Friday, December 27, 2013

Margaret gave us winter stories

The life of a garden columnist in winter was pretty bleak.  When I started off at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1988, I did profiles of gardeners.  It was a weekly column, so it was akin to having a term paper due every Monday.

It was also back in the dark days before e-mails, but in the era of FAX.  I would come up with my story and fax it down to an editor.  An assistant would type it into their system.  I could go over my copy umpteen times and be so positive that everything was correct, but more often than not, there would be a mistake when it was re-typed.  Some weeks I would open the paper and burn with shame over a typo or a quote mark that was wrong.

But, as cumbersome as the process was then (I also had to assign a photographer, and I almost never agreed with the pictures they took), the hardest part was finding someone to let you in their garden during the winter months.  I ended up with way too many greenhouse stories that weren't all that riveting.

And then in 1994, I was introduced to Margaret Moseley.  She had begun gardening when she was 52, meaning that if she was born in 1916, that made it around 1968 when she started planting shrubs and trees.  She didn't have as much choice as we do today, but she scoured nurseries for plants she wanted.  The smart thing she did was plant a lot of winter-blooming camellias which eventually grew to form the backbone of her 3/4-acre garden.  So, no matter what the season, those dark green leaves made everything else look good.

She knew just where to put the camellias, and she also planted Arum italicum, daphnes and hellebores, as well as ferns that were evergreen (holly fern and autumn fern come to mind).

All the garden writers gravitated toward Margaret in the winter because she had something in bloom every day.  One editor finally asked me not to mention Margaret in every column.  The next thing I knew, he had her on the front of a January issue of the Home & Garden section, showing off her collection of winter-blooming plants.

The above photograph shows how she used a particular camellia (Camellia x 'Taylor's Perfection') - a real jewel of a flower - to mark the beginning of one of her "secret" paths.

I've arrived late to the camellia party.  I have a five-year-old 'Taylor's Perfection', but the deer eat the buds and some of the foliage.  Last year, I put in ten new camellias, and this year I want to plant some more.  So far, there are nice big buds on most of them.  After the rains this weekend, I'm going to get out the deer repellent and see if I can keep up with a regular spraying schedule to get through the season.

Oh, and I must mention that Margaret was still planting camellias well into her 90's.  She says it's never too late to plant something you want.  Every time I go out there, I come home empowered and ready to dig.

Someone last year said, "But think how old you'll be when these bushes are mature."  I guess I'll  follow Margaret's advice:  "Go ahead and plant as many as you can," she says.  "If you're going to live to be that old anyway, you might as well have some camellias to enjoy in winter."

Monday, December 23, 2013

"This Christmastide" was back!

The Sunday before Christmas is a special time at my church.  By that day, all of the decorations are up, and the church looks beautiful.  The huge Christmon tree in the sanctuary twinkles with lights, and the limestone columns and transepts are hung with wreathes and garland. On the altar is a giant arrangement (with greenery from my yard and from the farm).  It is really quite magical.

But, in recent years, something has been missing.  My family joined this church (we have something like 7,000 members) some 25 years ago.  For some reason, Peachtree Road United Methodist did not seem all that big.  It had a small town feel, and the music was out of this world.

Soon after we joined, the choir started the tradition of singing a very beautiful Christmas song called "This Christmastide" (also known as "Jessye's Carol").  A lovely piano introduction led off, and then a soprano began a solo.  She was joined then by the choir or an ensemble.  The song has several verses, and there is a big buildup towards the end.  Then, the last verse is sung quietly again by the soprano.  It is one of the most beautiful Christmas songs I've ever heard.

One reason that it is so special to me is that my late husband and my children loved it so.  At the end of the sermon on that last Sunday of Advent, you'd hear the introduction, and the four of us would squeeze hands and hold each other during the lovely melody.  My husband was not the type to do this sort of thing, but he, too, fell under the spell of "This Christmastide."  The song was performed again on Christmas Eve, and we'd hold hands once again, there in the dark with the lighted trees.

My husband died suddenly in the summer of 1999.  That Christmas, my daughters and I kept up our tradition of holding hands while listening to this song that had so much meaning for us.

One Sunday a few years ago, my older daughter flew home from New York in time for the Sunday service, and my younger daughter had driven home from law school in Charlottesville, Virginia, to be there to attend the service to hear "This Christmastide."  I had a supply of tissues ready, which we always needed.  But then sermon was over, and the final hymn began.  No "This Christmastide."

I couldn't believe it.  Another friend who considered this song a Peachtree Road tradition was equally upset.  He and I rushed up to our new minister to ask him what happened.  He had never heard of the song and knew nothing about it.

In the years that followed, there were a couple of abbreviated renditions with a soloist, which had none of the drama of the crescendos, and bore no resemblance to the original.  I obtained a copy of the music and would play it on Christmas Eve when a family from our church joined us for dinner.  But, none of us could sing, so I ordered several recordings from ITunes.  Nothing came close to the Peachtree Road choir.

My older daughter and her husband arrived this past Friday night, so as we rode to church on Sunday, I told her not to expect "This Christmastide."  It was okay, she said.

But, at the end of the sermon, Scott, our choirmaster came down to the chancel piano along with several members of the choir.  Could it be?  Then the familiar arpeggios began, and I grabbed my daughter's hand.  All of the past Christmases came rushing back, sitting there, the four of us - our original family - on the pew in the old sanctuary, holding hands and misty-eyed, in the quiet of the moment of this great season:

"Green and silver, red and gold.
  And a story born of old.
  Truth and love and hope abide,
  This Christmastide."

Friday, December 20, 2013

Looking forward to winter

Yesterday, I went to visit Margaret Moseley, who at 97, is as upbeat and lively as ever.  And how wonderful that her mind is so good.  She said she is looking forward to winter.

Now, that's something you don't often hear a gardener say.  In her case, it has to do with the fact that over the years she has planted so many camellias, daphnes and hellebores.  The camellia pictured here - Camellia japonica 'Magnoliaeflora' was beginning to bloom yesterday.  The shrub is full of buds.

Margaret opted not to go outside with her daughter Carol and me, so we took her a bouquet of these exquisite flowers.  The minute we walked in with them, she knew exactly what they were.

"I just love this camellia," she said.  "Sometimes the blooms are five inches across."

Some of the flowers had just a touch of brown on the blush pink petals.  I was surprised that they were in such good shape, seeing as how we have had temperatures every morning in the upper 20's.  Normally, a light colored, fully open flower will turn brown.

We found several without a blemish and took them in to make a bouquet for Margaret.

"Look at these," she said.  "Everybody who can grow camellias ought to have this one."

How many times have I heard Margaret say this, but if anyone can recommend plants for our climate, she certainly can.  Having lived through almost 50 years of trial and error and hands-on gardening, Margaret has definitely earned the right to dispense advice.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Here's a good Christmas present

Yesterday, I dropped by one of the big box stores to forage for some Christmas tree trimmings.  I do this every year so I can make a garland for my front staircase.  I don't feel bad, because I buy my Christmas tree there every year.

I still need to plant some pansies or violas for an elderly friend, so I went into the plant section to see if they still have some.  They do.  I really need to get this done next week while we have some good weather.

As I was browsing, I came across several containers of Viburnum macrocephalum.  I rarely see this plant for sale, which I find odd.  It's extremely easy to grow in this area, and the shrub, which can reach the size of a tree, gives you a full month of interest in the spring and can bloom again in the fall.

The giant snowball usually starts forming intense green domes in March.  As time passes, the domes become more rounded and turn to apple green.  Within a couple of weeks, a big, hydrangea-like ball has formed, and the color starts to lighten.  Another week will pass, and the flowers turn a mint green.

Then, by mid-April usually (one never knows these days - could be lots earlier, could be later as happened in 2013), the balls turn snow-white.

I looked at the five gallon containers and thought, "What a bargain."  This time of year, people buy Honey-Baked hams that cost a good $15 more than the $19.95 asking price for some sturdy plants.   The ham is gone within a couple of weeks, but this shrub is very long-lived and blooms reliably.

Here, it is, pictured at the back of Margaret Moseley's east Atlanta garden.  In my book, Margaret Moseley's A Garden to Remember, the shrub is also shown in its rounded, apple green stage, set against a dark green background of Leyland cypress.  The latter is as breathtaking as the white flowers.

