Thursday, June 26, 2014

There's no place like Paris; there's no place like Paris....

Two years ago today, I stood in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris and took this picture.  I was a little dismayed because we (my childhood friend Linda Jackson Carter and I) were there just after the roses had peaked.

We stayed on the Ile St. Louis where we had rented this unbelievable penthouse (meaning an apartment on the top floor rather than a true fancy penthouse like you think of; it was the location that was unbelievable) that looked out on Notre Dame from one window, a more distant Eiffel Tower from another, the Pantheon, Hotel de Ville from others.

There was a lot of noise down below, especially in the tiny park at the end of the Ile.  But, I loved being able to throw the windows open and hear the man on the bridge to the Ile de la Cite singing La Vie en Rose, accompanied by his accordion.  I'm still kicking myself that I didn't buy his overpriced CD of French songs.  He had a really good voice.

Although we didn't have the most convenient of Metro stops, it was an easy walk from the Ile St. Louis to one of my favorite places, the Jardin des Plantes.  To get to the Left Bank, you had to cross the bridge where all the lovers attach their padlocks and then throw the keys into the Seine.  I saw on the news the other day, that a wall of the bridge had become so heavy with locks that it had collapsed.  I saw couples of all ages attaching their symbols of love that could theoretically never be separated.

Anyway, you walk along, opposite the Seine, past the world's oldest zoo (which one day I'd like to visit) and then on to the long walkways and geometrically laid-out gardens of the Jardin des Plantes, which dates from the 17th Century.  The gardens are mostly contained in an enormous rectangle with imposing buildings that house museums on two sides (maybe three sides?  I'm trying to picture the space).

On one side are the above rose-covered arches which lead to a potager at the end.  There are other gardens in the spaces between the buildings.  From another year, when I was there in early May, I have photographs of iris and alyssum and clematis in those gardens.  Then, there are plantings all down the middle, surrounding vast lawns.  If you walk up one side and down the other, you've had some good exercise.

As is usually the case, I steal ideas from somewhere else rather than conjure something up on my own.    When I looked back at my photographs, I tried to figure out where I could have an arch garden.  Then it hit me.  The huge white oak that had hung over my house dropped a 40-foot-long limb in 2011.  After that happened (the second enormous limb to fall - luckily not on my slate roof), I called the city arborist to give me a permit to have it taken down.  I bit the financial bullet and had the thick stump ground.

The lump of sawdust sat there for two years before I realized that this was where I could put some arches in a straight line.  Granted, I don't have level ground, but I did have a vista, albeit a short one, from the driveway back toward the end of the side of the house.  It took me a while, but I finally found some iron arches.  I bought three (huge regret:  I should have bought four) and had them put in to create a mini-enfilade.

If you know where I live (in a forest in City of Atlanta), you can guess the story up until now.  The deer promptly ate the buds of the climbing own-root roses I ordered from Roses Unlimited.  Also, the sun I'd counted on for mid-summer, that is, straight overhead, did not materialize.  I ended up planting shade-loving evergreen star jasmine on two of the arches.  The latter got zapped this past winter, so the arches are bare.

But, I just walked out and looked, and I am pleased.  Granted, the one remaining climbing rose doesn't have a leaf on it (there are two going up the wall of the house that are faring a bit better; one actually bloomed prolifically in May).  At the end of my short vista, I have a Japanese holly that came up volunteer (that's how we'd say it in the old days), and I have trimmed it to be very narrow.  Eventually it will form an arch, but I may break down and see if I can get a matching iron one to complete the scene.  Back there, I have a chance for a little more sun.

Now, back to the title of this post.  I found a birthday card that shows Judy Garland in her Wizard of Oz outfit (with her ruby slippers, of course).  She's saying, "There's no place like Paris; there's no place like Paris...").  Linda, who does not read this blog, will receive the card in September on her birthday.  We've already been talking about another trip.  I can't go next year, but perhaps the year after.  I want to be there when the arches in the Jardin des Plantes are laden with roses and I can finally visit the Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne when it's in bloom.  Until then, I'll have to be content with my little garden and hope that the one rose left will miraculously rise up and cover one of these arches, a la Le Jardin des Plantes.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A lesson early on: Leave well enough alone

I was desperate for a cutting garden with something in bloom every day of the summer.  I wanted all the colors - purples, yellows, blues, orange, pink, white.   I could have all the zinnias and orange cosmos I wanted from Mother's garden.  But, at my house, I really wanted perennials that would bloom in waves all season long.

