Friday, January 31, 2014

The tree I would choose to plant

A good friend sent an e-mail yesterday asking what tree I would recommend as a memorial to friend's son who passed away recently.  His birthday was in April, and she wanted something that bloomed during that month.

I instantly thought of Chionanthus retusus, the Chinese fringe tree.  I think it would answer any requirements for something appropriate for a memorial.  One, it blooms spectacularly in April.  One of the most beautiful specimens I've seen is at the Augusta National golf course.  The one time I attended the Masters' during the second week of April (thanks to tickets from my friend who posed the question), the tree was in full bloom and was breathtaking.

Another plus for the tree is that it has handsome bark in winter and, during the summer, dark green leaves.  The females display dark blue, ornamental drupes in September.  It also is rather fast-growing and blooms at an early age.  It's more compact and grows taller than its native American cousin, the grancy graybeard (Chionanthus virginicus)

For all you University of Georgia fans, the tree you see above was photographed in former athletic director and famous Bulldogs football coach Vince Dooley's garden.

One last thought.  Last year, I visited Jim Scott's garden at Lake Martin in Alabama.  He had added acres of new garden space since my last visit, and one of my favorite combinations was this tree, paired with a giant Viburnum macrocephalum.  It was hard to tell where the huge snowballs ended and the frothy fringe tree began.  It was, however, a brilliant and memorable pairing of two good plants for the South.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A very different January 28th in the garden

I look out my window on this January 30th, two days after the now infamous snowstorm that caused the worst traffic gridlock in Atlanta's history, and the gravel driveway (1/5 mile long) and woodland floor are covered in white.  It's beautiful, but very different from the glorious day of January 28, 2012.

Margaret, pictured that morning with Erica Glasener, who was the host of A Gardener's Diary on Home & Garden Television (HGTV), took three of us on a tour of the garden, located a few miles east of downtown Atlanta.

Other photographs from that sunny, cool winter day show the following in full bloom:  the sweetly fragrant Daphne odora, Camellia japonica 'Governor Mouton', 'Magnoliaeflora', 'White Empress', 'Lady Clare' and 'Professor Sargent'.  I also snapped pictures of two camellia hybrids, the very floriferous 'Fragrant Pink' (seen flanking the bench) and 'Tiny Princess'.  Hellebores at their peak bloom in colors ranging from deep maroon to pure white were clustered in beds throughout the garden.

The star, though, was a 20-foot-tall, rare Michelia maudiae, with clusters of creamy, magnolia-type blooms covering the branches.  Margaret, who was 95 at the time (she'll be 98 in May), had moved the plant by herself when she was 89 years old.

I talked with Margaret this morning, and she said the garden looks beautiful covered in snow.  She says she's anxious for the weather to moderate so her winter flowers can come into bloom.

"There's always something to look forward to when you have a garden," she said.  "I just can't wait until things are back to normal."

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The black, white and red garden

The scene from the side terrace on January 28, 2014:   The twisted trunks belong to a red trumpet vine that covers iron arches over the stone terrace.  Those long wooden planters from Restoration Hardware are left over from the wedding and contain Japanese box holly.  That's a volunteer nandina with red berries behind them.  I had threatened to cut the shrub down many times, but I've enjoyed looking out the window at the bright red.  I'm not so sure of its future, however.

A study of this photograph reminds me that I need to figure out something to block the view of the neighbor's tennis court.  This is a troublesome area, as the soil is poor, and the sun sporadic.  When the weather improves, I'm going to reassess this space and see if I can grow some low evergreens (even autumn fern has struggled, and it's really tough) to form a screen.  I think boxwoods are my only choice, but I'll have to improve the soil vastly to have good drainage.

This will be the last of the snow pictures for a while.  Today, I'm posting twice.  I looked back through my photographs and found some from January 28th in another year, and they serve to illustrate how different our winters can be in the South.

But, first I have to get on my soapbox.  I was here in Atlanta in January 1982 when the same thing happened as occurred yesterday.  An inch or two of snow is usually no big deal, even in Atlanta.  If the temperatures are a little below freezing, we enjoy the beauty for a few hours, and then everything melts.  The roads are not a problem.