Already this season, I have gone shopping and ended up with gifts for myself.  I fear that I am going to go back to the big box store and give myself another Viburnum macrocephalum.  I have plenty of space now, and the deer so far (knock on wood) have not been interested in either the foliage or the flowers.  If Margaret can have several in her garden, I don't see any reason for me to deprive myself of this great beauty, even though the gift won't be obvious until spring.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Would love to have these exact seeds

There's still time left to plant poppy seeds in Georgia.  As much as I love all the cherry-red poppies and other colors that have morphed from my mother's original shaggy flowers, I would love to have some seeds of this exact poppy.

I took this photograph in Monet's garden at Giverny.   The colors were so unusual and intense.  I'd never seen any poppies quite like them.  There were other poppies in the garden, but this particular patch stood out.

A friend is sending original poppy and larkspur seeds from Margaret Moseley's garden.  Margaret's daughter Carol had the site plowed so that the bed can be re-established.  I'm excited to see what will come up.  I'm betting there were seeds that have been lying there for the past few years, just waiting for some sun and clear ground to germinate.  That happened when I cleaned out my mother's garden alongside her house.  As soon as the earth was bare again, the poppies sprang up.  It was so exciting to see them again.  Mother had not been able to garden for a few years, and the grass and weeds had taken over her once-prized poppy bed.

Last fall, the man who keeps vegetable gardens at the farm, planted seeds from Mother's poppies.  There was this incredible wide row - at least 75 feet long - of mostly bright red flowers.  I'm hoping he'll do this again.  I'm sure if the ground is cleared, the flowers will pop up again.  About a week after everything had bloomed out, and the seed pods had formed, the whole row turned into a mass of yellow, with goldfinches having a field day in the sun.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The holly orchard was a good idea

I could just imagine my friends' faces when I walked in with their gift - a big bucket of deciduous holly - the kind you see in many upscale decorations, like in hotel lobbies and department store windows.

Also, I would save money for the church.  Instead of buying branches of these prized (and expensive) berries, I would walk in with armloads to use in our giant arrangements on the altar.

Evergreen holly is beautiful and will forever be a symbol of Christmas for me.  I have two large Chinese holly trees here on the property.  Most years they have a heavy berry load.  This year is no exception.  The only drawback is that the leaves are so sharp, I never fail to get pricked to the point of drawing blood and an occasional infection.  Still, I've cut branches or twigs to use at Christmas almost every year for the 40 years I've been here.

I also have two other types of holly.  A very loose Burfordi holly that does not get enough sun to form a thick shrub like the ones at the farm.  But these have good, loose branches and lots of berries, so they can be used in church arrangements for something to give a curved line at the bottom of the composition.

There's one more evergreen holly here that is much more refined than the regular Burfordi.  I thought it was the dwarf form, but it has prettier leaves and more nicely formed clusters of berries than the common Burfordi.

But, what I really want is a deciduous holly orchard, like the one at Elizabeth Dean's nursery, Wilkerson Mill Gardens (pictured here).  I stopped by one day just as she had cut scads of branches to take to a market.  I almost died of envy.  She also had cut some wonderful evergreens to sell - different chamaecyparis, some 'Little Gem' magnolia and variegated false holly.  Her truck looked like my idea of magicland.

So, two winters ago, I bought six 'Winter Red' deciduous hollies at an end-of-the-season sale.  I also bought two golden deciduous hollies.  So, I had eight females, but the nursery only had one male left.  At that point, I should have conducted an all-out search for another gentleman.

I planted the hollies in three rows, with the single male in the middle of the middle row.  Despite a lack of good rain, the stick-like shrubs survived.  I kept going and scratching places to make sure there was green inside.

Then, that next spring, I didn't see my hollies.  I had planted them inside a fenced-in garden that someone had made on the farm.  After walking for a bit, I found them.  They had been moved to form a long row along the fence line. This was done, I'm sure, because I had planted the trees in a way that would disrupt several rows of crops.  I didn't know which was the male.  He could have been anywhere in the row.

Last year, some little green berries formed in the spring, but not on all the plants.  By late summer, they had all dropped off.

This fall, right before Thanksgiving, I went down to my row.  I counted six skinny bushes.  Five of them had red berries, but the gold ones were no where to be seen.  I knew what had happened.  Some beans had grown up onto the plants, and the gold ones must have inadvertently gotten cut down.  The shrubs are not much to look at during the spring and summer.  They could have been mistaken for scrub trees.

I could tell that I would have at least a few short, berry-laden branches for some small arrangements, like in a julep cup.  I wasn't ready to surprise friends or impress my Flower Guild team at church, but I was nevertheless thrilled at my limited prospects.

Then, we had a hard freeze a day or two before Thanksgiving.  That should not have been a problem.  I've seen 'Winter Gem' bushes grown into small trees and still bearing red berries in late winter.  But, after that freeze, I did not have a single berry.

Did the birds get them?  Or, had the plants been too close to the fence so that the deer could reach through?

I'll never know.  I do know where the lone male is - he had no berries, and he was in the middle of the long row.

So, I need to consult with the man who tends the garden.  I want to buy some more plants and extract a promise from him that they won't get moved this time.  And, I need another male or two', in addition to some more females.  This time, I'll mark all the trees with surveyor's tape and make sure the males are well-placed.  The gardener says he will fertilize the plants in the spring.

I've already calculated how old I will be when my trees look like Elizabeth Dean's.  But that's okay.  If I live, I'm sure I'll still delight in having holly branches to give away.  I don't think I'll ever be too old to love beautiful, natural decorations at Christmas time.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Floors from long ago

Obviously, I had not put any effort into the greenery in the silver punch bowl, and my boxwood wreathes weren't my best effort, but this is not about anything to do with a garden.  It's about the floors of my dining room.

Today is my daddy's birthday.  He was born in 1911 and lived until just a few weeks shy of age 93.  By the end, he had dementia, but it had not robbed him of his sense of humor, nor of his get-up-and-go attitude.

I look back now and think how hard he worked and how much energy he had.  Every year when we would take our annual vacation to Florida, he would hook our boat to the back of our station wagon so he could take us water skiing on the intercoastal waterway.  He and Mother went to every football game my brother ever played in, and they were president of every parents' organization that existed.  One time, Daddy played in a basketball game against our high school teachers.  Just as the final buzzer rang, he, with his ridiculously baggy shorts, threw the ball from half-court and made the basket.  The crowd went wild.

Daddy grew up on a farm, and from what I could glean from the stories my mother would tell, he was pretty much neglected as a child.  His two siblings were at least 20 years older than he.  When he went to first grade, he learned that if you put up a Christmas tree, Santa Claus would come and leave you oranges and candy and a toy.

So, when he was six, he went out into the woods and cut down a holly tree with red berries.  He put it up on Christmas Eve and hung a stocking by the chimney.  That next morning he ran in to find everything as it was.  No candy or oranges or toys.

I think this is why he spoiled my brother and me so at Christmas.  He was the mayor of our town, and he had a painted wooden three-dimensional sleigh and reindeer installed atop the community center.  He strung lights across the highway that said "Merry Christmas".  He did the same at our house.

But back to the floors.  We grew up in an 1852 brick house in town.  It was in the middle of five acres, with all kinds of vegetable gardens and lawns and places for hide and seek.  At the back, Daddy planted an apple orchard and made a fenced-in pasture so my brother and I could have a horse.

Next door to us lived an eccentric lady who dressed in a man's overcoat and shoes.  Her house was old, too.  After my parents moved out to the farm, the old lady died, and her house was abandoned.  I was starting to save materials to build our house here in Atlanta, when I thought about Miss Janie Mae's wooden floors.  I asked Daddy if he would see if they could be salvaged.  He told me that the fire department was about to burn her house for practice.

So, before they had the chance to put a torch to her historic home, presumably built in 1866, he went over and got all the heart pine floors that had not rotted.  In my house in Atlanta, I have wide boards in three rooms (they came from the ceiling of the attic), and the floors you see here in my dining room and living room.  The wood sat for years in an airplane hangar on the farm until we built our house.  The individual boards were like lead, very thick and dense.

I've thought about Daddy all day, realizing that it was he who got the windows and doors for us, in addition to the wood for the frame of our house.  When I wanted cobblestones for the courtyard, he took one of the dump trucks from his business, and he and my husband picked up 4,000 of the Belgian granite blocks that had been in downtown Atlanta.

I love the floors in my house.  I had wanted to restore an old home, but we had this property, and having the old materials (we used slate that came from a school house in Hapeville, Georgia, for the roof) helped the house look old from the beginning.

So, thank you, Daddy, for getting that crowbar and saving those 150-year-old boards from extinction.  They always look good at Christmas with all the greenery and always remind me of a dear man who did so much for his family.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Sunny view for a gloomy day

Yesterday was one of those days when I couldn't seem to get my chin up off the floor (oops, two prepositions together, but seems like I need them both).

