Thursday, January 31, 2013

Remembering a special garden

My friend Katherine Coleman sent me some pictures yesterday of Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia.  The photographs were taken in fall, when the Japanese maples were at their peak, and the foliage of other colorful trees was at its most brilliant.  The pictures were dazzling.

The famous garden's organization of pathways and intensive planting reminded me of this garden on Whidbey Island, Washington.  I remember turning into the drive, going slightly downhill past a picturesque apple orchard on the left.

Then, right below the orchard was a long, rectangular parterre, made of variegated boxwood.  This area of clipped symmetry was a surprise contrast to the wildflowers underneath the rows of apple trees.  Beyond the parterre, I could see the main part of the garden.  It took my breath away.  

The garden, known as Frogwell, was the creation of Holly Turner and Ralph Hastings, with Holly as the driving force behind the plantings and free form beds.  Then, Holly was struck down by ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease, and Ralph was left to carry out her vision for the garden.  Their house, which was swathed in yellow Banksia roses, looked out over the garden.  The land continued to slope gently down to a meadow where sheep grazed.  On either side of the large island beds, tall native conifers (if I remember correctly, there were Douglas firs, western red cedars and possibly redwoods) outlined the garden.

I looked on-line to see if the Frogwell is still going.  There was a wedding there in 2012.  I think it was in the summer of 1999 that we did an episode for A Gardener's Diary, with Ralph Hastings taking up the narrative and explaining Holly's work.  Although I never got to meet her, one could easily see her design talent and knowledge of plants.  I came back to Atlanta thinking that this was truly one of the most beautiful gardens I'd ever seen.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

From Japan to Italy to Decatur, Georgia

The provenance of plants - where they were found originally - and how they came to be in a garden on the other side of the world has always fascinated me.  I've read several books about plant explorers and marvel at what they went through to bring back flowers to their countries.

For example, the British explorer E. H. Wilson took a photograph of a headhunter in Taiwan.  The man is standing there, holding some unfortunate person's head by the hair.  Whether Wilson himself was ever in danger from losing his own head, I don't know.  He did get caught in an avalanche of boulders, and his leg was crushed, causing him to walk with a limp the rest of his life.  He is best known for his discovery of the regal lily (Lilium regale), although he was responsible for bringing back seeds of many other familiar plants.

The above flower, Camellia japonica 'Magnoliaeflora' (also known as 'Hagoromo', 'Rose of Dawn' and 'Cho-No-Hagasane) is pictured in Margaret Moseley's garden in Decatur  (she has a Decatur address, but her house is not near downtown).  The Camellia Nomenclature book I have says 'Magnoliaeflora' came from Japan via Italy in 1886.   It just fascinates me that this very old-fashioned and popular variety ended up in so many gardens in the United States.  You wonder who first brought it to Italy, and then how it was passed on, possibly to England and France or maybe directly to the United States.  With all the thousands of camellias introduced since, it surely remains one of the most beautiful and desirable camellias to grow in our climate.

Here's the description from the nomenclature book:  Blush Pink.  Medium semidouble.  Average compact growth.  Midseason.

I know Margaret recommends it highly, so if you're out and about and see it for sale, it's a great evergreen addition to the garden and one of the most exquisite flowers in existence.

Monday, January 28, 2013

One year later: "You ought to be out here today."

The light is not as beautiful today as it was one year ago on January 28, 2012.  Erica Glasener, host of A Gardener's Diary on Home & Garden Television, Kathryn MacDougald, my fellow executive producer for the show, and I went to visit Margaret Moseley.  We all wanted to witness a rare and beautiful plant in bloom.  If you look back to my post on February 6, 2012, you'll see Michelia maudiae in Margaret's garden.  We all snapped multiple photographs of this magnolia-like tree that produces branches of creamy, very fragrant blooms.  It's a sight to behold.

But that's not all there was to see.  My photo take from that day includes several different camellias, namely Margaret's favorite 'Fragrant Pink', my favorite, a solid red form of 'Governor Mouton' and the exquisite blush pink 'Magnoliaeflora'.  Hellborus hybridus in both white and dark, dusky burgundy, and the variegated form of Daphne odora with pure white, deliciously fragrant flowers were also in bloom.

