Monday, November 30, 2015

The high cost of beech leaves

My foraging from roadsides has caused me some problems as of late.

The Sunday before Thanksgiving a friend from church wanted some bittersweet to take to her second home in Florida for decorations.  "No problem," I said.  "I know where we can get some."

She showed up at my house in her Sunday clothes - heels, hose, beautiful silky cape that I knew would unravel if it ever made contact with a thorn.

So, I relegated her to the getaway car.  We parked on a street off the main road where the wild vine grows.  I had already raided the safest spot for decorations for the Flower Guild luncheon in early November.  This time, I would have to negotiate a much steeper bank on a curve.

I didn't realize how much of a speedway this nearby road was.  I couldn't climb the bank at such an angle, but I could easily reach a lot of the vine, which by now had popped open to reveal the red seeds inside.  I leaned into the bank and the various thorns and cut a good armload before I had to return to where my friend was standing with the car.  I was a mess of leaves, and all sorts of sticks were clinging to my fleece top.

I went back for a second round, and then, to my horror, my friend crossed over and was standing too close to the road.  "Let me help you," she offered, not realizing that she was about to lose her life over a few strands of bittersweet.  After a couple of cars almost nipped her, she retreated and let me finish.

But that was then.  Fast forward to Thanksgiving Day.

Some friends were to come over around one, and I had gotten everything done.  It was about 11:15.

I love taking beech leaves and making an arrangement with red rose hips.  I buy the latter each year from the wholesale florist.  The problem is that beech leaves (I have many of the trees on my property) turn brown before Thanksgiving, all except this one tree about a mile down the road from my house.  For some reason, it retains the mix of green, gold and bronze longer than any of the other trees in my neighborhood.  The only thing is the branches have to picked and used immediately.  By the next day, they will have turned completely brown.

So, with the table all set, I headed for the tree.  I passed it, and as I looked to my left before I turned around in a school entrance, I spied some bittersweet.  My heart started beating fast.  I wanted that bittersweet, too.  But first I would get the beech leaves.

I pulled up onto a slight bank off the road and put my hazard lights on.  I opened my trunk and got out my loppers and headed to the tree and started cutting.  I tried not to be too greedy, but I needed enough to make the arrangement and a couple of extra branches to put in back of my silver service.

All was fine.  I stashed the beech leaves in the trunk and got back in my car.  I still had time to get the bittersweet.

I reached over and felt for my keys in the passenger seat.  They weren't there.  I have a rule that when I stop like this, I put my keys on the windshield.  But, in the excitement of the bittersweet sighting, I hadn't bothered to do that.  Maybe in my pocketbook.  I dumped it upside down.  No key.  I reached beside both seats.  Nothing had fallen down.  I opened the door and looked down.  Nothing but piles of water oak leaves.  No key.

I had left my phone charging at home, so I couldn't call anyone.  I kicked leaves around in a panic and found nothing.

Finally, I started walking toward home.  Immediately a young couple with a cat and dog in the car asked if I needed a ride.  I had my dog in my car, but I couldn't let the windows down, and I didn't have a leash with me.  He had to stay.  The couple dropped me off at the top of my (very long) driveway, and I ran at top speed to the house (I was, by now, wet to the bone) to call my guests and tell them to delay coming.  I explained what I had done.  They insisted on coming to get me and taking me to my car, which was really out of the way for them, but I accepted.

So, the end is this.  I got my valet key (the only key I have left) and started walking.  My friends picked me up at the corner and took me back to the car.  They helped me look on the ground, but no sign of any key.  They asked if I had disturbed the leaves, and of course, I had kicked them every which way in my initial panic.  "Oh, it would have been on top.  You never should have disturbed the leaves."

I've made four trips, the last with a rake, to look for my key.  I've had no luck.  I called several dealers today, and the best price for replacement is $120.

So, that arrangement you see above (which was thrown together at record speed) turned out to be very costly.  I'm still hitting myself over the head for not sticking to my windshield rule, which I made several years ago after making some friends look for an hour for my keys, which were stuck in the lock of my open trunk.  Not one time have I ever veered from this windshield policy since.  Except on Thursday.

Despite everything, we were able to have our meal around two o'clock.  It was a lot of fun, and the food (most of which they brought) was delicious.  I don't know if they were being kind or not, but my friends raved over the beech leaves and said they made everything seem so "Thanksgiving-y."  I certainly hope so, because that one bunch of leaves cost twice what I spend on my Christmas tree.  Oh well, perhaps it was apt punishment for cutting on someone else's tree, which was actually on the right-of-way, or at least that is my take on the location, and I'll stick with that story.

Beech leaves turn brown after they've been cut for several hours.  This was taken the next day.

