Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The beautiful call of the wild

It was an early summer day, maybe three years ago, that Richard Grace and I happened to stop at a wide granite outcropping deep in the woods on the farm.  We often spend at least an hour on a nearby hill, looking for pottery shards and arrowheads.  Then, we'll go on a rough trail down to some wide shoals where we stop and let the dogs splash around.

That day,  I can't remember if we saw the rock from a distance and stopped or exactly how it went.  But, for whatever reason, we got out of his vintage jeep (he is a world-famous expert on WWII jeeps) and walked to the wide expanse of rock.  There, growing around the edges was some grass-like foliage.  I was intrigued; I knew it had to be from a bulb.  There wasn't a hint of what it could be, although along the edge of the outcropping, the soil was damp.

It took a few minutes for it to dawn on me what I must be seeing.  I had a hunch that this could be a stand of Atamasco lilies (Zephyranthes atamasca).  But could I be so lucky?  It turned out I was.  The next year, we hit it just right when they bloomed in April.  I was beside myself.  I had seen a small stand of the fragrant flowers on the property of the late Dr. Ferrol Sams in Fayetteville.  Also, a neighbor of mine here in Atlanta had a single plant she'd rescued along the Chattahoochee River where there was about to be a development.  And, I know that Buddy and Ginny Garrard have them on their property, also along the Chattahoochee, 50 miles south of here.

According to many accounts, the Atamasco rain lily, native to the Southeastern U.S., is quickly diminishing in numbers.  Some wet meadows where they once thrived in North Carolina have all but disappeared.  A few of these places are now covered by shopping centers.  In Florida, where they are also native, the plants in the wild are on the wane.

This year on the Sunday before Easter, Richard and I went to inspect the lilies.  He warned me not to be disappointed.  He'd been there to see that there weren't many flowers this year.

I'm glad to say that this wasn't the case.  It was just hard to tell from the appearance of the buds, which at that time were only tiny balls atop stems.

Last Sunday, we caught them right as they had just peaked.  There were dozens, maybe even more than last year.

On our trek around the farm, we had paused to see that the pink native azalea (Rhododendron canescens) had finally bloomed.  And, to my great delight, Richard had discovered a native bright red woodbine honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) growing in another spot on the farm.  I was anxious, too, to see that a new jeep trail he was forced to cut near a creek bank that eroded badly, had not disturbed the patches of bloodroot that grow there.  Next week, we'll check on the crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) that grows next to another creek.

But back to the Atamasco lilies - what a treasure.  I could be tempted to bring some up here, but I don't dare disturb such a large colony.

There is a downside to all this.  I had on my tall Hunter boots last Sunday, a long sleeved shirt I tucked into my jeans, plus another shirt on top of that.  I had sprayed Deep Woods Off around my knees and waist to ward off any chigger-like creatures, which I am highly susceptible to.  What I hadn't counted on were the little seed ticks.  I was driving home, when I felt something crawling on my arm.  I pulled over immediately and dispensed with a small tick.  But the rest of the drive was agonizing.  I knew they had gotten to me.  I won't go into the particulars, but lying down on that rock to get a good shot of the foot-tall flowers was probably a bad idea.  I managed to arrive home safely and rid myself of all the tiny crawlers.  Only one had taken a bite, but somehow I have some other bumps that itch like crazy.  All in the name of finding beauty in the wild.  Well worth it, I think.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A simple setting in a complicated place

Last April when I went to Jim Scott's garden in Alabama, my head was spinning.  Years before, I thought that he had done everything one could possibly do garden-wise with a sloping hillside down to a cove of the lake.

But I couldn't even recognize the place when I arrived with my friends John and Joeline Davidson.  It was their first trip, and I thought I could be a sort of guide.  I remembered a few places from before, but Jim, who is the whirling dervish of gardeners,  had added new areas that looked like they'd been there forever to the acres he already had under intense cultivation.

Fortunately, we met up with him during our self-guided tour, so he could tell us about the new parts of the garden, which now extended all the way to the opposite side of the cove.  On my last visit, that slope had just been a woodland.  Now, it held a new house and pavilion for visitors and all sorts of wonderful plantings and rock formations.

Looking down at the lake from this perspective, I was amazed at how he had made a mature garden in only a matter of a few years.  The secret, I learned, is that large specimens of Chinese fringe tree and a new (to me) form of tree-sized Indian hawthorne had been brought in, along with large slabs of boulders.  I still can't figure out how he did it, although knowing his energy and imagination, I shouldn't have been surprised.

There really is so much going on in this garden that I had to pass on many photos I would like to share (and eventually will).  It was such a bright day (and cold), that many of the pictures I took make it hard to distinguish all these new plantings.

