere up North.

His wife was quiet and shy.  Once, we went to their antebellum house at Christmas time.  The man asked if I'd like some grape juice, and I said yes.  He brought me a glass, and I took a sip and gasped.  Mother gave me a hard stare, and I struggled to drink the horrible liquid.  When I was about finished, the man came over and grabbed the glass from me.  "So sorry. I gave you prune juice by mistake." He laughed, and called me a good sport.

Anyway, back to the beech tree.  The woman turned out to be some sort of hoarder.  She never let me inside the stone lodge, but one day she did invite me up to see their beech tree.  I had seen it many times before from a distance, but never up close.  It was the most magnificent tree I'd ever seen.  It was fall, and it was a riot of color, and the silver trunk was smooth, thick and beautiful in its own right.

A couple of years after that, her husband died, and she was put in a home somewhere.  The house was abandoned.  On weekend nights, I could hear teenagers up there, having loud parties.  There would be screams from girls, presumably frightened by the labyrinthine tunnels of newspapers stacked to the ceiling or by the sounds of someone banging on a grand piano that had been left behind.

On Saturday, November 14th, I was lying on the sofa in my den.  It was very early in the morning.  My three dogs were going crazy.  There were cracks and pops, and at first I didn't bother to get up to see what was happening.  When I walked to the window, I saw a huge glow in the dark sky.  "What a fabulous sunrise", I said to myself.  Then it hit me.  That's not where the sun would come up.  The giant house was on fire, and flames were leaping up into the sky.

I called 911, and it seemed like it took them forever to come.  I got out my video camera and taped a commentary.  It was so sad that the historic house was being destroyed (the past evening had been Friday the 13th; the teenagers might have built a fire inside.  Who knows?)

Long story short.  The granite sides held up pretty well, but the interior was totally gutted.  When things cooled down, the dogs and I walked up to see.  It was shocking enough to see everything in ruin, but then I looked at the beech tree.  It had caught fire and burned so that it was hardly recognizable.  I was sick, thinking how such an old, fine tree had come to such an ignominious end.

All this to explain my Thanksgiving arrangement.  I don't know why I started rambling.  I will add one more part to this story.  Daddy told me how strange the woman had been, even when they lived down home.  The rumor was that she had a baby who died, and that she buried it under the steps of their historic house.

Here's the odd thing.  That house burned, as well.  I think that's why they moved to Atlanta.  The whole thing is very strange indeed.  It was such a blow to see that beech destroyed, but one good thing came out of the ruins of the lodge.  I got permission from the son of the couple to take the granite siding from the house.  I worked for weeks on this, hauling heavy stones down the hill, or filling up my husband's decrepit pick-up truck with the gray granite, which was cut mostly into different sized rectangles.

These rocks have been piled up along my driveway for decades.  One day, though, when I'm ready, I'm going to build myself a stone cottage.  I don't know where or when, but I do think it will happen sometime in the future.  It would be nice if there were a lovely beech tree next to it, preferably one that is already a hundred years old.  But, I like the small trees, too, so one of those would do nicely.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

These flowers say Thanksgiving

Last Saturday afternoon, I went down to the farm and passed Carl and Vosco's house.  I had to meet the hay man, so I didn't get a chance to stop.  I could see that there were still tons of chrysanthemums, all tied to posts and lined up like soldiers.  The glowing colors were highly visible from a distance.

As I mentioned before, Vosco is from Bulgaria, and his grandmother and mother were great gardeners. He has a wonderful collection of chrysanthemums, just like they did.  I took this photograph on a previous visit.  The flowers look like Thanksgiving to me.

It was a good day here, and I got over my blue mood remembering how things used to be.  Two families - long time friends - came, and we had lots of laughs and way too much food.  I tried to make Mother's dressing, but something wasn't right.  The color and texture were weird.  The cornbread and biscuits I made to go into it tasted better than the finished product.

But, we had a feast, and right now I feel like the girl on Seinfeld who had the toy collection.  You remember, Jerry and Elaine drugged her with a turkey dinner so they could play with her Easy Bake Oven and GI Joe.