First, I woke up too early, and when I finally got up, it was dark and foggy outside.  My flashlight was barely working (reminder:  put flashlight on my list, along with light bulbs), so I was stumbling up to the mailbox (a long trek).

Then, I started my annual anxiety attack over getting a Christmas tree.  There's a reason for the latter.  Every year, my late husband and I would go to pick out a tree.  I wanted to see lots of options, but he hated having to unwrap and hold up trees for me.  His max was three, and then it got unpleasant.

The Christmas after he died in June, I went to the same big box store.  When I walked into the Christmas tree section, I burst into tears.  It felt so lonely, and now I had no grouchy person to show me even one tree.

Late yesterday afternoon, I set out for the store.  It was drizzling when I arrived.  A nice worker offered to hold up a tree for me.  I wanted to see more, and he said, "No problem."  Then, it started pouring rain.  I had a raincoat, but he didn't.  I kept apologizing, but he assured me he was mine until I found the right tree.  I spotted what I thought was a good one, all tied up and lying behind a couple of others.  With the calmest attitude, he grabbed the heavy tree and stood it up for me.  It was perfect.

I must say that I am so lucky that I can buy a real tree.  And, I have the grower of the green pumpkins (see the day after Thanksgiving's post) who will put it up for me on Saturday.  This is now a pleasant experience.  My husband and I had to call in a third person to referee our getting it in the stand in the living room.

Today was another foggy, gloomy day.  No rain, but very damp all day.  I was in a much better mood, but I still wanted to look at some bright sunshine and another scene besides the bare branches and the last of the leaves (mostly oaks) smashed on the driveway.

The day I took this picture, it was bright and sunny.  I was in this garden at noon, the very worst time to take a photograph.  Still, the overexposure helps me in this dreary weather, although having that Christmas tree here safe and sound and without a tear shed made it a pretty good day anyway.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Looking for larkspur

Here in the South, cool season annuals like poppies, larkspur and bachelor's buttons need to be planted in the fall for bloom the following May.  Margaret Moseley's daughter Carol is re-doing Margaret's famed poppy patch (it was on the cover of two of Southern Living's books) at the back of Margaret's garden, and we're using seeds from my own mother's poppies.

Carol had the space plowed and and raked over, so that it is now only smooth, bare earth.  If you throw poppy seeds into grass, especially tall grass, they won't germinate.  I learned from expert poppy grower Ruth Mitchell that the tiny seeds need sunlight to germinate.  They also need smooth, bare ground.

Margaret, who is 97, kept her poppies going for decades.  The original seeds came from a plant given to her by an elderly friend from her youth.  In the last few years, the poppies have steadily declined, and grass has taken over.

I suspect now that the ground is clear, Margaret's own seeds will emerge.  That's what happened to my mother's poppies.  Her flower garden became overgrown with weeds, and not a single poppy bloomed for several years.  Then, I finally took the time to clean out the garden, and presto, the next May there were lots and lots of Mother's shaggy, cherry-colored flowers.  The seeds were there all along.

I contacted Diana Mendes to see if she had saved any larkspur seeds.  Those are her plants in the above photograph of her spectacular May garden.  Margaret also had larkspur growing with her poppies.

Diana had not specifically saved any seed - hers re-seed every year without having to save any extra.  I'm going to a couple of stores tomorrow to see if there are any packets of larkspur for sale.  For years, I took the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin, published by the Georgia Department of Agriculture.  I knew there was an on-line edition, so I thought I'd see if any ads for larkspur seeds were in the Flowers For Sale section.  I was stopped abruptly when I tried to log in because I am not a subscriber.  Now, one must pay for a subscription, so I wonder if many people are placing ads for seeds these days.

Most likely, some of Margaret's larkspur seeds will germinate.  I'm sure they are hidden there in the ground with the poppy seeds.  But, I think for good measure, I'll try to find a packet or two.  By next April, we ought to know if the larkspur came through, if I don't find any to buy.  I'd rather be safe than sorry, though, so I am going to try to come up with some.  I'll issue a report on the progress next spring.  I think by next May, Margaret will have a brilliant poppy patch once again at the back of her garden.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thankful for the man who grew the green pumpkin

Last Sunday, which we call Harvest Sunday at our church, our minister told us to watch the movie It's a Wonderful Life to prepare for his Advent sermons.  I'm assuming he is going to talk about what difference our existence has made in other people's lives.  Or, is he going to ask "what if" someone had never come across our paths?  What would life be like?

I immediately thought of the man who grew the green pumpkins.

On the first Sunday in June  - I think it was 2008 - just as I was about to leave for church, he showed up at my door with a cousin.  "May we make a vegetable garden down at your farm?" he asked.  He had seen the farm that past December when he went down to clean out all the overgrown shrubbery around my late parents' house.

In the fall of 2002, when everything seemed very bleak, a workman quit and left a hole where my bathroom window should have been.  I had no idea what to do.  A friend recommended a landscape worker who could fix anything.  I begged his employer to let him come to see if he could put my window back together.

I can't even list all of the things he has done for me over the years.  I had a situation where the limestone surround at my front door started coming loose.  Several masons came to give me estimate, but no one would even touch it, much less give me a price.  So, one day the landscape worker stopped by and said, "No problem. I can fix that for you."

The same workman who had left me with no bathroom window also tore a two-story wall out of my house, and it stayed that way for over a year.  He kept bringing contractors to give me estimates.  I could have built another house for the amounts they came up with.  But in the end, no one wanted the job even at highway robbery prices.

Again, the man who grew the pumpkin walked in.  Within two days, he had put my house back together for the cost of wages and materials.

He and his family now have two large vegetable gardens at the farm.  They go every weekend and work, keeping the fences up and planting winter and summer crops.  He saves seeds for the next year's planting.

Which brings me to the pumpkin. This family man - he has three young daughters who are so sweet and polite and loving - works every day except for Saturday afternoon and  Sunday.  From his Saturday job, he acquired a green pumpkin last year when his employer discarded it after Halloween.  He took the pumpkin, and he and his wife cut it open and cooked the flesh, using some brown sugar and butter.  He also saved the seeds and planted them at the farm.

The result was seven large green pumpkins this year.  When the frost got the vines in late October, it was a fun sight to see these odd-colored pumpkins on the ground.  The deer hunter's children picked them up and loaded them into my car.  From there, the pumpkins made the journey to my church where they formed the centerpieces for a Flower Guild luncheon on November 10th.  Then, back to my car again and home to my basement.  Last Saturday, they went back to the church and were used in the giant cornucopia on the altar.  People were fascinated with the green pumpkins.

Then, on Tuesday, I went back to church to bring the pumpkins home.  On the way back, I drove to the airport to pick up my children.  At the moment I popped my trunk, I realized what they would see.  They are still laughing about that sight - a trunk full of green pumpkins.

So, Thanksgiving morning, the pumpkins safely back in my basement, my son-in-law and I chose one to use on the dining room table.  I picked some beech leaves and used a butternut squash from the farm to add to the centerpiece.

When we stood there saying the blessing, I silently gave a little prayer of thanksgiving for the man who grew the green pumpkin.  I don't know where I would be without him.  He's just one of those people who came into my life - I suppose he must have been sent to me when I desperately needed help.

This weekend, I'm going to return the pumpkins to him so he can save the seeds.  If all goes well, I'll have another green pumpkin on my Thanksgiving table again next year.

Friday, November 22, 2013

One yellow reminds me of another

A lot of the trees are bare now, but the ones that still have leaves are quite spectacular.  It's that last gasp of what we consider autumn (although we have another month left before winter officially arrives).

Yesterday, I went roaming onto my new neighbor's property.  I don't know the name of the person who purchased the six acres next to me, but I do know that he lives on the other side of the world.  What he plans to do with what is a rather historic piece of land, I can't imagine.  The house has been vacant now for months.

So, I thought it would be okay to go up the hill and cut the wisteria back.   It's threatening both of us, and the more I can get rid of or at least make sure it won't bloom next year, the better (I understand if you cut the vines after August, you cut off next year's flowers; let's hope so).

Anyway, I decided it would be okay if I walked around and looked to see what was there.  This is the better half (property-wise) of an estate that belonged to a Georgia governor in the late 19th century.  The grounds are so beautiful.  It breaks my heart to see the venerable landscape going to ruin. There are giant, ancient boxwoods. There's a huge yew (or could it be a cephalotaxus? We don't have many yews around here).  I stopped and pulled English ivy from the base of a very old hemlock that is magnificent.