But, I chose this simple vignette because it seemed doable for a normal person who might have a good statue to use in the garden.  The dark green background of podocarpus and then the Rhododendron longifolia,* coming out informally at the base, seemed so soothing in contrast to everything happening around it.

All in all, it was a treat to see this garden, which I would describe as a cross between a fantasyland and a well-planted botanical garden.  I'll be posting more soon, as there are many good ideas that could be adapted into smaller gardens from this very large one.

* Thanks to a very good plantswoman and my high school classmate, Sharyn Altman, for identifying the shrub at the base of the statue.  I only recognized it because Sharyn showed me the one in her incredible garden in Augusta.  Sharyn's was much more compact and floriferous, but the habit here seems to suit the space.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

We say the same thing every year, "This is the best ever."

I had to wait for about 45 minutes after church was over (the latest of four services, if you count the sunrise one).  Families gathered around the decorated cross and took pictures for what seemed like forever.  After everyone had gone, I finally got a chance to make a people-less shot.

Our tradition, as I may have already noted, is to bring flowers from home to decorate the cross out front.  On Saturday, I took a picture of the wooden structure wrapped in oasis and plastic.  I can't imagine what passersby must have thought.

But, early this morning, the flowers started coming.  I mentioned already that I had been terrified when I saw this year's date for Easter.  I figured I'd be begging rhododendrons from friends, and 'Knockout' roses - which are fairly thorny and unpleasant to handle - would have to adorn the cross.

But, we lucked out.  Most of the azaleas and dogwoods that lend huge splashes of color to Atlanta bloomed late this year.  In fact, this may be the latest season I can ever remember, not counting the Easter when everything froze, and there was nothing.

Yesterday afternoon, I gathered what I thought was enough bridal veil spirea, doublefile viburnum, giant Chinese snowballs and hot pink azaleas to cover the cross.  I realized when I saw Hugh Schutte out there clipping 'GeorgeTabor' azaleas from the front of the church that some of the old guard, who used to bring armloads of flower branches, have passed away.  There weren't as many flowers as usual, but it all worked out.  Those azaleas needed to be pruned correctly anyway.

Still, we had some great flowers - lots of viburnums, some hellebores, all colors of azaleas, pink and white dogwood, pansies, scilla, some tulips, a daffodil or two, a couple of iris.  It turned out very pretty (the other side, not shown here, was much prettier - it's the side people see when they walk out of church.  Unfortunately, the backdrop is a bunch of overhead wires and a couple of night clubs, one of which is named "Hole in the Wall").

Anyway, decorating the cross is a lot of fun, even though there's a lot of confusion with two ladders going, and little ones coming up with a limp daffodil that is difficult to get into the oasis.

As I was leaving, a family came up.  They had seen the cross, doubled back in their car and gotten out to have a closer look. They had been to church, but not ours.  It was a thrill to get to take their picture.  Other cars slowed down to look.  Whether it was the prettiest one we've ever had I don't know (we say that every year), I was so proud to have had a little part in this great Easter tradition.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The lilacs that never in our dooryard bloom'd - until now

In high school, when we read Walt Whitman's famous poem, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd", I was struck by the imagery and immediately saw in my mind that white farmhouse with lovely flowers blooming in a fenced-in front yard.  What I know now is that I had never laid eyes on a lilac at the time and didn't really know what one looked like.  In re-reading the poem later, I realized that I had only remembered that one scene in my mind and had mostly forgotten the whole dark tone of the elegy and the poet's heartbreak and personal grief over the death of Abraham Lincoln.

But, why the reference to this poem?  Around noon today, I stopped by the farm on the way back from Newnan so I could have my barbeque sandwich from Sprayberry's (I'm still loyal to Melear's in Union City - that will always be barbeque for me, even though it doesn't exist anymore).  Anyway, I had the dogs with me, and the sun had finally come out, the sky was a brilliant, just-washed blue, and the wind had died down some.  It was a good chance for us to get some exercise and enjoy the bright sunshine.

Before we headed down the runway, I was curious to see what had happened to Leonardo's pepper and tomato plants that had gone in the ground on Sunday.  Last night, the temp dropped to below freezing, so I knew that up on that exposed hill, it couldn't be good.

But, on my way to see what he'd done, I stopped in my tracks.  There was a lilac bush, blooming right there by the garden fence - was I seeing things?  Yes, I do know of lilacs around Atlanta.  There's one on my cut-through street to church.  The house sold last year, so I'm hoping the people who bought it kept the lilac there by the mailbox.

