Thursday, February 28, 2013

Not this year - at least not yet

I don't remember the exact year - sometime in the 1990's - when we had a blizzard on March 13th.  It's the only blizzard I can remember in my lifetime in Georgia.  The wind howled, the snow fell sideways, and all the spring flowers that had come up were buried beneath the snow.  The power was out, and I took soup my mother had canned down to a neighbor's house where she had a gas stove.

When all was said and done, pretty much all the major daffodils were broken to pieces.  The forsythia turned mushy, and the early viburnums were pretty much destroyed.  It didn't help that the thermometer dropped to 12 degrees the next day.  Not one of our better springs.

This year, I don't think there's been a flake of snow to fall.  Not that it's all that unusual here in Atlanta not to have snow, but in the past, we've averaged a couple of snowfalls a year.  Snowfalls may be an exaggeration.  More like a dusting.

But the snow that fell in this photograph made quite a scene.  It was the good kind where you could make a snowman and walk without falling down on ice.  I took several photographs of my woods and the lane leading up to the little house - all very picturesque.

I like this shot because it shows a structure in back of my house.  I had this installed in the late 1980's.  In fact, it had just been put in when the famous English gardener Christopher Lloyd came to dinner at my house.  At that point, the iron was still the original rust color (later painted dark green).

I had copied the idea from a restaurant in the Perigord region of France.  A man came and took measurements.  Then, when he returned, he had a truckload of iron pieces that didn't look right.  I nearly fainted.  What was I to do, as I had signed off on the measurements.

I'm happy to say that when it all got installed, it looked even better and was sturdier than the picture from France.

The first vine I planted was a double-flowering wisteria.  It was a disaster.  It was not only a monster, but the flowers came on after the foliage, and you couldn't see them tangled in the vines.  I threw in some Clematis montana rubens, which was fine, except you had to stand on the terrace and look down to see the pink flowers.

Even though I'd paid a fortune for four special wisterias, I had to cut them down.  Every summer, I would lean over and try to lop off the crazy shoots that reached high into the air. You couldn't even tell it was supposed to be a tunnel.  It looked like a bad hairdo gone wild.

I agonized over what to do.  'New Dawn' roses?  Speaking of rampant, and how to deal with the lethal thorns?  Lady Banks rose?  Too uncontrollable.

Finally, I was walking down a street in the West Village in New York and saw the vine I wanted - a yellow Campsis radicans (trumpet vine).  So, that's what I have now, and even though I'm not diligent about keeping it clipped, the vine behaves a lot better than wisteria.  At least it lies pretty flat along the top of the arbor, so that you can see the proper outline.

All this to say that we didn't have any snow this year.  It can still happen, though.  In fact, they're saying flurries in the next couple of days.  One of the deepest (four inches!) snows I remember in my adult life fell on April 4th.  I hope that doesn't happen this year.  Azaleas and snow do not mix.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Remembering a garden that was

On this spot where Kathryn MacDougald's terraced hillside garden once stood is a large, two story stucco house, painted a dark khaki color.  The new house overlooks a field which used to be the venue for family softball outings and visiting children's games of tag, but is now a fenced in pasture with horses.  The charming log cabin where Kathryn lived has a new home somewhere in the mountains.  Never did I imagine that such a change would take place.  

Not that it is all that bad.  It's just that the garden Kathryn made, securing the sloping terrain with rocks she hauled from a burned down historic mansion a half-mile away, was in constant bloom all season long.  It was always fun to see what was coming up - foxgloves and baptisia and poppies in spring, black-eyed susans of all types in summer, and ironweed, patrinia and Joe Pye weed in fall. To think that there remains not so much as a vestige of the hundreds of different plants - perennials, herbs, roses, bulbs, shrubs, vines and trees - is hard to imagine.

At one point, the garden was chosen as a feature in Fine Gardening magazine.  And, it was the site of at least two weddings. The last one took place when the garden was filled with blindingly colorful poppies.