I didn't think there was anything really unusual, plant-wise, but I was curious.  There is a yellow wood tree (Cladrastris kentukea) that used to bloom every other year.  I know this from my former neighbors, the ones before the woman who just owned the property and sold it to the foreign investor.

But, as I came down some 120-year-old granite steps, I was startled to see the native yellow witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) absolutely covered in blooms.  There were two very large specimens, maybe 15 feet tall.  I remember when my friends Erica Glasener and Kathryn MacDougald were coming back from Virginia where they'd been on an HGTV shoot for A Gardener's Diary and stopped and took slides of some wild witch hazels.  I was irritated that they took so many with my camera and that we couldn't really use them.  But, they were thrilled to stumble upon this fall-blooming shrub in the wild.

I didn't get a picture of the witch hazels next door.  It was  getting dark, and I didn't have my camera.  Besides, the flowers don't show up much because of the other fall colors around.  In fact, I had walked up those same steps only a half hour before and hadn't even noticed the odd, but very prolific yellow flowers.

So, I have picked out the photograph above to illustrate the color of the blossoms.  And, these finely cut leaves of a Japanese maple sort of mimic the odd, spidery blooms of the witch hazel.

If I have the nerve to sneak back up there, I'll see if I can get some close-ups of the flowers.  This time, though, I'm going to wear my tall rubber boots.  I guess my punishment for trespassing was an encounter with something in the tall grasses that made me itch all over like crazy.

One last comment.  I will be interested to see if the mysterious foreigner (alleged to be a billionaire) ever shows up.  Eventually, I'm thinking someone will tear down the dated modern house built there in the late 1950's.  I just hope they'll be respectful of the landscape.  It is truly one of the gems of this part of the world.  To be continued...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A wolf in sheep's clothing

The first spring I lived on this property, I thought I had fallen into a fairyland.  When April came, the tall trees surrounding the little cottage - the latter 1/5 mile from the street and hidden in the woods - were festooned with magnificent lavender blossoms that formed a vast, high canopy overhead.

The flowers looked like clusters of grapes.  They were tangled in every tree, high and low, and were suspended from great, thick ropes that wound through the branches and went from tree top to tree top.  You could look up, and it seemed like you were in a vast and magical purple mansion that went on and on.

 It wasn't long until I realized that the scented blossoms of Chinese wisteria were part of a sinister plot to ruin everything around me.  Every shrub I planted became choked by this insidious monster.  On the bank where someone before me had planted scores of daffodils, the vines grew up and covered the tender foliage that already had to make it up through a blanket of English ivy.  I began a serious war with wisteria that has lasted for decades and which I have not yet won.

Year before last, I noticed that the evil pods, so innocently covered with tan suede, had popped open in February and spread the dark brown glossy seeds everywhere.  I could only get to those that happened to fall in the driveway or in the parking lot at the cottage.  The rest were hopelessly lost in the woods.

The pods are bursting open and coming down early this year.  I've been picking them up for a week now.  I don't know if this means anything about the winter (I did see a black, fuzzy caterpillar the other day; isn't that a sign of a bad time to come?).  But, I do know that the amount of seeds raining down with the falling leaves means more wisteria to come up and wrap around trees faster than I can even spot the impossible-to-pull-up vines.

Soon, the leaves will turn yellow, like the innocent-looking ones above.  There is a very narrow window when you can distinguish the vines from whatever they are choking.  I cut down everything I see to the ground.  In the past, this hacking away has only slightly helped me in my war against the invader.  This year, though, I'm afraid the pods have made sure there'll be a generous new crop.

Long ago, I envisioned training everything into lovely wisteria trees.  Now, I don't dare even try.  I even bought four plants to go on an iron arbor.  I ended up cutting them all down, as they wound so tightly around the upright poles that I feared the thick trunks would pull the structure down.

Today, I'll set out again to see if I can spot any pods that haven't opened.  Maybe by stopping them now, I can save myself some time and trouble next spring, when the seedlings emerge.  There's a tiny window then, too, when you can still pull the new vines out of the ground.

I'm afraid I'm going to be fighting this battle for a long time.  I went to pick some variegated pittosporum the other day, and in just a few short months, the vines had crept up and were strangling the shrub.   How can anything so beautiful and seemingly innocent in the spring be so strong and evil the rest of the year?

Friday, November 15, 2013

No peanut butter sandwich this year

The call came unexpectedly this afternoon.

"I won't be having a peanut butter sandwich at home this Thanksgiving," declared 97-year-old Magaret Moseley.  "That 29 degree weather did the ginkgo leaves in.  They fell before they had all turned yellow."

I could hear frustration and disappointment in her voice.

"I wait all year, and then this happens," she said.

I felt bad because I know how Margaret watches her tree like a hawk.  When all the leaves are golden, she will not leave the house under any circumstance, not even for Thanksgiving dinner with her family.  She won't budge until she gets to see the spectacle of the silky fan-shaped leaves cascade down all at once.

In a normal year, the leaves from the tree she planted 30 years ago follow the same pattern in November.  "You see one leaf drifting down, you'd better get ready for the show," she had explained in the past.  "It only takes about an hour, and they just come raining down.  I wouldn't miss that sight for the world."

This morning, I had noticed a tree on my route to church.  It had been way ahead of Margaret's in coloring.  The branches were bare, and the leaves had been removed, all except for a little circle at the base of the trunk.  I'd also been watching another, much bigger tree.  Like Margaret's, it had been slow to turn this year.  Last week, I noticed it was beginning to show signs of yellow.  If I'd thought about it today, I'd have taken that route to see if that tree had succumbed to the cold.

But, for Margaret, it was a disappointing year.  The leaves are all down, but they are not all yellow.  So, I'm glad I got there in a timely fashion last year to take pictures.

Now, about that rusty iron birdbath pictured above.  In my book, Margaret Moseley's A Garden to Remember, I included a section about funny episodes involving Margaret.  I did not put in about the birdbath, though.

The story is that I took my computer out to Margaret's to show her some 400+ digital photographs I had taken of her garden (we're not even talking about the hundreds of slides I have from the old days).  She kept seeing that I had photographed this birdbath a lot, and she finally asked me if I was hinting for her to leave it to me in her will.  I had it in spring, with blue Scilla hispanica at its base.  In fall, when most of the other ground covers had disappeared, the large Ajuga reptans 'Caitlin's Giant' shows off the rich, rusty color.  In winter, it is backed by a daphne (also in this photograph) and Margaret's newest pet camellia, 'C. M. Wilson'.

One time I was out there and noticed she had a copper iris growing up around it, and combined with the coppery new foliage of autumn fern, the combination was stunning.  A few years passed, and I saw that she'd planted the light apricot-colored Iris 'Beverly Sills', which made a striking contrast, as well.

Maybe my favorite incarnation, though, is the photograph above, with the simple ginkgo leaves that have landed next to the rusty birds.

Every time Margaret sees one of my birdbath photographs, we get tickled.  "There's your birdbath," she'll say.  I promise I did not have my eye on that birdbath for myself.  It was given to her by her dear friend Phyllis McGuinn.  But, now that the joke has gone this far, I wouldn't mind putting my name on it.  The only thing is that given Margaret's sense of fun and her passion for gardening that still burns so brightly, she could well outlive me.

In the meantime, I'll just enjoy looking to see what Margaret has done with the birdbath.  One day I was out there, and she had floated camellia blossoms in it.  I accused her of tantalizing me.

Seriously, I hope that birdbath stays put for a long time.  When Margaret says, "I can't wait to get up every morning and put one foot in front of another so I can look out at my garden," I have no doubt that it will.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Stone, gravel and boxwoods

I am the proud owner of two new garden areas.  No, I only wish they looked like this.  I took this photograph in Bill Hudgins' Atlanta garden, right at the peak of his hundreds of Japanese maples.

But, I did have Bill in mind when I set out to tame a couple of areas around my house.  Due to the expense, I couldn't pave anything with stone, but I already had some square granite cut rocks rescued from a burned-out lodge next door (this was back in the mid-90's - another story for another time).

The stone is sitting all around my yard.  I had thought I'd end up in a little stone cottage somewhere, but that hasn't happened.  I can just picture it, with a slate roof, real shutters and roses climbing over the door.  But where is this going to be built?  I have no idea.  To be figured out in the future.

