Thursday, November 27, 2014

'Tis a gift to be simple ....especially at Thanksgiving

Today, I'm thinking about where and how friends and relatives are celebrating Thanksgiving.  For example, according to a posting on Facebook, my nephew and his wife and four boys are on a cruise, presumably in the Caribbean.

My friend Benjie and some friends have spent Thanksgiving together for decades.  Each person or couple brings a dish, and they rotate homes every year.  At least three of them are decorators, and cleverness counts when it comes to the table settings.  When it was Benjie's turn a few years ago, I drove over to his house and took pictures of his stunning table.  He hosted again last year, and I was envious of a ceramic turkey (a large one) he got off eBay.  He said it wasn't expensive, maybe $12, which set me afire even more.  I've always wanted one of those.

Also, last year he took two large orange pumpkins and put them in a pair of magnificent antique bronze urns, set at the ends of a kitchen island.  To make this combination appear even more rustic (mind you, the bronze urns are very elegant), he stuffed hay around the pumpkins.  I had a moment of thinking how unoriginal my decorations were when I saw what he had done.

But that's okay.  All I ended up doing was using what I had on hand and what I could pick from the yard.  Wait.  That's not really true.  My team did the Harvest Sunday arrangement for church last year(a giant cornucopia on the altar), and I splurged and bought some rose hips at the wholesale florist.  I used them in an arrangement of beech leaves (picked fresh Thanksgiving morning; they dry out and curl to a crisp after a few hours).  I used my mother's cornucopias on the mantel in the dining room.  They were stuffed with dried okra from the farm, Mother's fake grapes, dried pomegranates, poppy pods and nandina berries (still in the orange stage), among other things found in the woods.  I also included some wisps of bittersweet I picked, at great risk to injury, from the side of a nearby, very busy road.

When I had run out of time, I ended up just throwing some beech branches on the pine Georgia hunt board (back in the thirties, my father-in-law found the latter on a porch in north Georgia; it was covered in white paint; the story was that he took his knife and scraped off a place to see beautiful wood underneath).

Anyway, if you ignore the painting hanging crooked over it, the hunt board and the my mother-in-law's silver service and the beech leaves carelessly thrown on there turned out to be my favorite decoration.  Sometimes, the simplest things can give you the most satisfaction.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

November - using what you gather

It is a cold and rainy and very dismal Sunday afternoon here in Georgia.  I went to church and made it through until the minister said at the end, "Let's take a few seconds of silence to think about the joy of Thanksgiving and all the people who've been around our Thanksgiving tables of the past," or at least that's what I understood him to say.

Well, that's a killer for me, as with great joy, I remember all those Thanksgivings of my childhood and later in my adulthood when my children and my husband and I would head down to Mother and Daddy's for a feast (all cooked by Mother, except when I was older, I did do the scalloped oysters for a few years).

I've written about this before, so I won't elaborate here.  It's just that I no longer celebrate with my brother and his children and their families.  They all have their places to go now.  And, of course, Mother and Daddy and my husband, who loved my mother's cooking so much, are all gone.  That's who I thought of, of course.

Every Thanksgiving since my husband's sudden death in 1999 has been different.  By 2002, my parents, then in their 90's, could no longer put on the spread they had done for years.  My sister-in-law and I tried to cobble together something at their house.  It was the first time I'd ever had pieces of chicken in the dressing.  She'd brought it from Louisiana, and it's not that it wasn't good.  It just wasn't my mother's cornbread dressing, with the hint of celery and onion.

I guess the worst Thanksgiving of my life, though, was the November after Mother had to go into a nursing home.  I cooked all week, and my husband's sister and her family all came.  I had to leave and drive 50 miles to get Mother.  When we arrived back at my house, I realized I'd forgotten her wheel chair.  So, I improvised.  I got my rolling desk chair from my office upstairs, and she was helped into the house and sat down.  We wheeled her into the dining room.

