Wednesday, July 31, 2013

At long last, a come back

July 21, 2008:  That was the day I took this photograph up at the little house.  Then no flowers the next July, nor the next, nor the next, and so on.  Until last week.  I walked up with a friend to cut some tea plant (Camellia sinensis) and winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) for an arrangement at church (the former blooms in fall; the latter in winter, but the foliage is only pretty in summer).

As I walked past the 'Limelight' hydrangeas which the deer had shredded (they left two blooms on three large bushes), I noticed something pink.  The Lycoris squamigera (a.k.a. surprise lilies, naked ladies) had come back after all these years.

There were only two stalks a few feet apart, but it was still thrilling to see them again.  These are bulbs I  brought from my great-grandparents' house out on the Chattahoochee River in south Fulton County.  In the 1990's (or was it the late 1980's?), my aunts and uncles and their cousins decided to sell the pre-Civil war house.  This is where we had family reunions when I was a child.  We gathered there every August and ate barbeque from Melear's (the real one in Union City) and picked scuppernongs from the grape arbor.  I loved running up and down the narrow staircase and staring at the giant, thin spinning wheel that sat on the top landing.

My great Aunt Abbie and her husband lived there.  They had no children, but had left everything to their nieces and nephews.  There were nine children in my mother's immediate family alone, and no one came forward to buy the Southern saltbox house and the acreage (greatly reduced by Aunt Abbie) that went with it.

When we all gathered for the auction, I came away with a milking stool, three wooden chairs with seats of woven oak strips, Aunt Abbie's sheet music (some classical, but mostly syrupy romantic pieces from the early 20th century), a wooden planter with splayed legs and a feed sack with a chicken stamped on one side.  At the time I had a housekeeper, and I have never found where she put that latter piece.  I hope one day I'll find it, but that doesn't seem likely.  She probably thought it wasn't very valuable, but I thought it was charming.  Oh well.

A couple of my cousins and I dug some dull yellow iris, some sweet williams and the Lycoris squamigera bulbs.  I threw all the bulbs into some sand under my terrace.  In July, I looked, and there were three pink lilies blooming, right there on top of the ground.

I did plant everything.  I lost the dusky yellow iris, but the pink naked ladies came up faithfully for several years.  Then nothing until this year.

I don't understand these flowers.  Why did they come up this year?  Was it all the rain? I have long since cleared out around them so they'd have no competition in the summer.  Every winter, the foliage has come up thick and healthy.  But then no sign of the lilies in July.  I've talked to one of my cousins, and hers have faithfully appeared every year.

Somehow, I feel more and more distant from this past.  I haven't been out to the cemetery at Providence Church where all these people are buried.  And, I can't bear to go by the house.  Aunt Abbie gave me an oak egg basket and a dark green butter churn way before the auction.  Someone like an American Picker came by long ago and took the giant spinning wheel.  It had been gone way before we had the auction.

I have been away from this blog for a while.  I was gone most of June, but then I worked all during July finishing a book about Margaret Moseley's garden.  My part is done now, and the graphic designer is working on the layout.  But, I hope to make a comeback.  I still have thousands of pictures of gardens  I'd like to share.  I don't plan ever to be gone as long as the surprise lilies were, and if all goes well, I'll be back on a regular basis.  I had sort of given up on the lycoris, but I hope you won't give up on me.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Of time and the garden

If you follow this Web page, you have noticed the posts have been few and far between.  I was gone for the month of June with no access to my computer where all the photographs are stored.  Upon my return, I began an intense campaign to finish the book on Margaret Moseley.  I'm almost there.  Of course, I keep moving the deadline, but I just have a bit more writing and proofreading to do. Then, I hope to get back to a more regular schedule.

What struck me in the last day or two is how the element of time plays out for different people.  Margaret Moseley, the subject of the book, started her garden at age 52.  I met her when she was 78 years old, and she was just hitting her stride.  At 88, she was still out there, digging holes, giving away plants, moving shrubs to other beds and adding to her collections of hydrangeas, viburnums, camellias  and sasanquas.  Also, she was still combing the garden centers for new introductions.