Back to Vosco's flowers.  He's had a bonanza of beauty for the last two months.  By the weekend, it's supposed to get a lot colder, and we'll have freezing temperatures for the first time this fall.  I don't know what will happen to his flowers, but I'm glad I snapped these showy daisy chrysanthemums when I did.  Just looking at them makes me smile.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thoughts on the eve of Thanksgiving

For some reason, I lost it in church on Sunday.  I got through the processional hymn"We Gather Together" just fine.  But when we got to "Come Ye Thankful People, Come", this huge wave of nostalgia washed over me, and the tears started flowing.  I was embarrassed because I was sitting on a pew with people I didn't know.  I got held up in Sunday School and didn't make it down to sit with the usual crew.

With every stanza, I got worse.  What happened is I suddenly had this thought about how Thanksgiving Day had changed so much over the years, and how I never thought it would.  For so long, in my childhood, it was the same.  My daddy took us to the Georgia-Georgia Tech freshman game.  Then, we'd come back to my house, and several families would have dinner.  Finally, the crowd grew until Mother and Daddy hosted it at the community center.  It was always fun in both places.

Then, there were some odd years after college.  One was in San Francisco, where I went to seek my fortune, but ended up as a ski bum in Taos, New Mexico.  In a drawer or box somewhere, there is a photo of Kathi Woods and me on the roof of our apartment, holding up an uncooked turkey.  In the background is the Golden Gate Bridge.

That next year, I was in Paris.  To have a real Thanksgiving meal, I volunteered to serve at the USO.  That wasn't bad, but I felt sorry for the soldiers who were so far from home.  The food was good, though, and I especially loved having cranberry sauce.  I'd looked for some at Fauchon, but it just didn't look right, and it was, of course, expensive.

The ones that brought on the tears, though, were all the years my husband and children and I went to Mother and Daddy's after they'd moved out to the farm.  My brother's family was there, and we had the adult table and the children's table.  Mother did all the cooking, including her homemade rolls, which only rivaled her dressing and desserts (boiled custard, pumpkin pie, pecan pie and ambrosia; sometimes there would be a Japanese fruit cake - not related to regular fruit cake).  My friend Susan from college would go with us.  It was a feast.

My niece would play the flute, and I would accompany her on the piano.  We'd do the Thanksgiving songs and then launch into Christmas.  This was handy, as it got us out of cleaning the dishes.  Then, we'd take a walk through the fields and woods afterwards, trying to work off the fatigue that comes with eating so much.

In June 1999, my husband died suddenly just after his 56th birthday.  That Thanksgiving, it was pouring rain.  Susan was with me, and I was driving a Toyota Forerunner.  My niece Nell and my daughters, then 16 and 22, were in Nell's car behind us.  Out of my rearview mirror, I saw a car coming way too fast and out of control.  He was what I called a "weaver and speeder".  I knew he was going to hit us, and he did, miraculously not turning us over, but knocking us so hard that we crossed two lanes of traffic.  

The car was hurt, but we were not.  The worst thing that happened was that my children saw it all and thought they were about to be orphaned.  It turned out that the only casualty was Susan's pumpkin pie and whipped cream topping which ended up all over the cargo area.

Thanksgiving will be good tomorrow.  Two families are coming, and my daughters are here along with one boyfriend.  I'm over the sadness now, and I'm looking forward to a joyous day tomorrow.  Four years ago, there were only three of us.  Tomorrow we are ten.

I realize that Thanksgiving will change again with the passing of the years.  For now, though, I'm not going to go there.  I'll just appreciate the present, remembering those who were there over the years, and cherishing my friends and family who are here now.  I hope tomorrow is a great day for everyone.

The photograph:  More Japanese maples at Bill Hudgins' garden.  Taken last Saturday.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Asian ambience in an Atlanta garden

The space you see in this photograph (where the table is) used to be taken up with an elaborate, very large boxwood parterre.  It was lovely, but according to Bill Hudgins, was a lot of trouble to maintain.  The boxwoods - part of his extensive collection - had to be trimmed just so.  I never saw it any other way except for in a state of perfection, but Bill took the rectangular space, paved it over with stones and created another area for outdoor dining.