That was the mistake, I think, that set her off.  My mother, the warmest, most gracious and cheerful woman in the world, scowled at everything.  Not only would she not touch one morsel of food, she would not even take a sip of water.  Seeing it was a lost cause, I left before dessert was served and drove her back to Newnan.

But, that's not the Thanksgiving table I thought of today.  I concentrated on Chip and Mother and Daddy and saw us all sitting there at the big table, Mother's two cornucopias spilling fake grapes and gourds onto the linen tablecloth, our plates laden with green beans, creamed corn, lima beans (the three latter from their summer garden), turkey, dressing, scalloped oysters, sweet potatoes, cranberry salad and Mama's homemade rolls.  I saw the relish tray sitting there untouched.

This is not what I had intended to talk about!  I wanted to describe how the scene above, which I did for the St. Luke's Park Board's November meeting, didn't cost me a cent.  I took everything from the yard or from the farm, except the striped pumpkin-looking gourds, which my friend Benjie had given me.

Here are the elements.  You may have to look closely to pick them out:  Beech leaves, nandina foliage and berries, china berries, moss I'd had in my basement for years,  the fruit of Poncirus trifoliata (hardy orange) from my yard, and a strip of bark from the wood pile.

I am wrong about the money.  Those were oranges, apples and mangoes I'd bought to eat (you can't see that my dog had bitten the mangoes and decided against them - he has separation anxiety and does things like that), and it looks like I threw in some key limes.  I always buy them when I see them, intending to make a pie, which I never do (I end up using them in iced tea instead).  All this was centered around pieces from my husband's decoy collection:  a goose, a shore bird and a mallard. The setting was a beautiful dining room in the venerable St. Luke's Episcopal Church on Peachtree Street.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The ginkgo leaves this year

Several people have sent me before-and-after photos of their ginkgo trees this year.  When I received them, I realized the leaves had all turned and fallen early, according to my photo library.

But, this year was different for some of the ginkgoes around town. The ones at church never turned completely yellow before they fell.  Matter of fact, I went to church on Sunday, ready to take my annual photo looking up through the golden-yellow leaves at the blue sky and the steeple, only to find the trees completely bare.  I looked on the ground, and most all of the leaves were green.

I called 98-year-old Margaret Moseley, and she said this is the first year the leaves have fallen before they turned.  She estimates she planted her tree in the 1980's.  Every year, she would monitor the tree and have her chair ready to watch the glowing yellow leaves rain down in one day.

"I would sit on the porch and watch them fall," she said.  "This is the first year the leaves have failed to turn yellow.  I looked out today, and there wasn't a leaf on the tree.  There were only green leaves on the ground.  This has never happened this way in all the years I've had the tree."

So, who knows what happened this year?  I have dozens of pictures taken in the past of ginkgo trees putting on their spectacular fall show.  I'm sure this is an anomaly, but one wonders why.

One more thought:  Margaret has a female tree (not a pleasant odor, although I've never noticed it).  What I did see the other day were seedling ginkgoes coming up in some of her beds.  I am wondering.  Liz Tedder wrote to say she retrieved a seedling this way years ago.  I know that unless I live to the age of Margaret, I wouldn't see a ginkgo tree in very mature form.

But should I take some of these seedlings and plant them for future generations?  There was a woman in Wisconsin - now deceased - who, in her 80's was planting small oak trees like crazy.  She said she wanted the trees so that someone way after she was gone would be able to have shade on her blistering sunny hilltop.  Maybe I'll try this at the farm.  American elm trees keep coming up and succumbing to disease.  Perhaps some ginkgoes would thrill whoever occupies the land decades from now.  I like that idea.

Above:  A photo taken three years ago of ginkgo leaves in Margaret Moseley's iron bird bath garden.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Stopped by glowing colors

I've gotten much better about stopping on streets to look at trees or flowers or shrubs.  It used to be that I would go around a block several times to see something extraordinary if I had no place to park. It's a wonder I never had a wreck rubber-necking (not looking at wrecks, but flowers).

