Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The lie detector angel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 28, 2013

Something about that last rose of the season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Two gardening greats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Garden to Remember

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The paperback edition is also available at the eStore of


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 7, 2013

What a swell party it was

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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