Margaret is 97 now, and she's not supposed to work in the garden anymore.  However, I have reports that she is cheating.  A friend went out to take some photographs for the book, and Margaret kept bending down and pulling weeds.  It's driving her crazy not to be out there every day as she did for four decades.

Maybe because she got a late start, or maybe it was because she just enjoyed every aspect of making and maintaining a garden, but Margaret never lost her enthusiasm for plants and watching things grow.  Did that fact keep her mind clear and her sense of humor intact?  I think it helped.  She thinks so, too.  She's said many times over, "I can't tell you what it's done for me.  I wish everybody could have a garden."

I chose the photograph above because I took it around this time in July, which can be a downtime for gardens in this area, unless they are planted with summer, sun-loving flowers.  The couple who created this amazing space in their back yard enjoyed the challenge for years.  They started gardening in their thirties and would get new ideas and change things around, or they'd discover new plants they wanted to try and develop new areas.

Not too long ago, I ran into the wife.  She said she and her husband were leaving the yard up to a garden designer now and were just doing maintenance.   But, they definitely got a good twenty worth of fun and enjoyment in creating a very beautiful garden.  They were always gracious and welcoming to visitors and tour groups, but they've moved on now to other interests.

I think it's different for everyone.  For Margaret the passion for gardening has endured.  I am a good ten years out from the age Margaret was when I met her.  She gives me hope that even though I don't have things the way I want them now, there's still time for me (once I solve my deer problem).

When I was going through the piles of articles and magazines and chapters in books about Margaret, I found a note that made me chuckle.  It was written in 1995, when Margaret was 79 years old, and she was referring to articles I'd written about her.  It reads:

"Dear Martha,
       Because of you I'm enjoying my garden so much in my twilight years.  Thank you.
Love, Margaret"

Little did Margaret know at the moment that she was a long way from any twilight years.  All through her 80's and into her 90's she was out there digging and rearranging and enjoying having visitors and tour groups to her garden.  I think there's something about plants that can keep you going - always something to learn and always that hope of the next season or the next week or the next day to make a discovery, or to find a plant again that you thought had been lost.

"That's why this is the greatest hobby in the world," says Margaret.  "It's so exciting.  There's something new every day."

Friday, July 5, 2013

July 5th - What if?

I think there's a new movie out (or maybe it's a book) about how different things would be if a person had died in youth.  It's not exactly like It's a Wonderful Life where "what if the person had never been born", but sort of the same idea.

So, what if the events of July 5, 1965, had taken a different turn for me?  Here's the story:

It was the summer after my sophomore year in college.  I had taken a job as a lifeguard so I could get a tan.  Back then, only a handful of people said out loud that exposure to sun would ruin your skin.  My college roommate was an over-the-top sun worshiper.  Starting in February, she would take reflectors (flat pieces of cardboard covered with tin foil) up to the roof of our dormitory.  She had fashioned a body-length set to lie on, and then she had another set to direct the sun to her face.  She looked so good and healthy that I started doing it, too.  We both slathered ourselves with baby oil laced with iodine.  My skin didn't tan like hers, but I knew it would once I was on my job at the East Point Elks Club.

When summer came, though, the month of June was a wash out.  It was cool and rainy every day, and getting in the water every morning to teach group swimming lessons was miserable.  Plus, I didn't get so much as a ray of sun, only goosebumps.

The weather changed in July, however.  The week of the 4th, a boy I was dating at the time came from Chattanooga to visit.  He had gotten a ride down, but didn't have one back.  On July 5th, I had to work, and my daddy volunteered to fly my friend back to Chattanooga in his small plane.

No one liked to ride with Daddy.  He had carved out a runway from a cow pasture on the farm.  Sometimes, when he'd start to land his Cessna 172, there would be cows grazing right in the middle of the landing strip, this despite fences on either side.  Daddy would fly low and scare the cows off and then turn around and come back to land.

I think the boyfriend was not too happy about his ride home, but Daddy would take advantage of anyone who didn't have the nerve to turn him down.  That day, it was sunny, but thunderstorms were predicted for the afternoon.