Anyway, my first thought was of that poem.  No dooryard, but still, a slender bush with bright green, heart-shaped leaves and trusses of lavender-purple flowers.  I can't count the times I've heard people from the northern tier of states talk about the lilac hedges (sometimes they say "lie-lock") of their youth.   So, here I was, all alone with two dogs to contemplate the lovely flowers and the poem remembered from so long ago.

I did wonder if I should pick some to take home.  I'm sure the bush was there last year, but I don't think there were any blooms.  It didn't take but a moment for me to break off two bunches.  I know these weren't the huge French lilacs that are so popular in the Northeast, but I do believe they were like the ones Walt Whitman wrote about.

Of course, when I got home, I wished I'd picked more.  But, maybe these two bunches will bring back memories for you of an April when you walked out into the sun and caught the sweet fragrance of the lilacs beloved by so many generations in colder climes.

In the photograph taken in my living room:  The lilacs I picked today (I still can't believe it!); Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth, ripped from the pages of my Cole Porter songbook;  a favorite picture of William Faulkner, taken in Oxford, Mississippi, in 1947 (also ripped from a book); and Clark Gable during the filming of Gone With the Wind (cut from a magazine).

P.S:  Leonardo (who planted the lilac) had covered his plants with black plastic pots weighted down with logs.  We'll have to wait to see if they survived the night's cold and then today's sun bearing down on those thick covers.

In the door-yard fronting an old farm-house, near the white-wash’d palings, 
Stands the lilac bush, tall-growing, with heart-shaped leaves of rich green, 
With many a pointed blossom, rising, delicate, with the perfume strong I love, 
With every leaf a miracle......and from this bush in the door-yard,  15
With delicate-color’d blossoms, and heart-shaped leaves of rich green, 
A sprig, with its flower, I break.
- From "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd", Walt Whitman


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It's not a hydrangea in April

Gloria Ward, president of the American Hydrangea Society, told me the other day that she saw one of my photographs on Pinterest.  It was a viburnum, not this one, but a smaller one, Viburnum plicatum.   But the person had it listed as a hydrangea.

The picture of the one in question is in my book, Margaret Moseley's A Garden to Remember.  Two cascading branches are covered with pure white flowers the size of tennis balls.  I can certainly see why someone would think "hydrangea".  The plants we call snowballs, though, bloom here in the South in March and April.  Hydrangeas, except for the climbing ones, mostly bloom in June and July.  Well, actually, the oakleafs are at their peak in mid-to-late May, and the paniculatas, the sun-loving ones, flower in July and August.  I refer mostly to the ball-shaped and lace-cap macrophyllas (which can be purple, blue, pink, red and white) and the arborescens 'Annabelle' - these bloom primarily in June here.

Gloria corrected the Pinterest pinner (I want to learn how to do this; someone set me up and gave me a lesson, and now I've forgotten what to do), noting that what they were calling a hydrangea is actually one of the spring-blooming genus Viburnum.

Pictured above is the green form of Viburnum macrocephalum, the giant Chinese snowballDepending where you are around the city, the flowers of this shrub (which can grow as tall as 20 feet), are now turning white.  I took this photograph in Margaret Moseley's garden last Saturday.  This particular plant (she has several of this same species) was in a good bit of afternoon shade.  It is likely mint green by now and could be white by the weekend.

This coming Sunday is Easter, and at our church we decorate a wooden cross on the lawn with flowers brought from home.  I groaned when I saw that Easter was going to be so late this year, thinking the azaleas and dogwoods - staples that fill up the cross (which is covered with foam oasis bricks) - would all be history.  The last time Easter was late, Wendie Britt, the minister's wife, and I spent an hour during the first Easter service cutting scratchy 'Knockout' roses from the church property so we'd have enough flowers to cover the oasis.  We laughingly called it the "Red Cross" that year.

Thank goodness, I was wrong about the timing this year.  The dogwoods are hanging on, and many of the Indica azaleas are just now coming into bloom.  I won't need to go to my Jewish friend's garden to raid his rhododendrons, which normally bloom in late April, to put on the Christian cross.

Best of all, I can take armfuls of Viburnum macrocephalum for the cross this year.  I haven't been up to the little house in over a week, but I'm betting mine are almost white now and will certainly be by Sunday.  I am also betting that people who gather to take pictures or watch as the cross is being filled with flowers, will mistake the oversized balls of this showy plant and will ask the question over and over:  "Is this a hydrangea?"

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A party to remember The Tulip Man

Last October 30th's blog post told the story of Cy Harden, who had just recently died.  Cy and his wife Mary Janet had for years thrown a party to celebrate the blooming of the thousands of tulips Cy planted each fall.