Margaret called me this morning and left a message, one I've received over and over in the decades I've known her:  "You ought to be out here today.  This garden is just beautiful."

If only I'd gotten an early start, but it seemed so cloudy and gloomy earlier.  After checking the date on my photographs, I saw that this was the very day - January 28  - that we were there.   It was unusual for the michelia to be in bloom this early.  Normally, it flowers in late February or March.  I even have the later dates listed in the aforementioned February 6, 2012, post.  Amazingly, the michelia is once again in full bloom on January 28th.

But that day one year ago is one that will live in infamy.  After Erica (pictured above with Margaret), Kathryn and I left, Margaret discovered that she had broken her coccyx bone, which set off a series of health events that have plagued her this past year.

I'm happy to report, though, that Margaret is in great spirits and is on the mend (she suffered a break in her lower spine about a month ago).  She's not allowed out the garden just now, but from her window she can see many of the beautiful flowers she's planted.  You can hear it in her voice, even though she has to be content with a view from her window, that the garden continues to bring her pure joy.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

What to do about a rose?

What to do?  I now have one sunny spot opened up on the side of my house, due to the loss of an enormous white oak tree.  For the first time in (ulp!) forty years, I have enough sun to have a rose.  I want a climber.  So, I e-mailed Pat Henry, who owns Roses Unlimited in Laurens, S.C., and told her about my space and gave her all my specifications - some form of pink, very cabbagy, fragrant, repeat bloomer, not rampant or lethally thorny like 'New Dawn', but a reliable grower.

Pat wrote back and suggested the climbing form of the antique rose 'Souvenir de la Malmaison'.  She also suggested 'Bantry Bay'.  I am now over here writhing in indecision.  I e-mailed Pat that I wanted 'Bantry Bay', so she reserved one for me.  But now I'm thinking 'Souvenir'.  I change my mind every few minutes, and you'd think I was choosing a baby's name that would have to stick with him forever.  It shouldn't be such a big deal.

But one spot of sun that is close to my house, right outside the room where the dog that barks at the deer sleeps, is all I have.  So, I must have the right rose.  I've spent way too much time on line reading reviews.  Some say that 'Souvenir' doesn't open in the rain.  Another complained that 'Bantry Bay' took a long time to reach a decent height. I am a francophile, and to have a rose with a French name intrigues me.  And, it's such a famous rose with so much history.

Pat also said 'Mystic River' is a good bush form similar to climbing 'Souvenir'.  I read where 'Mystic River' is more floriferous.  So, should I plant one right beside the other, or would that look funny?

The more I look and read, the more I want everything.  Before the deer came, I used to have 'Buff Beauty' and loved it.  I also like 'Penelope'.  Those are both Hybrid Musk roses, I think.  Then, I remembered Brooks Garcia's light yellow English rose 'The Pilgrim'.  And, then there's 'Graham Stuart Thomas' and its odd yellow color that looks like nothing else.  It could be trained up the side of the house, although it doesn't get very tall.

I have to make my order out soon.  Pat grows own root roses, meaning that I will never end up with 'Veilchenblau', the bluish-mauve rambler that must have been the understock to a tree rose I once had.  It grew into a monster.  Pat's roses start out small, but then they come into their own and are sturdy and will never turn into something you didn't order.

The photograph above shows several different roses in Diana Mendes' Atlanta garden.  Diana didn't agonize over any of these.  She saw them in bloom, liked them, didn't care where or when they were introduced, bought them and never knew their names.  In May and October, she has loads of blooms and even some throughout the summer.

I wish I could be like this.  But I feel like I have only this one spot where the deer won't bother, and I just have to have the right rose.

I'm giving myself until 9 a.m. tomorrow to make up my mind.  I'll let you know what I've decided.  I have a list in a notebook beside the computer, and it has grown and grown.  I'm up to eight roses now and only one space.  Maybe something will come to me in a dream tonight.  I hope so.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The color purple

I just saw a feature on Google work facilities all over the world (but mainly the big one in California).  They test colors to see how they affect the workers' productivity.  Purple was rejected, and soon a large, freestanding wall will be repainted a different color.