Commercials for television were also filmed there.  When we first started A Gardener's Diary on Home & Garden Television, we taped a prominent scene in the show's open in the garden.

I have to mention that I was the lucky recipient of plants from the log cabin garden.  I brought blue hostas, two peonies, several Annabelle hydrangeas, a cinnamon fern that had a beautiful pink trillium attached and some maroon-colored Louisiana irises I had coveted.  There's also a serissa that I'm crazy about and hope to do as Kathryn did, and train the finely textured evergreen shrub onto an obelisk.

Many people came to dig when Kathryn dismantled the garden, so her plants are in gardens far and wide.  Being crazy for rocks, she's also saved the large ones you see here, in addition to the cobblestones that had paved the circular driveway in front of the cabin (Kathryn built the drive herself out of the giant "loaf of bread" type stones that came from Europe as ballast on ships.  I can barely pick up one, and she handled thousands).

I miss this garden, but, that's just how life is.  Time has marched on, and Kathryn is now on her third garden since the one pictured above.  Lucky for me, she's once again just around the corner, and I get to see what she's up to.  There's always an interesting fern, or a new ground cover or unusual perennials to exclaim over.  One thing is for sure.  She will always make the place she lives a little (or rather, a lot) better.  Once a gardener, it's hard to get it out of your system.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Something to look forward to on a gray day

Yesterday and today have been what my mother used to call "disagreeable."  It's not that cold by Midwestern or New England standards, but it's not one of those days I want to get outside and work.  In fact, the ground is pretty soggy, and more rain is due on Monday and Tuesday.  The thermometer outside the kitchen door reads 45 degrees.  That's not so bad, but it's gray and misty, so I think I'll stay inside.

To lift my spirits, I thought of looking back at my pictures of Giverny, taken last June.  This is going to be never-ending because I must have taken a good 300 pictures on that one-day visit.

But, then I thought of another garden right here in Atlanta.  It's on a smaller scale, of course, but I have at least a good 100 or so photos that could easily be mistaken for a corner of Monet's famous French garden.

This is a border at Diana Mendes' Atlanta garden, taken last May.  I'm betting she has some daffodils right now and maybe some other bulbs popping up.  But, the bulk of her spring, summer and fall garden is likely still covered up.

So, to find some inspiration (could I ever have anything like this?  Only if I have a deer fence and work like a Trojan) on this less than lovely day, I thought I'd sift through my photos of Diana's garden.  Choosing just one was difficult - she has so many flowers, and I have photographed her garden in both May and October.  It's amazing how much she has packed into the fairly small space that is her front yard.

Right now, I'm dreaming about all the flowers I see:  larkspur, poppies, peonies, roses, foxgloves, sweet rocket, to name those just in this one little stretch.  Thank you, Diana, for all your hard work and for sharing your fabulous garden.  It's fun to see all these flowers on this February day.  I can't wait until spring in hopes that I can come again.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

You can't always get what you want

My friend Mary was once a Rolling Stones groupie.  In the early 1970's, she dated someone in their entourage and followed them all over the world to their concerts.

I hadn't known Mary back in the day, but when the Rolling Stones came to Atlanta - it must have been in the 1990's - Mary was given 50 tickets and invited friends first to a reception and then to the concert at Georgia Tech's Grant Field.  It was a great spectacle, for sure.  I had seen the Beatles at the Atlanta-Fulton County stadium on August 18, 1965, so I felt I had now seen two of the biggest bands ever (for my generation, at least).

One of the Rolling Stones songs I always liked was You Can't Always Get What You Want.  Although all the lyrics never made sense to me, I would often call up the title, sort of jokingly, when I knew something was impossibly out of reach.

