Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Japanese maple red - lipstick red?

For a very short time (and never again), I wrote copy for a charity's auction catalogs, describing items that were being offered.  It was grueling work for me.  For that sort of writing, you're either on the bus or off.  I was definitely not on board.

The volunteer job was to come up with words and phrases that would make the objects tantalizing and persuade people to bid.  After several attacks of writer's block, I was able to move laboriously from one item to another.

But, when I got to a watercolor rendering of some poppies, I didn't hesitate.  I knew at once how I would describe the color of the flowers.

When we were shooting the pilot for A Gardener's Diary on HGTV (Home & Garden Television),  Ruth Mitchell, who had this most wonderful cottage garden that went on for acres, was great on camera.  As a result, Kathryn (the other executive producer) and Erica (the host) and I adopted "Ruth talk" for years.

Our favorite was "lipstick red."  That's how Ruth described the bright red Flanders Field poppies that grew in her garden.  From then on, every red object or flower we came across, we would assess its properties as to whether it was "lipstick red" or not.

I must say that this photograph taken in Bill Hudgins' garden looks more like Christmas red than lipstick red.   I haven't bought any lipstick in at least 30 years (not that I don't need it, but whatever I buy turns dark red on my lips, and I look like vampiress), so I don't really pay attention anymore to that sort of thing.  In high school, though,  I wore "Persion Melon" just because it was the favorite of some movie star.

While I'm veering off the subject here, one unrelated note about describing colors.  When my older daughter moved to New York in September 2008, at possibly the worst time in history (or maybe since the 1930's), she was doing free-lance writing for magazines while looking for permanent work at one.  This proved difficult, because she would excitedly land a second interview only to find out that the publication had folded.

Anyway, I went up there to help her get settled.  She was swamped with deadlines and had gotten stuck on one paragraph for a national shelter magazine.  In the article, a woman had a rustic house, but had not gone with the usual country, muted colors you'd expect.  Instead, she had lime greens and corals and lemony yellows.  My daughter grew more and more frantic,  struggling for the right word for what I thought an odd choice for that type of house.  As the deadline loomed, and my daughter was in tears, all of a sudden I revved up my failed catalog voice to come up with "fruit punch" colors.  The editor loved it.  I can't even say how many times my daughter and I have made jokes about it ever since.  Any item is fair game to be labeled a "fruit punch" color.

But, back to the Japanese maples.  It is usually the last of October and the first two weeks of November that the leaves are at their peak.  If you have enough of them, it's like a veritable explosion in the forest. I mentioned in yesterday's blog that Bill Hudgins has over the years selected seedlings to grow out in containers.  From these, he has chosen ones for their fall and spring colors.  Again, they're not named varieties, but they have many of the characteristics of the most popular cultivars.

Stats:  Bill is selling 3-gallon trees for $18 each, less if you buy in quantities.  I'm sure he has some in his collection that qualify for the description of "Lipstick Red."  Or, some are so translucent in the sunlight, they could be called "Hawaiian Punch."  I like the orange and yellow ones, but I haven't come up with names for those yet.  Comparing these beautiful, refined leaves to Gatorade or Orangina is just not right, even for an auction catalog.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Sophie's Choice of Japanese maples

Oh dear.  I cannot spend any more time agonizing over which photograph to show from Bill Hudgins' amazing garden.  Normally, there would not be a problem, since I could run different pictures on different days.  But, I need to get this message out to anyone who has ever wanted a Japanese maple or who wants a tree that will give you three seasons of color.

Let me back up.  I've known Bill for over 20 years.  When he was in his early twenties, he fell in love with Japanese maples and started to collect them.  He first had them at his home in Decatur, which was featured in Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles magazine when I wrote for that publication.  Then, Bill outgrew the space and moved to a three-acre property in northwest Atlanta.  He is surrounded by woods on all sides, so it looks like he has much more land than he actually owns.

So, over the years, he added to his collection, traveling to Japan and studying how the trees were used in their parks and gardens.  He kept planting, and then he started gathering and selecting seedlings and potting them up.  This was all well and good, but now he's come to a point where he has hundreds of them, covering a steep hillside that is a riot of color in the spring and especially in the autumn.