Purple flowers in the garden are another matter.  I love them.  The darker the better.  I remember  coming across this combination in Margaret Moseley's garden, and I was blown away by the contrast between foliage and flower - not exactly the same hue, but stunning, nevertheless.

My late husband's favorite color was purple. Not that he ever wore any purple that I can think of, but I do know, according to his mother, that all his birthday cakes growing up were purple. This fact inspired me to make a cake for him from scratch for his 39th birthday.

Some background:  My mother was one of the best cake bakers in my home town, which is saying a lot.  We used to have these things called cakewalks, where people would walk around a chalk circle and land on a number when the music stopped (I think this is how it worked).  I can't remember if they were forced to take the cake with the corresponding number or whether they got to choose if they landed on a high number or what.  At any rate, my mother's cakes were always the most sought after.

Until I was 37,  I had never baked a cake from scratch.  So, I assumed that if I could read, I could come up with a purple cake for my husband's birthday.  My older daughter, who was six at the time, was thrilled with the idea.  First, I had to buy cake pans.  And then, I bought Swans Down cake flour, like my mother used.

Somewhere along the way, something happened, and the cake broke apart after it was assembled.  Still, the icing made up nicely.  But, as I tried to direct my daughter to mix red and blue food coloring for purple, she decided instead to make a rainbow cake.  The result was a color I'd never seen, something resembling a cross between mud and algae, but with what looked like swirls of Gulden's mustard.  All this glopped on a broken down stack of crumbling layers.

My husband came home and was a good sport about eating the cake that was supposed to be purple. Sad to say, soon after he consumed a large piece, he became very sick.  I am sure it was from the hideous color.  I have never baked a cake since.

But back to the photograph.  This has to be one of my favorite combinations ever by Margaret Moseley.  She often plants clematis to grow up into a shrub or tree.  In this case, she chose Clematis jackmanii to grow up through a purple smoke tree.

In areas where nights are cooler, the purple form of smoke tree retains its color longer (it fades to greenish purple in summer here).  To achieve vivid color for the new growth, you can prune the branches back in late winter/early spring.  It seems this would work well with Clematis jackmanii, which can also be pruned at the same time.  Even if the branches fade to green later on, it's worth a month of vivid purple in the spring.

So, maybe a purple wall doesn't work inside Google headquarters, but I believe this particular combination would work in their garden.  I can't imagine not being inspired by such beauty.

Friday, January 18, 2013

And then there were none

In my mid-twenties, I went through an obnoxious sophomoric stage.  I eschewed any book I thought was not literature. After spending a year working in Paris, I came back and didn't try to correct the "Franglais" I had taken up.  I would be talking along and pepper my speech with French words if I couldn't think of the English equivalent.  When I took a book along on an airplane, it would inevitably be something like Proust - in French, of course.

In secret, though, I started reading Agatha Christie books.  These were not part of my airplane traveler image.  No one ever saw me reading one, but I devoured them and enjoyed them all.  While they aren't exactly literature, the books are well written and the convoluted plots always fascinating.  I never figured out a one in advance.

One of my favorites was And Then There Were None (I think the edition I read was entitled Ten Little Indians).  I won't go into the plot, since many of you may have read it, but it has to do with murder (of course) and ten people gathered on an island.  The title sort of gives away the end, but the mystery of who is committing the crimes is what matters.

I introduce this title to explain what has happened.  I realize I've gone all around the subject of the photograph above.  But, the first thing that popped into my mind yesterday afternoon at about 5:30 was the title And Then There Were None.

Three or four years ago, I planted Camellia 'Taylor's Perfection' up at the little house.  It was a small shrub at first, but then it got taller and produced a lot of gorgeous pink flowers for its size.  This past fall, when the buds started appearing, I was thrilled.  This year was going to be a bumper crop.  While the plant itself was still rather gangly, I could see it was going to be weighed down with flowers.

So, it was with great dismay that I discovered a couple of weeks later that the deer had sampled a few buds along with some of the foliage.  This was unusual, I thought, because they had not bothered the plant before.  And, they had never touched another large camellia next to the porch of the little house.