In 1982, it had been below freezing for several days.  The ground was frozen, and the pavement very cold.  I had taken my then six-year-old daughter to a school interview about a mile away.  Around one o'clock, it started snowing.  Nothing major was predicted, and in fact, we'd already had a "cry wolf" situation earlier in the month.  Everything had closed because of a storm warning, and nothing happened.  People were furious they'd missed work or school for no reason.

But that day, when the snow hit the pavement, it immediately formed a glaze of ice.  I had lived in a ski resort  for a season, and I was as smug as any Northerner.  I had already driven across the country on a virtual skating rink in Oklahoma where trucks were jack knifed all over the place.  I breezed right through six inches of snow in Nashville.   But, this faintest trace of snow formed a glaze on the road in Atlanta that was deceiving.  It was impossibly slippery, and my daughter and I barely made it home.

Around 3 p.m., the entire city of Atlanta decided to shut down and head home.  Long story short, what we called "Snow Jam" happened.  My husband left Midtown at 3:30.  He only traveled a mile in three hours when he hit a brick wall.  Nothing was moving.  He abandoned his car and walked back to his law office where he spent the night.

Yesterday, the same thing happened.  The snow started hitting the pavement.  The ground was frozen, and the air temperature was in the low 20's, so a glaze formed.  Everyone headed home at the same time.  If you live in Atlanta, you know it's horrible traffic on any given day.  A skating rink quickly formed on all the Interstates and side roads where a good million or so people were trying to go all at once.

Meanwhile, I was here, looking out at the beauty of the snowy woods.  I took lots of pictures and watched the cardinals fight each other at the feeders.  I was greatly relieved when my neighbor and her daughter showed up around 10 p.m. on foot.  I had been desperately trying to reach her, knowing she had picked her daughter up at school.  After seven hours in their van with some near misses, they abandoned ship and walked the remaining two miles home.

I feel guilty that I didn't have to go anywhere yesterday and got to enjoy the beauty well away from the traffic standstills.  I apologize to all who had to endure such misery.  I hope all is well now or soon will be.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Nature's gift to the garden

This is an odd angle for you to see a shelf rock that juts up out of the ground and is a startling six feet high and 20 feet long.  It's what I see when I look out my kitchen window.  Well, not this side but the entire front of the rock.

People who come here always comment on this feature that was put here by nature.   It is granite, I'm quite sure, and the only outcropping of its size around here that I know of.

If you look to the left, about midway up the photograph, you can just make out one of the three iron arches in a new garden area on the south side of the house.  In front of this rock, I have four bird feeders, so I am constantly watching the antics of squirrels and chipmunks in the morning and the gathering of cardinals in late afternoon.  Towhees scratch at the ground and sometimes alight on the feeders along with the chickadees, titmice (is that the plural of titmouse?), juncos, wrens, goldfinches, assorted sparrows and purple finches.  Downy woodpeckers have riveted the hickory tree you see in the foreground.  I have both red-bellied and red-headed woodpeckers that are partial to that tree, too.

Today, it is a dreamland here in the woods.  The snow has decorated the dark green leaves of a Magnolia grandiflora (also put here by nature) which stands at the other end of the shelf rock and is the main landing point for the cardinals to survey the feeders.

I have been around the house and photographed all of my new garden spaces.  They are quite lovely, but this one scene, put here entirely by nature and before I became the steward of this land, is the most beautiful of all.

Monday, January 27, 2014

What makes a winter garden?

When I think of a winter garden, I think first of camellias, daphnes and hellebores.  However, there are many more plants that bloom here in mild spells - winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima), wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox), Japanese flowering apricot (Prunus mume) and witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia), to name a few.

But what if it's nine degrees outside?  The hellebores at my house are still hiding.  That includes a Helleborus niger (Christmas rose) that hasn't bloomed since I allowed someone to take a piece of mine many years ago.  I've been thrilled to see that I was at last going to have a flower.  However, it is still curled up, and I hope it survived last night's frigid dip.  I had covered the bloom lightly with a couple of leaves.  This remains to be seen.