Back at the Elks Club, we had a big crowd of swimmers and at last, some bright sunshine.  It felt great.   At about 3 o'clock, I was sitting on the lifeguard tower when I heard a slight rumble of thunder in the distance.  Way back over to the west was a not very ominous cloud.  I got down from the tower and walked around the pool to the other lifeguard.  I had always been terrified of lightening.   I wanted to get everyone out of the pool.  The lifeguard said, "Let's wait, and if it comes any closer, we'll blow the whistle."

I walked back around and climbed on the tower.  The sun was shining brightly.  Then, a blinding flash, a loud crack and a deafening boom.  Someone hit me hard on top of the head with a giant hammer.  The deepest electric shock went through my body.

The next thing I knew, I was lying in the locker room.  I could feel something was wrong on the bottom of my feet.  I looked, and they were blistering up.

I didn't remember what happened after the loud crash.  The lifeguard said that a little girl was standing next to me, and she was knocked down.  Everyone jumped out of the pool and headed quietly to the clubhouse.  I ran ahead of them all.  The lifeguard picked up the little girl and carried her.  There was never another sound of thunder, and the sun never went behind a cloud.  That was it.  Everyone got back in the pool after a few minutes had passed.

Meanwhile, up in the air, my friend was holding on for dear life, as Daddy flew around tall thunderstorms.  The friend said he could see lightening bolts starting in the clouds and going all the way to the ground in broad, crooked streaks.  They made it safely there, though, and Daddy landed a couple of hours later back at the farm.

Every year on this date, I think about what happened.  People said I obviously wasn't hit directly.  The soles of the little girl's feet were singed, but she was okay.  The other lifeguard theorized that lightening may have struck either the chain link fence behind us or a big tree a few paces away, although there was no visible damage.

I looked through my photographs to see if I had taken any on July 5th.  I found the one above, showing flowers I once was able to have in my yard.  Although the plants are still there, the deer have eaten everything you see:  the 'Annabelle' hydrangeas, the purple garden phlox, the 'Casa Blanca' lilies and even the orange crocosmia.

Life is funny.  An errant lightening bolt literally out of the blue.  The sun never quit shining, and the cloud never came over us.  Daddy lived another 39 years, and although he did crash his plane in the fall of 1966, no one was hurt, and to my mother's great distress, he got another one.  Later that summer, I met someone else, and I don't think I ever saw my friend again.  I heard he joined some sort of charismatic religious movement, but I don't think it was because of his experience on July 5, 1965.

I've never gone back to calculate how different things would be if I hadn't made it that day.  I don't think one can do that sort of thing.  I do have a healthy respect for thunderstorms, though, and when they say lightening can strike from a faraway cloud, I know it's true.  I'm always the first one indoors when I hear distant thunder, even if people laugh at me.  I'm just afraid that lightening could strike twice, so I don't take any chances.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Hydrangeas by the river

I am still smarting over the fact that I missed the peak of hydrangea season in Atlanta.  So, I'm revisiting some other years and thinking that I won't plan to take any trips next year during the month of June.

This garden was on the American Hydrangea Society's annual tour two years ago.  I confess I don't even know where it was, except it was way out by the Chattahoochee River, north of the city.  I'd been in the area before, but I don't know how I got there nor how I got home.

But that's beside the point.  I remember the owners had included some great features in their landscape in back of the house.  Parts of the garden were intensely planted, as above, with a mixture of textures that blended well with Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'.  In another section, there was a chicken coop, if my memory serves me well.  Close to the scene above was a water garden that had both informal and classical elements.  One of the blue mopheads had enormous blooms and was set among conifers that seemed to thrive in the shade.

On the way out of the garden, you took a long, straight path which was laid out in a checkerboard pattern, with stone pavers alternating with dwarf mondo grass.  The photograph I took could have shown how impressive this feature was, had I only taken the time to move the "Exit" and "Watch Your Step" signs for a moment.  At the end of the long walkway on the side of the house was an arch planted with climbing roses which marked the transition from the back to the front yard.

People have been saying that because of all the rain we've had this spring that the hydrangeas have been better than ever.  Actually, we've had some really good years, although many of the bigleaf hydrangeas (H. macrophylla) took years to recover from the devastating Easter freeze of 2008.  At this very moment, I'm not wishing for any more rain (100% chance for July 4th is the prediction!), but I do wish for another good hydrangea season next year.