Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Happy 98th Birthday to one of the world's greatest gardeners

Today, May 28th, is Margaret Moseley's 98th birthday.  She spent the morning having her hair done (every Wednesday), and on Sunday, her four daughters are throwing her a birthday luncheon.  I'm particularly looking forward to that event because they are serving Margaret's famous almond iced tea.

As you probably know if you follow this blog, I finally wrote a book about Margaret's stellar gardening career (Margaret Moseley's A Garden to Remember).  Starting from scratch at age 52, Margaret planted everything you see in this book, which was an amazing feat.  Almost every time I visit her, we look out  from her glassed-in back porch and marvel at how much there is.  She will always say with renewed astonishment: "I can't believe I planted all that."

I can't believe it either.  A towering ginkgo tree, a spreading Kwanzan cherry tree, camellias that are two stories tall.  Not to mention viburnums and sasanquas and hydrangeas and smoke trees and native azaleas and Japanese maples and on and on.

In the last chapter of the book, which started out with the working title, Margaret Moseley's Garden of Memories (this was because she remembered everyone who had ever given her a plant, if they brought it in a grocery sack or on a garbage can lid;  if she bought a plant, she knew the nursery and the name of the person who sold it to her), Margaret talks about the health and happiness and especially the friends gardening has brought her.  Here are excerpts from that last chapter:

     Margaret is convinced that working in her garden has contributed to her good health and well-being and possibly a long life...... She says it isn't just the physical work - digging, weeding, hauling rocks, lifting containers of plants, rolling a wheelbarrow along the paths - that has made her so energetic.  She thinks it's the anticipation that makes all the difference.
     "I still get so excited when I see a bud that I know will be open in a few days.  I get up every morning full of energy, and I just can't wait to see what's going on in the garden.  There's never a dull moment."
      Perhaps most of all, it's the friends she's made through her garden who have kept her so lively and in good spirits.
      "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."

So, happy birthday to Margaret, and thank you for so generously sharing your beautiful garden and for being an inspiration for an entire generation.
Pictured above:  The white hydrangea Margaret bought over 50 years ago, which has been named Hydrangea macrophylla 'Margaret Moseley'.  Photograph by Mia Broder, who designed the book about Margaret and who also took the beautiful photograph of Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' on the cover.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A garden that has meant so much

There was an article in the New York Times the other day about gardening - plants that are "in" and plants that are "out."  I hastily picked up newspapers early yesterday morning to take up to the recycling bin, and I think I must have grabbed that one by mistake.  I had meant to keep it and quote some statistics, which, of course, I can't remember now.

Back when I saw the above garden for the first time, I was on fire about gardening (well, I actually still am).  But, things have changed.  The garden's owner and designer, Ryan Gainey, was a super-star, starting in the late 1980's.  At the Southeastern Flower Show (first called the Atlanta Flower Show), Ryan would take our breath away with the gardens he made for the exhibition.  Every year, I'd hurry over to his display to see what he had come up with.  Every garden he did for the show was packed with great ideas and plants that had been forced to bloom in the middle of February.

I remember one in particular.  It was a large garden, and in the middle was some sort of structure that looked like an antique cupola.  There were gravel paths and designs within designs (like in his real garden above).  He had forced several spectacular giant snowball bushes (Viburnum macrocephalum), and the whole thing reminded you of a cottage garden in the country.  This was in the days before I started having to take my own photographs for the Atlanta newspaper, so I wasn't very good about carrying a camera around.  How I wish I had.  It was one of the most charming gardens I'd ever seen.

Ryan's garden on a street in Decatur has been on the Atlanta Botanical Garden's annual Mother's Day tour for as long as I can remember.  While many of the elements have remained the same, some plants have come and gone.   I noticed there was no longer a stand of red St. Joseph's lily (Hippeastrum x johnsonii) in his tiny front yard.  Maybe there's too much shade there now.