Looking back at other years, I came across this photograph.  It was taken during a February snow storm.  This tunnel arbor on the back of my house is 40 feet long (hard to tell its length in this picture; it looks shorter).

The vine you see atop the iron arches is Campsis radicans var. flava.  At the end of June, it begins blooming with yellowish-apricot flowers that attract hummingbirds.  I have to keep cutting it back in the growing season, because it throws out branches on top of branches so that the top stands up too tall and ruins the effect of the arches.

I think this is a good illustration of how effective structure can be during winter.  I almost think this feature is prettier in winter - even without the snow - than it is in summer.

So, for now, I'm counting this as my winter garden until it's warm enough for the camellias to bloom and the hellebores to unfurl.

Note:  I wrote this on Friday, January 24, and thought I hit "Publish".  Obviously, I didn't.  Now, it seems I might have another chance to photograph my tunnel in the snow.  The difference would be that the fig vine which you see to the right on the walls is now crispy and the color of winter beech leaves.  It will be a long time coming back, I fear.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A grape arbor is on the list

When I was little - actually this might have extended to my teenage years - my mother's family had a reunion every August at my great-grandparents' homestead.  The house is what they call in Georgia a "plantation saltbox."  It was built before the war, and I always got goosebumps looking at the bullet holes in the back hall, allegedly put there by the Yankees.

The house sat on a hill overlooking rolling pastures that led down to the Chattahoochee River.  It was halfway between the communities of Rico and Roscoe and was a fun house to explore.   At the top of the narrow staircase sat an enormous, spidery-looking spinning wheel.  I was fascinated with this contraption and always ran to see it first, even before I looked at the bullet holes.

In the back yard was my favorite feature - a large, rectangular grape arbor.  Grape in this case meaning scuppernongs and muscadines.  In August, the scuppernongs (the light greenish-brown grapes) were ripe, and in spite of the bees zigzagging all around, my cousins and I would stand there grazing until we were called to the side yard to have a lunch of Melear's barbeque and Brunswick stew (this was a famous barbeque place owned by my parents' friend Mr. Bill Melear.  For me, there will never be any other authentic barbeque - his was the ultimate).

But back to the scuppernongs.  They were so plump and sweet and delicious.  You'd take one and squeeze the pulp into your mouth (you never ate the thick skins, or at least I didn't), and it was heavenly.  When my parents moved to the farm, Daddy put up two long rows of scuppernong vines.  It was a lot easier to reach the fruit this way, but it wasn't nearly as pretty as an arbor, and the experience not quite as exciting as reaching up for the grapes.

I took this photograph in France, which explains all those little hedges in a vegetable garden.  Right now is the time to plant scuppernongs, but I don't think it's going to happen this year.  I need to figure out how to have something pretty like this.  Daddy's vines and the wires are gone now, and there is a lawn in their place.  I only visit the farm on the weekends, so would I be able to keep up with an arbor?  I wish I had enough sun and flat space here in Atlanta to do a mini-vision of the above scene.  I would even be willing to clip those hedges.

I think I'll show this photograph to the man who tends the vegetable gardens at the farm.  I know he could build a similar arbor, and maybe we could put it where Daddy had the vines.  There's plenty of full sun there, and a water source isn't too far away.  I need to do some research and find out how to grow scuppernongs.  I know you have to cut the vines back in winter, but that's the extent of my knowledge. I was never interested in growing scuppernongs, but I certainly enjoyed eating them.  Now, I'm wishing the vines could be pretty, too.

Note:  After my great-aunt Abby (she lived in the house) went to a nursing home, the homeplace was sold.  My relatives gathered there to auction off the contents among the family.  The spinning wheel was long gone.  Some American Picker types had routinely stopped by to talk Aunt Abby out of the valuable things.  I have an antique egg basket that I suppose my great-grandmother used and a feed sack with a rooster printed on it (only I can't find what I did with it).  I also have a churn and a milking stool.  By the time we had the sale, the arbor had fallen in.  A sad ending, indeed.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

I want lilies!

