Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Mama's poppies

My mother would not believe what has resulted from the little envelope of seeds a friend gave her long ago.  For years, in a flower border underneath her kitchen window, Mother grew a few cherry red  poppies.  Hers were shaggy - very double - with narrow petals.

Some years, she would save seeds gathered from the spent pods and put them in the freezer.  Mostly, though, she depended on the ones that came up volunteer.  The flowers pretty much looked alike from year to year.

But, after Mother turned 90, the flower border got out of hand, and the poppies disappeared.  Finally, I cleaned out the bed one fall, and early the next spring, the poppies started coming up.  Mama was so relieved that the seeds had survived.

The poppies have bloomed every year since, and some new colors have appeared.  Last summer, I marked several plants while they were still in bloom.  There was a lavender one that had sprung up, so I  tagged that one.  Also, I marked the ones that looked the most like Mother's favorites.  Then, I forgot all about what I had done.

A little history here.  Mother and Daddy bought the farm in 1957.  For several years, they would ride over from town and count cows.  I remember watching them drive off in the old dark blue Air Force jeep for the daily inspection.

After several years, Mother and Daddy decided to move from our 1852 brick home in town out to the farm about three miles away.

I still have mixed feelings about this.  It was hard to leave a house on five acres that was built before the Civil War and that was the best place to grow up you could ever imagine (lots of hideouts, vegetable and flower gardens, orchards, trees to climb, outbuildings that could be used for forts, and possibly one of the best hide-and-seek venues you could wish for.  There was even a eccentric old woman who lived in a scary looking house on the other side of a tall privet hedge).

Anyway, in 1963, Daddy built a house at the farm, and our homeplace was sold.  My parents enjoyed the place well into their nineties.  My brother and I have it now, and it has become a weekend retreat for some friends who go there to grow vegetables and just enjoy the beauty.  They also have restored Mother's flower garden and made several new ones.

Last week, one of them said I should see the flowers at the farm.  It rained almost every Saturday in May, so I hadn't made my usual weekly trip down there.  I didn't think much about it until I drove up and saw a brilliant red strip of papery flowers glowing in the sun.  Mama's poppies.

I wish my camera had the capacity to capture the entire row.  It must be 100 feet long and eight to ten feet wide.  It's amazing that all those flowers came from that one envelope of original seeds.

It will be interesting to see if  there will be even more colors and forms next year.  I can't believe I didn't even know these were coming up.  My friend had seen the plants I marked and gathered the seeds, so it was a great surprise.  I was so thrilled, and I know Mama would have loved knowing her poppies were still going some 50 years later.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Full Flower Moon

I don't think it matters how old you get, there's still something hopeful and romantic about a full moon.  I generally notice the ones in September and October.  I like their names:  September is the Harvest Moon; October is the Hunter's Moon, and they always appear so big and orange when they rise very suddenly and dramatically in the east.

But I just learned that the full moon in May is called the Full Flower Moon.  I like that name, too, especially because May has always been a favorite month.  I like so many songs that mention the month of May, like "They Were You" from The Fantasticks and "In the Still of the Night" (not the Cole Porter one, but the one from high school years by the Five Satins), to name two.

And, of course, there are the sweet scents that go along with all the May flowers - the roses and peonies, the Confederate jasmine and especially the honeysuckle.  There used to be a huge tangle of the latter going up a tree next to a giant rock outside my kitchen window.  You could sit on the back balcony at night, and the fragrance was intoxicating.  Some well-meaning yard helper cut the whole thing down, and although the obnoxious vine grows all through the woods, I can't seem to get it restarted in that same place.

I'm having a bit of trouble with the timing of the Full Flower Moon.  Technically, the moon will be full at 12:26 a.m. on May 25.  But, I'm counting tonight as the full moon, since it will come up pretty much full after dark (I wish I had the patience to look up what time it will rise where I live).  Unfortunately, I live in the forest, and I never see the moon low in the sky unless it's just before dawn.