But back to what I have right now, thanks to the crazy idea I had of having my daughter's wedding at my house (which forced me to do some things).  There were two sketchy areas on either side of my house, and an eyesore of a garden down below.  Well, it couldn't be called a garden.  There used to be grass down there, surrounded by a hemlock hedge and a flower border.

But, the grass died, and to keep weeds from taking over until I figured out what to do, I put down black landscape cloth.  It was to be a temporary fix, but it lasted over 10 years.

Let me back up a bit because some other rocks figure in here.  I used to have 4,000 cobblestones (Belgian block - the big, loaf bread size ones) in my front parking court.  They came from where the Omni was built (hasn't that been torn down?).  They were never properly installed, and as the years went by, they kept sinking.  When it rained, I'd have a lake, followed by silt.  Sometimes you needed wading boots to get from the car to the front door.

On maybe the worst day of my life (not really, but it was unpleasant), a Bobcat driver came to dig them up.  I hired a dump truck to haul them down to the farm.  This seemed to be working out well until both the Bobcat driver and the truck driver quit after one day.  The Bobcat driver suggested I call a landscaper to come get the rocks, which had to weigh a zillion tons.  The truck driver made one run and said he would not do another one.

The nicest man named Buster came to my rescue.  He had a Bobcat and a dump truck, and he finished the project (he came back recently to make some new parking spaces for me - he is the best).

So, I replaced the cobblestones with pea gravel.  I like the look of it, but there are problems with certain kinds of cars getting traction.  Still, it's light years better than the sinking, uneven cobblestones.

The two new areas have some of the cobblestones as outlines and retaining walls.  The square-cut granite pieces from the house next door serve as steps.  I put in some boxwoods which I already had here (they'd been hanging out at the edge of the woods for 30 years, ever since we brought them from my mother-in-law's in Virginia).  I still lack moving another big one up to the "new" garden.

I now have two new garden areas.  One is a narrow, organized space with three iron arches, tiny pea gravel, cobblestones and boxwoods.  I may have some roses next year, if I can keep the deer away and do a better job of fertilizing.  The other is a big rectangle, a nice space for a party if I would ever have one.

 It all looks pretty good because of the elements represented above, without the brilliant Japanese maples, of course.  All I had to do was buy the pea gravel, which wasn't nearly as expensive as I had anticipated.  I have some Confederate jasmine going up the arches on one side.  I hope the roses will take off next year in the narrow area of sun alongside the house.

Come April, before the mosquitoes arrive and when we have some pleasant days, I'm going to sit out there in the mornings with my gravel and stone and boxwoods and read the paper and drink coffee.  Something to look forward to on this frosty morning.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A peaceful scene for this day of remembrance

My dearest uncle died this year.  He had been a World War II hero, having spent the winter of 1944-45 in the Vosges Mountains of France.  It was a cruel time - not enough warm clothing or even any boots, freezing cold temperatures, snow and ice on the floor of the forest.  Still, my uncle's unit slogged on and drove the Germans back, and by the spring, arrived in Berchtesgaden.

I think I may have written here about his memorial service.  I had a black eye at the time, and a friend had lent me some concealer, which I had caked on heavily.  All was well until a bugler stood at the back of the historic Presbyterian Church in the town of Monticello, Georgia, and played taps.  I lost it, as well as all of my concealer.  I looked down at my crumpled tissue, and it was flesh-colored.  At the reception afterwards, my aunt said she had not noticed my black eye when we gathered before the service.  

Every year, I called my uncle on November 11th.  In our last conversation, he was very cheerful and thanked me.  Then, he asked how my mother and daddy were getting along.  My heart sank.  My parents had been deceased for several years.  I just couldn't believe that he was starting to get dementia. He had been the one in the family who was the executor for everyone's will.  He took care of two of his nephews after they lost their parents.  He was the youngest of nine children, and until this summer, the only survivor.  We all leaned on him.

A few years back, I found a bunch of his letters in a suitcase in my parents' attic.  There were a lot of pictures of him, as well.  The letters were addressed to his mother and to my mother, his sister.  The ones to his mother, many written in pencil, said he was doing just fine.  You would have thought he was on a vacation.  In the letters to Mother, he admitted that it was very cold, but there was no hint of the constant danger he was in nor of the true misery he had to endure. 

I have a lot of colorful fall photographs, and I agonized over one that would set the tone for this day.  I finally chose this one because it is not sad and reflects the calm disposition of my sweet uncle.  He was loved by so many, and I will forever miss him and remember his comforting voice and his gentle ways.  He was a true hero, but he never talked about that cold, horrifying winter until he was in his 80's.  Somehow, though, he would always end on a cheerful note and manage to make you feel it was really not all that extraordinary.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

This fall day and the geese overhead

It started this morning when I turned the TV on.  The channel was set on HBO, and there was a documentary about Pakistani women who had been mutilated by their husbands or other men who had thrown acid in their faces.  I should have changed over to watch the comedy shows I record to avoid the news.

But, I watched the whole thing, and that sort of set the mood for the day.  Then, other news came.  A friend's cancer had come back.  Another was struggling as a caregiver for a spouse, and I could tell was feeling overwhelmed.  I talked at length to someone worried about an alcohol problem in the family.  It sounded so hopeless.

It did help to go to church and do some decorating for a luncheon tomorrow.  My cohorts Peggy and Benjie laughed as I hoisted myself up onto a precarious ledge (above a fish pond) to steal some oakleaf hydrangea leaves.  Peggy took a picture with her phone camera.  I had on all black and looked like the thief that I was.  Committing a petty crime in the columbarium, the sacred resting place where I may be someday, was probably not a good idea.

In the afternoon, I was hit with a fit of nostalgia.  I had the TV on while I was doing some catch-up work.  The sound of the football game (am I imagining that Southern college games sound different from Northern ones?) between Tennessee and Auburn reminded me of autumns gone by.  I walked outside.  It was cold and cloudy, and some scent of fall carried me back to Vanderbilt.  I realized how safe I had felt there, and how much hope you always had for the future when you were nineteen.

Back in the kitchen, I looked out the window and thought how my own life had taken such an unexpected turn.  Just then, a big flock of geese flew over in a perfect V formation.  We never had Canada geese growing up, so I don't know how that contributed to my nostalgia.  Maybe I just felt a tinge of sadness at the beauty of it all, of how the leaves drifted down, the colors in the forest.

Tonight, I started looking at photographs from other autumns (like the one above, taken in an Atlanta garden), which cheered me up immensely.  A friend sent a reassuring e-mail.  And then - maybe I dreamed this - I heard an announcer on the television say that Vanderbilt had beaten Florida.  The day has ended on a good note, after all.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Is it okay not to be a native?

Someone - I can't remember who- said years ago that the state of Georgia would not look the same if it weren't for China and Japan.  The person was referring mostly to spring flowers, mainly azaleas and cherry trees.  While we have lovely, very desirable native azaleas and some from Florida that are showy, it's mostly the azaleas from Japan that make Atlanta look like a fairyland in spring.

While it's true that many exotics (by that, I mean from foreign lands) are highly ornamental, that's not to say that we don't have our own extraordinary beauty here, in the fall and in the spring.

Take my street, for example.  Last week, the leaves changed all of a sudden.  The hickories turned bright golden yellow, and the sourwoods and maples became gorgeous blends of orange and red and yellow.  There's one tree that I love that is sort of coral orange, and when it is backlit by the sun, it is breathtaking.  (Oops, I know what it is, but I can't think at the moment).

My neighborhood has a lot of beech trees, but they turn a bit later.  I always bring in some branches for Thanksgiving and throw in some bittersweet and rose hips for a dining room arrangement.

So, is it okay to have trees and shrubs from foreign lands invade our landscapes in the fall?  I say yes.  I confess that Japanese maples do not fit with my house or my woods.  I had one, grown from a seedling, that I gave away.  It just didn't look right here.

At one time, there was a person around town that we journalists called the "Native Plant Nazi."  Many times when I would feature a plant from another country in my column in the newspaper, she would call me up and scold me.  I heard her say once that if she saw an ox-eye daisy, she would destroy it.  Those are the white daisies that have naturalized in the meadows and along roadsides in the South.  When I was growing up, the people next door had a lovely little field just covered in the flowers.  I confess I snuck (is there such a word?) under their barbed wire fence many times to pick bouquets.

What does this have to do with the above photograph?  Obviously, the blinding yellow and orange trees are Japanese maples.  Who can begrudge those colors?  The owner of these trees has them scattered all about his wooded property, where he has plenty of native trees, as well.  He has not disturbed what is growing there.