Roadside bittersweet obtained with great danger flung on the mantle and on iron candlesticks (photo above).

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Gardens I still need to see in Paris

It was late June 2012 and raining hard.  We weren't all that far into the Bois de Boulogne in Paris.  My friend from childhood, Linda Jackson "Charley" Carter  and I had just exited a wonderful small museum she had found out about.  Our plan was to head to the Parc de Bagatelle, a beautiful garden known for its iris and roses, on the far side of the Bois.

The problem was, as good as the Metro system is in Paris, there was no easy route to where we wanted to go.  Also, as much as I wanted to see and photograph the garden, the circumstances were far from ideal.  Also, if we tried to walk the distance - possible,  but a stretch on even the prettiest day - we wouldn't have much time before we had to figure out how to get all the way back to the Ile St. Louis to meet my daughter at our apartment.

So, another visit to Paris, and I didn't get to see the Bagatelle.  I had actually been there when I was 22, but I wasn't paying attention to gardens at that age.

On our last night in Paris, we had dinner with my longtime friends Carol and Luc Tessier.  Carol has a garden jam-packed with wonderful perennials, shrubs, vines and trees.  She offered to send me photographs of the Bagatelle she had taken at peak iris and rose time (shown above).

My friend Charley already has an apartment reserved for next May to celebrate her daughter's 40th birthday.  It will be a while, I'm sure, before I get back to Paris.  Next time, the first item on my agenda will be a visit to the Bagatelle.

The events of last Friday are still fresh on my mind.  I could go to Paris every year for the rest of my life and not get to see everything on my list.  Things seem so dark and gloomy right now given what happened,  but I feel sure the sidewalk cafes will be packed again on beautiful evenings, the lights from the historic buildings will shimmer on the Seine as the bateaux mouches glide along and its many gardens will bloom again, as they have for hundreds of years.

Monday, November 9, 2015

One can always dream of a sunny potager

I subscribe to a very popular blog written by an American.  I'm always amused by the photographs, which oftentimes come from European gardens.  The author is a great designer who takes inspiration from travels abroad.

But where are all those European garden principles the blogger speaks of used around here?  I rarely see them.  Right now, of all the beautiful gardens I've seen in the United States, many have some elements of European design, but there's just something that sets even the simplest garden in England, France or Italy apart. (I admit, I've not been to southern California since I was 24 years old, and that was only at night; however, I've seen photographs from both there and the San Francisco area that reminded me of Europe).  Furthermore, it's been almost a decade since I've traveled to scout locations for A Gardener's Diary on HGTV),  but even back then, I saw very few places that really looked as if they could actually be in Europe.

Not that there's anything wrong with that fact.  We have wonderful gardens here that would stand up to anything you would see abroad.

But there's something about gardens in England, France and Italy in particular that have a quality that appeals to me and is hard to duplicate here.  I'm not really talking about wide flower borders with delphiniums and pleached linden trees, or expanses of lawn and hedges dotted with sculptures.  There's something else I can't quite put my finger on.

Admittedly, francophile that I am, there's no way I can achieve the gardens I deem suitable to go with my house (which is copied exactly from a photo of an abandoned house in Normandy).  First, I don't have the right topography, much less climate.  I have, however, copied the hedges and arbors and tunnels I admire in European gardens.

But, once you get away from the immediate area around my house, you run straight into woods, steep  slopes and lots of shade.

Steep would work fine if there were no trees.  Witness the miles and miles of rock wall terraces that cover the mountains of Greece, for instance.  But thick woods (for which I am grateful) are not amenable to terracing.

When I saw the scene above - a chef of a famous hotel cutting rosemary in a large (flat) potager - I felt a twinge of envy.  The sunny space contained vegetables, herb gardens and an orchard.  The arrangement suited my aesthetic longings exactly - straight lines with hedges; squares filled with herbs; tunnels and arbors, along with grape vines, espaliered and free-standing fruit trees.  There were also several pomegranate bushes laden with heavy fruit.  Roses climbed the tunnel supports, and dahlias and other fall flowers had their own big rectangle.  It was dreamy.  Ducks waddled about, and,  I'm sure, much to the chagrin of the gardeners, a bunny rabbit nibbled away on something green (lettuce?).

Having written all this, let me make one thing clear.  I can name several gardens right here in the Atlanta area that are as beautiful as I've seen anywhere.  Many of them don't have a single element I'm talking about here.  I love informal Southern gardens, in particular.