So, in thinking of this particular moon, I found this photograph I took at Giverny.  If nothing else, it says "full flower" to me.  I don't think those pink roses could be much denser.  And, I love the matching poppies underneath.  They're a bit on the wane, but they go nicely with the roses.

Wherever you are on this night (or early morning) of the Full Flower moon, I hope it's clear.  For us here in Atlanta, it is going to be a spectacular night - cool, breezy with low humidity.  Definitely a night to take in the Full Flower Moon and if you're lucky, to enjoy the sweet fragrance of honeysuckle and jasmine.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Spring deferred - or back to old times?

For years, I kept a calendar of bloom times.  I started off with great enthusiasm each January, recording the first daffodil to bloom, the moment when a hellebore opened, when the Yoshino cherries flowered, and so on.  As the months progressed, I started skipping days, then weeks.  By the time July came, the pages of the calendar were blank.  I didn't keep up.

But, I can remember that one thing was pretty consistent.  You could count on peonies and roses being at their peak for Mother's Day.  I recall hearing the late Berma Abercrombie, whose focus was on the genus Narcissus, but who grew amazingly large clumps of peonies, saying she always placed a huge arrangement of peonies in the church on the second Sunday in May.

Then came the turn of the last century.  I think it was about then we began having warm spells that caused everything to bloom early.  I know that we used to be able to count on azaleas and dogwoods being at their peak around April 10th.  One year, when we were to shoot an episode for A Gardener's Diary on a garden that had thousands of azaleas, we had to cancel.  We had set the date for April 4.  The gardener called me the third week of March and said the flowers were at their peak.  I went down to see her a week later, and all that was left was a sea of crispy brown blooms.

It's been a while since we've had a cool spring like this one.  Today, I went out and picked a peony.  That was unheard of, even when we had pretty consistent weather.  Obviously, this is a late blooming peony, which I shouldn't have planted at all, given that the early and mid-season varieties are much more dependable; late ones are unlikely to open in Atlanta.  I bought this flower at a big-box store.  It had no name, was in bloom and was beautiful, so I caved in.  So far, so good, but this is only its second year.

Above is another look at Diana Mendes' Atlanta garden.  I took 70 photographs there on May 15th, and the roses hadn't even come into full bloom.  I didn't start a calendar this year, but I do have some idea of the bloom progression from the dates on my pictures.  Next year, I hope I'll keep a record and follow through.  It would be interesting to see if this year is an anomaly or the beginning of a new trend.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Diana has the roses I want

I'm betting Diana Mendes doesn't know the name of these roses (which look incredibly like peonies).  That's okay.  She buys what she likes and doesn't worry much about having to keep up with names.  When she's in a garden center, she instinctively knows what will look good and buys accordingly.

But, hers is not just a rose garden.  The above flowers are tucked into a jam-packed sunny border in front of Diana's Atlanta home.  Surrounding these healthy blooms is a colorful array of May flowers -  larkspur, which re-seed each year, hesperis, iris, foxgloves, poppies, hardy geraniums, coreopsis, alliums and clematis, to name a few.

I had written earlier that I planted some climbing roses this year, now that the removal of a huge white oak has allowed for some sun.  But, all has not gone well.  I wanted a rose just like the one pictured above, down to the color and form.  I bought my roses from a mail order source which sells only own-root plants, meaning that they are not grafted.

After I received the roses in April, I got them into the ground immediately.  It wasn't long before thick buds formed.  I wasn't familiar with either of the pink ones, so I was anxious to see the blooms.

But, that was not to be.  I assumed that the deer would not come up to the walls of my house. Wrong.  They (I guess there were several) left tracks in my new tiny pea gravel and snipped off every single bud.  This, despite the fact I'd put down Milorganite around the plants.  This fertilizer from the city of Milwaukee has done a pretty good job of repelling deer in the past.