I don't know what is on his back terrace now, but it used to be very European, with a big stone table, and classical lion heads spilling water into a pool.  The scene could have easily been in France or Italy.

This table, however, which is out in the garden, definitely feels Asian.  Bill has been able to give a large part of the garden a definite Japanese feel, mostly through the use of ornaments, but also in the pruning of shrubs and trees.  There are still sections that could be in Europe, and along the stream, you could well imagine that you're in the north Georgia mountains.

I love the way the branch of the Japanese maple with its finely cut leaves is pruned to frame the scene.  It's just another example of Bill's talent, which continues to amaze.

Monday, November 19, 2012

My heart's on fire

It was cold and windy Saturday morning when I set out for Bill Hudgins' garden.  I stopped along the way to take a photograph of a large, picturesque ginkgo tree I'd been watching for days.  I figured it would be all yellow and at its peak by Saturday.  I was right.  But, what I hadn't figured on was the ire I drew from drivers when I parked on the side of a cut-through street.  I had my flashing lights on, and I was down far enough, away from the corner, but still.  It was very unpleasant, listening to people blowing their horns.

I got my picture, though, which I will post here at some point.

Today, I have to talk about Bill Hudgins' Japanese maples.  He had given me permission to come back and said he had pretty much kept up with the falling leaves (unlike at my house, where everything was covered).  But, on Saturday morning, the wind was gusting pretty hard, and leaves were raining down in Bill's garden.  I could hear a couple of blowers going and could see workers about.  There was no way to keep up with everything, but it really didn't matter (except for that branch you see in the above photograph; I didn't notice it when I snapped the picture).

So, I took my time and stayed in the front gardens.  I noticed immediately that the leaves on the trees I'd photographed a week before had mostly fallen.  But, there were other trees that had turned and were at their peak.  I ended up going up and down paths, shooting a lot up to the sky towards the sun to get a backlit effect.  A couple of times, I lay down on the ground to get my shots.  I felt foolish, indeed, but not as foolish as I felt when I stepped backward off a rock and almost went over into the stream.  Bill had warned me about being careful, but I was so concerned with getting this one filigree type yellow maple against a green background, that I didn't pay attention.  No harm done, but I came close.

All the while I was going through the garden, I had a line from a song (the version I have is by Billie Holiday) stuck in my head.  "My heart's on fire, the flame goes higher," kept playing over and over in my mind.  It was like I was a crazed person snapping away at one tree, and then I'd see one even more fabulous, and go running the other way.  It did look at times like the woods were on fire, such were the colors of the leaves.

The wind never let up, but I got some great, fiery (to go with my heart) pictures of Japanese maples.  The photo above is one I took as I was leaving.  It's the entrance to the garden and gives you just a taste of what lies beyond.  That's the bridge across the stream (not where I fell; that was upstream).  On the other side, you enter a magical place where just about everywhere you go, you see something wonderful.  Thank you, Bill, for creating all this beauty.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Mesmerized by maples (Japanese, that is)

Somewhere on a shelf in an upstairs study (now crowded with boxes brought from my parents' house), there is a copy of Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles magazine.  For years, I was their garden editor and wrote feature stories for the well.  I can't remember how I first knew about Bill Hudgins - maybe I saw his former garden on a tour.  I also loved his shop, Lush Life, then located in Decatur.  The store is now in Buckhead, and it is always a treat to go there and see all the specialty plants in back and check out the gorgeous arrangements his staff creates up at the front counter.

At any rate, if I remember correctly, the feature story on Bill's garden ran in the October 1994 issue.  I was so pleased at the outcome.  Bill already had over a hundred Japanese maples.  He had managed to integrate them into a small woodland in back of his brick, tudor style house in a Decatur neighborhood.  The photographs were beautiful.