When I was traveling for A Gardener's Diary on Home & Garden Television, one of the things I would inevitably do was compare what we could and couldn't grow in Atlanta vs. wherever I was scouting.  For example, I visited a gardener outside Madison, Wisconsin.  The hill around her house was covered in spectacular flowers.  Among the showiest was the gas plant (what a name for such pretty flowers).  She had mostly the white form, as I recall.  This is a difficult perennial to establish, but, as far as I know, it is almost impossible to grow here where summer nights are warm.

I came home a bit deflated, having seen so many wonderful things in her garden that wouldn't survive the Georgia heat and humidity.  The funny thing is that she had a little area - mind you, her garden was on the open prairie - where she was trying to grow Eastern shade plants with very limited success.  Everything she had in that garden would have been a cinch to grow here.

So, that was an example of both of us wanting what we could not have.  She said she had killed so many of the Eastern U.S. natives that she was about to give up.

Pictured above is Campanula medium (Canterbury bells).  The lanes and paths at Giverny in France were lined with them in all different colors when I was there last June.  The effect was charming.   While I was walking along, I thought of the Rolling Stones song.  I had tried to grow these a long time ago, but they could not tolerate our climate.

Gardeners are often faced with such frustrations.  When I was a young bride, I went crazy and ordered things from Michigan that didn't have a prayer in Georgia.  I planted some lupines, for example, and by the next afternoon they had melted so quickly that I couldn't even tell where they had been.

I am doing better at appreciating what we can grow instead of what we can't.  I admit, though, when I see flowers like those Canterbury bells or gorgeous lilacs so common up north, the old refrain comes back.  What I need to do is make a list of things like Magnolia grandiflora that people in cold climates would love to have.  And, I remember my friend in Michigan fussing over a sickly mophead hydrangea that was likely doomed in her garden.  Indeed, we can't always get what we want, but we do have a lot of plants, wherever we live, to be thankful we can grow.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

East meets West in 'Butterflies'

A couple I knew - she was Japanese; he was American - had a wonderful garden where, on his side, he grew Asian plants and installed Japanese lanterns and bamboo fences.  In her area, she created an English garden look, exactly backwards of expectations.  Everything that was written about them - and I was guilty of this -  almost always included the words "East Meets West" in the title.  It got to be a joke, because it became such a cliche.

Looking at the yellow deciduous magnolia above, though, I was reminded of East meets West.  This is Magnolia 'Butterflies', a cross between the cucumber magnolia, M. acuminata from the Appalachian area of the U.S., and M. denudata from central China.  I fell in love with this small tree the moment I saw it in bloom.  In more northern climates, the flowers are a deeper yellow, but here in Georgia, you get the same lemon color as seen in this garden in Maryland.

I'm adding this tree to my list of "Things I Should Have Planted When I First Knew About Them."  It likes moist, well-drained soil in full sun.  I now have such a situation (but do the deer eat these?), so I'll be on the lookout for 'Butterflies.'

This is a slide that was converted to digital.  I had thought the pink in the background was a redbud, but it must be another deciduous magnolia.  The flowers don't appear along the stem as is typical of redbuds.  I guess I'd forgotten, but whatever the tree is, it's a nice backdrop for Magnolia 'Butterflies.'

Monday, February 18, 2013

This is not a dogwood!

It never fails.   Every year in February a local television anchor will say,  "I saw a dogwood in bloom yesterday.  They are really early this year."  I'm not the type who actually calls the station to correct the error.  I just talk back to the TV.

"That's not a dogwood," I'll say with irritation.  "You do this every year.  Dogwoods don't bloom in February - ever!"  It's normally (but what's normal anymore?) the beginning of April when first the white Cornus florida, our native dogwood, blooms.  The pink-flowering ones are generally a week or so later.  However, there are years when both open at the same time, and everything, including the most commonly planted azaleas will bloom all at once.  But, it sure isn't in February.