It could be that one of these days I'll have pretty roses like Diana's.  Sharyn Altman, a high school classmate and a very knowledgeable gardener, told me about some fishing line I could try.  On Friday, I dug up some of the roses and moved them to large containers on the back balcony.  Until I get that fishing line and string it up, I'm going to make sure the roses are safe.

Diana Mendes always has a heavy flush of bloom on her roses in fall.  Maybe by then, I'll know if I have a rose that looks like the ones pictured above.  That's what I was going for.  We'll see.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Diana's amazing garden

It's a small front yard, really, but what Diana Mendes manages to pack into the space is nothing short of miraculous.

I first went there in October, two years ago, after seeing some pictures she posted on Facebook.  It was hard to imagine that so many colorful fall flowers - asters, chrysanthemums, Mexican sage and roses in their autumn flush of bloom - could be packed into the wide border that surrounds a lovely bit of lawn.

So, Diana promised to contact me the next spring so I could see an entirely different garden.  And, I did.  Her May garden looks like a mini-Giverny.  I was in her neighborhood yesterday and took this photograph around noon in the bright sun.  Diana had particularly mentioned a red rose that was in full bloom, but she said things would look better by the weekend, with more roses open.

That may be true, but I was once again bowled over by the May flowers blooming in such profusion.  The red rose, which I will show later, was indeed spectacular, but so was the entire scene.  And, there were other roses in bloom - all healthy and vigorous.

There was no way to capture everything at once, but I took particular note of some big, round low-growing alliums that I hadn't noticed before.  I wasn't sure if they were A. christophii, so I'll ask Diana.

So, here's a partial list of what I saw:  Hesperis in both lavender and white, bearded iris, big, double English looking roses, lower growing single and semi-double roses, foxgloves, Amsonia hubrichtii, larkspur, poppies, coreopsis, yarrow, clematis, Siberian iris, Verbena bonariensis and copper fennel (that's the dark, lacy plant on the right hand side of the photograph).

I plan to visit again this weekend, although I can't imagine how it could get better.  Earlier yesterday, Diana, who drives rescue dogs and cats to foster homes or to other drivers, was taking a dog to be neutered.  I arrived at her garden when she was on another errand, so I missed having her commentary.  There's so much packed into this garden, that it's easy to miss some truly wonderful plants.  I definitely need to go back.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Remembering Mother and her beloved peonies

When I was in high school,  I wrote a paper about my daddy, how he had grown up poor, the third and unexpected child (his next sibling up was 17 years older than he) of my grandparents.  I related an incident that happened to him Christmas morning when he was six years old.  It brought tears to my eyes every time I thought about it.  At the end of the paper, I revealed that this person who had suffered disappointment but had rallied to be successful was my father.  The English teacher gave me a C (I was expecting an A+) and wrote MAUDLIN in giant red letters across the first page.

I had to look up what maudlin meant, so I'll never forget the word.  Thus, I am going to resist the temptation to describe my beloved mother in a tearjerker way.  She wouldn't like that anyway.

But I do want to say a word about her love of flowers, especially peonies.  An elderly lady in our town gave Mother two peonies, a white one with red splotches, like the one pictured above, and a pink one.  They had both come from the woman's husband's grandmother, so they were quite old when Mother acquired them in the early 1960's.

Every year around Mother's Day, the peonies would bloom and put on a show.  Mother was one to cut flowers and bring them in the house.  Her flowers were never organized into a "garden".  So, when I was living nearby (I had a few years of living in odd places in my early to mid-twenties - San Francisco, Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico, and Paris, to name a few), I would always go down to visit on Mother's Day.  And, there were the peonies, making for the most delicious fragrance when you'd walk in the house.

I've related before what happened to these peonies.  A well-intentioned person from the church came over and did some weed-eating for my parents when they were in their nineties and couldn't keep things up.  The pink peony had already disappeared.  I know my mother had wanted my brother's youngest daughter to have it, as she had greatly admired the flower when she was a child.