In this scene, you can also see a native American tree on the right (still green), one of the big-leaf, deciduous magnolias.  I'm not sure which one this is, but I think it is Magnolia macrophylla.  I know he has a much bigger one on down this same path.

Don Shadow, a great plantsman from Winchester, Tennessee, who has supplied many nurseries and landscapes all over the country from his wholesale operation, once said he never believed in hoarding a plant.  In other words, if someone discovered a sport on a shrub, but kept it for himself so he'd have the only one in existence, he thought that to be egregious.

Don has plants from all over the world in his nursery.  I remember seeing a Davidia involucrata (i.e. dove tree; handkerchief tree) out in front of his office.  Some explorer friends of mine went to the very spot where E.H. Wilson had found a grove of them in China.  That must have been a breathtaking sight to come upon these unusual trees in the wild.  Before Wilson, only single specimens had been found, first by Pere Armand David, a French missionary who lived in China (think Clematis armandii).

Also, Don had rows and rows of the Chinese fringe tree (Chionanthus retusus), which is a beautiful spring tree.  There is a large specimen at the Augusta National, and to catch it backlit in bloom is absolutely breathtaking.

I've rambled here, but I just wanted to say that fall color can come from the leaves of so many or our own trees, from the glorious foliage of the native oakleaf hydrangea and the indigenous climbing hydangea,Decumaria barbara , but just as well from the foreign Japanese Solomon's seal the crepe myrtles that turn a spectacular orange.

Frankly, I like just about anything from anywhere, and I greatly appreciate the risks explorers took to bring them to us.  Therefore, my answer to the title question:  "Yes, it's okay not to be a native, as long as we celebrate and revere our own home-grown beauty."

Monday, November 4, 2013

More than one meaning for All Saints Day

Yesterday, we celebrated All Saints Day at our church.  This day is special to me for a number of reasons.  One, my late husband loved the service because we always sang his favorite hymn, "For All the Saints."  And, two, this is the day in 2001 when I realized that we didn't have to endure pink carnations and glads on our altar during the month of November, when there should be fall colors instead.

That Sunday, two years after my husband died suddenly in 1999, All Saints Episcopal, a century-old church in downtown Atlanta,  held a flower festival.  There were all sorts of fall branches and hydrangeas in their autumn colors mixed in with greenery like camellia foliage.  There was not a pink flower in evidence.  All the roses were orange or rust-colored, and great balls of orange and red bittersweet hung from the ceiling.  People had brought scarlet oak leaves from their homes and colorful berries from viburnums and callicarpas.   There were even a few fuzzy tall blue ageratums, the bane of some gardeners (the flowers spread like crazy and show up in autumn where you don't want them).  Surprisingly, they looked natural among all the other leaves and branches.

Long story short, I tackled David Lowe, the head of the All Saints Flower Guild to get information on how they accomplished such a display with volunteers.  Then, I went to our minister that week and told him what I had seen. He said he had wanted to start a flower guild when he first came to our church.  Two weeks later, on what we call Harvest Sunday (the Sunday before Thanksgiving), I walked into our church,  On the altar were yet another two arrangements of pink carnations and glads, shaped in a rigid triangle.  That did it.  Along with another person who is very organized (I have the unorganized brain, whichever side that is), we started the Peachtree Road United Methodist Flower Guild.

Fast forward to yesterday, November 3, 2013.  The opening hymn was "For All the Saints".  Next, candles were lit as the names were called of church members who had died in 2013. Then, from the back of the church, a lone bagpiper in a kilt came down the aisle playing Antonin Dvorak's "Going Home".  This was another song my husband loved and always joked that he wanted at his funeral.  Little did we know that it would come so suddenly and so soon.  We didn't have bagpipes at his service, but our organist played both "Going Home" and "For All the Saints."

The flowers shown above were actually not on the altar yesterday.  They were arranged for the memorial service for a friend who died last week.  If you look closely, you'll see there are red crabapples in the top center of the arrangement.  Some orange ones are hanging down in front.  Another flower guild member and I chose the flowers to be bright and cheerful, but in colors that were consistent with the season.  I picked branches of Camellia sinensis and Lonicera fragrantissima at my house to use with the flowers.  We did break down and buy a few glads since we needed something thin and pointed to make the lines.  Included in the arrangement are orange-coral roses, yellow and orange Asiatic lilies, and a few rust-colored chrysanthemums.

This was my first foray into arranging.  I always bring the foliage, but I watch the others on my Flower Guild team create the arrangement.  I can tell what's wrong, but I don't know how to start from scratch.  Donna Ludtke, head of the Flower Guild, and I kept saying, "Remember the triangle."  Arrangements that are rounded or vase-shaped do not look right on our altar.  I'm okay with the triangle, as long it doesn't look like those timeworn pink arrangements we used to have in our old sanctuary.

This coming Harvest Sunday, we're going to have a giant cornucopia on the altar.  We did that the first year in our new sanctuary when the Flower Guild had been going for a few months.  Yesterday, I picked some green pumpkins at the farm.  Some other members went to an after-Halloween sale and bought plenty of gourds and all manner of pumpkins.  I need to visit my new source of bittersweet.  Last year, some people honked their horns at me.  I think they wondered what a woman of my age was doing leaning against a steep bank on a busy road.  I'll post the results here, if I live to tell about it.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The lie detector angel

I walked into my Sunday School class this past week and was greeted with heartbreaking news.  Cy Harden had died.

Cy was known for many things.  He was the devoted husband of Mary Janet and loving father of Wes and three grandchildren.  He was a great friend to many.  Certain people in the criminal world feared him for good reason.  His profession was administering polygraph tests.  Knowing this, I always felt like he could see right through me.  I can't think of anything much I had to hide, but for some reason a bit of paranoia would spring up when we would talk in Sunday School.

Cy was an avid gardener.  For so many of us and for his neighbors, he was known as the Tulip Man.  Tulips are not perennial in Georgia, except for a few which will come back rather weakly and sporadically year after year.  But Cy would plant thousands of new bulbs every fall.  Then, in the spring, he and Mary Janet would host an open-garden tour.

A couple of months ago, Cy was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.  When I first heard the news I figured it was the non-aggressive type that spread slowly.  But it wasn't.  It turned out to be a particularly virulent form that is rare but deadly.  He fought hard, but succumbed in the early hours of Sunday morning.

In our class that day, we all told stories about Cy.  One newer member of the class said she had mentioned to Cy that she would like to start attracting birds to her yard.  The next week, he showed up with a bird feeder for her.

Someone else, a lawyer, said he had bumped into Cy on the street outside the courthouse one day about 18 years ago.  He told Cy that his client, who had been charged with a felony, insisted on taking a lie detector test. The lawyer thought the man was indeed innocent.  Cy looked skeptical, but said to send the man to him, and he would administer the test.  Cy was known to be one of the best and most trusted in the business.

After the test, Cy called up the lawyer and said in his low, gravely voice, "Dick, I think you'd better ask for a plea bargain."

I told a story, as well.  Cy was someone who frequently asked how my two daughters were doing.  He and Mary Janet had been in the Disciple class my husband taught.  They finished the course just before his sudden death on June 17, 1999.  Mary Janet came to my rescue when I was so overwhelmed with paperwork, I felt like I was drowning.  She and another friend, Alma Scroggins, came every Wednesday for months, going through packed files and boxes and getting me back where I could function.   I don't know how I would have survived without their help.

And then, one day in August 2002, when I was perhaps at my lowest ebb, when I was so stressed over caring for my parents who were in their 90's, holding down two jobs, and worrying about some family dynamics concerning my parents' assets, Cy came up to me at Sunday School.  My younger daughter was about to go off to college in a faraway place neither of us had seen before.  We thought the location would be good for her asthma, but it was daunting to think of getting her there and settled.

"Do you have anyone to take you to the airport?", Cy asked.  I had been so overwhelmed, I hadn't even thought about how I would manage the big suitcases.  Plus, our flight was to leave at 6 a.m.

I was so touched by Cy's thoughtfulness.  It was like I had been sent an angel, someone to lift the heavy luggage into a SUV and drop us off with no hassle.  Even more important was here was someone who would lift our burdens, as well, someone who saw in advance that a young woman would be missing her daddy on such an important occasion as going off to college.

 A couple of weeks ago, the men in our Sunday School class had arranged for us to plant Cy's tulips this year while he was undergoing treatments.  We were all scheduled to go this coming Saturday to work in the yard.