On Sunday as I was heading home from church, I passed these trees, and because my street is not very busy, I pulled over, backed up and got out.  Every week I take my camera to church to record the flowers, so I thought I might as well capture these colors.  They were absolutely blinding on a very gray day.

A lot of the original houses on my sparsely populated street (it dead ends into an estate overlooking the Chattahoochee River) have been replaced by newer, bigger houses.  The woman who lives here was on the street when I moved here in 1973.  Her home looks modern with a Japanese feel, although I've never been inside.  I've only talked to her a couple of times on the phone (our neighborhood is so spread out; I can hardly see another house from mine, even in the winter).

Anyway, I do recall now that these Japanese maples have caught my eye before.  On Sunday, I needed some "brightening up", so this did the trick.  The owner never knew I stopped and walked up  her driveway.  I don't often do things like that, but I figured if she had something this eye-catching, she wouldn't mind if I shared the beauty with others.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Chrysanthemums and a cold November long ago

These chrysanthemums look like the ones we would find at a wholesale florist - ones that had come from South America perhaps.  That's where a lot of today's flowers are grown.

But the blooms you see here were growing in a long row near my home town in south Fulton County.  True, the grower is a native of Bulgaria and found the inspiration for growing different chrysanthemums from his grandmother back home.  But, it's a flower I think we can all identify with.

I look at these flowers, and I am reminded of cold nights and high school football games - of arriving at the stadium with my parents and hearing the band already playing and the roar of the crowd.  My heart would beat with anticipation, especially if our team was in contention for a championship.

Actually, though, such flowers were sold on the street outside college games.  Made into corsages with pipe cleaner letters attached, men would buy their dates or wives a big flower to wear.  In those years, we wore suits to college games.  I remember my daddy buying me a football mum as we were walking to a Georgia Tech game.  I had on a tweed suit that had the exact colors you see above.  If I were offered that outfit today, I would reject it.  I look terrible in burnt orange and mustard yellow.

Still, though, the scent of chrysanthemums takes me back to other days and good memories - first of being cold, huddled under a stadium blanket,  and then later arriving home to a hot meal my mother had cooked.

I wanted to add something about today's date.  Who can remember November 18, 1975?  For some reason I do.  I had been married for two years.  The previous May I had ended my five-year teaching career (which had been interrupted by a year off as a ski bum, followed by a year working in Paris).  For the holiday season, I had taken a job in the downtown Rich's silver department.  It was a gleaming area, near an entrance, and my mother had often stopped in there to buy a bride a piece of sterling flatware.

I loved working there, looking at all the patterns.  Once, a friend of mine's father came in.  He was an oilman from Midland, Texas.  He bought all the silver jiggers we had.  They had coins on the bottom and one ridge around the middle.  They were the perfect present for his business acquaintances, he said.

But, I'm rambling now.  My husband's law firm was located a couple of blocks away, so he came by to walk me to the car after work.  Back then, there was a beautiful train station a level below the street near Rich's. I remember saying that it was November 18th, and it should not be so freezing cold.  We were talking about what a handsome building it was, and we were shivering against the cold.  It was already dark, and like this morning, it was unusually frigid with a stiff wind, made worse by being downtown.

It was one of those moments, though, that I felt completely happy.  I had the right husband, the best parents, a tiny cottage in the woods, and life seemed full of possibilities.

I just saw on television a man talking about the happiness curve.  It dips in your forties, and then starts back up in your fifties.  That line did not veer that way for me.  My husband was struck down suddenly just after his 56th birthday.  I had just turned 54, and our girls were 22 and 15, and the years that followed were not good.

But, the TV interview ended on a promising note.  Apparently, you reach the peak of your happiness in your 70's.  I have always been a hopeful person, thinking that something better is always around the next corner.

The old Rich's is long gone, as is that beautiful train station.  The thrill of shopping in downtown Atlanta is only a memory.  But I like thinking of Novembers past, of chrysanthemums and cold spells and the simple happiness of walking in the frigid darkness along an Atlanta street.  I still feel inside like that 19-year-old whose daddy stopped and bought her that big yellow mum.