What the on-air personalities are seeing this time of year are deciduous flowering magnolias from Asia.  Depending on the species, they are usually of two types.  The first to bloom are the star magnolias (M. stellata), which are likely the ones mistaken for dogwoods.  Then, the tulip, or saucer, magnolias begin to open.  The latter come in different shades of white, pink, deep pink, purple and burgundy. The early blooming ones are generally pink. They are also the ones that get hit hard by a freezing spell.  We'll have a couple of weeks of warm weather in February, and the tulip shaped blossoms open. All of a sudden, the temperature will dip down into the twenties, and the delicate flowers turn to brown mush.  Oftentimes, you'll see big trees that have suffered thusly.

The above flowering branch belongs to Rhoda Ingram of Griffin, Georgia, who decades ago began collecting deciduous magnolias.  These particular blooms are on a grand specimen on the edge of her park-like front lawn.  Rhoda wasn't sure of the exact species of this tree, as its blossoms match neither  M. x soulangiana or Magnolia denudata.  Whatever its identity, it was one of the most beautiful flowering trees I've ever seen.

There is a yard not far from where I live that has both the stellata and the x soulangiana.  Both are white.  I'll have to check the next time I ride by if they blooms were hurt in the freeze over the weekend.

In the meantime, if you hear someone on television say that the dogwoods are blooming early this year, you'll know the truth.  These are not dogwoods.  We'll have to wait another month and a half for those.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I'll have the red rose bush, please

Just in case a future Valentine happens upon this page today, please know that if you plan to send me red roses next year (too late for this year;  I haven't met you yet), let them be in the form of a shrub or a climber like this one at Giverny.

Yes, it would be a thrill to receive one of those long boxes tied in ribbon.  But, in my heart of hearts (forgive the Valentine's Day language), I would greatly prefer the gift of a rose bush I could grow and enjoy.  And, make that a double, please, meaning a rose with lots of petals.

As much as I like the climber 'Dortmund', that rose has single flowers.  And, it's probably a matter of time until they come out with a climbing 'Knock Out', but don't be tempted.  The red color just isn't right.  The climber 'Dublin Bay' is only semi-double, and the flowers of 'Red Cascade' are too small.  I like the form of 'Red Eden', but the color has too much of a burgundy tint.

So, as much as I am not crazy about the name, I may have to settle for climbing 'Don Juan'.  Several years ago in the absolute middle of summer, I was at one of the big box stores.  For what reason I can't imagine, they had a perfectly beautiful climbing 'Don Juan' for sale.  I picked it up and carried it about, thinking I could plant it for my elderly mother.  I had actually put up an arch (although not a very stable one) over her back sidewalk.  It might hold the rose for a while, as long as any strong winds would hold off.

I ended up not buying the plant.  Mother lived some 40 miles away from my house, and even though I was down there often, planting a rose in July in middle Georgia is foolhardy.  It's probably well that I didn't get the rose, because that trellis fell over in a matter of weeks, and not a drop of rain fell the rest of the summer.

When I was trolling about for red roses, I came upon this description.  It seems a bit much, but I guess it's okay since it's Valentine's Day:  "The Romantic 'Don Juan' Rose':  The 10' tall, red and handsome 'Don Juan' rose will capture your heart.  The stiffly upright canes .... culminate in heavily fragrant, voluptuous blossoms."

I'll have to wait until next February 14th to see if one of these lands on my doorstep.  If it does, I hope it's because my Don Juan has sent it.  I think it will be more likely, however, that I will have placed the order myself.  But that's okay.  I'm content just as long as I can have flowers that I can enjoy over a long period of time.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The odd-colored yellow rose

My mother always loved yellow roses.  For the life of me, I can't remember her favorite.  It was a woman's name, but I've already spent way too much time on the Internet trying to find it.  Her most recent yellow rose was a climber, not 'Golden Showers', but something similar.