By Christmas, a few more buds had disappeared.  I took some Milorganite and spread it around the plant, hoping this would deter the deer.  It seemed to be working.  I wouldn't have a lot of camellias, but I would have some to bloom, for sure.

Yesterday was rainy with low visibility.  When I took the dogs on their daily trek up to the back of the property, I could make out the plant from a distance.  Something was wrong.  When I got closer, I could see that most of the foliage was gone.  I thought surely they would have spared one bud, but no, they had eaten them all.

So, I've gone way off on a tangent (I'm blaming the Nyquil I took last night) just to say there will be no gorgeous, clear pink flowers of 'Taylor's Perfection' this year.  I'll have to content myself with going out to Margaret Moseley's house to see hers (pictured above).  My plant will have to be moved.  I'm thinking it could go by my side door, where the deer may not roam with my daughter's dog standing guard at night.  Otherwise, this Agatha Christie plot is certain to play out again and again.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I went overboard, she said

I was looking back through my posts and was sure I had used this photograph.  Maybe not.  I have featured Viburnum macrocephalum in its various stages (the latest was the lime green phase).  But here is the plant in all its glory - a mass of pure white balls.

I am - where else - in Margaret Moseley's garden.  It's mid-April.  That's a spirea in the foreground - 'Limemound' perhaps? And, you can see a twig of a native azalea (orange) in front of the tree.  The rest of that beautiful plant, which sits next to a purple smoke tree, is covered with honeysuckle-type blooms.  The azalea is not a pure species, as I remember, but it closely resembles the Florida azalea, Rhododendron austrinum.  Margaret rescued it from a farm where a family did not appreciate what they had and were about to destroy a treasure trove of native plants.

Margaret called me while ago, and I am marveling at her attitude.  The physical therapist had just left her home and had told her they were treating her as someone who has a broken back.  She can never bend over again nor do any kind of twisting motion.  She is not to pick up anything heavier than a can of soup from a countertop.   I looked in my pantry and saw that means 10 and 1/2 ounces.  She cannot do any washing and drying of clothes, which she said, she was disappointed to learn. I'm having trouble seeing this as a let-down.

Margaret will be 97 in May and says she's never had a bit of back trouble.  "I've known people who've had it all their lives, so I can live out the rest of my life with it.  I've been so lucky."

The subject quickly turned to the back yard.  "Oh, you ought to see it out there.  It's just beautiful. The Daphne odora, the 'Fragrant Pink', the 'Magnoliaeflora'.  I've even got some daffodils blooming."

I quizzed her on a camellia I was trying to identify in a photograph.  I described about ten items that were nearby.  We started laughing.  With so many plants out there, it's pretty impossible to get an identification on just one pink flower among dozens.

"You have to understand," said Margaret. "I went overboard and planted everything I could get my hands on."

So, Margaret is back to Margaret.  If it stops raining, I'm going out there tomorrow to see if I can find my mystery camellia and show it to her.  As it stands now, there's no telling if and when Margaret can get back out in the garden.  But I can tell she's happy just knowing what's out there and thankful she has had so many good years to devote to something she loves.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

View from the window - a luxuriant spring day

The heart of spring - that time when the world is fresh, and walking out into a garden causes your spirits to soar.  This is a view from Margaret Moseley's sun room window.  The Japanese maple that was only an outline of branches in winter is now lush with new foliage.  The early spiraeas of March have bloomed out, and azaleas (Margaret has many huge specimens scattered about the garden) and dogwoods are just finishing up their yearly spectacle.

When I look at this photograph, I am reminded of the pleasure this garden has brought Margaret.  Many of the plants you see were gifts brought by other gardeners.  I am betting that the hosta that's coming up in the foreground was given to Margaret by her friend Bud Martin, a wholesale hosta grower.  It's likely, too, that a friend came calling with a piece of the yellow creeping jenny that now forms a cheerful mat just outside the window.