We've postponed the planting, but we are going to get it done.  Cy won't be here next spring to show off his beautiful yard, but when the flowers bloom we'll all gather there to honor and remember a great guy, a friend to us all in his own quiet and thoughtful way.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Something about that last rose of the season

I guess it was the weather today - unexpectedly cloudy and drizzly when sunshine had been promised. Or, maybe I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, but I felt a bit sad about the coming of November.  A couple of days ago, I came across this photograph taken last October 25th in Diana Mendes' Atlanta garden.  You can see the asters and chrysanthemums in the background.  I don't think we'd had a freeze then.

 I went to the farm yesterday (Sunday), and it was a beautiful, mild day.  Leonardo and his family and friends were laying out the red beans, ready to be shelled.  Last week, the black bean harvest came in. But, last Friday morning, the season for anything tender was over.  The fig tree was loaded with green figs, but the foliage had melted.  So had the squash and pumpkin vines and the pepper plants.

My parents would be happy that someone is enjoying growing vegetables as much as they did.  Of course, they were more into black-eyed peas and pole beans and yellow crook-necked squash.  The odd-looking squash Leonardo had planted looked like giant snakes coiled and ready to strike.

But, the happiest thing of all was that I looked over, and there were numerous large green pumpkins - the kind you see at stands, but they cost more than the regular orange ones.  He has promised to let me borrow them for our Flower Guild luncheon at church Sunday week and to keep them until the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  That's when we'll put a giant cornucopia on the altar and have pumpkins, gourds, squash and chrysanthemums spilling out.  I'm happy that I'll be able to furnish green pumpkins.  I'll give them back, though, so Leonardo can save the seed so we can have them again next year.  He got the pumpkins from a client who was throwing them away last year.  Leonardo's wife made a delicious dish from the flesh, and he saved the seed.  I never knew I would be so thrilled over homegrown green pumpkins.

Back to the above rose.  Diana says that despite all the rain we had this season (spring and summer), that her roses weren't particularly good.  And, everything else grew so tall that things were flopping over.  She had dahlias, Mexican sage, all manner of daisy chrysanthemums, several different asters and lots of roses.

The change of seasons, especially when we go from summer into fall and fall into winter, can sometimes catch me in a blue mood.  For what, I don't know.  I love fall; I love the leaves turning and beginning to come down.  It could be that it's pitch dark when I wake up and walk to the street every morning to get the paper.

Tomorrow, they're promising sunshine and warmer temperatures.  I hope I'll get a chance to get out and clean out around some foxgloves that have reseeded and looking very robust.  I'm thinking about moving some "junior size" hellebores that have grown up around the larger plants.  I've been cooped up with this computer for several weeks now (plus working on my daughter's wedding and then my taxes, followed by a program I gave and the preparation involved), so I need to get outside.

I think weeding and cleaning up will give me a boost.  It's a waste to spend this glorious time of year inside with your chin on the floor for no particular reason.  A bit of gardening, I believe, will drive this malaise away.  There's just nothing like getting out there and fiddling with plants to cure the blues.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Two gardening greats

Last night at the American Hydrangea Society meeting, I had a moment of nostalgia for the past.  97-year-old Margaret Moseley was in attendance, having the time of her life signing books about the story of her wondrous garden.

But, like Margaret, I so missed her dearest friend Penny McHenry, who founded the organization and who was known so fondly as The Hydrangea Lady.

If you have a Hydrangea macrophylla 'Penny Mac' or a 'Mini Penny', then you have a shrub that originated in Penny's garden, Hydrangea Heaven.  Going there in June was almost too much for the heart.  Every hydrangea was more beautiful and showier than the next.

Penny had fallen in love with hydrangeas after she had planted some florist types in her pine-shaded back yard in 1975. She began to notice that one type kept blooming into November.  Some of the flowers would fade to a lovely deep purple, but other new ones would be bright blue, as if it were early June.

Penny started layering the shrubs and soon filled her back yard with these special hydrangeas. It was at this point that I did an article about her for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

But, it wasn't long until Penny began collecting other hydrangeas until she had just about every named variety.  She acquired all the other species that would grow in Atlanta, as well.  Her display of hydrangeas  was so spectacular that Southern Living magazine put a scene from her garden on the cover.

Penny, who had been an actress, had a marvelous deep voice and was vivacious and funny.  She promoted hydrangeas with the utmost enthusiasm and became a well-known lecturer.  Like Margaret, she was a media darling, and she was featured in many articles in magazines and newspapers.  Also like Margaret, Penny starred in two episodes of A Gardener's Diary on HGTV.

Because her hydrangeas kept producing all through the season, florists would come to buy blooms from her well into the fall.  Dr. Michael A. Dirr visited her often and took cuttings.  Her original 'Penny Mac' became not only a best seller, but was used by Dr. Dirr to hybridize other re-blooming hydrangeas.  'Mini Penny', a lower growing version of 'Penny Mac', was patented by Dr. Dirr.  It, too, is a best-selling hydrangea.

It was Penny who introduced me to Margaret Moseley.  The two became the best of friends and often made appearances together, promoting hydrangeas in local nurseries.

Sadly, Penny died in 2006, but her influence was felt last night at the American Hydrangea Society meeting where the book, Margaret Moseley's A Garden to Remember, was introduced.

I love the above photograph which appears in the book about Margaret's garden.  Carolyn Krueger, a former Atlantan and garden enthusiast, took the picture on June 21, 1999.  I never knew this fact until just recently, but the two celebrity gardeners were in Margaret's garden, waiting for a ride to the memorial service for my husband, who had died suddenly on June 17.

Though the occasion that day was a sad one, I cherish this photograph because it captures the vitality of these two gardening greats, who had such an influence on so many of us and who have given us some very special hydrangeas.  Next May, Elizabeth Dean and Gene Griffeth of Wilkerson Mill Gardens  will offer the white-flowering Hydrangea macrophylla 'Margaret Moseley' for sale at their nursery and on

What a privilege it has been to know these two accomplished plantswomen, who were so passionate about their gardens and who shared them so generously with others.  The dedication of the book about Margaret's garden reads:

"To my dear friend Margaret, whose heart touches everyone she meets and whose soul belongs to every plant she touches."

"And in memory of The Hydrangea Lady, Penny McHenry, who graced the gardening world with her kindness."

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Garden to Remember

Well, today is the day.  After years of procrastination and good intentions, the book about one of the best gardening characters of all time is being introduced.  The official rollout of Margaret Moseley's A Garden to Remember is tonight at the meeting of the American Hydrangea Society in Atlanta.  Margaret, who is 97, will be there to sign books.  She is so excited about this event.  At 10:30, she called to say she'd already been to have her hair fixed this morning.

The book is the story of the extraordinary garden that Margaret Moseley started when she was 52 years old.  It is also about a very funny individual who kept us all laughing with her antics.  Instead of just a lot of expository writing, the book contains excerpts from Margaret's own journals, her unforgettable quotes and reminiscences from friends who visited her often.  It also contains a lot of photographs taken over the years and valuable plant information and hints for success.

I think I might have written already that Margaret's influence was felt far and wide in the gardening world.  When she was discovered at age 78, she had been gardening for 26 years.  By the time I got out of my car at her house on a spring day in 1994, she had already filled her 3/4-acre back yard with collections of viburnums, hydrangeas, camellias and just about every other shrub you could think of.  She also grew an amazing variety of perennials.

While she had been unknown to garden journalists, she was a familiar sight in area nurseries, seeking out the newest introductions she'd read about in magazines, books, catalogs and the newspaper.  She was also already swapping cuttings and divisions with other gardeners and buying old-fashioned plants from advertisers in the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin, published by the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

When the news about her garden came out, the tour buses started arriving, along with television crews, and writers and photographers from national magazines.  Garden clubs and Master Gardener groups arrived by the busload.  Visitors to the garden enjoyed Margaret's special almond iced tea (the recipe is in the book), and seldom did anyone leave without a plastic grocery bag containing a plant.  She generously opened her garden for tours sponsored by plant societies.

The irony of all this is contained in a note she wrote to me on November 2, 1995, when she was 79:  "Dear Martha, Because of you I'm enjoying my garden so much in my twilight years.  Thank you.  Love, Margaret"

Little did Margaret know when she wrote this note what was about to happen.  For the next decade and a half, she would come into the prime of her gardening life, making personal appearances at garden centers and events with her friend and founder of the American Hydrangea Society, Penny McHenry.  Margaret would come to inspire countless individuals to begin gardening, and a mention of a plant in her garden would cause nurseries to sell out immediately.  She corresponded with people from all over the world who saw her featured on HGTV's A Gardener's Diary.  Every time you'd go there, you would come away thinking that it's never too late to enjoy gardening or to start a garden from scratch, even if you were in your 80's.