But, something in my psyche makes me long for those flat, sunny spaces, organized with clipped hedges, long, straight vistas and defined areas brimming with flowers and fruit.  All this seems poignant today when it is cold and rainy and windy, and the tall trees on the ridge above me seem menacing.  I think this will all change when the sun comes out and changes my perspective on things.  It's been a long, rainy spell, and that sets one to dreaming of other places - like this potager - which I saw on a much different type of day.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The first fall without Margaret

You're not sure what season it is until your eye is finally drawn to the deciduous trees and shrubs and hostas and Solomon's seal turning golden yellow or red.   At first, you're way too dazzled by the spring colors - bright whites, light pinks, all shades of rose - tricking you into thinking the month of April has burst forth.

My late friend Margaret Moseley planned it that way.  Year after year, she found new Camellia sasanqua varieties to add to her collection.  She also had a very early Camellia japonica 'Daikagura', and, of course, her roses came into their fall flush and lasted until the first frost.  Several of her hydrangeas put out fresh, French-blue blooms.

This is the first autumn without Margaret, and I've thought of so many things I've wanted to ask her.  I remember how my heart would beat so fast when I got out of the car and saw so many things in bloom.  One of my favorite fall combinations was along her driveway - a fountain-shaped Abelia chinensis loaded with green trusses of flowers next to a 20-foot-high, cascading 'Pink Snow' sasanqua.  At the base of all this bloomed the cobalt-blue ground cover Ceratostigma plumbaginoides.

Margaret's daughter Carol Harris is now taking care of the garden and is even adding some new plants.  It sounds like she's having fun (and working hard) to keep Margaret's treasures going.  October and early November are peak times for Margaret's fall garden.

I hope to be able to enjoy gardening as Margaret did in her later years.  The height of her popularity and pride in her garden came when she was in her eighties.  If I make it until then, I hope to be healthy enough to be out in the garden and always looking for something new to plant.

The other day at church (where we are installing a big new garden), I was bemoaning the fact that I would be 85 by the time the 'Lady Clare' camellia would be ready to cut for foliage for church arrangements.  And then I remembered what Margaret, who kept adding plants into her late nineties, might have said to such a comment.  "If you're going to be 85 anyway, you might as well have yourself a big, pretty plant."

Monday, October 26, 2015

Granny Smith's dahlias

My daddy's mother lived in a cottage just down from our house when I was growing up.  Daddy and Mother had brought her from the country to our small town, and for me, it was great to have her so close.  I could escape and go down there anytime I chose.

In the spring and summer, you would see her out in the giant vegetable garden my parents kept.  She wore gingham bonnets - all of which she made herself - and would be wielding a hoe, chopping up weeds.

She was also a flower gardener.  Most of what she grew, she planted in rows, as if they were vegetables.

Her cottage was dark red brick, and in late summer, a row of dark red dahlias would come up along the base of the house.  I loved picking them for bouquets, and she gave me free rein to do anything I wished.

I snapped this photograph in Diana Mendes' wonderful fall garden in Atlanta.  It's packed with chrysanthemums, fall-blooming roses, Mexican sage, asters and about anything else that flowers until frost,

My grandmother's dahlias weren't the cactus type shown above, but they were the same color.  The instant I saw them, I was taken back to that place in my childhood when a feisty, loving grandmother let me have the run of the place.

She was born on February 14, 1875, and died on February 14, 1961.  Although that is so far removed from this time and place in my life, I still grow sentimental when I think of her love for gardening and that row of dahlias I could count on year after year.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

An invasive aster for everyone but me

This is a close-up of part of the one Aster tataricus I have in my garden.  This is ironic, because this fall-blooming flower spreads readily and can take over an area before you know it.

But, at my house it's different.  The deer kept eating the new foliage, so I never got a flower where I had planted them years ago.  In the spring,  I moved several to a safe place behind some fishing line attached to iron arches.  Only one plant shot up and bloomed.  The others remain rosettes of foliage on the ground.

This is in contrast to the behavior of this tall, invasive flower.   Jeane Jones of Dalton, who inherited her mother-in-law's garden and expanded it greatly with gifts of plants from the late Margaret Moseley, read my post where I mentioned Aster tataricus.  She sent me a stunning photograph of a bank absolutely covered with the flowers.  Here is what she wrote:

"Just read your post.  I think these are the asters to which you referred.  These were planted by my mother-in-law decades ago, thankfully between a brick retaining wall behind them and the driveway.  They are very aggressive but great when contained like this.  Some years ago I discovered that cutting them back to about 3 ft around the 4th of July produced beautiful blooms on a more compact plant that requires no support.  Otherwise they reached 6' and fell over.  They bloom the whole month of Sept. and into Oct. and many passers by ask me about them."

I also think of the huge expanse of these flowers in Liz Tedder's garden in Coweta County.  Everything there is on a huge scale, so I'm sure she would be amused if she could read that I'm thrilled over only one plant.

But that's the way it often is.  A spring ephemeral will come up, last a few days and then vanish.  Still, it's a joy to stumble upon a flower in the woods, especially one that has appeared for the first time.