So, now that I've learned that life begins at 70, I'm actually looking forward to the years ahead.  I honestly believe there will be some more good Novembers down the road.  That's a comforting thought on this cold morning, remembering this same date almost four decades ago.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

One more November rose

I'm remembering last week and this rose in Margaret Moseley's garden.  It's probably one of her collection of David Austin English roses.  It was the last of the lovely days for a while.  Margaret, 98, was looking happy walking through the garden, peering up at the sasanquas that are now 25 feet tall and enjoying the autumn colors of the halesia, the winged euonymus, the dogwoods and the Japanese maples.  Her ginkgo had not turned yet, although I saw today that the ones at church and those all along the way have dropped their leaves.

As I rushed back through the garden on Tuesday, quickly taking 85 photographs, I thought of Margaret's words after I showed her some 500 pictures of her garden in preparation for writing Margaret Moseley's A Garden to Remember:

"My goodness.  I can't believe I planted all that."

I couldn't either.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The last rose of summer - and some changes

On Tuesday, I went out to see Margaret Moseley.  I had already been a few days earlier, but without my camera.  I didn't have much time then and needed her to sign books.

There she was, sitting at the kitchen table, opening each book to the correct page and signing confidently.  At 98 and a half, she is sharp as a tack.

All the while I was there, I kept looking out at the garden.  Her daughter Carol and her high school friend W.M. have been working like Trojans, pulling weeds (most of the weeds are actually plants that some of us would love to have - they've just gotten out of hand in the garden).  Meanwhile, Margaret goes out and finds it almost unbearable that she can no longer bend down and pull out anything undesirable.  Also, she laments the fact that a lot of what she planted has disappeared. This might have happened anyway, given the way things do fade away over time.  We are all familiar with that phenomenon.

Still, the magic and beauty are still there, even in early November.  It's the way the garden is planted.  If I had had a 3/4-acre rectangle, you would be able to step out of the back door and see the entire back yard.  But, Margaret didn't plant her space that way, with borders on the edges and lawn in the middle.

Instead, she planted around trees (many are no longer there) and included evergreens that grew up to anchor these beds that were expanded over time.  So, what you have is a series of secret gardens.  Grass paths wind through the garden, past sasanquas and camellias that are 25 feet tall.  This evergreen backdrop creates a series of hidden allees and secret gardens within a garden.

I am so thankful that I was able to capture just some of the wonderful plants and scenes in Margaret's garden in the book, Margaret Moseley's A Garden to Remember.  In it are photographs of some of the best plants you can have in areas with similar climates to Atlanta.  You can also see how Margaret had something in bloom every day of the year and delighted in every flower and leaf through all the seasons.

I've gotten off-base here.  What I wanted to say is that if someone were to follow Margaret's methods, and say, you don't have deer or that you have some barrier against them, I'm thinking you could add years to your life.  The peak of Margaret's fame came when she was in her 80's and early 90's.  I may not live that long, but I would like to have that joy Margaret found in going out every day working in her yard and every night dreaming about what she was going to plant next.  I still love her words, "I wish everybody could have a garden."

Note:  My computer is slowing down, and one of the causes may be that I have 30,000 photographs - most of them of gardens and plants, a lot from flower arrangements at church, and only a few of family and friends (shameful!).  What I think I'll do is try to post more often with just descriptions of what you're seeing.  Then, at least once a week, if something merits a story, then I'll attach it to the photograph, just as I do now.  What is happening is that life is getting in the way of my spending an entire morning writing and editing.  That is what I like to do, not run errands or see to things that are broken and need repair or spend hours on the phone changing insurance companies that seem to take away the medicines you need just when you'd gotten used to having them, hassle-free.