One of the flowers I wanted most was orange butterfly weed (Aesclepias tuberosa) - not the annual milkweed, but the perennial one.  At the time, it was hard to find in garden centers.  I think I ordered it a couple of times, though, and it didn't live.

This was back in the early 1980's when I had a little sliver of sun to deal with and made a couple of rectangular raised beds.  I had white garden phlox.  I had rubrum lilies.  There was red monarda (which contracted mildew), a puny pink dahlia I'd ordered through a catalog, some yellow, very invasive evening primrose (no good for cutting) and some weak blue platycodons.  I also had some fairly robust   'Becky' daisies (although I didn't know they were called that until later; I got mine through the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin, where I suspect 'Becky' came from, too).  In the fall, there was the aggressive tall blue ageratum, which came along with the monarda someone gave me.  I still find that it pops up in the oddest places.

So, as I was driving up U.S. Highway 29 on my way back home, I spotted a huge stand of butterfly weed in full bloom.  It was mid June.  I thought to myself, "It's okay to dig just one plant.  No one will miss it."

I took my trusty sharp shooter shovel which I hauled around in my trunk so I could garden at my parents' farm.  The ground was hard as a rock, and I was closer than I wished to the railroad tracks.  I finally broke the ground all around the plant after a lot of effort.  I thought I was making progress as I dug deeper and deeper.  But the main root went on and on.

What was it going to take to get this plant out of the ground?  It was hot, and I knew I was doing something wrong.  Someone even honked at me.

What I should have done was put the dirt back and hope the plant lived.  But no, I was committed.  I made a decision that I would go ahead and take the part I had dug.  So, I cut the main root off and put the dry plant into a grocery bag.

This story does not have a happy ending.  I planted the flower right when I got home.  My ground was as hard as that on the side of the road.  The flower wilted and never recovered.  I had stolen a native plant, one that attracts bees and butterflies, and I had killed it.

For my 50th birthday, someone gave me a collapsible trowel for the glove compartment.  The intent was to have a tool ready when I saw something in the wild to be able to dig it right then and there.

But, if my memory serves me well, I never took another plant after my failed attempt at the butterfly weed.  I have not participated in any officially sanctioned plant rescues, but I think that is a worthy idea, and I applaud those who save good wildflowers from destruction by a bulldozer.  

So, the other day, I contented myself by stopping on the side of the road near the farm to take photographs.  We used to have butterfly weed in the pastures, but the hay man likely took care of that, I'm sorry to say.  I haven't seen any in years.

As for my regretful adventure, I wish I'd had the Internet back then.  I read this on the Clemson University Web site:

"This plant has an exceptionally long taproot making transplanting very difficult once established.  It is recommended that transplanting once established is not attempted as it may kill the plant."


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Finding peace and solace in a green garden

Two days ago, I found myself hit with a bout of sadness.  On June 17, 1999, fifteen years ago now, my husband died suddenly after playing squash at the Piedmont Driving Club in Atlanta.

Usually, I can make the replay of everything that happened go away and substitute more pleasant thoughts.  But, this year, I started obsessing about my children.  My younger daughter was 15 at the time and just home from boarding school.  That means that half of her life has been spent without a daddy.

My older daughter was 21 and traveling in Europe with friends, after having graduated from college in May.  I don't know which was harder - greeting my daughter as a friend dropped her off after going out to dinner and then holding her in my arms as she collapsed.  Or, picturing my child, who had left Italy's Cinque Terre and just arrived in Salzburg, Austria, standing at a pay phone half way around the world and listening to her mother say that her dad had suffered a heart attack and "didn't make it."