I received Brent and Becky Heath's bulb catalog the other day, and I only dared open it this morning.  I knew what would happen.  I'd take out a Sharpie and start circling pictures.  I was okay skipping over the elephant ears and cannas and even the dahlias (I want the latter, but I don't think I would get around to doing all the staking that's necessary).

But, when I got to the lilies, my heart started beating faster.  I love them - the Asiatics, the trumpets, the Orientals, the longiflorums, the tigers, the species - I want them all.

The trouble is, I have some 'Casa Blanca' lilies, and the deer have ravaged them for the past few years.  I planted them in 2006.  That next year, it was obvious that my 96-year-old mother was fading fast.  She had been a flower gardener all her life, and even after she got dementia and thought I was her sister, I would walk in with a bunch of flowers, and she always knew the names - camellias, zinnias, chrysanthemums, cosmos, to name a few).

She was so pleased with the lilies that first year.  When a worker would come into the room, she would point them out and say, "My sister grew these."

So, in late June 2007, the lilies bloomed again (I had sprayed them with deer repellent, which had worked thus far), and I brought some to her room at the nursing home.  They were the last flowers she saw.  Soon afterwards, she basically went to sleep for two weeks and finally, in the early morning hours of July 13, slipped quietly away.

In those last days, she had a lot of visitors.  They all remarked at how beautiful the lilies were.  Usually, I can't be in the room with such powerful fragrance, but for some reason, these weren't so strong.  And, they lasted for two weeks.

Every year, they come up valiantly, and then are devoured by the deer.  This year, as soon as we have a week of good weather, I'm going to dig them.  I guess I'll have to take them to the farm and put them inside the vegetable garden fence.  In fact, I've been thinking about asking the man who plants the garden if he can rope me off a rectangle to make a cutting garden.  I remember going to a famous vineyard in California in the Russian River valley (where we shot an episode of A Gardener's Diary for HGTV) and seeing such a rectangle of brilliant flowers -mostly ranunculus - that had been designated for cutting.

In my cutting garden are going to be lots of lilies.  The soil is loose and rich down there, and they should do well if we don't have another drought.  The lily you see above was growing, as the crow flies, about a half mile away.  In fact, in that wonderful country garden, there are all kinds of lilies, even the species ones that you would think wouldn't tolerate the heat and warm nights.

I used to have a flower border down where my new gravel garden is.  One combination I loved occurred in July - rubrum lily (reddish, pinkish white), Phlox paniculata 'Mount Fuji' (white), yellow blackeyed Susans and the green and white leaves of a variegated Hydrangea macrophylla.  In my new cutting garden, I could grow this combination again, knowing that the deer, who dearly love phlox and lilies, couldn't get to them.  The hydrangea wouldn't work because of the full sun (something I don't have here in Atlanta), but I could have the others again.

All this dreaming inspired by a catalog.  I've already marked 10 lilies I want.  I'm hoping that this weekend the weather will be nice, and I can go and look at sites for a cutting garden.  I guess I ought to ask the garden keeper where I can have my bed without interrupting his vegetable rows.  I need to have this all mapped out by late February.  I don't want any lily foliage to come up out of the ground where the deer can have first dibs.  I'd better get busy.  Look here for a mid-summer progress report.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Roses- "You should have been here the next week."

My friend Jane has the most charming garden surrounding an historic antebellum cottage in Marietta, Georgia.  For at least three years - maybe four - we talked about my coming out and photographing her 'New Dawn' roses, which spill over a white picket fence that runs along her driveway and turns and extends along a parking area.  It is a dazzling sight to see when the roses are in bloom.

So, it turned out that one year I missed the roses entirely because I was in France during May.  I somehow missed them the next year as well - they peaked while I was visiting my daughter in New York.

Last year, Jane told me to wait a week, and they would be in full bloom.  I couldn't believe it.  It was already May 22, and usually the roses bloom earlier.  I was going that way, though, and decided to stop by when she wasn't home.  Here is one of the photographs I took.  I thought the roses looked lovely.  But, she was right.  The next week there were even more flowers.