Fast Forward to 2012.  Bill has thousands of Japanese maples on his three-acre property in northwest Atlanta.  You can pretty much go there any time of  year and find scenes to photograph.  Of course, the Japanese maples are at their showiest in the spring when the leaves unfurl into a multitude of colors - the deepest burgundy to the lightest apricot.  In fall, it's a spectacle of bright orange, golden and lemon yellow, the reddest red and dark, dark claret.  Some trees have several colors at once. The maples are everywhere in the woodland - alongside paths, in the distance on hillsides and cascading over the stream that runs through the property.  Many grow in large urns.

In Atlanta, Japanese maples reach their peak fall color beginning in late October and extending all the through mid-December.  It depends on the cultivar and on the weather.  Last week, some of Bill's trees were still green.  A few had already lost their leaves.

But not to worry.  In his garden, you have at least a month to appreciate the astounding beauty these trees can produce.  I've got to get back over there, this time with a freshly loaded battery in my camera. I was rushing around last week.  The garden has so many paths, it's hard to know which way to go.  This time, I'm going to slow down.  I'll never see everything; that's impossible, but it's a great pick-me-up experience to walk through such beauty, especially on a sunny day with light pouring into the garden.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Bill, your garden captures my heart

My heart is beating fast as I write this.  I went to Bill Hudgins' garden last Saturday and about went crazy.  Everything was so beautiful.  If you were around last year, you will remember that he has hundreds of Japanese maples planted throughout his expansive garden.  I've forgotten how many acres there are - too many for someone who didn't charge her camera battery before she left home.  I've got to call Bill to say I have to come back, so I'll get his latest acre count and capture some scenes I missed.  I feel like I didn't even scratch the surface of this phenomenal garden.

This picture I've chosen has only one Japanese maple (the one in the urn on the right).  That tree hadn't turned, but suffice it to say that my friend Joy Dance and I were blinded by the colors which you'll get to see in future posts.  By using this photograph (with all its sun-splotched flaws) as an introduction, I wanted to illustrate how many areas there are that are beautiful, even without the colorful maples.  Here you see a (tame - unlike my place) wisteria with its yellow leaves, the green boxwoods, the gravel path, the stone, and of course, the amazing urns - an altogether wonderful composition.

Bill's garden has at least an acre of new paths and plantings, so when you arrive at his garden, it's hard to know where to begin.  Actually, I knew where to end when my battery finally made my camera go dark, but Joy and I were flying around, uphill and down, sometimes following the creek or exploring   paths I'd never seen before.  Still, we didn't get to see it all.

Last year, I mentioned that Bill has added many Japanese elements to his garden.  I thought I wouldn't like this change, but everything he's done is stunning.  Stay tuned for some Japanese maple color and  more scenes created by one of the most accomplished, but also one of the most humble, gardeners I know.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Finally caught the peak

I can't tell you how many years I've been driving by this tree in my neighborhood.  Every fall when it would explode into a mass of orange beauty, I'd say, "I've got to go home and get my camera."  Then I never would.

On Sunday, when I was rushing home from church, I screeched to a halt.  I had my camera with me, and even though I didn't have time to stop (had to go to a meeting an hour away and was already late), I knew I might not have this chance again.

I was lucky that only a few cars came by.  This was the second time in as many weeks that I found myself parked on the side of the road, trying to get up close to plants (I saw some bittersweet that I thought needed thinning out, so I helped with that;  it was for a good cause - decorations at the church).

This dissectum Japanese maple sits beneath a taller red one with palmate leaves.  The latter has thinned out some, and I'm sorry I didn't take a photograph years ago when the two colors were closer together and even more spectacular.

But, I'm trying hard not to say "I should have".  It's a terrible habit of mine, not to grab the moment and then be filled with regret over a lost opportunity.  So many times I've seen plants and vowed to come back and get a picture, but just didn't do it.  I'm happy I captured this one.  Now, if I can catch the magnificent ginkgo tree at the intersection of Northside Drive and Blackland road at its peak (any day now) and before the leaves all fall, I will have actually accomplished two long-time goals this year.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Missed calling my favorite veteran today

Being from a small town (I mean, very small, pop. 1,500 when I was little), it seemed like every experience was huge.  Maybe it was like that in the cities, too, but the characters in my town loomed large.  I remember as if it were yesterday the poignant sight of the WWI veterans sitting in front of Moseley's store selling red plastic poppies on Armistice Day, November 11. That's what we called Veteran's Day back then.