In an article written by Southern Living's Steve Bender, Margaret says about her garden, "I think I can name every friend I have just by looking out there."  Likewise, there are gardens throughout the area and many far away that contain plants Margaret has so generously shared.  One of my prized possessions is a pure white Lenten rose (Helleborus hybridus, formerly H. orientalis) from Margaret's garden.  In fact, I was walking up the driveway yesterday in the gloom and caught something out of the corner of my eye.  That original clump is now in bloom, and the stunning white flowers were a welcome sight on a dreary, rainy day.

A photograph I love of Margaret is of her holding a plant she's just dug and put into a pot for me to carry home.  I've heard her called the original passalong lady.  I know there were many before her, but over the years she has certainly done her part in sharing the beauty of her garden with others.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A winter's tale - Margaret's take on the season

How quickly a mood can change.  I just looked at this same view taken in spring from Margaret Moseley's sun porch.  The Japanese maple ('Butterfly', if I remember correctly) is freshly and exuberantly leafed out, and a pink azalea is blooming next to the birdbath.  A layer of white from a tall dogwood is floating high in the background.  Closer to the porch (I used a zoom on this take), a hosta is leafing out, and the bright yellow of creeping jenny is making its way along the ground next to some end-of-season violas.

Fast forward two months, and this same birdbath is flanked on the right by blue hydrangeas.  Another deep rose-purple mophead can be seen in the distance peaking out from under a camellia.  That same hosta has much larger leaves, and next to it, Hosta 'Sagae' has already sent up two bloom stalks.  The way the sun is beaming down, you can almost feel the warm air of early summer and smell the freshly mown grass.

But, I love this winter scene.  Camellias are blooming, but, without going back and checking the date, it's hard to know if they have been knocked back by cold weather or are either at the end of their season or just beginning to bloom.  There are still thick buds on the small one next to the birdbath.  Margaret has her camellias stretched out to flower from fall until spring.

And so go the seasons of this garden.  You get a panoramic view from the sun porch, and amazingly, you can sit in one of the wicker chairs and feel as if you are right there in the garden.  I can't tell you how many times I've looked out in wonderment at what Margaret has created.  There are no expensive hardscapes here.  Most of the beauty comes from the layers of bulbs, perennials, shrubs and trees that come in and out of bloom and ebb and flow with the seasons.

I would say that the combinations you see are haphazard, but they are not.  The overall scheme is Margaret's vision, and it's her sense of knowing where a plant should go in and where one should be taken out that is part of her success.  The other part, I think, can be attributed to the joy she's derived from working out there almost every day for decades in order to share with friends, neighbors and other garden lovers who have come to this magical place.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

You should have been here last week - late autumn

So often when we'd go to tape an episode of A Gardener's Diary, we'd hear the regretful words:  "You should have been here last week."

It's something we had to learn to live with.  Yes, the garden looked much better a week ago, but here we were with a five person crew, a three hour flight from home.  Somehow, we could always find something of interest to make a good show, even if practically every shot was a close-up of the two flowers that remained on a shrub.

Making garden shows was tricky.  We'd try to schedule a shoot to coincide with when the most flowers were in bloom.  This was especially critical if someone specialized in just one particular plant, like roses, for instance.  Once we canceled a shoot altogether for a garden in the Napa Valley in California.  The people called about two weeks in advance to say that their antique roses were peaking at that very moment, and by the time we arrived, there would not be a single petal left.  There was no sense in pursuing that garden, as the roses were one-time bloomers, and the warmer than usual weather had thrown the peak season off considerably.  The other garden in the region, though, had a lot of different flowers and other leafy plants of interest, so that worked.  We had a back-up, and it turned out to be an interesting show, as well.

It looks like I missed the peak in Margaret Moseley's garden pictured above.  When I arrived that day, the Monday after Thanksgiving, all the leaves had fallen from her ginkgo tree.  She had been reporting every day on the progress of the leaves, describing how it was to stand under the tree, "like being in the brightest sunshine, even though it was a cloudy day."

But, I had actually planned to come when the leaves were on the ground.  Usually, my fall pictures of Margaret's garden look like spring, because she has so many Camellia sasanquas.  But on this day, you knew which season it was.  I couldn't get over how satisfying it was to walk through the silky leaves. You'd pick one up, and it would be a perfect golden fan.   There were leaves everywhere.  One of my favorite photos is of a ginkgo leaf-filled bird bath.  Another, which I posted late last year, was of a mass of bright leaves surrounding a blue and white ceramic pot.  I had never noticed that piece in her garden before, but the composition lent a very oriental feel to the scene.