It is rather laughable that I have gone out every morning to admire this one aster slowly opening.  But, it has been so much fun watching the stem shoot up and then seeing the little blue daisies unfurl.  Whether they are in masses or come up as a single specimen, flowers provide so much pleasure and remind one of the miracles that can spring from the earth.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Letting go of summer with sweet autumn clematis

It's damp and chilly in my house.  The sun hasn't shone in about ten days.  Still, there are no ruinous floods, so I am thankful to be where I am, and my sympathy goes out to everyone on the Carolina coasts and other affected areas.

I took this photograph over Labor Day weekend when I stayed in Sag Harbor on Long Island, N.Y.  It was a great place to walk, and I loved seeing all the gardens - lots and lots of hydrangeas, and everywhere the last gasp of summer flowers, including the sweet autumn clematis growing on the picket fence.

The rampant grower shown above has changed botanical names at least twice since I've been paying attention to such things.  I think the latest moniker is Clematis terniflora.  I'm going with the Missouri Botanical Garden on this one.

This is a very invasive vine.  It has gotten loose along the banks of the Chattahoochee River.  Still, it has its charms.  I've loved having it clamber up onto my clipped shrubs, visible from the library window.

But somehow this year, it was cut at the base, so I had nothing but the brown, crunchy remains from last season.  I suspect the deer had something to do with this.

The vine is just a memory now.  It blooms in August here in Atlanta.  It was at its peak on Long Island over Labor Day.

I'm now concentrating on fall plants and looking out at my one remaining Aster tataricus which is behind some fishing line that is rigged to keep the deer away.  The one tall flower with light blue flowers gives me so much pleasure.  I'm going to figure out how to have armloads of these for cutting next year.  In the spring, I moved the few plants that had survived the marauders, but only one shot up and bloomed.  I still have the rosettes of foliage of the ones that just sat there.  I hope to be able to clear out the one semi-sunny strip I have at my house, wrap it around with the fishing wire Sharyn Altman put me onto and have some flowers to cut by next spring and summer.

I do have some of the above clematis coming up, so I can train some up a tree in the protected area.  It has to be cut back in winter, as the foliage dies and crisps up and is not a pretty sight.

Back to the scene above at a cottage just across from where we stayed.  I am remembering this mild end-of-summer day in a beautiful place.  Even though it's gray and misty outside, I love looking back on sunny days that I know will soon come again.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Orange is the new...fragrance

These days when I drive up and park in front of my house, I am almost knocked over by a sweet fragrance.  It's coming from the orange tea olive, Osmanthus fragrans var. aurantiacus.

What is so unusual about this is the location of what is now a tree some 15 feet tall.

First, I have to explain how my house is configured.  There is a center facade, and then there are two wings that jut out on the sides.  So, that means the fragrance of these clusters of tiny orange flowers has to travel from about 20 feet along the side of the house, then turn left around the corner for another 16 feet, and left again for another 15 feet to reach my car door.  That's a pretty amazing scent that can perfume that much space, especially when it is blocked by the two-story wing of the house.

By contrast, I have what I bought as Osmanthus fragrans 'Fudingzhu' growing (or marking time, I should say) right on the edge of the parking area.  This selection of tea olive blooms white, with showy clusters of flowers; it is purportedly super-fragrant.  I have had this plant for several years.  When it didn't grow where I originally had it, I moved it to its present location where I thought it would knock people over when they arrived at my house.

But that hasn't happened.  The plant is either extremely slow-growing, or I got hold of a specimen that is an anomaly and may never grow tall.  At present, it tops out at under two feet.  The flowers are there, but I literally have to touch my nose to them to get the fragrance.  Maybe after a few more years, it will grow taller and produce more flowers and the sweet scent one would expect.

For the time being, I would like to recommend the orange tea olive.  It's probably in some nurseries right now, as it is in full bloom.  It was about a week and a half ago that I drove up, got out of my car and realized that the tree must be blooming.  I'd seen the buds, and this experience let me know that for the next three weeks, I'd come under the spell of this extraordinary September-blooming plant.

I took this photograph yesterday as the sun was setting.  Just heavenly!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Hydrangeas make the scene in The Hamptons

The other day I read a description of habitual procrastinators and why they do what they do.  It was if someone were doing a case study on me.  One of the things that jumped out at me was that people who perennially put off things will decide, "Okay. I'm getting this task done today, without fail!"

But, what happens next?  They get close to starting whatever they've put off, but will inevitably find something else to do instead.  "Let me just get this load of laundry in, or, I need to brush the dog first, and then I'll start writing."  That's usually the case for me, or lately it was completing my taxes, which are due October 15 (because I didn't get them done by April 15th).  I dragged this process out over two months, making my kitchen table inaccessible for having a meal in my usual spot.