So, in my order from Roses Unlimited, I included a yellow English rose, 'The Pilgrim.'  Pat Henry wrote to say she didn't have that one, so I opted for 'Graham Stuart Thomas.'  I've always loved this rose and found the color so unusual.  'The Pilgrim' is light, lemony yellow.  'Graham' is an odd yellow that's not really gold or buttery even.  I saw it often in gardens we featured on A Gardener's Diary on Home & Garden Television.  It's easy to recognize, as it's about the only rose I know of that particular hue.

Somewhere on one of the many bookshelves in this house is a book about roses written by Graham Stuart Thomas.  I've also spent too much time looking for it, but I'm sure it will turn up when I'm looking for something else.

Graham Stuart Thomas was a 20th Century English horticulturist, author, artist (he illustrated many of his garden books) and garden designer.  He was responsible for the restoration of several important English gardens, and helped popularize both old and new shrub roses.  He was a household name in England and received many prestigious awards, including the Order of the British Empire and the Victoria Medal of Honour.  

In 1983, the rose pictured above (photographed in Bob Clinard's Atlanta garden) was named in Thomas' honor by the famous rose breeder David Austin.

Pretty soon, my rose order should arrive.  I've been digging like a mad woman, trying to prepare the ground ahead of time.  I'm bad about letting something sit while I procrastinate, and the first thing I know, it's the month of May and the rose is still in its container.

Not this time.  I'll be ready for Graham when he arrives.  I think my mother would have liked this rose. I know I'll be remembering her when the first bloom appears.  I'll keep you posted on my new life with roses.  Having some spots of sun is going to be something new for me and something I've wanted for a long, long time.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

I want stonework!

If you tune in to this blog, you may have realized that I have been AWOL for a few days.  I went to visit my older daughter in New York.  We took in a couple of plays (one delightful; the other put me to sleep almost immediately) and went to the David Letterman show.  During the day, while my daughter was at work, I roamed around Manhattan.  By the end of the three days, I had lost all perspective and was ready to rob a bank.  While most of the world is wanting food to eat or medicine to take or a stable roof overhead, I was coveting ridiculously expensive clothing in windows.  I'm not usually like that, I promise.  New York does that to me.

On this visit, I did have a specific goal.  I was determined to find a pair of knee high black boots like every other female in Manhattan had on.  I went into store after store.  I must have looked at hundreds of boots.  Every one had something wrong - too many buckles or a zipper that was in the wrong place.  

Finally, I looked in a store window in Brooklyn.  I couldn't believe it.  There they were - very plain, just the right height.  I went in with my heart pounding, hoping for the right size.  They had them!  I tried the pair on, and they were perfect.  The salesperson told me I was in luck.  They were on sale.

It all seemed too good to be true, and it was.  The reduced price was $1,200.  Obviously, I walked out, very deflated.

But here I am at home, with my materialism taking a different tack.  Now that my mind is back on gardens, I'm wishing for some stonework.  I took this photograph in Louise Poer's Atlanta garden when the pillar (one of a pair) was brand new.  The gate she had had for some years.  Louise is a dog (and cat) lover, thus the bell holder (there must be a better, more picturesque word for this).

I did manage to have the same person build two identical stone columns at the farm.  They look like they've been there forever.  He knows exactly which color of grout looks best and has a keen sense of the proportion of grout to stone.

I have the leftover stone here at my house, but it will be a while before I can have something made.  I saw a picture of a tunnel of arches at a house in Provence that would be just right.  But, right now, I might as well wish for ten pairs of $1,200 boots.  I'd have to have a lot more stone to make even an abbreviated tunnel on the side of my house.

Still, I can picture it covered in star jasmine with some clematis worked in.  At one end, there might be enough sun for a climbing rose.  That's what's good about gardens.  There's always something to wish for that's more fun and sometimes more permanent than a pair of black boots.  Who knows if I'll ever have what I dream of.  Right now, oddly enough, I'm actually quite content just looking at the pile of stones that seems to hold so much promise.  