I'm much more used to the phrase, "You should have been here last week."  When we were shooting episodes of A Gardener's Diary on Home & Garden Television, this was something we heard almost everywhere we went.

Timing a garden is so tricky.  One year I went to the Napa Valley.  I chose three gardens, one of which had mostly antique roses and not a whole lot else.  But, looking at the pictures the gardeners showed me, I was determined that this would make a fabulous episode.  The stories behind the roses were so interesting, and their farm house was absolutely charming, with climbing roses forming a screen on a wraparound porch.

Two weeks before the crew was scheduled to fly to California, I received a call.  The roses were blooming early.  Could we come over the weekend, they asked.  If we waited until the scheduled time, there would be nothing spent rose blossoms, they lamented.

I was so disappointed, but fortunately, I had another garden in my pocket, and the latter people had a variety of interesting flowers and a pretty good story.  Oddly enough, their roses were beautiful and at their prime.  The same was true of the third garden I chose.  The antique rose garden was located nearer the coast, so the climate may have been a bit milder, thus the premature blooming.

There were a couple of times, though, that we were too early for the roses.  This happened when we had a new field producer we were trying out.  I scheduled the the shoot according to the owner's estimate of the peak bloom time.  That would coincide with the spectacular Texas bluebonnets that grew on the rolling hills around the garden.  I wasn't too worried because there were hundreds of roses in that garden, so there was bound to be lots to shoot.

However, we ended up with a lot of bluebonnets, but very few roses.  Another miss on the timing.

Back to Jane.  She sent me photographs from the week after I was there.  She was right.  There were many more flowers open.  You can see the number of buds in the above photograph.

Still, this was quite a scene, even though you see only one section.  The picket fence goes on and on and then turns, and the roses continue on around.

Okay, this May, as far as I know now, I'm not going anywhere.  I'll be on rose alert to see if I can time it just right.  There are so many wonderful features in this garden, and I want to use my new super-duper camera my son-in-law gave me for Christmas.  Be sure to check back this spring and compare pictures.  This one doesn't do the scene justice, but you get the idea.  It is a breathtaking sight.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Christmas rose - what happened?

On New Year's Day, I celebrated with some good friends at their home.  I always bring the black-eyed peas, turnip greens and hog jowls (the latter were not very good this year; same brand from Publix, but they didn't crisp up like they should have).

My friend, who loves flowers, had the most beautiful bouquet on the table.  I did a double-take when I saw it.  Were these large azalea blooms?  Then, I recognized the blossoms - Helleborus niger, one of the recent introductions that have large blossoms and face upward.  My friend didn't know exactly which one she had bought - I suspect 'HGC Jacob' or possibly 'Josef Lemper'.  We walked out onto her terrace, and I looked down to see a passel of blooms on just one plant.

Garden designer Marsha Yeager gave me 'HGC Jacob' three years ago.  For two years, the perennial bloomed its heart out, and I had cut flowers inside.  Then, last summer, the plant began to decline and finally perished.  All the leaves and stems turned brown and dried up, although the whole looked as if it had melted.  I was crestfallen, to say the least.

I took a chance on planting 'HGC Jacob' in a newly cleared area, where I wanted to establish a pocket garden.  The soil seemed okay, but not great.  Now, I wish I had planted the hellebore in the woodland where I have another H. niger.  Even though the latter hasn't bloomed since I allowed someone to divide it, at least the plant is alive.

But, I am definitely going to try 'HGC Jacob' again.  What a sight to look out on New Year's Day to see a bright white patch in the garden.  And my friend's bouquet was spectacular - big blossoms with prominent yellow stamens.

The above plant was mine in its first season, right at the end of a long blooming period.  I need to e-mail my friend and see how hers fared in yesterday's five degree temperature.  I had intended to contact her to see if she had cut all the flowers in advance.  I know that Helleborus x hybridus (formerly orientalis) withstands cold easily, even the open blossoms.  However, we haven't had such a low temperature since the mid-nineties.  I remember, because I had gone skiing in Colorado in early February with my tennis team.  When I returned, the daphne I had in a container on the back stoop had frozen.  I had called to remind my husband to bring it in, but he forgot.  I think we went down to four degrees then.