And this blog.  I love to write about gardens.  I love to pick out the pictures.  But, it takes me a long time to write, a sizable block of time, in fact.  So, with the taxes looming over me and my blog neglected for weeks, what did I do?  I started practicing the piano, saying, "It's good for my mind, and playing will calm me down so I can concentrate and write."  But then, I didn't.

One more excuse/apology.  A couple of weeks ago, a situation came up at church where I had to pick out thousands of dollars worth of plants and organize them into a garden setting for a new building that will soon be complete.  This was a year-long planning job that had to be done in a week's time (not my procrastination; it came up at the last minute and had to be decided on immediately).  I still have some outstanding work - mostly bids - to obtain, and it has to be finished this week.

Now, to the above photograph.  I took this in Sag Harbor, New York, over Labor Day weekend.  I went to Long Island with my daughter and son-in-law and one-year-old granddaughter.  We stayed in a 19th century cottage with a beamed ceiling and floorboards that were at least a foot wide.  It was chock full of good books, and there was an apple tree full of ripening fruit in the back garden.  There was a lovely Hydrangea paniculata by the back door.  The deer have eaten all of mine, but for some reason they hadn't touched this magnificent plant, nor the billowing H. macrophylla in front.  They had, however, pretty much chewed up the ones up by the street.  I know they were in the garden, because my son-in-law saw them leisurely checking out the apples one morning.

We were able to walk the few blocks to town in just a couple of minutes.  But, the day I took this photograph, I decided to explore more residential streets (it was a whaling village originally) on my own.  When my son-in-law asked if I wanted a map, I assured him that I had an excellent sense of direction and could find my way around the town and back.

Three hours later, I was glad to see the harbor after zig-zagging back and forth, totally lost.  It was opposite the bay that I saw this restaurant that looked so inviting.  As I took the photograph of the hydrangeas and patio, I heard the hostess say that they were completely booked and could not even accommodate a table for two.  I was crestfallen, because the place was so charming and I was so hungry.  I think we ended up with some pizza slices that night, but I was glad just to get home after my three-hour walkabout.

One day, we drove to East Hampton and were riding through the maze of narrow gravel lanes lined with tall privet (!) hedges, where the estates border the ocean.  All of a sudden I saw three women walking, and one turned around to look at us.  It was Gayle King, whom I watch every day on CBS This Morning.  Then, I realized that the shorter woman with the big hair was Oprah.  My son-in-law drove slowly, and my daughter and I tried not to look like gawkers.  There was no one else around, just the five of us (I didn't recognize their friend).  It was weird, being such a voyeur.  I'm not good at identifying celebrities (Jay-Z walked right by me at the harbor, but I didn't recognize him), but it did give me a thrill to see Oprah and Gayle (who were hoping for privacy, I'm sure).

It was also fun trying to get a glimpse of what looked like elegant arboretums planted behind the high hedges.  The landscapes were beautiful, and I loved what is left of the countryside and farms. I'm such a fan of hedges, so this was like paradise for me.  Everyone had them.

I hope I can do this blog without writing so much.  People want to see flowers and gardens, not read the ramblings of an excuse-maker.  I have way too many photographs not to share them, and they really don't need all this commentary.  Let's see, a picture is worth a thousand words, right?  I need to respect that adage.  I hope to do better in the future.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

All the seeds I did not plant; all the jars I did not fill

A couple of Saturdays ago, I waited around all day for a workman who did not come.  Finally, about mid-afternoon, I decided to clean out the floor of my kitchen pantry.  It was not a random choice.  I was looking for some check stubs I was missing.  I needed to find them in order to complete my 2014 taxes, due October 15 (Why do I always procrastinate whenever possible?).  I had looked everywhere and concluded the only place they could be was beneath the newspapers stuffed in grocery sacks two layers thick on the tile floor (I was saving them to compost; I didn't dare look at the dates; they could have been there for two years or more).

Also on the floor were several half-used six-packs of tonic water, some way out of date.  I found a carton of ginger ale, which I knew had to have been there since the summer my daughter spent with me while she studied for the bar exam.  She's been a public defender now for four years.  And why did I buy a two-foot tall bottle of refill hand soap?  I'd forgotten it was there, and now I don't have the original small container anymore.

I got started and ended up cleaning off all but the top two shelves.  I found three 5-lb. bags of sugar, all half-full.  I had just bought another bag (now 4-lbs. for the same price) for the hummingbirds who are all fighting and drinking me out of house and home, readying for their trip south.  Those other bags were on different shelves and all hidden from view.