If you find it annoying to receive so many pictures under this new format, just zap your e-mail.  At least you won't have to spend time reading my long ramblings.  Let's see if this works, as it's hard for me not to launch into detail or tell a story about a plant.  I'm realizing, though, that I can't possibly live long enough to show you even a fraction of the pictures I've taken through the years.  I don't want to see them go to waste, as one or two might spark the imagination or introduce you to a plant you may want to hunt down.  I think for Margaret, part of the fun was the thrill of the chase.  If you don't have time or space to garden, you can perhaps just enjoy seeing the beauty others have created.  That's sort of what I've done.

Above:  An unknown rose that came as a bonus when Margaret ordered her collection of David Austin English roses.  It is so reliable, with the most beautiful buds, followed by this lovely open flower.  It's in bloom from spring until the first freeze, which happened two days after I took this photograph earlier this week.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Poppies for my brave cousin

Last Saturday morning, I went down to Georgia State University (I didn't know they owned so many tall buildings) where a special ceremony took place.  When I got out of the car, a uniformed officer in the U.S. Army guided us to more young men in army fatigues.  They, in turn, showed us the way to a lovely modern building where we took the elevator to a top floor.  From there you could look out over Atlanta in every direction.

The event was the dedication of an endowment fund for ROTC scholarships and education aids in memory of my beloved cousin, Colonel Lynn B. Stull, who died of a heart attack in February at the age of 67.

Lynn and his brother were an integral part of my childhood.  They were the only relatives on my Daddy's side even remotely my age.  Lynn was a year younger, and his brother Terry was a year older than I.  When they would drive up at Christmas or Thanksgiving or in summer, my heart would beat with excitement.  We had the best time, playing all over our property in town.  Later, when I was a young teen, I would drive them over to the farm in an Air Force jeep where I would perform ridiculous stunts, splashing through streams and bouncing over terraced fields.

Terry and I, who were a lot alike, would gang up on Lynn, who was gruff and full of bravado.  Once, we abandoned him in a pasture with a mean bull named Pudgy.  Just as Lynn was about to attacked by the huge creature, I swung the jeep around, and he jumped aboard just in time.  Terry and I often joke that we could possibly face eternal consequences from this one act.

But Lynn survived and went on to earn an ROTC scholarship to Georgia State, where he was an outstanding student and leader.  He was an infantry officer advisor in Vietnam and served with the Special Forces in the Pacific and Middle East.  He was Director of Asian Studies at the U.S. Army War College and was Defense and Army Attache at the U.S. embassy in Malaysia.  He went on to to earn his M.B.A.  All in all, during his 31 years of service, he served with great distinction and honor.

His brother Terry graduated from West Point and served two tours in Vietnam. He also retired as a U.S. Army Colonel.  I will have to write about him at another time, as I can barely think of what happened to him over there, the close calls and his extraordinary bravery at the height of that war.

So, today, I salute my cousins on this Veterans Day.  I'm so proud of them both, and I am especially proud of this honor paid to Lynn.  In addition, I am greatly relieved that something terrible did not happen to him that day in the pasture when an underage driver showing off could have prevented him from a stellar life as a revered officer and much-loved husband, father, grandfather and friend.  I will love you forever, Lynn Stull.

Flanders Field poppies:  Plant in late fall in the South.  Sprinkle seeds over completely bare ground in full sun, and spread a light film of pine straw over the bed to hold the seeds but let in the light.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Not much change in Charleston, except for my camera and me

As I walked the residential streets of Charleston in early October (along with hoards of tourists), I had my new camera and took lots of pictures of "gardens."  Actually, most were streetscapes, like this one.  I was reminded once again of how big an impact can be accomplished with so little planting space.

This photograph matches up with another one I took of the exact same house in 2007.  Hardly anything had changed.  There was no Clematis armandii draped on the column to the left as had been before (the fig vine was the same).  The boxwoods (or are they Japanese hollies?) had grown more together under the window.  Before, it looked like four separate shrubs.

There was still the clipped Confederate jasmine framing the window and shutters and transom.  And miraculously, those fastigiate hollies (I'm thinking 'Will Fleming') were still upright and standing as anchoring sentinels for that narrow strip.