I was gone all day today, rushing to church, then hurriedly swallowing a sandwich in time to go to Newnan for a meeting with my high school class. I didn't get back until after dark.  So, I didn't take time to call my dear Uncle Claude, my mother's youngest brother on this special day.  He fought in World War II, and spent a dreadful winter in the Vosges Mountains in France.  Letters back to my grandmother sounded as if he were on a picnic.  She never knew about his crawling into a latrine pit with a German and what happened there.  Nor, did she know that he had no warm clothing to get him through the frigid nights, or how he had to crawl across the forest floor, sometimes hiding under the snow from the German foot patrols.

Georgia Public Television did a wonderful service by videotaping many of the Greatest Generation.  Uncle Claude was among them.  He was so modest in his interview, sounding as if it was all routine.  But, in our Veterans' Day conversations, he described in great detail these horrifying experiences.  I don't know how any of them survived that terrible winter.  He did, though, and made it all the way to Berchtesgaden.  He has a huge swastika flag which he obtained (one can imagine how) from an SS officer.

My Uncle Claude is a gentle man.  He never saw himself as a hero, but just did what he had to do.  Now, at age 89, he has some dementia.  My aunt puts him on the phone, and he greets me in that wonderful warm way, so glad to hear my voice.  He thanks me for the call, and then he asks how my mother and daddy are (they are both deceased).  It always startles me that this brave, sweet man's memory is fading.  It's hard to believe, because he took care of his sisters' and his aunts' estates, and was the backbone of that family for so long.

Tomorrow, I'll call him, and he'll be gracious and kind and say, "How are you doing, gal?"  I know he's slipped a good bit since our last conversation, but I hope I can get across how much he means to me and how much I appreciate how at age 18 he risked his life for his country.  If he remembers, he'll downplay the danger and say, as always, that he was one of the lucky ones who got to come back home.

In the above photograph:  Papaver rhoeas, also known as Flanders Field poppy, in Bob Clinard's Atlanta garden.  Native to Europe, corn poppies bloomed in the trenches along the Western Front in World War I and became a symbol of fallen soldiers.  In May, Flanders Field poppies are a common sight in fields all over Europe.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Dahlias conjure up a ghost story from long ago

I'm back in Diana Mendes' Atlanta garden.  I was taken with all the colorful flowers she had packed into a rather small front yard.  Yet, it seemed that each flower was in the right place and had room to grow and be appreciated.  I love the above combination - very insouciantly done, but so charming.

In this photograph is something that reminds me of my grandmother.  It's those dark burgundy dahlias.  Granny Smith, who lived in a little cottage down the lane from us, had a row of them along the side of her house.  I don't think they were the cactus kind like Diana has, but they were the same color.  I loved to take scissors and cut them.  She never minded.

One story about my grandmother.  She was my father's mother and moved to our little town from way out in the country, from a rural area called Rivertown (not even a crossroads, but a section that bordered the Chattahoochee River).  She came, along with a couple known as Uncle Mark and Aunt Julie, when my parents moved from the country to town.  I'm not sure what my mother thought of this, but that's the way it was back then.  My grandmother was a widow early on.

So, all my early years, until I was 16, in fact, I had my Granny Smith right there.  She made the best sorghum syrup candy when the weather turned cold.  We would pull until it became very light tan in color.  She would cut ribbon-like pieces and wrap them in wax paper.  It was chewy, sort of like taffy.

She died on her 86th birthday - Valentine's Day.  Her cottage remained empty.  The next year, on the night of February 14th, I was looking out our kitchen window toward her house. All of a sudden, a light came on in her bedroom.  I was home alone.  I think Mother and Daddy must have been at church (it was a week night), and I had no way to call them.  I was petrified.

They finally arrived home, and Daddy and I went down there.  The doors were locked, and he took a key from his giant key ring and opened the back door.  My heart was pounding.  Only the light in her bedroom was on.