I know it's all part of gardening to lose things for unknown reasons.  I won't ever know if my 'HGC Jacob' had too much water or not enough.  I have an osmanthus nearby that hasn't grown a lick in four years.  It may be time to reconsider this area.  I definitely need to do something about the soil.

As soon as the weather gets better, I'm going to put down some layers of newspaper, leaves and manure and see if I can make the space more hospitable.  Of course, I should have done this when it was first cleared.  I might still have the flower Marsha gave me if I had.  But, I am for sure going to try this hellebore again.  I know Marsha still has hers, planted at the same time, so it's bound to work if I just put it in the right place.

Monday, January 6, 2014

All you can do is all you can do

I have just come in from fighting a losing battle.  The temperature is dropping so fast, and the winds  have picked up.  After hauling bricks and bagged up newspapers and bringing out every sheet I have, I had to give up on trying to cover the camellias I planted in April.  Well, some of them, at least.

After years of wishing I had more space for camellias, I had an area cleared of scrub trees.  Then, I went shopping for camellias.  I found the above pink japonica at Walker Nursery Farms.  On the label it says 'Mary Hagood', but I can't find anything about it on the Internet (there is an 'Eleanor Hagood' that is similar).  The white one is Camellia japonica 'Seafoam'.  It is a pristine formal double with large, very double blooms.

At another nursery, I bought 'Pink Perfection', which has smaller, very perfect blooms.  I've always wanted this camellia, and just the other day, I picked my first "perfect" bloom.

So, when I heard the temperature might go to five degrees, I knew I was in trouble.  The camellias pictured above are tall and not very filled out, but they are loaded with buds.  I went out with the largest sheets I had, and there was no way I could cover them.  So, I did what I could.  'Pink Perfection' was short enough to cover, and I was able to wrap up two 'Cotton Candy' sasanquas.  I noticed, though, that the deer had taken a liking to the latter.  No wonder they didn't bloom this fall.  The critters have also nipped off a lot of the buds of Camellia x 'Taylor's Perfection'.  That one's been in the ground several years, so I'm hoping the roots will be okay.

All I can do now is hope that the new camellias, which I have mulched, will survive.  I think the numerous buds are going to freeze and fall off.  We shall see.

I didn't even try to do anything about all the fig vine on the west side of the house.  When it goes below 14 degrees, it is killed.  It should grow back from the roots, but it had looked so pretty on the walls of the terrace.  Also, I'm trying not to think about the evergreen star jasmine.  It's on the east side of the house, and when the sun hits it in the morning, it's going to fry.   In one season, it had gone half-way over two of the new iron arches.  Oh well.

Once, when I was so overwhelmed with so much going on, someone said to me, "All you can do is all you can do."  I don't know how I could have wrapped those tall camellias.  I hate to think of them out there, facing the desicating winds with no protection.  But, all I could do has been done.  Time will tell if the plants survive this night.  I'll keep you updated.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Some possibilities for a special hydrangea

It was a bright, sunny June day when Kathryn MacDougald and I went to see Amy Carey Linton, who was our editor for A Gardener's Diary on HGTV (Kathryn and I produced the show for 11 years).  Amy moved into the Peachtree Hills neighborhood several years ago.  Her house sits overlooking a flood plain, which looks very much like an idyllic meadow scene you would find in the countryside.

Whoever lived in Amy's house before her had been a gardener, so Amy and her husband Gregg had a great time uncovering treasures.  This person had planted hydrangeas, among other shrubs and trees and ground covers.  I guess I had never been there when the hydrangeas were in bloom or I would not have had the shock of my life that June day.  Here was a huge stand of hydrangeas with such outsized blooms that you could hardly take in what you were seeing.  In one photograph, I have Kathryn's head next to a bloom, and they are the same size (Kathryn has a regular-sized head, I'm happy to say, although she was a chemistry major in college and is brilliant, so I'm sure her brain is bigger than mine).