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A decision for a lifetime

I often wonder where I'd be if I hadn't made certain decisions in my life.  From the perspective of age, I can look back and know for certain some turning points - events or decisions that took me off in another direction.

Forty-seven years ago today, I saw the Eiffel Tower for the first time.  I had made the decision to go to France to study for the second semester of my junior year (I use the word "study" lightly, as I ended up making my worst grades ever).  At that time, it was not cool (outdated word) to go to Vanderbilt-in-France.  I had been caught up in the sorority-fraternity scene and considered myself in the "in" group (my opinion only).

At any rate, one fall day when I must have been feeling bold, I signed up to go to Aix-en-Provence in the south of France.  I had never been out of the country before and had taken only two years of college French.  But, in high school, where we didn't even have a French teacher, I was already drawn by the thought of Paris.

So, on February 2, 1966, I walked out onto the Trocadero overlook and gazed at the Eiffel Tower.  I was hooked.  Every vacation since, I've wanted to go back to France.  Even when we arrived in Aix-en-Provence a couple of days later and saw the huge plane trees clipped and bare, I was enchanted (by May, the leaves were back and the limbs stretched across Cours Mirabeau, the main street of Aix).

I loved everything about France.  Yes, I'd heard all my life how they owed us for the Marshall Plan and treated tourists badly.  But, I didn't care.  I learned to love the French aesthetic - the stucco houses and tile and slate roofs, the painted shutters, the clipped hedges and vines covering walls.  I liked the bustling markets and the the clothes in the windows.

 I ended up, off and on, living in France for about two years. To this day, I still have friends I would never have known had I not made that initial leap.  There are other decisions I made that did not turn out so well, but that's one I've never regretted.

Note:  The photo is of Monet's house at Giverny, taken this past summer.

Friday, February 1, 2013

If there could be some roses

After agonizing for way too long, I finally put in my order to Roses Unlimited in Laurens, S.C.  Pat Henry has been offering own root roses for at least two decades.  I don't remember the year, but we did an episode on her garden for A Gardener's Diary on Home & Garden Television where she gave a lot of good information on growing roses, no matter where you live.

The important thing is that I now have sun.  For forty years, I've lived under the shadow of huge oak trees (and hickories, beeches, etc.).  A mini-tornado, straight line winds and old age finally cleared the way for all day sun in a few spots on the property.  One is right outside the window of my den.  A white oak dropped a forty foot long limb one day, and that was it.  The canopy of the mighty tree hung mostly over my slate roof.  The City of Atlanta arborist came and said the tree needed to be removed.  It had been saved at the last minute when we built our house 30 years ago, eliminating a carport.  I hated to see it go, although the tree had noisily rained acorns down on my roof every fall, and once a fierce wind sent a branch like a missile straight into what used to be my office upstairs.

In addition, the tree cut down vastly on my air-conditioning bill in summer.  As soon as it was gone, the ivy that held a steep bank across the driveway fried in the all-day sun.  I still have to figure out what to do about that situation.

But now, I'll get to have a climbing rose.  What I wanted was an English rose like the one pictured above.  This is in Margaret Moseley's garden, and I don't have it identified in my iPhotos.  I do have notes from Margaret that will tell me, but this one is a shrub rose and not a true climber.

Anyway, I'm taking a chance on a couple of other newly opened up spots and have ordered several roses.  I'm hoping I can have a deer fence up by the time the plants put out new growth.

So, here's my order:  1 Mystic Beauty (shrub - a must have, according to Pat); 1 Climbing Souvenir de la Malmaison; 1 Climbing Bantry Bay;  2  Climbing Gruss an Aachen (to grow in containers on my terrace); 1 The Pilgrim;  1 Climbing Iceberg.

I am so excited.  Oh, and about the title of this post.  My friend Margaret's mother loved the song "My Heart Reminds Me".  There was a line, "If there could be no roses", so that's the odd reference.  If you have iTunes, you can listen to the romantic (and very melodramatic) song by Kay Starr.