Okay.  This is a letdown.  We didn't find anything out of order.  There was her bed, still neatly made up.  There was no impression of anyone having lain down (like happened to me a few years ago at my friend Linda Jackson Carter's historic house in Maryland, which really is haunted).  I'll never know why that light came on, but I'm very sure there was something to it.  It never happened again, thank goodness.  I don't believe my heart could have taken another scare like that.

Back to the dahlias.  In Diana's garden, you can see yellow daisy chrysanthemums and tall blue ageratum.  Diana hasn't a clue where the latter came from, but it's a typical occurrence.  I have it in two places here;  it appeared after several years' absence.  It tends to do that.

Diana is planting more dahlias next year, so it will be interesting to see the combinations.  I can't imagine I'll have another ghost story to go along with anything, but one never knows.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The last gasp in the fall garden?

I think I made it down to Chattahoochee Hills just in time.  Tonight they're predicting heavy frost, although in some areas, in fact, not even a mile away as the crow flies, vegetables and flowers have already been killed.  I'm referring to our farm, where all the late squash, beans and tomatoes are gone, hit by near-freezing temperatures two weeks ago.

The chrysanthemums in this photograph, taken two days ago, might look different tomorrow morning.  It's pretty certain, according to the TV weather report, that the skies will clear in time for frost to form.  However, these particular flowers might pull through.  We'll see.

In yesterday's post on this blog, I wrote about Vosco Angelov's collection of chrysanthemums.  Here is a flower that either is a sport (do chrysanthemums produce sports, like woody plants?) or a cross with a similar variety.  At any rate, there's a flower nearby that was the original.  The markings on this one are different, so Vosco is calling it Chrysanthemum 'Candy Paper'.

Vosco wasn't there when I visited the garden, but Carl pointed out that Vosco's translation (he is from Bulgaria) should probably be "candy wrapper".   Carl and I both agreed, though, that 'Candy Paper' has a lot more personality, appropriate to such a showy flower.

Later in the week, the weather is supposed to turn unseasonably warm.  Maybe Vosco's flowers will make it through tonight's cold snap.  Whatever happens, I'm glad I got to see his chrysanthemums.  They were spectacular, and I'll be putting up more pictures as time goes on.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Memories of Vosco's native land

The moment I stopped opposite Carl and Vosco's house, my heart started beating faster.  From that distance, across a busy rural road from their driveway, I could see the flowers in back.  They looked like colorful lollipop trees.

I drove up, unannounced, and went around to the back door.  A flock of gourmet chickens (all exotic looking) were gathered around, obviously waiting for a handout.  When I walked up, they scattered, all except one.  She was tan and brown and fluffy, with a row of feathers around her ankles (do chickens have ankles?).

Carl came out of the house and greeted me warmly.  I had come to see Vosco's chrysanthemums.  Vosco wasn't there, but Carl told me the story.  It's a familiar one I've heard many times in the course of doing interviews for the newspaper and for A Gardener's Diary.  So many gardeners grow the same flowers their mothers and grandmothers loved.  In Bulgaria, where Vosco grew up,  people were flower crazy.  Vosco's grandmother would plant all kinds of chrysanthemums for the fall garden (she also had roses, lilies, peonies and many types of vegetables, as well; Carl showed me a big, light green pumpkin that she had grown back in the old country).

Vosco has a collection of chrysanthemums that I'm sure would make his grandmother proud.  I wanted every one.  Some reminded me of football mums; others were brightly colored daisies.  Most had been tied up to fence posts and cascaded down from a height of five feet or more.  It was a thrilling sight.

Years ago, I had done some articles on chrysanthemum growers around Atlanta.  I would go to their yards when they were getting ready for the annual cut flower show.  I'd never seen such flowers.  I joined the Chrysanthemum Society, thinking I was going to be one of those growers (where did I get the notion that I had enough sun to produce any blooms, or the patience to do all that pinching at the right time?)