But Bill just lost some crucial help when one of his employees retired.  The trees he selected are now four to six feet tall and come in brilliant autumn colors of red, yellow, orange and burgundy.  These particular trees don't have names - or even numbers - but they are the result of Bill's discerning eye for the showiest colors and leaf form.

The good news for Japanese maple lovers is that Bill is now selling the trees at a "steal," as he called it (and it is, even by my frugal standards). He can't keep watering hundreds and hundreds of trees, and he wants to share his bounty with other gardeners who would appreciate them.

The maples are all in three-gallon pots and can be planted in the ground or in large containers for anyone with limited space.  My own heart is beating so fast right now, thinking of all those beautiful trees and how I'd like to create a woodland like he has, that literally glows about this time every year.

The maples are available at Bill's store, Lush Life in Buckhead.  The address is 146 East Andrews Drive, Atlanta 30305; Ph. 404-841-9661.

Of course, now is a good time to select the trees, which come in fall colors of orange, yellow and red.  Bill has his in open woodland, and in 2012, I took 240 photographs in one day there.  I remember saying that my heart was on fire. I ended up going back two days later and taking over a hundred more pictures.  There was just that much beauty.

I sound like some sort of salesman (which I am not; I would starve if I had to do that for a living), but this is a once-in-a-lifetime (of Bill's life anyway) to obtain some beautiful trees for your property.

A word about the above photograph.  I flagged sixty to choose from.  Finally, after I realized that half the day had passed, I selected this one, turning down some red, yellow and orange trees that would have burned your eyes.  It's just too hard to explain unless you walk through his garden and point your camera up to the sky and see those leaves backlit from the sun.  I can't think of anything more beautiful.  I hope some of you will get to have some of this beauty.  Feel free to share this with friends.

Note:  If you are on this Web site, write Bill Hudgins' name in the white bar at the top left to see more of his garden.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Looking for something else, a solution for hosta is found

Yesterday morning on my way to church, I was speeding up my gravel drive when a young doe jumped out of the bamboo and in front of my car.  I slammed on the brakes and skidded, missing her by inches, if not an inch.  I stopped totally, fearing there were more deer to follow, which there often are.  She was alone, though, unless some smarter ones stopped when they saw me.  I did have to explain to the man who was walking his dog on the street what the commotion was all about.  He had just seen several in his woods across the street.

So, I was looking through photographs of Ryan Gainey's garden to find a shot I took of his 'Graham Blandy' boxwoods so I could talk about some that I just bought (the post will have to wait now), when I came across this picture.

Now that deer are a constant presence all around my house, hostas don't have a chance.  All had been okay up at the little house, but at the end of the summer, I fell down on my spraying routine.  Everything got shredded, including a huge 'Sum and Substance' Margaret Moseley gave me years ago, way before the deer came.

When I saw the above photograph, a light bulb went off.  I have these same two cement containers, and they've been sitting empty on my side patio for years.  I don't have a place I can put columns that would be high enough to avoid the deer (they don't mind standing on their hind legs, I've noticed).  But, I could have the containers brought around to the back terrace where I only have the chipmunks and squirrels to contend with.  It would mean dividing the hosta, which probably needs it anyway.  Amazingly, I think the root structure is still pretty large, despite the defoliation each year.

Here's the only problem.  In the late spring and summer, this is my only sunny spot on the entire four acres (not counting the slope at the little house, which will be addressed when my ship comes in).  I know that 'Sum and Substance' can take a bit more sun than other hostas.  Still, I would have to position the containers where they'd get some sort of shade in the afternoon, maybe from the other plants I have out there.

What I think I'll do is go ahead and take up the hosta (I'll probably need an ax, it's so large: also, what to do with the other blue ones?  They're the last to be eaten during the season) and get them planted.  Then, I'll have a while to figure out where to put them.

As I write this, I'm getting more excited about this prospect.  It just dawned on me that I could place them in front of the arborvitae where they've be shaded from the western afternoon sun.  That will give me another texture out there, and they'll be seen from the front door (my hall goes all the way through to French doors that lead to the terrace (a fancy word for what is really a concrete deck).

I did not even realize I had this photograph from Ryan's garden, so I consider it a lucky find.  Now, to go back and look at the rest of the pictures I took that same day to find the one I needed.  I'm so excited that I've already forgotten the gist of what I wanted to say about the boxwoods.  It will come back, I think.  