The only change was the perspective of the photograph.  I didn't show what was around the corner to the right, next to the number 28.  There is a brick facade with a wrought-iron sconce holding a lantern over a doorway.  That was all still there, but I elected to show more of the espalier (the same shape as before) on the back wall.

I think this is a case of, "If it's not broke, don't fix it."  There's not an ounce of color except for the lush green of the foliage against the beautiful old brick and Charleston black/green shutters.  But, just imagine what that white stucco wall would look like without this simple, but beautiful planting.

On the trips to France and Italy, I was always struck by how a big, blousy rose could come out of a square in the pavement that measured only six by six inches and climb up two stories high.  Sometimes, I think we forget that we could soften a wall or add interest to a door frame with a single plant.  Simpler is not always better, but in many cases it is.  I'm thinking that whoever owns this Charleston house has figured out that it's best to keep what works - an uncomplicated but attractive arrangement that is timeless and suits the space.

Monday, November 3, 2014

O wild West Wind, don't blow the Japanese maple leaves away

Saturday morning, I woke up frozen in fear.  The wind was howling outside.  It was still dark, but I looked out and could see limbs above me going in every direction. I was positive one would hit my slate roof and also that the electricity would go out.

Before daybreak, I ventured out, and even with my flashlight, I kept stumbling over branches down in the driveway.  My dog was terrified and didn't go all the way to the street with me to retrieve the newspaper.

The constant gusts continued all day long.  Yesterday, everything was still, and I was able to finish picking up the twigs and branches that had fallen and could assess the damage.  Most of the tulip poplar trees are leafless now, and there's more sun coming in my windows on the south side.  I was extremely lucky, given all the big trees around here, that none fell on a structure.

Meanwhile, I'm sure my friend, Japanese maple collector Bill Hudgins, was holding his breath.  Over the years, he has grown out special seedlings he has chosen from his extensive three-acre collection.  He evaluated all of them for fall and spring color and nurtured only those that resembled the named varieties.  They are all in containers, which means they will color up and lose their leaves before the trees planted in the ground (many of the latter haven't begun to turn yet).

Bill says that since he's lost his main helper to water hundreds of these trees, which are over six feet and well-branched, that he's offering them for a steal so he can make sure they get a good home.  The trees are $18 each, which in the Japanese maple world, is crazy.  Although he's sold tons in the last few days, he said this morning that he still has hundreds more at his house to sell.  They're in three-gallon pots, and are much bigger than I had originally thought.  Most are at least six feet tall.  He said if you plant them in the ground this fall, they'll be spectacular by this time next year.  Several friends called to tell me they had bought some and that they are beautiful.  If you've ever bought a Japanese maple, you'll know that this is a steal and probably a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Bill's fear is that with the wind and cold weather, the leaves on the potted plants won't stay much longer.   Over the weekend, he did bring more to his shop, Lush Life, 46 E. Andrews Dr., Atlanta GA 30305.  It's located just off West Paces Ferry Rd. in Buckhead, near the Atlanta History Center.  The correct phone number is 404-841-9661.  When those are sold, he has literally hundreds more.  He's  offering a cut rate if anyone wants a significant quantity.

When I went over to Lush Life to take some books last week (you can buy Margaret Moseley's A Garden to Remember in the shop), I couldn't believe that so many of these maples not only had beautifully-colored leaves, but had lovely trunks of green or coral or a rich brown.

Now, to Shelley's famous poem, Ode to the West Wind which I referenced in the title above.  I don't know how many times I have wanted to use lines from this poem in this blog.  But, every time I would read the poem through, I would remember that only the first and last lines - the most famous - are easily quotable.  The imagery is mostly dark and gloomy or ghostly or speaks of death.  I couldn't find one line that worked, although I do like:  "O wild West Wind, thou breath Autumn's being," and of course:  "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"

So back to the Japanese maples.  I hope you can spread the word and find good homes for these beautiful trees before another "wild West Wind" comes through here again.