An update on Margaret's condition is coming tomorrow.  She may not be able to go out into the garden anytime soon, but I'll show you the view from her sun porch.  It feels as if you are right there in the midst of the beauty.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Beauty when not much is in bloom - end of April

I've written about how Margaret Moseley would call me up and say that her garden was "the prettiest it's ever been."  Usually, that occurred in winter, when most people weren't even thinking about flowers.  But, due to the many camellias, hellebores and daphnes Margaret planted over the years, I would likely get this call when the weather eased up a bit during the months of January and February, and her back yard looked like a fairy land.

But, there were times when I would talk to Margaret and ask about the garden, and she would answer:  "There's not a thing out there to see," meaning that not much was in flower.  She'd quickly add, though, that "it's still pretty."  And it was.  And, usually there would be a lot more in bloom than she had let on.

In Atlanta during the growing season, roughly from late February through mid-November, there are peaks and valleys as far as flowers are concerned.  I used to be able to predict when the peak bloom times would be, but overall these dates have changed in recent years.  The peonies that once were at their best on Mother's Day, the second Sunday in May, are now at their prettiest around the first of the month.

In the above photograph, I can tell that it's probably the beginning of the fourth week of April because there is a rhododendron in bloom in the background.  And, you can sense that the special light you only find in May is starting to present itself.  Elsewhere in her garden at this time, there is a late blooming viburnum (V. plicatum), and the bearded iris, roses and poppies will soon refresh the garden with color and fragrance.

Green is my favorite color, so I'm in luck most of the year in Margaret's garden.  She has plenty of evergreens to back up the deciduous plants that are bare in winter.  I remember when she planted the Japanese maple on the left.  It was tiny for so long, and one day I realized that it had grown into a mature tree, lending more fresh green to this leafy passageway in the garden.

An update on Margaret:  It took me a few days to find her, but she is in a rehab facility near the hospital.  She's ready to go home, but it will be a while until she gets her wish.  We're due for a warming trend for the next ten days, so that means her many camellias will start blooming again and put on a show, maybe just in time for her return home.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Capturing the magic of Margaret's garden - spring

When visitors would come to Margaret Moseley's garden, it was easy to feel the magic.  You were mesmerized by the way light filtered through tall trees, and everywhere you looked was a special plant - maybe one you hadn't seen before or maybe one you were familiar with but hadn't seen used in such an intriguing setting.

But when professional photographers came, they were frustrated.  There is no overall view of the garden, which means that huge, sweeping views don't exist.  I am not a professional photographer by any stretch of the imagination (although the newspaper at one time paid a whopping $25 for a photo; that didn't last long), but I have ended up with mostly small vignettes or closeups of plants.  I can tell from the magazine articles on Margaret that real photographers had the same problem.  One newspaper photographer climbed on Margaret's roof to get an overall shot.  It was pretty good, but you could still only see a portion of the garden.

For the visitor, though, the twist and turns and pathways were fun to navigate, especially when you were making a new discovery around every corner.  But, even if you came early or late in the day (to avoid downtown Atlanta traffic, I usually was there at mid-day, the worst time for taking photographs), it was still difficult to capture the beauty and ambience of this garden.

The above photograph is of a wide path at the back of the garden.  If you were standing at the entrance to the garden, you'd have no idea this scene existed.  Without looking at the date of the photograph, I can pretty much tell this was in the first half of April.  The viburnum on the right has turned white, and the leaves on the trees still have that freshly leafed out look.  The pink azalea seems to be at its peak.  A later blooming viburnum on the left is in its green stage.

It's gray and rather cold today.   Margaret has been transferred to a rehab facility.  I haven't yet been able to track her down.  For the time being, I'm looking through photographs of her garden and thinking how much joy she has brought to so many people and what pleasure she has derived from this beautiful space.  More scenes to come.  First, to locate Margaret!