Margaret is convinced that going out every day and working in her garden has contributed to her long life.  She derived such joy in every bloom that opened and couldn't wait to get out of the bed in the morning and start digging.

But, Margaret says, it's the friendships she's made along the way that have given her the greatest pleasure:  "Growing old, I've been so blessed by the younger garden friends I've made through the years.  I'm never lonely.  I can't say enough about what gardening has done for me.  I wish everybody could have a garden."

Note:  The paperback version of the book is available at  It can also be purchased in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain and Italy.  Here is what you type in to go directly to the book:
U.S.: (or you can go to and just type in the title)
United Kingdom:

The paperback edition is also available at the eStore of


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"I can't believe I planted all that!"

These words are the first you'll see in my new book, "Margaret Moseley's A Garden to Remember," which will be introduced next Tuesday, October 22nd, at the American Hydrangea Society meeting in Atlanta.

When I showed Margaret, who is 97, some of the hundreds of digital photographs I had taken over the years (we're not talking about the thick books of slides that came before), she sat quietly in front of my laptop, looking at plant after plant, garden scene after garden scene.  Finally, when we had finished, she shook her head and said quietly, "I can't believe I planted all that."

Well, she did, and at last, there's a record of the garden she made from scratch and shared with garden clubs, plant societies, friends and fans who, over the years, had seen articles about her in magazines and newspapers or watched her on Home & Garden Television's A Gardener's Diary.

The book is not only chock full of colorful photographs, but it is the story of how someone started a garden from scratch at 52 years old and spent four decades looking forward to every morning when she could walk out to see what had come into bloom overnight.

Margaret is a character, and you'll love hearing about her garden from her own writings and her memorable quotes.  You'll also be amused at some of the lengths she's gone to in order to obtain a plant she wanted.

And, you'll see she speaks her mind.  This isn't in the book, but once someone gave Margaret a copy of "Mrs. Whaley and her Charleston Garden", about a lively Charlestonian who maintained a beautiful garden for 50 years in the historic city.

"My garden is much, much larger and much more complicated than hers," Margaret protested.  "And I can give you hints that will save you money and time and that are up-to-date.  There ought to be a book about my garden!"

Margaret is right.  She created something extraordinary and deserves to have her garden remembered, especially given that there is so much good information about plants that needs to be shared and preserved.

Mia Broder, whose mother Lyndy Broder writes in one of the chapters about how Margaret had inspired her to make her own garden, laid out the book.  Mia took the beautiful photograph that graces the cover and also the wonderful photo above, which, for me, captures the essence of this remarkable and enchanting garden.

Monday, October 7, 2013

What a swell party it was

I have a huge apology to make.  I have been AWOL for so long that I hardly know where to begin.  First my excuses.  I have written a book, Margaret Moseley's A Garden to Remember.

The book took me eons to finish.  The text was not so hard, but writing cutlines for every single photograph on 140 pages was much more time consuming than I had imagined.  Then, there was the Index marathon.  I stayed in my pajamas for three days straight, working from before dawn until after midnight to find every Latin and common name of plants to alphabetize.  Then, a couple of pages were changed, and I had to fix things accordingly.  It was grueling.

However, it was a labor of love, and I'm thrilled with the results.  It's a lovely story about a fabulous garden my dear and funny 97-year-old friend made over the course of four decades (more on this later).
The book will be introduced and the hardcover edition available at the October 22nd meeting of the American Hydrangea Society.

Then, there was the wedding.   My older daughter Anne got engaged at the end of May.  We spent a month trying to make it work to get married at Pawleys Island, S.C., in October.  Nothing fit together.   The next thing I knew, I found myself offering to have the wedding and reception at my house.  What was I thinking?

But, with a lot, and I mean a lot, of help from friends who spent 13-hour days making wedding bouquets and boutonnieres, arranging flowers, mixing cement to make rosemary topiaries, making garlands, hanging Alabama smilax all around the tent and fastening the vines to an arch and obelisks in the garden, driving me to buy the liquor for 150, running errands to buy more Christmas lights, making seven (exquisite) arrangements for the tables for the rehearsal dinner and delivering them to the Piedmont Driving Club, gathering greenery from yards, hiding all my junk in closets and under beds and on and on - too many chores to mention - it  turned out to be a magical (and very lively) evening.

The photograph above was taking the morning after.  I hope the professional photographer got pictures from the night before.  At least, you can get an idea of what the tables looked like in the tent.  We used barn wood boxes to hold giant pillar candles or rosemary topiaries.  There was lots of greenery (mostly olive branches, rosemary, English and Alexandrian laurel, Alabama smilax, moss, boxwood and pittosporum) and white lights and candles.  The tent was installed so that the facade of my house was part of the scenery.  The hemlocks that form an allee leading to the house were wrapped in white lights.  The back balcony was hung with Italian cafe lights.  Just amazing.

So, there's my excuse.  I will soon be out with my camera capturing more garden scenes.  I have many from previous seasons I haven't yet shared.  I'm also anxious to do some writing, which I've missed so much.

But, there's one negative thought looming.  I haven't done my 2012 taxes.  As soon as I post this I need to go up and get started.  But, I now have the memory of a spectacular night that none of us wanted to see end.  And, I'm thrilled to be sharing Margaret Moseley's stories (some hilarious) of how she created an enchanting garden from scratch.  So, I'm back in business and looking forward to being with you again.

Friday, September 27, 2013

I know what you are, but where did you come from?

I wrote about finding a yellow orchid in my woods one April day years ago.  The story went that I had just been to Dr. Ferrol Sams' garden.  I was walking up my driveway, looking over into the ivy and wondering how I could make a path and plant some native flowers like Dr. Sams had done in his woods.  Something yellow caught my eye.  I went over, and there was an orchid, yellow with a salmon tinge.  The flowers going up the foot-high stem looked like miniatures of those orchids we used to get for the prom.

Long story short, one of my neighbors came over with a book about native orchids, but nothing matched.  I finally saw the flower in the Plant Delights catalog.  How had a Japanese orchid come to live in my woods in the midst of an acre of ivy?  I still don't know.

So, the other day, I was going out to throw away some limbs in my brush pile when I saw a green stalk coming out of the ground.  I don't think I would have been so surprised if it had been a red spider lily, since I do have some up at the little house.

But, I could tell this was going to be a yellow flower.  I was pretty sure it was a lycoris.  Today, I was able to get a better picture, and more buds were open.  Lycoris aurea, according to the Google images.

All well and good, but how did this lone flower come to be on the path to the brush pile?  I have a feeling I'll never know the answer.  Scott Mcmahan had these for sale at one time, but I think his were a lighter yellow.  I remember wanting to get some, but I never did.  I'm trying to think.  A few years back, I tried to grow a variegated English holly in about the same spot.  Could it have been embedded in that plant, which eventually froze?  Not likely.  But, a yellow lycoris, which is not that common, would not just decide to come live in my yard.

I did see on one of the pictures that it said it was "easy to grow".   I feel sure this is the case, since it just popped out of the ground and looks very happy.  The deer have ignored it, which is always a good thing.

I'll have to remember to notice if any strappy foliage comes up this winter and then disappears.  What a thrill to find an unexpected treasure.  The plant world is forever fascinating indeed.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

What can be done in late September?

Here in Georgia, leaves are beginning to fall - not the pretty colored ones, but the crispy brown ones, at least at my house.  I went to a home yesterday where the gardener depends on spring and summer flowers entirely.  There was very little green to back anything up.  Of course, things would have looked better if the owner had time to keep everything dead-headed, but that's hard to do this time of year when so many spent plants need attention.

The garden above is definitely high maintenance.  Boxwoods need to be clipped, and come autumn, the leaves have to be removed that have fallen. Pruning is a must, because the space is small, and good air circulation is a must.

I happened to catch this scene just after a garden helper had come.  There's not so much as a flower in sight, but the different textures and leaf sizes make it interesting.  The blue gate, too, adds some pizzazz.

This gardener has fun with her small backyard and is constantly moving and changing things around.  One thing that is constant is her use of boxwoods, hostas, ferns, cast iron plant and and various climbers.  She uses variegated plants to echo each other, like the variegated boxwood in the foreground and the gray and cream-edged pittosporum over to the left.

Every time I go to this garden, I get inspired and come away feeling like I want to copy everything she has done.  Maybe someday I'll have more time to devote to keeping such a garden.  This one gives the homeowner so much pleasure and fun and pride.  I'd like to have some of that myself.