Two categories of items sent me into a sort of review of certain aspects of my life.  Well, not so much that as a realization that some plans I made decades ago never came to be.  It once would have made me sad, but I really can't complain about my life - I've had many positives that have helped me with the terrible negative - losing my husband in a single moment in June 1999.

What I was reminded of in the pantry was all my plans for a sunny garden.  I had saved so many jars, all for the purpose of delivering bouquets of cut flowers to friends or shut-ins.  Long ago, I had envisioned cut flowers for every season - bachelors' buttons and ox-eye daisies in April; iris, roses and peonies in early May; coneflowers and Asiatic lilies in June; zinnias, phlox and rubrum lilies in July; rudbeckias and platycodons in August; Aster tataricus in September and daisy chrysanthemums in October, and so on.

I found several small jars of seeds - zinnias that could have been 20 years old; moon flower seeds I'd forgotten were there, and pink coneflower seeds I could probably never have succeeded in germinating anyway.  I had store packets, too - more zinnias, sunflowers, bachelors' buttons and annual asters, which I'm not sure would have grown all that well here.

Most of the jars had held mayonnaise, but I had all shapes from different salad dressings; these latter would have been for smaller bouquets.  No wonder I had no room for the sack of coffee I just bought.

It was so hard, but I put most of my "vases" in the recycling bin.  I kept the Mason jars in case I ever do any canning again.  Let's see, in 70 years, I've canned three times.  I think I'll just give the jars and rings to someone who will actually do something with them.

All the contemplating about what I didn't do led to thoughts of the basement.  The whole place is a giant hope chest.  There are headboards I bought at a second-hand store for my future beach house.  I have two tables (great shape, but need faux painting), purchased from a motel liquidation store.  Those I had for a planned house in Highlands, where we could do jigsaw puzzles and leave them undisturbed in a corner until they were finished.

At one point, after a visit to Lake Rabun, I envisioned the above tables in a rustic lake house instead.  We'd have a boat and would go water skiing.  My own daddy was good about that and ever so patient to help a friend new to skiing have success quickly.

But those second homes I saved for never materialized.  Yes, they would have been great when my children were younger and there was someone to share the headaches of maintenance and seasonal cleaning and maybe renting out.  But, I never really missed what I didn't have.

About those cactus dahlias above.  Those are what I would have planted at the house in Highlands, where they would have thrived in the cool mountain air.  I used to visit a dahlia garden there.  It may be long gone by now, but I thought how satisfying it would be to gather huge bouquets and give them away or decorate my mountain house in bright colors.

But, it's all okay.  I've always been one to think there's something wonderful around the next corner.  It might not be that beach house (where I would have grown gardenias and tiger lilies and zinnias) or the mountain house that would have surely had a sunny space for red cactus dahlias, but I may still use those headboards somewhere.  It's never too late to daydream.  Margaret Moseley didn't hit her stride until her 80's, and she wound up with a beautiful garden and flowers at every season.  That could happen for me, too.

I still hope to grow dahlias and zinnias and chrysanthemums and roses to give away, but I don't regret throwing all those long-collected containers into the recycle bin (although I confess it's hard for me to part with a jar of any type).  Who knows what the future will bring, and if I do end up with a sunny space some day, I'm sure I won't have trouble consuming more mayonnaise and salad dressing.  

Note:  I did find that spiral of check stubs, so on to finishing my taxes - no more excuses!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Framing an ancient, dreamy view

Before we entered the iron gates attached to fig-vine-covered stone pillars, my jealousy meter started going off.  At first, I thought this stucco house, new but perfectly constructed to harken back to another time and another place, was the only house inside a fence where placid cattle and a few donkeys grazed lazily.  Then, I realized that the house in view, the one we were visiting, just happened to have enough land to suggest an estate.  It was actually situated in a sort of gated community, two words that usually make my eyes glaze over.  Not this time, however.

We had gone there to watch the sun set over the Intercoastal waterway, near Pawleys Island, South Carolina, where I've vacationed for some 40 years.  I had no idea this dreamy landscape existed only two miles or less from the oceanfront.

Well, the latter statement isn't exactly true.  In May, my younger daughter was married at Pawleys Island (I'm thinking that this destination wedding, with the reception held outdoors at a rustic old inn on the ocean, took several years off my life.  However, the awful, rainy weather predicted on Sunday before that Saturday, turned into a cool, perfect evening with no humidity and only the slightest ruffle of a breeze; still, the damage had been done).

But, about the beautiful scenery nearby.  The rehearsal dinner given by her future in-laws was held at a former rice plantation, now with a golf course and beautiful grounds.  This magical place, entered by a curving allee lined with ancient live oaks hung with Spanish moss, was just down the waterway from the house pictured above.  The view to the west was much the same, looking out over marshland to the water beyond.  We were all mystified that we never knew this stunningly beautiful place existed.