I didn't see anything about a giant thistle being "out" in the NYT article (they did say catalpa trees were "out"; were they ever "in"?), but the sharp-edged plant was in vogue for a time.  If I had taken a photograph 20 or so years ago of this same area of Ryan's garden, it would have been crammed with the large, scary-looking variegated leaves of a thistle that was popular in England at the time.

But, as fads came and went, Ryan was consistent with the beauty he imposed on his double lot, which came with greenhouses when he bought it.  Roses still ramble overhead, and geometric patterns and long vistas continue to draw you in. 

His garden has been the subject of television shows.  It's been in every national magazine you can think of and some international publications. He's written several books and appeared in countless others.  Every time I go there I'm inspired.  I noticed the other day that the upright boxwoods (Buxus 'Graham Blandy') had grown to at least ten feet high and that Ryan has connected them and made an arch to walk through.  I thought about the time I was at Wilkerson Mill Gardens, one of the few places that sold them, and I didn't spend $11 each for two, as I well should have.  They would have been the size of Ryan's now.

Ryan's roots are in his beloved town in South Carolina where his mother and aunts were great influences on him.  His garden has been a wonderful laboratory for trying out designs.  He's had a potager ever since I can remember.  He's changed things around, and his espaliered apple trees are way tall now, but this garden, I dare to say, has provided ideas for countless people who have visited there.  

I think it's one of the most important gardens I've seen anywhere.  I like the fact that he opens it so generously every year.  I came away once again, determined to make more long vistas wherever I could.  And, I think I've mentioned that I want all those pink roses hanging overhead and running along paths and appearing on distant arches.  It is a garden that has meant so much in the past, and I hope that it will long into the future.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Thinking of English gardens

I have a friend who is in England right now, I think for two weeks.  She pretty much goes every year just to visit gardens.  Last year, she included France, as well.

I used to say that I would like to come back to earth as Louise.  Not only does she have an exquisite garden here - it is small, but is so unique and well done that you think it's larger - but that yearly trip to England just to see gardens must be dreamy.

The above garden does not belong to Louise, and actually doesn't even resemble hers at all.  But, it did remind me of the 1980's English garden craze we all went through, studying Gertrude Jekyll and reading Christopher Lloyd and wishing we could have all those flower-filled borders.

I saw this garden Mother's Day weekend on the Atlanta Botanical Garden's tour, and it reminded me of what so many of us had aspired to.  I never had a chance because I had no flat terrain and no sun.  Still, I would plant foxgloves and buy delphiniums and lilies and do my best to have flower borders.

Back to the tour.  I circled around the above garden several times.  It consisted of this long, colorful border on one side of a lawn, a very shady woodland walk at the back of the garden, some lovely hedges and well-designed containers.  One of our great Atlanta designers, Jeremy Smearman, did the garden for Mary and Jim Rubright.

The good thing about touring this garden was that the owners or Jeremy had made a list of all the plants in the border.  So, when I asked about the low-growing, apricot-colored rose, the docent was able to tell me it was 'Peach Drift'.  One thing I should have written down was the name of some miniature foxgloves of the same color.  They were further along in the border, but Jeremy had planted more 'Peach Drift' in front of these unusual foxgloves which surrounded a low birdbath.  The effect was stunning.

I don't know if you are able to discern from this photograph, but one can walk through this border and see the plants up close.  There were also foxgloves, white rose campion, delphiniums, euphorbia, lamb's ear, light blue bearded iris, peonies and heucheras, to name a few.

During the 1990's, there was a backlash toward the English-style border.  Books came out trying to define the "American garden" and tell us we should be planting prairie grasses and black-eyed Susans.  I paid no attention to any of those.  Although I only have a start (really a "starting over") on a garden, I don't have a single planting of ornamental grasses.  They just don't go with my house or my vision of what I want my garden to be (this is not to say I haven't seen some wonderful swaths of grasses that I thought were beautiful).

Anyway, I did want to share this view of what I used to dream of in the 1980's.  I'm now veering back to garden rooms (we drove that term into the ground, as well), since I have such an up-and-down topography.  I can still take elements from things I saw in France and Italy (I haven't been to England since my honeymoon over four decades ago) and mix in flowers you always see in English borders.