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The beauty of a different kind of hydrangea

The exquisite hydrangea you see above is one I've coveted for years.  When I was down at Wilkerson Mill Gardens near Palmetto (my home town) a couple of weeks ago, I snapped this photograph of Hydrangea involucrata, which has the loveliest soft (to the touch) grayish foliage and muted lavender flowers.  Even after it has reached its peak, the blooms are still beautiful, fading to creamy white.

According to Elizabeth Dean, co-owner of the nursery with her husband Gene Griffith, the Japanese name for this variety is 'Tama Azisai', Tama meaning "ball" and Azisai, "hydrangea."  The ball refers not to the open blooms but to the ball-shaped buds.  If you look closely, you can pick out a few of these latter.

I must say there are so many treasures at this wonderful nursery (see for their offerings).  I rode up to the mountains last weekend with Lyndy Broder, who has an amazing collection of plants in her multi-acre garden in the countryside near Stockbridge.  So many she found at Wilkerson Mill Gardens.  Back when you couldn't locate anything unusual, Elizabeth and Gene would have it.  You could always find something beautiful and out-of-the-ordinary.

This photograph illustrates how a single hydrangea can add great beauty to a landscape, even as the season wanes.  I just stood there transfixed at the combination of muted colors and the delicate nature of the blooms.

I'm adding this to my wish list, no matter if it never gets to be the size shown here in my lifetime.  I always think of Margaret Moseley, who through her eighties and into her nineties kept planting things she had read about or seen somewhere.  Just this past year, she put in several 'Limelight' hydrangeas.  At 98 years old, she's raving about their blooms and how quickly they grow, so I guess it's never too late to be thrilled by a new plant in your garden.

A reminder:  Next Tuesday evening, October 28th, the American Hydrangea Society will have its fall meeting at the Church of the Holy Spirit at 4465 Northside Drive, Atlanta 30327, at the corner of Mt. Paran Road. We gather at 7 p.m. for social time and to view all the plants we might win.  The program begins at 7:30 p.m.  Sara Henderson, a longtime hydrangea expert and past president of the AHS, will be the speaker.  Sara is currently Director of Gardens for Historic Oakland Cemetery.  She has extensive horticultural affiliations and is a popular lecturer.  Her lovely garden has been on HGTV's A Gardener's Diary and on many tours.  You can read about her in the latest AHS newsletter at:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Spying on Charleston gardens

There's nothing like strolling through the streets of historic Charleston on a beautiful day.  The only thing was there were so many tourists.  But then, what was I?  You're still a tourist even if you are there  to attend a wedding (and what a wedding - I'm still kicking myself for forgetting my camera to record the gorgeous tent, the amazing flowers and candles and greenery-draped chandeliers and monogrammed linen cocktail napkins!).

Anyway, on Saturday morning, I took off under a bright, sunny sky.  A front had come through the night before, and it was actually chilly.  I walked first to find the church so I'd know exactly where I was going that afternoon.  On the way, you could hear the clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages.  Sometimes, I'd follow along and stop when they did, listening to the history lessons.

I passed the scene above, obviously spying through the gate (I like it when Charleston residents give you a glimpse into their alleyways and narrow gardens).  It was a difficult day for photography, because it was bright and crisp, and every shadow was sharp in the harsh light.  Thus, this swimming pool looks striped.  Still, you can get the idea of the small, but striking landscape.

I did find the lovely old Episcopal church.  It was just across the street from a garden we featured on A Gardener's Diary on HGTV.  I peeked inside that garden, too, and admired the old roses in bloom.  There was tropical vine I was not familiar with, blooming on the fence.

My walk lasted three hours, and I was able to take pictures of gardens I'd photographed in 2007.  It still amazes me how so much can be done with so little space.  You'll see a wall covered with Confederate jasmine, and the whole plant is coming from one little opening in the sidewalk.