I received catalogs for a couple of years, marking all the flowers I wanted (practically the whole book). Now, I want to be a chrysanthemum grower like Vosco.  I want armloads of flowers to cut and bring in the house or take to people.  Vosco has early types, which had already bloomed out, but there were several that were at their peak. He even has ones that have crossed in the garden and made new and interesting colors and patterns.  I ran from one to another, snapping pictures as fast as I could.

The touching thing about these flowers is that they remind Vosco of his homeland and of his family and how it was long ago when he was a child.  He has been able to bring back seeds of things his mother and grandmother grew.  This must be a wonderful connection for him.  Seeing his flowers was a powerful reminder of just how a special iris or a rose a neighbor grew can bring back memories of long ago and people who were dear to us.  Another reason to have a garden if you have the time and space.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Plant portrait - Muhly grass

When A Gardener's Diary first aired on Home & Garden Television in January 1995 (we were one of a handful of original series that launched with the channel), information on plants was hard to come by.  At the end of each episode, we chose five plants to feature.  These were flowers, trees or shrubs that host Erica Glasener had talked about during the course of the show. We called them "plant portraits", but those words didn't appear on screen.

When we went to edit, which was in the middle of the night usually (to save money), we would sit on the leather sofas in the post house (where we did the on-line editing, that is, the finished product) buried in books and catalogs.  I lugged fellow executive producer Kathryn MacDougald's copy of Hortus everywhere I went.  It was incomplete, at best, so I had to rifle through catalogs, coffee table garden books and plant encyclopedias.  Sometimes it took forever just to come up with three or four facts about a plant.

Now, with a click of a mouse, I can find just about any flower that's in the trade.  Not all of the information is reliable, but it's really pretty good.  For several years, Kathryn and I wrote for HGTV's Web site, describing plants we'd shown on A Gardener's Diary.  By that time, I had the Internet at my disposal, although it wasn't as advanced as it is today.

The information on this interesting fall-blooming grass would have taken hours and hours of research 15 years ago.  This is Muhly grass, a U.S. native (one source said native to east Texas; I hope that's right).   This same writer said the plant has taken the southwestern U.S. by storm, because it is so drought tolerant.

This particular stand of what I consider an unusual grass is in Diana Mendes' Atlanta garden.  When you read the requirements, it looks pretty easy to grow, provided you have full sun.

Here's how we would have presented the information at the end of an episode of A Gardener's Diary.  We made it very short for TV viewing:

Muhly Grass
(Muhlenbergia capillaris) - this would have been in italics, something I can't make this blog do
Blooms in fall
Disease resistant
Zones 6-10

Oh yes.  The above information would have been centered.  I'm sure there's a way to do that here, but I don't know how.  I'm still stuck in the past, I guess.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Diana's front garden - how does she do it?

It's not a big space, but Diana Mendes has somehow created a garden that overflows with color all during the growing season.  This scene, taken in late October, shows the entrance to the garden.  What you can't see are all the roses, the prolific purple-blue Mexican sage (impossible to photograph for my camera; comes out blurry every time), daisy chrysanthemums in every hue, large clumps of blue asters, goldenrod, dahlias ranging from dark, dark red to yellow with pink splotches, Encore azaleas, watermelon-pink salvia and tall blue ageratum (is there anyone who doesn't have this every autumn?  I keep pulling it up, and, lo and behold, I'll find that it has migrated to a different part of the yard).

What is very showy in this scene is the Muhlenbergia capillaris, or pink Muhly grass to the right of the arch.  I took a photograph from a different angle that shows how large this planting is.  It extends deeper than it appears here, and is absolutely spectacular.  I'll have to post the photograph showing it backlit.  It's amazing how this native fall grass catches the light.  Diana says it was even showier the week before, but I was mesmerized by the sight the day I was there.

Having that patch of lawn leading from the driveway into the middle of the yard, with the borders on all sides, makes the space seem even larger than it is.  Bear in mind, too, that this same space is always changing, and in spring looks as if there could never be enough room for a fall garden billowing with flowers.  That doesn't even count the summer.  Diana has really pulled off a miracle.  I really don't know how she does it.