So, with all these scenes replaying in my head, I called Louise Poer and asked if I could come walk through her garden.  She's always so gracious about visitors, and the garden is tour-ready every day, no matter what the season.  I grabbed my camera and drove over to her house, which is not very far away.

The relief was instant.  Whether I was distracted by the interesting new things she had, or if it was the  bluebirds flitting away from the feeder as I entered, or the soft ripple of a fountain along the brick path, I don't know.  I do know that I am soothed by this garden because it is predominantly green, which has been my favorite color since I was a child.

There were a few spots of color here and there - some hardy blue geraniums, some cheerful red blooms on rose standards, and near the entrance, an exquisite bloom on an oakleaf hydrangea that had faded to lovely dusty pink.

But the overall garden is a combination of different shades of green, with some variegation mixed in on certain boxwoods, hostas and ivy.  The textures, too, are soothing, although a few shapes - like a palm frond - startle you, but in a good way.

The rest of the day, I was able to go about my business and think of other things.  I usually write something to my girls about the anniversary, but I didn't that day.  Yesterday, I e-mailed my older daughter about how deeply I felt about their loss.  I received the best reply from her, reminding me that despite all we went through, that other people have had terrible tragedies happen in their lives, as well.   She said to concentrate on the fact that things have turned out well for both of them.  She also reminded me of all I have to look forward to:  a new baby in September and another glorious wedding next May.

And, as is always the case, walking through a beautiful garden renews my hope.  I came away from Louises's with lots of ideas - more ferns, more intense planting, installing a bird bath with moving water.  I admit that as much as I like a mostly green garden, I've been sun-deprived for so long that I still dream of bright summer flowers I can go out and cut to bring in the house.  But, I think as far as soothing the soul goes, a quiet green garden goes a long way in chasing the blues and bringing about a certain peaceful feeling.  At least it does for me.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Orange in the land of mostly black

A year ago today, I took this photograph.  I was in a place - a state - I'd never been in before.  Here are two words that give a hint as to my whereabouts.  Bakken.  Fracking.

If you are familiar with that first word, then you'll know where I was.  My dear friend Mary is from this state, from a town that is in the western part, a town she hardly recognizes anymore because of recent events.

For decades, ever since we've been friends, I've wanted to see her home town.  My determination grew even more when something happened that still sends chills up my spine.

Around 12 years ago, give or take, I went to visit my uncle and aunt at their home in Forest Park, Georgia.  I was standing in their den and all of a sudden asked my uncle (by marriage) where he was from.  He said Fargo, North Dakota.  I said, "Oh, I actually know someone from North Dakota."  We went back and forth for a few seconds, and he asked what town.  I said, "Dickinson."

"Oh," he said, his face lighting up, "When you see your friend, ask her if she knows..... "

A split second before he said the name, I knew who it would be.

"Hans Guloein."  I almost fell over.  I knew two people from North Dakota.  One is this uncle, and the other is my friend Mary, whose father was Hans Guloein.

"He was a physician," my uncle explained.  Of course, I already knew this.  I had met Dr. Guloein on several occasions when he'd come to visit in Georgia.

My uncle then told me how they'd known each other in Fargo, Dr. Guloein's home town and where my uncle was from originally.  He told how they'd been in a dance band when they were young.  He had known Mary's mother, paternal grandmother and aunts, and spent a lot of time in their house in Fargo.  The band had broken up when Dr. G. went off to med school at Northwestern.

It was just all so weird.  When I came home and told Mary, she couldn't believe it.  It was at least a year or two before I was able to get her together with my uncle.  They had a great time reminiscing.

Mary had a photograph of the band, and there was my uncle and Dr. Guloein.

I had always kidded Mary that I wanted to see Dickinson, North Dakota, before my day was done.  So, last year, when her husband and son and she had planned a trip there, I went along.

It didn't look at all like I imagined.  We flew into Minneapolis and rented a car and drove all the way across the state.  Mary and her husband said I was lucky because it had rained a lot.  The vast stretches of fields were lush and green.  There were even a few hills after we crossed the Missouri River at Bismarck.