When it was time for the wedding, my daughter and I took a bicycle rickshaw to the church (my other daughter was a bridesmaid).  As we were dodging traffic, I glimpsed some gardens I'd missed.  I saw just enough to make me want to go back to Charleston.  I don't think I can ever get enough of peering through iron gates or openings in brick walls to see all the treasures hidden there.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Evolution and (unwanted) revolution in the garden

Something happened yesterday.  The man who tends the garden above appeared at my house in mid-morning, asking if I needed any work done.  He had finished a project in the pictured garden, which started out as large boxwood parterres (this being the largest) filled with seasonal flowers, clipped bay trees, roses and on and on.  Apparently, as the owner added other areas (like a fenced-in cutting garden, a chicken coop and an area for designer goats), the parterres were simplified.  This one is still beautiful, but in a different, more serene way.  The garden has evolved over time in an unexpected direction.

Back at my house, I was thrilled to have some help.  It's so rare that this man has any time, given the demand for his services.  A few weeks ago, he had brought some of my cobblestones from the farm, in anticipation of adding a small garden area opposite the arch garden.  This new, undeveloped triangular space is where this same man planted my mother's purple hydrangea and a boxwood.  On one side is a wild magnolia that separated the area from my bird feeding operation.  The branches of the magnolia came almost to the ground (you had to duck to get under them), but they were where the cardinals, who had basically taken over the feeders, perch awaiting their turn.

So, I had been doing something in the house (another man who came with him was pressure washing the concrete deck, which desperately needed it), when I walked out to talk about the new space.  I almost fainted.  The man had limbed up the magnolia, so much so that I had to look up at the branches.  My heart sank.  The deed was done.  Where were the cardinals going to gather and be protected from the eyes of hawks?  Not to mention, that the space looked so bare and exposed now.

"Plants won't grow here if you don't let sunlight in," he explained. "You have a boxwood in one corner, and you need two more here and here.  This way you'll have enough light to have a little garden."

He was right about that.  Nothing could have grown under those magnolia branches.  Also, he couldn't cut one side of the tree and leave the other.  Still, I went out this morning to feed the birds, having imagined last evening that not nearly as many showed up, and it all still looks so bare to me.

This incident is like so many others that have happened to me and to anyone with a garden and occasional help.  You don't anticipate that someone would go off on a notion of their own.  I couldn't have dreamed that this man would have cut all those magnolia branches.  Just wouldn't have crossed my mind.  I think it was last year that 98-year-old Margaret Moseley went out with a helper to show him a branch of a camellia that had grown over some other plants.  She wanted only that one limb removed.  Later, she went out to discover that the entire six-foot-tall bush had been cut to the ground.

So, I'll trust that the man is right, that I couldn't have grown anything along the cobblestone border he put in where the magnolia had blocked the light.  My neighbor came by after he had gone and said she thought the cardinals would adjust.  They can still perch in the magnolia, but it will be much higher.  And, they still have the osmanthus, the shelf rock and a small weed tree I keep trimmed for them as a perch.  I've noticed, though, that this new arrangement has emboldened the chickadees and the titmice.  They're the ones dominating the feeders this morning.

Back to the positives.  I can now have two more boxwoods which will tie the new space to the arch garden directly across the path.  I'm also comforted by the thought that the woman who owns the magnificent garden shown above puts all her faith in this man.  He is the sole keeper of her huge yard and probably uses his own intuition a lot of the time.  I think once I get over the shock of the bareness, I'll be glad it happened.  I'm always grousing about not having enough sun.  Now, at least in this little corner, that won't be the case.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Another garden mystery unlikely to be solved

In September of last year, I wrote a post about a yellow lycoris that popped up seemingly out of nowhere at my house.  If you type "yellow lycoris" in the search box at the top, you'll pull up the blog dated September 27, 2013.  That single stalk was next to a narrow path that leads to my brush pile.  It could have flowered there before, but I don't think so.  I go back there fairly often and would have seen it in some stage of bloom.

I wrote on that day that I wouldn't have been too surprised if it had been a red spider lily (Lycoris radiata).  I have a few at the little house that someone planted long ago.  Also, they're just not that rare.  I've been seeing them around in yards for at least a month now.

But, I'm retracting that statement.  I certainly was taken by surprise.  About a week and a half ago, I walked outside my basement door where I saw these three stalks blooming together.  They came up in a patch of Siberian iris Priscilla Glass gave me over 30 years ago.  I am positive that these flowers have never bloomed here before.

So, now I'm wondering.  I used to order things from the ads in the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin, published by the Georgia Department of Agriculture.  Sometimes, if I ordered a bulb, it would be so small that I had no hope of its maturing until I was in my sunset years.  That wasn't always the case, but it did happen a few times.  I would be lucky to have foliage come up eventually;  many just never flowered and then altogether disappeared.