Back to the recent August evening.  Our host helped design the house.  One of the reasons the two-story, white stucco house looked like it had been there forever (it helped that the exterior walls were already streaked by weather) was the setting among huge live oaks that had been there for centuries.

The drive-through you see above (you're looking out at the side lawn, which carries around to the front of the house and slopes very gently to the pastures beyond) is paved with bricks found on the site and leads to the back of the house where a hexagonal outbuilding is covered with fig vine.  This charming, slate-roofed structure overlooks a parterre planted with herbs and cutting flowers.  Beyond is the waterway visible above more lawns and through live oaks hung with gray moss.

I won't even go into the magazine-perfect interiors.  The rooms, either with heart pine or ancient brick floors, were so wonderfully appointed that my heart fluttered with envy (I know that breaks the Ten Commandments; I was ashamed of the way I felt).

We watched the sunset from a screened porch that ran all along the back of the house.  More live oaks, a swing with a wide arc hanging from a high branch,  lovely shade plants at the base of the porch, a view of the distant water.

Actually, when I think about it, there really weren't many "gardens",  but more of a dreamy setting so beautifully preserved and honored by the owners.  This was a case of "less is more", although keeping all those sweeping lawns mown and cleaned of limbs could hardly be called low-maintenace.  It was indeed a treat to see.  As the sun set over the water and the stars began to twinkle high above,  I felt more grateful than envious - but not much.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Green is my favorite color - thank goodness

A one-day break today in a long stream of days in the mid-90's in Atlanta.  It's been like this for a month.  My air-conditioning bill was bad for June; I can't imagine what it's going to be like for the month of July.  I'll know in a couple of weeks.

What you see above is my almost two-year-old "arch" garden on a hot, dry summer day.  It looks nothing like I'd envisioned.  The first of the three arches should have been smothered in re-blooming roses by now.  You can barely make out the few spindly canes near the bottom right side of the arbor.  Actually, I don't think you can see them at all.

On the left is Confederate jasmine.  My neighbor gave me the plants after they didn't work out for her.  They are not 'Madison', which is hardier here in Atlanta.  And, since the plants (there's one on the second arch, as well) are on the east side of the house, the winter sun hits them in early morning. If there's a hard freeze, they get zapped and turn brown.  About mid-summer, they recover, but not enough to cover the arbor.

In the foreground are two ivy topiaries I rescued after using them at church for two Christmases in a row.  This was back in 2000 and 2001.  It took a long time to get them lush and green again.  They flank the entrance from the driveway to the garden.

That's Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) up high on the side of the house.  The tall, clipped shrubs against the wall are Japanese hollies.  I used to know the selection - they grow in a cone shape.  I've had them for at least 25 years.  Between them are chest-high American boxwoods.  Opposite them, a row of English boxwoods forms a shaggy, knee-high hedge.

Just out of sight along the little cobblestone walls are low Korean boxwood hedges, sheared into a long line.  On the left, there is an additional row of the same boxwoods atop another low cobblestone where an ivy topiary - shaped like a globe - anchors the corner.  The "tree" you see to the left of the third arch is an orange tea olive.  I haven't had the heart to cut the top out to force side branches cover the arch, which was my original intention.

I'm giving you this tedious list to say that the colorful, blousy garden I'd had in my mind is not to be.  My calculation of how much sun I would have in spring and summer was way off.  Only at the end - where you see the concrete bench - do I have a spot of sun.  I have an out-of-control-because-it-has-no-support 'Graham Stuart Thomas' yellow English rose.   I plopped it there in the worst clay, but I have promised it that there will be loads of mulch from the compost pile soon to come to cool the roots.  Also, I'll be vigilant about feeding.  Still, it has given me some of those odd-colored, but beautiful dusky yellow roses.  They will also have an arbor to climb, but I haven't decided the size yet.

All this to tell you that I only have a green garden right now.  That one white bloom is a late-occurring 'Annabelle' hydrangea.  So far, it's protected from the deer, although I'm disheartened by the four giant bucks I see every morning.  A worker who came to my house when I wasn't here, found them walking leisurely through the arches.

I've been around long enough to realize that there are ways to introduce color to this mostly shady garden area.  I will be looking for a sasanqua espalier to go against the near wall where I had thought roses would climb.  I also rooted some Hydrangea macrophylla plants that have enormous pink blooms to fill in the empty space on the right.  They are coming along nicely a year after I snipped a few cuttings (with permission) from the Piedmont Driving Club.  And, if all goes well, in a couple of months, I'll have some lavender-colored Aster tataricus (rescued from the opposite side of the house where I have a bit of sun but no protection from the deer) blooming right behind the ivy topiaries.