What we did see as a hint of what was to come were the longest trains I'd ever seen.  They were carrying oil and looked like long, black snakes stretching forever across the prairie.

Mary couldn't believe Dickinson.  It is a construction zone, with all the streets torn up and cranes everywhere.  Most of the oil fields are to the north around Williston, but Dickinson is a boom town - new hotels, apartments, "man camps", tons of restaurants and fast food places, all built for the huge influx of workers.  The people Mary and her siblings knew who stayed in the town have benefitted from the oil boom.  One friend, a welder who never graduated from high school, is a multi-millionaire.

We stayed with Mary's sister and her family.  I walked around her neighborhood and looked for gardens.  It was almost summer, but most of the flowers were ones like iris that had bloomed here in late April.   Chris, Mary's sister, has a lovely yard with lots of flowers and herbs.  At the front door was a lilac bush in full bloom.

I took the above photograph across the street at a modern, Japanese-looking house.  Those are Oriental poppies, a perennial that likes cold weather.  I thought the composition was intriguing and the light very beautiful.  Elsewhere, I found a glorious stand of Spiraea 'Snowmound', with tons of arching, flower-laden branches hanging over an alley.  We also visited a sort of botanical garden with a nice collection of baptisias, which is a prairie native.

The day we arrived in Dickinson was the day Delta Airlines had its non-stop inaugural flight from Atlanta.  When I met Mary (she ended up here, having married someone from Atlanta) and started decades of kidding her about North Dakota (mostly, it was about the Fargo accent that cropped up after she'd been with her sisters), who could have guessed there would ever be a direct flight from here to there?

With all the traveling I did for A Gardener's Diary on HGTV, I never dreamed I'd be taking pictures of flowers in faraway Dickinson, North Dakota, or that I would really ever get to see Mary's home town.  Aside from the oil rigs sticking up, the prairies are beautiful and the Badlands an incredible sight.

Even with the hard, desolate winters, you could tell that North Dakotans love their flowers.  Their season is short, but the vibrant colors under those clear skies were a sight to behold.  They were also a welcome foil to all the confusion, dust and construction in this booming part of the country.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Hydrangeas are just too tempting

Last summer, a woman a couple of houses up from me sent out an e-mail to our neighborhood blog, saying that someone had stolen the flowers from the Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight' next to her mailbox.  She wanted to know if anyone had seen a person cutting the blooms or had any information about a possible culprit.

I knew at once that it was not a human marauder.  Several neighbors wrote to say that it was most certainly the deer.  I actually walked up there to see, and no clippers had been involved, for sure.  I have already been through the 'Limelight' devastation (along with losses of Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle').   In fact, my woods used to be full of wild arborescens.  I'm down to one tiny plant sticking out of a steep bank.  I imagine its days are numbered, because I recently saw a young buck miraculously standing upright on this same sharp incline, eating away.

But then, something a little different.  A couple of days ago, I came out of my driveway and noticed that  the blue hydrangeas lining the entrance to the gated property next door had all but disappeared.  I had been surprised that they had bloomed, given our cold winter and all the damage sustained to the macrophyllas.  How did that happen, I wondered.  The deer love the arborescens and paniculatas, but they usually leave the mopheads alone (they will eat lace caps, however).

When I came back, I stopped to examine.  Someone had clipped the blooms.  They'd left one bush intact, but had pretty well taken the flowers from the long row of plants.

This same thing happened to Harriet Kirkpatrick, who has an amazing collection of hydrangeas on her corner lot.  She went out one day to discover that someone had helped themselves to dozens of 'Nikko Blue' blooms.  It's hard to tell that anything is amiss from the photograph above, but Harriet had three times as many flowers before the thief hit.

The lot next door, as I've mentioned before, is abandoned and looks shabby.  The owner is purported to be a Russian billionaire, so I guess I can understand that a person would be tempted.  But, it took a lot of nerve for someone to rob Harriet.  She lives in a neighborhood where the houses are close together.  It would have taken quite a while to gather all those blooms, though, so someone probably came in the middle of the night.