Mother was still at home when I went down for Mother's Day and went around the house to pick the peonies.  I found only a few pieces of foliage the weed eater had spared.  I was crushed.

To make a long story short, I was able to dig up the peony, although it was the year we had the bad drought, and the roots all fell apart.  I was aware peonies don't like to be moved, but I had little choice. I brought three pieces up to my house, and two have survived.  They are still not quite strong enough to produce a lot of blooms.  I think the plant really protested being brought away from my parents' more fertile ground.

The peony above came from Margaret Moseley, who will be 97 in a couple of weeks.   She told me she won a silver plate from the Rich's Flower Show back in the 1960's with this peony, which is 'Festiva Maxima', the same as Mama's.

For some reason, this particular bloom has lasted nine days.  Every day, the flower has gotten bigger and more spectacular.  I took this picture yesterday.  I guess it was holding on for Mother's Day. But, I promised I wouldn't be maudlin about this.  My mother had a good, long life.  I think of her every day and always send up a prayer of thanks for both my parents.

I just walked into the kitchen to examine the bloom.  It is still all intact, without a loose petal.  I'll change the mood here (just got teary-eyed) and say this is a great flower from the 19th Century - one that will do well in the South.  Yesterday, as I was riding around Atlanta, I noticed them everywhere.  If you don't have this one, order one with lots of eyes, plant it in September near the surface of the ground and enjoy the fragrance and beauty on Mother's Day in the future.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Dreaming of a English stone cottage in the U.S.A.

Back in the early 1990's, the big stone lodge on the hill above me burned.  It had been vacant for some time, and local teenagers could be heard screaming on weekend nights.  It must have been a gathering place, and I can imagine it looked spooky in there.

On a Friday the 13th in November of that year, there was unusual activity.  You could hear cars going in and out, and the screams and laughter echoed down the hollow to my house.  The next morning early, I came down with the dogs and was lying on the sofa reading.  The dogs were restless and kept whining.  I started hearing popping noises and got up and went to the door.  The sky was lit up red, and for the slightest instant I thought to myself, "What a beautiful sunrise."

But then it occurred to me that I was looking toward the southwest.  That's not where the sun comes up. Then, I saw the flames.  I called 911.  It seemed forever until the fire trucks came.  There wasn't much they could do.  The house was way back from the street, and it was a huge fire at this point.

Nothing was left but a couple of walls standing and a small front porch.  I don't guess I'd ever been around a ruin like that.  The sides of the house were faced with granite, cut into rectangles and squares.  Some had been scorched, but most of the stones looked undamaged.

Fast forward a few weeks.  Kathryn MacDougald and I got permission from the owners' son to remove what stone we could.  Kathryn was interested in bigger rocks that had been part of the landscaping.  I wanted the squares and rectangles of granite.  She and I spent days, maybe weeks, up there with a crowbar and a pick-up truck.

I ended up with enough stones to make myself a little cottage.  I'd like something with casement windows, dormers and a slate roof  And, out in front, I want a cottage garden.  But before I get this stone cottage built (where on earth is there a lot for it?), I want to go to England, preferably when the roses are blooming.  I know there's a cottage there somewhere I could copy.

I'm posting this picture, which is actually a very long converted stable, I think, in Normandy in France.  The man who did the gardens, though, was English and a protege of the late English garden writer and designer  Christopher Lloyd of Great Dixter.  In fact, we saw a magnificent orange-blooming spirea that had come directly from Christopher Lloyd's garden.

I sort of want this same feel for my future abode.  Mine would not be brick, though.  The stones are all still stacked along my driveway and form a rough wall in the back parking place.  I also have 4,000 cobblestones which I took up from in front of my house and replaced with pea gravel.  If I can just find the right lot somewhere, I want to make a cottage garden, bordered in boxwoods and spilling over with flowers.  I want roses to climb the walls, and I want to go out every morning and pick flowers to bring in for the day.