I've rambled all over the place, but another thought here is that there is a lot to learn by going on these garden tours.  I always find flowers or vignettes I like or plant combinations that would work for me.  I can't do the garden above, but I can admire many of the elements and find out the names of flowers I'd like to have.  In fact, I've already looked to see if Pat Henry carries 'Peach Drift' at Roses Unlimited. She does.  It's one I might put on my list, if I ever get out of my pink rose phase.  I'd especially love it with those miniature foxgloves of the same color.  Wish I'd written down the name of those.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

"This garden is so peaceful."

I heard it over and over again last Sunday:  "Oh, this garden is so peaceful."

On Mother's Day, I worked an afternoon shift at one of the gardens on the Atlanta Botanical Garden's annual Gardens for Connoisseurs tour.  The day before, I had rushed around to see as many gardens as possible.  Then, on Sunday morning, I drove to the two gardens over near Decatur.

Finally, I ended up picking up my friend who was working in the same garden, and we spent the remainder of the afternoon there.  She and I were assigned to direct people once in the garden and to answer any questions (the one most often asked:  What are those?  Answer:  Lupines, which you hardly ever see in the South.  These were sturdy and seemed not to mind the 85-degree, sunny weather).

Mostly, I stood at the entrance to this five-year-old garden in back of a house in the Brookhaven section of Atlanta.  Without fail, almost everyone who walked past me where I stood on some stone steps surveyed the large, squarish yard and commented on how peaceful it was.

Patty and Brad Ferrer installed their garden at the same time their house was built.  The back yard sloped upward, creating drainage problems.  Once those were solved, and the large lawn space leveled, the couple was left with an upper tier perimeter, contained by a stone wall.  At the very back, steps lead up to an arbor where one can sit in comfortable Adirondack chairs and look back over the rich, green fescue lawn surrounded by garden areas.

On the far side of the garden, two long parterres containing vegetables and flowers are bounded by stone walkways.  At the end of these rectangular spaces, a teak Lutyens bench is set against the back wall.  Closer to the house is another Lutyens bench, framed with a healthy stand of dahlias (why they bloom early, I can't say, but they have definitely been there for a while).

The view in the photograph above is of the back of the house, which has wonderful, cool porticos where the Ferrers often enjoy having dinner.  Going up the columns is Confederate jasmine, which unlike mine, was not hurt by the cold.   This is the selection 'Madison' which is hardier than the species.

The large jardiniere is actually a fountain set in the middle of a paved courtyard.  In June, the 'Annabelle' hydrangeas will bloom, and a bit later, a pair of tree-form pee-gee hydrangeas will flower in containers.

What I liked about the garden (pretty much everything, actually) were the simple lines of the clipped box hedges which set off the shrubs, perennials and vines.  The main garden was in back of the house, but as you entered under a breezeway from the driveway, the American Wisteria frutescens 'Amethyst Falls' had been trained up over the entrance.  A white climbing rose grew at the corner of the house.  Two classic teak benches were also in this area.

Alec Michaelides of Land Plus Associates, Ltd., designed the garden, which drew high praise from visitors.  The owners were cordial and welcoming.  It ended up being a nice way to spend a few hours on a Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Where did all these dogwoods come from?

The late Louise Allen was a great plantswoman who was ahead of her time.  When most Atlantans were planting drifts of Japanese azaleas back in the 50's and 60's, she was landscaping with native azaleas instead.  She also had rare trees and was an early collector of viburnums before people knew what they were.

In one corner of her yard in Atlanta - part of a family compound that was her childhood home - Louise had planted a kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa).  It didn't bloom heavily every year, but after a harsh, cold winter, the tree would burst forth with the purest white bracts atop layered branches.

I remember being in northern Virginia at the end of May, or maybe it was the beginning of June.  I was driving through a small village when I saw what looked like a weeping tree literally covered in white.  I quickly pulled over and parked.  I crossed the street, and it was not until I got right up onto it that I realized it was a kousa dogwood.