To end on a positive note here, the American Hydrangea Society's tour is tomorrow (Saturday, June 14th), and it promises to be a clear day and a bit cooler - perfect for touring gardens.  The information is on a post on this blog dated Monday, June 9, 2014.  You can purchase tickets tomorrow at two of the gardens for the entire tour.

Well, I do have one more thing to say about cutting other people's hydrangeas.  Margaret Moseley graciously put her garden on the AHS tour for years.  One year, she was standing talking to some people, when she spotted a woman leaving with an armful of hydrangeas.  Now, Margaret has never been one to cut her own flowers, preferring to enjoy them in the garden.  So, when she saw the woman, she went up to her and said, "Oh, thank you for the bouquet."  Margaret said the woman just looked stunned and didn't say a word, but handed over the flowers.  I guess the hydrangeas were just too tempting.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

How can this be the same hydrangea?

If you'll put the word "purple" into the white search bar at the top left of this page, the second blog entry that comes up is dated June 8, 2012.

You would think the pink hydrangea pictured above would have absolutely nothing to do with the soft grape one from two years ago.  Yet, it is the same plant.

There's no reason to re-tell the story of how I came to have this hydrangea.  It's all there, in long form.  In brief, it belonged to my mother and had been at the farm (no telling where she got it or when) for as long as I can remember.  It was dug up and brought in a giant container to my house here in Atlanta.  Its first June here, it produced lots of medium- to- small blooms of a lovely purplish color - not the deep, rich purple from the farm - but still quite pleasing.  The lighter color is what you see in the 2012 post.

I left the hydrangea in the container over the winter of 2012-13, trying to figure out where to plant it. Obviously, I should have acted more quickly.  Last summer, instead of the grape colored flowers, I was looking at horrible Pepto-Bismol pink blooms.  There was no vestige of its former self.

 In October, when my daughter got married here at the house, the hydrangea had to be moved from its spot in front of the chimney.  I didn't watch to see how they did it, but they took it down to the base of the back outside staircase.

I had another very large hydrangea rooted for me by my friend Jane Kyburz.  She had brought over a bouquet a few years back with a light pink hydrangea in it.  I asked her to layer one for me, and she did.  I bought a huge fake terra cotta container for it, and the plant has grown into a lovely giant.  The two hydrangeas were sitting side by side.

Then winter came with the threat of a five degree freeze.  I had the pots moved under the concrete deck.  I didn't cover them, but they were pretty well protected.  So, I was ecstatic to see the little broccoli flowers coming out on the stems in spring.  I had hardly any dead wood on either plant.

One day a few weeks ago, one of the men from the farm brought me a boxwood to go near the new arch garden.  He suggested I plant Mother's hydrangea there beside it, so it was dragged back up the hill.

I was so anxious to see how the flowers would turn out, even though not much time had passed since it was put in the ground.  I was disappointed.  While it's a deeper hue than the Pepto-Bismol, there's still  no trace of its former color.

So, I guess I will have to see what next year brings.  It could be that the acid in the soil will change the color back to purple.  I'm hoping that will happen.  I need to consult Elizabeth Dean of Wilkerson Mill Gardens and, who says the hydrangea is probably 'Merritt's Supreme.'  I'm thinking this started out as a potted plant with colored foil around it.  Maybe not.  I wish I'd asked Mother where she got it.

For the time being, I must admit that as you come down the driveway, the rosy color does look rather pretty.  But the one I'm excited about is Jane's hydrangea.  For years, I had admired a photograph of a  light pink hydrangea in a book I have on French gardens.  Coincidentally enough, the French flower is in a container at the base of a staircase on the outside of the manor house belonging to Robert Mallet's family in Normandy.  My children and I visited Robert in 2006, and that big container was still there.

So now, I, too have a large container with a light pink hydrangea sitting at the base of a (very plain) staircase.  I had contemplated putting some lime on it last winter, but I chickened out, afraid I'd hurt it.  For the foreseeable future, it will stay in its container, and I'll try layering it to produce two more plants (still copying Robert; in another book there is a photograph taken in fall of two light pink hydrangeas in containers at the Bois des Moutiers; now all I have to do is build a stone colonnade; that may take some doing).