In the meantime, I'll keep looking at the stacks of rocks - it's now been two decades since I rescued them.  I hope they'll have the proper home someday, clinging to the sides of my cottage in a sunny space, a place where the deer don't roam.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

"Nothing is prettier than a 'Beverly Sills' iris"

I literally have every available surface of my downstairs covered up with photographs and text, trying to finish a book on Margaret Moseley's garden.  The more I go over the material, the more I realize what a great inspiration Margaret has been to so many people.  And how funny she is.

When I took my computer out to Margaret's house earlier this spring to make a final selection of photographs to use, she said in amazement, "I can't believe I planted all this."

 She also took notice of the fact that I had dozens of photographs of her rust colored iron bird bath.  She jokingly said the reason I took so many pictures is because I secretly wanted it for myself.

The real reason I have this bird bath in so many views is because Margaret has planted around it in so many different ways at different seasons.  In winter, it's backed by Daphne odora and Camellia japonica 'C. M. Wilson'.  In April, there's a patch of bright blue Scilla hispanica at its base.  One year she had copper iris planted next to it.  The color of the flowers echoed the rust hue almost perfectly.   I even have a photo of the bowl filled with ginkgo leaves that had fallen in November.

As I was going over all the quotes Margaret had given journalists who did stories on her garden, I found this one more than once. "Nothing is prettier than a 'Beverly Sills' iris."  I have to laugh, because  Margaret has said the exact same thing about dozens of plants.  That's okay, though, because she's had so many wonderful flowers during her forty-five years of gardening (Margaret started her garden at age 52;  she'll be 97 in two weeks).

So, from now on, I'll be careful about photographing the rust-colored bird bath.  Pictured above is its incarnation with Iris 'Beverly Sills'.  I do want to bring up a combination I saw in another garden.  Someone had planted the peach-colored, David Austin rose, 'Abraham Darby,' next to copper fennel.  Coming up alongside the latter was Iris 'Beverly Sills'.  All that person needed for a perfect composition was Margaret's rusty bird bath.

Iris 'Beverly Sills':  Winner of Dykes Medal 1985

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt makes a comeback

Time goes by so quickly that I hadn't checked to see if any peonies were blooming.  Last year, my prized 'Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt', for the first time in 30 years, did not bloom at all.  I was always told that peonies needed exposure to cold to bloom.  I don't recall that we had a particularly mild winter of 2011-12.  I know this past winter seemed milder than usual.

But, much to my delight, I looked down from the back balcony (it's really a concrete deck, and I usually call it that) and could see some flashes of pink through the foliage of the trumpet vine on the trellis.  Only two flowers were totally open, but I went back in the house for my clippers.  There's no reason for these gorgeous flowers to go unseen.

My friend from high school gave me several books to read about FDR, so I was immersed in the Great Depression and World War II for most of the spring.  I learned more than I wanted to about Eleanor.  I did admire most things she did, but I was a bit taken aback at her parenting skills.  Let's say she was not warm and loving like my own mother.

Anyway, this peony, which if you think about in today's terms, would probably be named 'Eleanor Roosevelt', was the winner of the American Peony Society's Gold Medal for 1948.  It is an exquisite flower - huge and fragrant - with the loveliest form.  I kept going in the living room yesterday and this morning to admire the blooms.  

Peonies are so fleeting down South, but we are about to have a few cool nights, so I think I'll have more flowers to cut after these fade.  

A little about the setting:  The flowers are sitting atop an antique mahogany chest.  The painting in back is an illustration by Allen Palmer, who died in a plane crash in Virginia on his way to a one-man show in New York in the early 1950's.  The paintings he took with him were lost.

You can see that the illustration (which is done in oil and appeared in a magazine in the 1940's) shows a couple in evening clothes.  In my Cole Porter piano book, I saw a photograph of Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth which reminded me a lot of the painting, so I cut it out and put it in a silver frame.  My grandmother's mirror is lying on the chest.  Her monogram is engraved in beautiful script on the back.  A nice backdrop, I think, for these beautiful peonies.