I am trying to figure out if indeed a tiny bulblet could have been contained in the soil of Priscilla's gift, and it took 32 years to mature to a blooming size.  I am over a 150 yards, maybe even 200 yards, away from the little house.  I have some pink naked ladies (Lycoris squamigera) up there that bloom in July.  There's never been a lycoris up here except for said yellow one that was nowhere to be seen this year (when I went looking for it a couple of weeks ago, I did find a splintered, rotten limb near or maybe right on top of the place where it had appeared last year;  nothing could have gotten up through all that;  I cleared it all out, but still no yellow surprise).

I'm tempted to call up Priscilla and ask her if she has ever had red spider lilies.  But, am I foolish to think it would take over 30 years for a tiny bulb to grow to blooming size?  Those bulbs aren't all that large, anyway.

I think this occurrence will remain a mystery.  This coming winter, I'll look for some strappy leaves to appear.  The Siberian iris pretty much die down then, so I think I'll know.  I don't dare divide and disturb them, because I won't be able to wait another 30 years to see them flower again.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A gift of fragrance, but what to do?

Well, I couldn't believe it.  After working on this blog post for a good two hours yesterday, I tried to see what the photograph and text would look like on the finished page.  But, every time I tried, an error message came up.  This computer has been having trouble lately, with lots of turning beach balls.

So, I thought I should close some windows, shut it down and see if that helped.  When I went to close up the blog, it wouldn't let me.  It warned me that something might be lost if I did so.  But I was stuck.  I couldn't do anything.  Normally, I would copy the text, but I didn't.  Always before, even if you leave the page and come back later, the text and picture are still there.  Not this time.

Sorry to burden you with this, but I know I won't be able to re-create my spiel.  In brief, the story was about that orange tree you see above, how I came home from New York on the evening of September 20th, got out of the car in front of my house and was bowled over by the heavenly fragrance. I couldn't believe the perfume had wafted all the way around the house.  The next morning, I got up to see the shrub/tree loaded with tiny orange blossoms running up and down the branches.

Erica Glasener, host of HGTV's A Gardener's Diary and an esteemed horticulturist and lecturer, gave the plant - Osmanthus fragrans var. aurantiacus (orange tea olive) - when its trunk was the size of a pencil.

Normally, when someone would give me a plant, I would put it right in the ground.  With things I bought, I was not so quick.  I let my penchant for indecision take over, thus keeping some plants for years, dragging them in and out of the basement during very cold snaps and watering them in their containers in the summer.  It was ridiculous and a very bad habit.  Sometimes, I would lose plants, which was a waste of precious growing years, not to mention money.  Other times, the plants would root where I put them.  That was the case of Erica's gift.  It lived in its one-gallon container for years, blooming heroically every September.

That's how it came to be where it is - in the new arch garden (you are seeing it from the far end, looking toward the front corner of the house).  I left it there, and it rooted.  I finally cut the plastic pot off, and it grew too large to move, so we built everything around it.  The plan was to shape it so that it would cover the iron arch next to it.  Now, I'm unable to summon the nerve to take the loppers to it.  I thought I would cut it back at the end of October when my team has the flowers to do at church.  The stiff branches and glossy foliage would make a great background for our arrangements.

But, is this the time to prune it?  Jack Driskell, a self-described plant nerd with a fabulous garden, has the same plant.  I'm hoping he sees this and will tell me if you treat fall blooming evergreens like you would the flowering shrubs of spring.  That is, do you prune right after they bloom?  Will new foliage pop out and get killed by the freezes of December and January?

I just received another warning, so I'm going to copy this text just in case.  Another time, I will tell about the superiority of this plant (for several years, I've had what is supposed to be the most fragrant of all tea olives; it went into the ground immediately, but never grew;  I moved it, and it seemed happier; little white balls formed this year, but then fell off.  The species O. fragrans I bought at an outlet seems ready to bloom; we'll see if its fragrance lives up to its botanical name).

One last word:  If you see this orange osmanthus, buy it.  It's unusual, reliably fragrant, so much so that it perfumes an entire yard in September.  Its blossoms are dropping now, but still that delightful scent was in the air this morning when I went out to feed the birds.