Back to Mother's hydrangea.  I'll have to think about doctoring the plant, or I may just wait and see what happens and then take action later.  One never knows with hydrangeas.  The late Penny McHenry, founder of the American Hydrangea Society, would always say that when it comes to color, hydrangeas would make a fool out of you every time.  I think she was right.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Come see hydrangeas and much, much more!

I hate to admit it, but I am a copy-cat designer.  Well, actually, I'm no designer at all.  But, if I see something in a garden, I know that very instant that I want to do the very same thing in my own yard.

For instance, once I drove over to a big development to pick up a friend.  I got lost and ended up on a little dead-end street.  It turned out to be fortuitous.  I saw the climbing hydrangea Schizophragma hydrangeoides 'Moonlight' growing horizontally on a waist-high iron fence.  The vine was in full bloom, and took my breath away.  I have a 'Moonight' going up a tree, and I'll leave that one, but I still want to do that same fence thing as soon as my ship comes in so I can afford the ironwork.

That's the fun of going on these garden tours.  It's a great way to get ideas and solve problems in your landscape.

The garden of Gloria Ward, president of the American Hydrangea Society, will be on tour this year.  Gloria has been working for 15 years on a challenging lot.  Like so many homes in the Atlanta area, the front yard is sunny and fairly flat, but the back yard slopes down away from the house.

Gloria has worked with the topography and has created several unique spaces that mostly involve hydrangeas.  Claiming Margaret Moseley and the late Penny McHenry as her mentors, Gloria has collected hydrangeas for years and has just about every species or cultivar represented in her innovative garden.

The scene above is in her back yard and is a "garden room" decorated in bright blue.  In this area, and elsewhere in the gardens which surround her house on all sides, Gloria has created interesting vignettes - all incorporating hydrangeas.  She has also created a charming parterre garden, which is flanked on one side by a row of Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'.

One of Gloria's specialties is "fairy gardens."  When you go to her house this weekend on the American Hydrangea Society's annual tour, you'll see these little "homes" which include miniature plants and tiny landscapes.  The one you see above was made especially for the blue container which echoes the blue of the surrounding lacecap hydrangea.

And, be sure to check out Gloria's climbing hydrangeas.  My heart leapt when I saw them going 40 feet up into her giant trees.  Spectacular.

 Here's the information on the 20th annual tour of the American Hydrangea Society:

Saturday, June 14, 2014
9:00 a.m. to 5 p.m., rain or shine.

The tour includes seven lovely hydrangea gardens - three in East Cobb, one near East Cobb,  just inside Roswell, two off Briarcliff Road in the northeast area and one in Buckhead.  The brochure tickets contain all the information and locations.

Tickets:  $30 for one person includes a year's membership in the American Hydrangea Society and its informative meetings and newsletters.  $40 for two tickets and a family membership for a year.
The tickets will be sold in two gardens that day only, from 9 until 2 p.m.:  Garden #1 at 2157 Lebaron Drive, NE, Atlanta 30345, and Garden #7 at 530 Trailside Court, Roswell 30075.  At these same two gardens, you'll also be able to buy those wonderful jagged Kombi (I can testify as to how great they are) shovels ($35) and trowels ($15) while supplies last.  Orders will be taken if we run out.

So bring your cameras and notebooks.  The only drawback is the gardens are not wheelchair accessible.

We hope to see you there.  I'll be posting some photographs here on this blog and on Instagram (I'm about to get started with that soon).  Also, this will be "Hydrangea Week" on this Web site.  I got more good pictures at Margaret Moseley's just this morning.  See you on Saturday!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A garden that just grows and grows (double meaning)

Sometimes you just wish you could take everyone you know with you to see a garden.  That's the way I felt last weekend when I went on the Coweta County Master Gardeners' tour.  I wanted to stop everyone in Liz Tedder's garden and tell three stories:  (1) How the 1830's house she rescued looked when I was growing up  (2) How I'd gone there in 1988 as a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, what the garden looked like then and what happened to me that involved blood and a hospital, and (3) what has been added since my last visit in 2008 (unbelievable).