This year has been a bonanza for the tree in Atlanta.  In fact, someone asked me today if I'd noticed a different kind of dogwood in bloom.  My friend said he'd never noticed how many of these trees were planted around the city until this year.

This is a great tree to extend the spring season.  By mid-May, when the trees come into bloom, most flowering trees have finished, including the much more familiar and beloved Cornus florida.

Margaret Moseley, who will be 98 on May 28th, was also well ahead of her time, as far as finding unusual plants was concerned.  She has long had a treasured Cornus kousa planted at the front corner of her house.  In fact, in my book, Margaret Moseley's A Garden to Remember, one of her recommendations, or tips, I should say, is "Plant a kousa dogwood."  Margaret's tree blooms reliably every year, but in the springs that follow a cold winter, it is a sight to behold.  In fact, I'm surprised I haven't had a call from her with one of her typical refrains, "You should see this tree today.  It's the prettiest it's ever been."

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The garden half full

There was a moment Sunday morning on the Atlanta Botanical Garden tour when it hit me that there were so many garden dreams I had for so long, and I never fulfilled any of them.

First of all, I'm usually in church at the moment I was in Ryan Gainey's garden in Decatur (above).  I had great intentions of going to Sunday School, then heading out to see some gardens before I started my 1:30 - 5:00 shift at a garden in Brookhaven (more about that wonderful place later).

So, I was already off-kilter, having stopped by church for a few minutes to take photographs of the flowers - something I do every Sunday - and running out of time.  After I left, I wasn't thinking clearly and took a long, circuitous route to Ryan's garden.  I could have been there in 15 minutes, and it took me a good 45 with downtown traffic at a standstill.

I don't know how many times I've visited his garden in the last three-plus decades.  Every time I discover something new, and every time my heart beats with inspiration and hope.  Things I remember that were there are gone now ( Parthenocissus tricuspidata 'Fenway Park', for one), but then there are areas that have been completely redone (a new parterre I hadn't seen before).  That's just the nature of a garden's evolution and the changing of the owner's tastes, or simply the passage of time.

But walking through Ryan's garden is magical.  It is still a great example of a cottage garden.  There are   formal shapes and hedges that give it definition, and then there are plants in profusion - roses, for example - that cascade from long-hidden structures that connect to form allees where you can look up and take in the fragrance and beauty.

The latter is what I had long dreamed of - to have a cottage garden such as this - one where clipped boxwoods made the outlines, and everything else could be a bit chaotic, but still beautiful.  There would be garden "rooms" (how long did we talk about that concept?), where you would enter to find more delightful surprises.  Ryan still has those.

I would be very discouraged, thinking I could never have anything approaching this, but for one fact.  Margaret Moseley, now age 98, was 79 years old when I met her.  She had not even reached her stride.  In her 80's and early 90's, she was the darling of the garden media.  And, she was planting madly - trees, shrubs, perennials, bulbs - anything she read about that interested her, or anything that caught her eye in a nursery or in someone else's garden.

I certainly don't have the foresight and genius of either of these gardeners, but I am a good copy cat.  And, having seen how both of these gardens have changed just in recent years, I know that as long as I am able, I can fulfill some of my dreams of roses in Ryan's garden or camellias in Margaret's.  If Margaret had stopped at 79 when she assumed she was entering her "twilight years" (see Margaret Moseley's A Garden to Remember), then her garden would not have been as beautiful as it is today.

So, on Sunday, I started off seeing my own garden as half-empty, or more like 3/4 empty.  But, having reflected on these two long-time gardeners, I'm seeing all the potential.  I have a long way to go, but that will be the great part of the adventure - the thrill of a new iris, some areas of sun opening up that I didn't have before, a navy blue hydrangea I've always wanted.

After racing from one garden to another on this weekend's tour, I gleaned a lot of ideas - things I could do that wouldn't break the bank.  And, there are other things I'll try to save for - like miles of iron rebar and retaining walls and stone steps.  I think if I already had my garden full to overflowing, I wouldn't have the anticipation I feel for the future.