But, last October, Cy died after a short illness and didn't get his tulips planted.  Some men in our Sunday School class organized a bulb-planting party.  Chuck Held was one of the guys in charge of obtaining the tulip bulbs and getting the ground tilled up for us to plant.  Cy knew things didn't look good for him, so, despite his failing health, he went out and laid out the beds so we would know where to plant.

Last Sunday, Mary Janet had us all over for a fabulous catered supper to have a tulip viewing.  It was spectacular.  Chuck had bought over a thousand tulips.  Others brought daffodils and bags of tulip bulbs, as well.  With so many helpers, it hadn't taken long to plant the tulips according to Cy's design.

I think he would have been delighted.  Mary Janet said that cars had been slowing down for over a week to see the spectacle.  This happened every spring when Cy's tulips would bloom.  It became a neighborhood destination.

If you put in Cy Harden's name in the search box of this Web site, the October 30, 2013, post will come up telling Cy's story.  I always got tickled because he just didn't seem like a guy who would conduct lie detector tests. But he did, and he was one of the best and most trusted among the legal community.

I hardly knew how to choose a photo from this past Sunday, there were so many giant, beautiful tulips in all colors - glowing orange, brilliant red, pinks, purples, stripes, and so on.  I decided on this view, because the other post shows tulips Cy planted, so you can get an idea of the whole front of the house and what passersby saw.  Our Sunday School class and other friends did a good job, I thought.

After we finished planting last fall, Mary Janet gave me a leftover bag of daffodils to bring home.  I finally got them in the ground, and I do think they're the prettiest daffodils I've ever seen.  They were huge, and there were different kinds, each one more beautiful and fragrant than the next.

A couple in the class had just returned from Holland, and even though they had been bowled over by what they saw over there, they were floored by the beauty of the tulips in Cy's memory.  It was a lovely moment, a good time to remember a prince of a guy who provided great beauty and friendship for a lot of years.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The sweetest flower that started it all

I obviously haven't figured out my new camera, but you can get an idea from this photograph I took on Saturday how beautiful Margaret Moseley's garden is, despite its age.  Just look beyond the foreground to the way she has done her paths and beds, which include evergreens (that's Camellia japonica 'Lady Clare' in the immediate background) to show off the deciduous shrubs.  It's absolutely magical the way the light filters through the garden.

Margaret herself will turn 98 on May 28th.  I had left my old camera in her garden a couple of weeks ago and finally got around to retrieving it.

I found Margaret in her usual great mood.  It was a beautiful day, although cooler and breezier than we'd first thought.  She went out and walked the winding paths of the garden with her daughter Carol, a friend and great gardener and helper, W.M., and me.  Margaret didn't skip a beat.  We went to every viburnum in the garden (they are everywhere - all kinds), and she related the story behind each one.

This particular plant seen above - Viburnum carlesii, the Korean spice viburnum - was given to Margaret decades ago by a friend who died soon afterwards.  At the time, Margaret wasn't familiar with viburnums, but that lack of knowledge soon changed.  When she received a box from Wayside Gardens holding a thin stick, little did she know that it would kick off a decades-long treasure hunt.

It was this one, with its sweet scented flowers, that help launch Margaret's garden, which eventually was the inspiration for so many others who had come there.  People would visit, and their lives would change.  I never left there without feeling I could plant anything at any time, and that there was always the future to look forward to.  I usually left with a plastic grocery bag full of plants.  Saturday was no exception.  W. M. dug me up some charming miniature hostas with a thin white edge.  Margaret told me the name, and I've already forgotten it.  I'll call her tomorrow, and then I'll write it down.

Margaret built up the garden with four major collections - viburnums, hydrangeas, Camellia sasanqua and Camellia japonica.  Those were the four major shrubs that formed the backbone of her garden.

That is not to say that she didn't have every plant in between - trees, bulbs, perennials, a multitude of other shrubs, flowering vines, roses, ground covers, poppies and larkspur, ferns, hostas and on and on.

But, Margaret had a lot of fun chasing down viburnums.   When she started collecting, the genus wasn't all that well-known.  Now she has all the fragrant types that perfume the entire garden (responsible for the delicious scents on Saturday), the lacecap ones that produce red or blue fruit in fall, and the big, showy ones with giant flowers make you stop in your tracks.

The story of that first viburnum is related in Margaret's own words in the new book, Margaret Moseley's A Garden to Remember.  It's basically a coffee table book chock full of color photographs, but it's a great story and includes recommendations for plants that will succeed in the Southeast.  Margaret also relates her secrets of success, how she kept a beautiful, made-from-scratch garden going for nearly fifty years (she didn't start gardening until she was 52).

At any rate, the main garden started with this one sweet viburnum, a treasure for Margaret and one she  insists everyone should own.