The description on the ticket brochure read:  "Five acres of gardens surrounding an 1830's Federal style home.  Beautiful gardens recognized in Southern Living magazine for the last two decades."

I think I'll start at the beginning.  For as long as I could remember, when I was in the car with my mother going from my small hometown to the bigger town of Newnan, I'd hear the same thing.  "That's Tom Arnold's family homeplace."  I'd look at the derelict house, the two stories teetering on stone pillars, windows broken out or long gone, rusting cars and farm implements sticking up through waist-high weeds, and, if the house was occupied, laundry hanging from a clothesline.   The surrounding land was nothing but scrub pines.

"Mr." Tom Arnold, as he was known to me, lived in our town in a very tidy, two story home which was old, but not nearly as old as the plantation house that had belonged to his family.  Liz and George Tedder decided to take a chance on this ruin.  I don't even know if Mr. Tom had ever lived there, but his ancestors had and were buried in an also-neglected family cemetery not far from the house.

Liz was already a knowledgeable gardener when she moved here.   She and George worked miracles to save the house.  And then Liz started on the outside.  The first major garden was the "chimney garden" on the south side.  I remember 'George Tabor' azaleas up close to the house and then a long, rectangular lawn which stretched out to a gazebo at the end.  Liz had two wide borders on either side.  The day I went there to do the reporting was in August, and I remember Oriental lilies and large stands of blue platycodons.  There was also a perennial garden around the swimming pool in back of the house.

The AJC photographer and I stayed for a long time, marveling at what Liz had done.  We could both see that there were already many flowers that spanned the seasons in the long border and around the house.  I filled my notebook, and the photographer took lots of pictures.  We left and drove to Newnan to get some barbeque at Sprayberry's.  That's when I realized I'd left my pocketbook in back of Liz's house.

We laugh about it now, but I guess I'm lucky it wasn't worse.  After we ate, I drove back to Liz's house.  Her car was gone.  We parked in front, and I hopped out and ran around to the back.  I didn't know Liz had a German shepherd.  I had seen her other dog, but not this one.  Before I knew it, I was face to face with a set of teeth set in vicious snarl.  I turned instinctively and must have bent over because he hit me with great force in my right hip.  I somehow beat him to the car and jumped on top.  Then, I slid down into an open window, and the photographer took the wheel, and we escaped.

I waited until we got back to Atlanta to go to the ER, where I stayed for several hours.  I had a puncture wound and the most amazing and biggest bruise I'd ever seen.  I had to get a tetanus shot.  My daddy and I went back the following Sunday and retrieved my pocketbook.

This is why I don't ever get much done.  I've gone off on this tangent, when I really want to tell you about this amazing garden.  There are so many areas, I can't even name them all.  Liz has restored the cemetery and had the most beautiful heavy iron fence (she used some pieces of the original gate for an ironsmith to copy) installed around the family grave sites.  Earlier in May, the cemetery was filled with the heirloom Gladiolus byzantinus which Liz found there once the cemetery was cleared.  Last weekend, a sea of blue bachelor's buttons were just coming to an end.

Liz has a new greenhouse, which is on an axis that runs through the giant potager (she has the Italian side and the French side).  But this is just one new addition to an assortment of different gardens:  Several "barn" gardens, a white sunken garden, the playhouse garden (oh to come back as a child and have this little furnished house and its garden), borders which lead to other areas packed with flowers and shrubs, new flower beds that surround the cemetery, a boxwood garden under giant shade trees in front, huge plantings of shrubs and ornamental trees along the railroad tracks (two CSX trains came by while I was there last Saturday), and shrub and tree borders that edge the woods.  Liz laughs that she finally got George to clear all the fence lines around the rolling pastures, and now she's starting to plant  them, as well.

I have to stop here, because I've forgotten to mention so many of the other garden areas like the grape arbor and herb garden.  Liz loves symmetry and geometric patterns, and so she has organized much of the garden around long allees, boxwood parterres, stone borders, picket fences, paths that lead around outbuildings, and of course, the original rectangular lawn.  It's no wonder she has scrapbooks filled with articles from national magazines, many of which featured her garden on the cover multiple times.