And, I have to remember.  I have two new garden areas that I didn't have this time last year.  With another wedding on the horizon, I will have to be content with smaller things, but that's okay.  Already, I saw what others had done that I could do here while I'm waiting for my ship to come in.  And, if it never does, I can still move things around and make brick outlines and divide what I do have.  Already, I'm beginning to see the garden is perhaps, after all, not all that empty, but at the very least, half-full.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

How the bachelor's buttons came to be there

I noticed on Facebook that Susan Belcher had taken a photograph of a huge field of blue wildflowers on the road where she used to live and where the farm is.  I had taken virtually the exact view of the rolling meadow of blue.

When I stopped the second time, a lot of red clover had come into bloom, and the close-ups were mixed with red.  Still, the blue mist that covered the huge field on the grounds of the Georgia Baptist Children's home (which abuts the farm) was spectacular.

The day I took this picture, some bicyclers had stopped and had their cameras out.  One of them said he'd just been to Texas and had ridden through bluebonnet country.  He said this field reminded him of what he'd seen out there.

For years, maybe 40 years even, I have been picking bouquets of these flowers, or rather their ancestors.  The reason I know this is because the seeds originally came from my mother's friend's house.  She had planted her entire multi-acre yard with bachelor's buttons (Centaurea cyanus).  After the flowers had bloomed - usually from late April through early May - her ex-husband would come and mow her vast front yard.

Then, I would see him on his tractor at the Children's Home.  Little by little that one field became a solid mass of blue cornflowers (my late mother-in-law, who went with me once to pick flowers at the woman's house, called them ragged robins).  I have a large bronze-colored camel bucket, and I would fill the container with the blue flowers.  There were a few pink and white ones mixed in, but blue was the dominant strain.

So, every time I pass by that field when it's in bloom I think of both the woman who was gracious to let us come and pick, and her husband, who was always so friendly and who is responsible for creating this cheerful field of beauty.  I noticed some vestiges of flowers left in front of the woman's house.  Someone else moved there after she died, and then it looks like someone else tends a vegetable garden next to the once-flowery lawn.

Anyway, these are wildflowers, but they are not native to the U.S., although they have naturalized along the roadsides in Georgia and probably in other states.  These are cool season annuals, which means that if you were to start them from scratch (you'd need to do so on well-drained,  bare ground), you'd plant them in the fall.  They also look wonderful with the bright red Flanders Field poppies (Papaver rhoeas) and Shirley poppies.

Just for the record, I no longer pick these flowers, because I don't have permission.  The packets of seeds are sold - sometimes in racks - but always at the wrong time.  Spring planting doesn't work.  I have ordered from Wildseed Farms in Texas  That's a good way to establish your own field of dreams. That reminds me, I need to get someone to plow up a patch for me this fall, so that next spring I can pick bachelor's buttons to my heart's content.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Trespassing in a country garden

I wasn't going to go another year without seeing Carl and Vosco's peonies.  I was down at the farm on Saturday, and I passed by their house and caught a glimpse of their garden.  I drove on, but then thought better of it. I realized I couldn't come back for another two weeks.  If they weren't home, I'd take my chances.  Peonies don't last all that long here in the South.  And, after all the cool days we had in spring, the weather has lurched into summer.  It will be close to 90 tomorrow.

Anyway, I parked in front and walked around to the back door and knocked.  No one answered.  A neighbor was out in her yard, and after I had helped myself to a bunch of photographs of Carl and Vosco's long, wraparound borders, the neighbor's dog started barking at me.  His owner was out in the yard.  I introduced myself, and she said she knew who I was and it would be okay.  I'm thinking she really didn't know me, but saw that I was only taking pictures, not helping myself to the heaps of flowers.

I took mostly close-ups.    Every flower was more fantastic than the next.  I zeroed in on one peony that was the biggest of all.  I wanted to show the size of it in comparison to another object.  I stuck out my hand but quickly withdrew it.  My hand looked like it belonged to a witch.  No use to ruin the picture just to show that the flower must be eight inches across - very double and light pink.