Anyway, because it was a sunny day, and we were there at high noon, I couldn't get very good photographs.  And, just looking at the hydrangea blooms pictured above, you don't get the sense that some of them were eight to ten inches across.

I've seen both Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' and H. paniculata 'Grandiflora' with larger blooms, but I had never seen what I call French hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) with such big flowers.

So, I need to keep one of my New Year's resolutions:  ask Amy if I can layer her hydrangea.  This is a method I'm sure many of you are familiar with.  You take a low branch, scrape a bit of bark off, make an indentation in the ground and force that part of the limb down.  Then you filter on some dirt and secure the branch with a brick or heavy stone.  The limb will produce roots, and when it is well established, you lop off the new plant from the original and dig it up.

I was so elated in early December when I discovered that an Abelia chinensis I had coveted along Margaret Moseley's driveway had taken root.  I haven't dug it up yet.  I want to decide on the right place for it here at my house.

The ground is frozen and inhospitable right now, but maybe next month I can go over to Amy's and put down a branch.  I bet by June I'd have a plant.  If this works,  I will certainly have a hydrangea to treasure, one that I could measure my head against, although I'm not sure if that's a good idea or not.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A clean slate for the New Year

I really ought to show you the "before" of this picture.  For years, I've looked down from my back terrace at a depressing sight.  Back in 2002, after all the zoysia grass had given over to sparse weeds in this rectangle, I bought some black landscape cloth and covered the entire space.  I'm not sure what I had in mind, but I didn't have a lawnmower, and it wasn't worth getting one to cut crab grass and assorted other weeds.

So, I left things as they were - for nine years.  Three summers ago, I gathered all the cobblestones I could find around the house and outlined three beds in the middle, a sort of crude parterre.  I built up some soil and planted tomatoes in the centers of the two squares and one rectangle, thinking I had pretty good sun.

The tomato vines grew too tall and flopped over, despite my having installed supports.  The next year, I planted zinnias.  They,too, reached for the sun and were thin and spindly.  I had to admit there weren't enough hours of sun to grow vegetables or sun-loving flowers.  This year, I left everything blank, and grew another crop of weeds.

But in September, I realized that I needed a space for my daughter to have a small wedding ceremony in early October.  I had thought another area on the other side of the house would work, but the "crowd" she wanted turned from six to 25 people.

So, two workers came.  They used the cobblestones from the middle and went down to the farm to bring more (I used to have 4,000 in my front parking court; they sank, and I had them removed).  The stones were installed at the base of single row of dwarf English boxwood on either side.  Behind the low box hedge, surrounding the area, is a tall hemlock hedge (I had originally copied a picture of a garden in France, thus the effort to grow grass and the two layers of hedges).

The space turned out better than I could have imagined and only took a couple of days to accomplish.  The wedding went off perfectly, with room for a cello and violin and 25 white folding chairs.

But now, I'm left with a blank slate.  I love looking down at the space.  For the moment, there's a bench at the end (but not a pretty one).  I bought a wire arch and borrowed two matching wire topiary forms to make an altar.  They're still there, but I'm going to move the arch over to the base of the steps, just behind the boxwoods.

Then, I'm going to plant a 'Climbing Iceberg' rose on the trellis, hoping I can keep the anti-deer spraying up.  Now, right behind the boxwoods near the steps, there is a strip where I get more sun than in the middle of the rectangle.  Just as soon as I clean up from the holidays, I'm going to get out there and work on the soil.  Right now, I plan to sow some larkspur seeds, although it's a bit late for that.  Then, maybe if the larkspurs work, I can pull them up in June and try zinnias again.

For now, I'm loving the view from the end of the terrace.  It's like looking down on an organized space that is somehow soothing in its blankness.  I think I'm so chaotic and disorganized that this new gravel "garden" gives me a sense of peace - at least for now, until I figure out all the possibilities.  I hope I won't mess it all up.