To defray some of the costs of the upkeep and of the very expensive cemetery fence, Liz offers a $25 season ticket so visitors can come and see how the garden changes every two weeks.  This way, someone is there to answer questions (I think it's open on certain weekends and every other Wednesday during the growing season).  This season pass will also ensure that you don't have a close encounter of the scary kind like I had, even though Major is resting peacefully in the garden now.

Above:  A view of the rose-filled herb garden framed by the grape arbor.  There's contact information and a link to an article I wrote describing the 30 gardens within a garden on the Oak Grove Plantation Web site:

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A country garden gets new life

On Saturday, I was privileged to go on the Coweta County Master Gardeners' tour, and I must say so many memories came flooding back.

First of all, I shall digress.  To visit one of the gardens, located at the corner of where two narrow country roads meet, we had to park at Andrews Chapel, a picturesque white clapboard Methodist church in the historic crossroads of Roscoe, Georgia.  I walked into the small church and tried to picture myself as a teenager, playing for a wedding of someone who was a member there.

This is something you may not know about me (or care to know), but in my former life, I was a church organist.  If you got married in my church in Palmetto while I was in high school or in the years between my college graduation and the time I left for San Francisco and wound up as a ski bum in Taos, New Mexico, and then lived a year in Paris (a whole other story), I probably played for your wedding or your loved one's funeral.

But back to Andrews Chapel.  I don't recall if I played the piano or the organ. I remember that this girl's mother got me to play for her daughter's wedding. I think I was a senior in high school, and the daughter was a year older than I.  That's the only time I've been in that church until Saturday.

Now, that I've gone astray with that confession, I'll get back to the garden.  I got off the shuttle and couldn't believe what I saw.  I've known this house since I was a child.  My great-grandparents lived in an almost identical one (a Southern plantation saltbox) right up the road.  Both were built in the 1830's.

But this one always had something special - a boxwood parterre on the side of what used to be an unpaved road (in fact both of these roads were unpaved when I was a child).  The design was laid out in 1837, allegedly at the same time a similar one was commissioned for an ante-bellum house in Palmetto (torn down in the 1980's in order to put up a Chevron station).  The garden designer came from either Belgium or Germany, I've forgotten which.

Of course, I knew the scion of the original owners, or rather my parents did.  After his death, a garden designer from Atlanta moved into the house.  The present owner has been there only four or five years.  I almost fainted when I went in to see that he has established wonderful garden rooms all around the house in such a short time.  He's respected the country atmosphere and has planted old-fashioned plants along with roses, which cascade from arbors or are tucked into the numerous beds.  He had many wonderful shrubs and perennials (ex:  Penstemon 'Husker Red') and climbers like sweet autumn clematis and Lady Banks roses.  There were purple smoke trees and oakleaf hydrangeas and just about anything else I can think of that will grow in Georgia.

The boxwood parterre is still there and surrounds the beautiful gray twisted bark of ancient cedar trees.  There is a potager and many alley ways flanked by 'Annabelle' hydrangeas coming into bloom and rows of paniculatas, which will flower later.

The owner is a well-known, high-end caterer and event designer.  That very day, he was doing a wedding with 300 guests at nearby Serenbe.  He grows much of the foliage and many of the flowers he uses for his designs.  I remember that he was the top choice for my daughter and son-in-law's wedding last October, but he was already booked.

It is now my ambition to meet this person and to go back when I can take photographs more easily.  Saturday was a bright day with many visitors, which was great.  I love when people are interested in gardens.   From just looking at what was there, I can see he has it timed to have something going all the time.

In the photograph above, he used a basin he found on the property to anchor one of the "rooms".  He had also placed boulders in the garden - not ones brought in from somewhere else - but ones that had probably been there for 175 years.  I'm guessing they could once have been used in the foundation of some of the outbuildings.

After having seen so many derelict places from the 19th century either neglected or torn down, it did my heart good to see the new life brought to this historic place by someone who knew its importance and had the taste to make it into something wonderful.