But, there were reddish single ones that were also spectacular.   Then, those pink ones you see in the upper right hand corner looked like graceful butterflies.  It's too bad that I don't have a fancy wide-angle lens.  I probably have some setting that would have shown more, but this camera is new, and I've only started the instruction booklet.

I have great shots of some spectacular bearded iris (they had gorgeous examples in every color), and one scene of some cobalt blue Siberian iris.  These guys can really grow flowers.  What is amazing is that this is just the early May season.  I can't even start on all the fabulous lilies they have, in addition to a lot of June perennials and a dazzling fall display of chrysanthemums.

Over a hundred photographs later, and with their chickens fussing up a storm,  I was about to leave when I tried the view above, wanting to show how many peonies they had.  That turned out to be impossible.  Another bed perpendicular to this one had many showy flowers, as well.

I rushed off in a hurry without leaving a note.  I won't be down there anytime soon, so I'm glad I worked up my nerve to walk around.  I don't think I'm exactly uninvited.  My great gardening friend Karen Villano took me to their garden a couple of years ago and introduced me.  I didn't go at all last year, but I won't make that mistake again.  I'll have to photograph this exact bed when the day lilies are coming into their own.  It an entirely different show.  You can scarcely believe it's the same place.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

That first peony of the year

I picked this peony yesterday, or maybe two days ago.  I couldn't believe it when I walked up to the little house and saw it, so big and fluffy and fragrant.  This particular one - 'Festiva Maxima' - is popular in the South because it blooms early before the days of real heat come.  Just about everyone has it, but as common as it is, it is still sensational with its heady rose fragrance and huge bloom size.

If you live up north where peonies thrive and form bushes the size of boxwoods, then you are probably laughing at my delight over one flower.  This plant is loaded with blooms, although I noticed there was only one bud on 'Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt' this year.  Why that is, I don't know, because we had plenty of cold weather, which peonies like.

Of course, the first thing I think about when this peony blooms is my mother.  This is not her plant, though.  Her 'Festiva Maxima' would always have a ridiculous amount of flowers that would weigh the stems down to the ground.  It had been given to her by someone in our church who had obtained it from her husband's grandmother.

But, when Mother and Daddy got to be in their 90's, the area where the peony grew got covered up by an out-of-control Burfordi holly.  Some people from their church came with weed eaters and buzzed all beneath the hollies.  For about three years in a row, they cut down the peony.  That next year, I found traces of the leaves so I could tell where it was.  I got a shovel and dug the plant.  There was a terrible drought that year, and the dirt crumbled, and the peony fell apart.  I brought it up here and planted three pieces at the little house.  Only two survived.

The peony did not like being moved, I'm sure.  I've had only one or two flowers, and there are none this year.  However, I am going to put wood ashes and fertilizer around the spindly plants in hopes of giving them a boost.  The flower in this photograph was given to me by a friend who had to give up her garden.  It is huge and loaded with buds.  It was moved here intact and had a better start.

I do grieve a bit over the fact that Mother also had a beautiful light pink, very double peony.  I think it got mowed over too many times.  I still look for it among the boxwoods in front of her house.  I fear it's gone forever; it was another heirloom plant from the same woman.

Also in this photograph is a partial view of a painting.  It was actually a magazine illustration by an artist named Allen Palmer from Virginia.  He was just gaining recognition in the early 1950's when he took off in a small plane with some of his paintings to go to a one-man show in New York.  Unfortunately, the plane crashed, and he was killed and his paintings lost.  We bought two of his illustrations done in oil, and I treasure them both.

Outside the window you can see the fresh new growth of Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata), a deciduous Chinese cousin of Virginia creeper.  The vine covers the two front wings which flank the facade of the house.  In April and May, it is beautiful - fresh and green with its huge new leaves.  The summer is tough on the vine, and by September, I'm lucky to have half the leaves left.

Still, the brief shining weeks of perfection are worth it.  The same goes for the peonies.  They don't last long - only days - and their foliage starts deteriorating during the summer.  But, it's enough for me to enjoy these fleeting moments of unparalleled beauty and fragrance and all the memories that go along with it.