But for the time being, I must tell myself that it is okay not to have a riot of yellows, reds, pinks and blues like I wanted.  After all, green is a color, and it happens to be my favorite - very soothing in this heat.  At least that's how I'm rationalizing everything right now.  I don't know how long this attitude will last.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

X marks the spot in this garden

I realized while looking through photographs taken in July that I must have hundreds of scenes from Louise Poer's tiny Atlanta garden.  This is pretty amazing, because her garden occupies such a small space, maybe 10 ft. x 40 on the side of the house.  At the back, I don't think the garden is much wider than the room I'm sitting in.  Again, that section might be 40 feet long, if that.  Despite these tight measurements, the garden is jam-packed and full of great design ideas.

Louise lives in a small enclave of cluster homes, not far from my house.  Once in a while, I will go over there on the spur of the moment (the last time was to get her helper in her high-end garden design business to install a baby car-seat), and the garden is always in pristine condition.  Plus, there's usually a brand new vignette she's created or one I've never noticed before.

While there are spots of color throughout the seasons (foxgloves, delphiniums, roses, lilacs), the beauty of the garden depends heavily on texture, which, after studying gardens for decades, I'm finally beginning to understand a bit better.  When we had the television show on HGTV, gardeners would talk a lot about texture, but in broad terms.  In this garden, it's easy to see.  The small leaves of boxwoods (which form most of the "bones" of the garden down low) are contrasted with grassy acorus, the broad strokes of cast-iron plant, the spiny foliage of holly and the frothy (or spiky) needles of conifers.  In summer, various ferns are plugged into spaces in the ground or in containers, adding yet another contrast to the boxwoods.

Variegation (both white and gold) is also important in this garden, as are different shades of green (bluish, deep and dark, or chartreuse).  As you enter the garden at the side of the house,  green and white variegated Algerian ivy climbs a tree.  There are hostas and ferns in this mostly shady area, along with, surprisingly enough, dwarf conifers (I figure they are placed so as to catch shafts of light).

In this photograph, green and white variegated boxwoods form an "x" at the base of a planter.  The heavy white margins of the leaves brighten this area along a long, curving path.

Louise used to live in England and goes back often (and to other European countries) to look at gardens.  She's not afraid of change and freely admits that she works hard so that she can fund her gardening addiction.

I always get inspired when I open her garden gate.  It's about time to pop in and see what she has going.  It's never a slow time in her garden.  I know that right now, a tall Hydrangea paniculata is arching over the area that leads to the entrance gate.  This is one of my favorite scenes of any garden ever, so, even though I've shown it in the past, I'll go over and see if I can catch it in a different light.  Also, I'd be interested to see if that "X" is still marking the spot.  I think I'll give this a 50-50 chance.  She might have come up with something completely different.  One never knows.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Decisions - if I had this same space

I took this photograph one day in July (in fact, on this very same day) in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, New York.   The garden in front of a brownstone was on my walking route (this was when my daughter lived in a neighborhood near Prospect Park).

As I would pass by various spaces in front of the vintage houses, I made it sort of a game to re-landscape everything.  This is one I decided to keep just about as it is.

It's a little unfair to judge a garden in mid-July in a place that sometimes sees 100 degrees and high humidity (just a few days ago, it was over 100 in Brooklyn).  I could see how this space looked at other times.  Those hydrangeas were likely much brighter in June, and that looks like a weeping cherry tree to the right of the photo.  That would have looked pretty in April.  The hostas tucked in with the rudbeckia (black-eyed Susans), still look as fresh as they might have in late May.

The weeping Atlas cedar looks good year-round and lends nice texture and form to contrast with the globe-shaped tree (what is that?  I can't tell from my picture).  It looks like the owner plugged in dwarf impatiens in the foreground to bloom all summer and into fall.

Although this garden was quite nice, I saw others I'd re-design.  Some people did nothing, and there were just weeds.  You sort of hate to see this, as you can imagine that these four- and five-story brownstones are very expensive.  I guess if you're an absentee landlord or have wearied of trying to keep a garden, you don't really care that a visitor from Atlanta is judging you by what you haven't done.

Speaking of what hasn't gotten done, I should be the president of that club.  I have had in my possession now for many months, twenty fastigiate boxwoods.  I've dragged them all about, trying them in different places.  As I was looking through photographs I took in the month of July, I came across one that gave me an idea.  In fact, I am in the impatient, heart-is-beating-fast stage of anticipation of what I can do that will make good use of those plants, which I had coveted for years.

Some of the boxwoods are growing at a slant, with a slight arch. Others - mostly the shorter ones - are straight as arrows.

I've known for sometime that I am going to use four of the taller ones to form an arched entrance to some steps leading up by the back terrace.  Now I can envision most of the rest forming a series of arches at the edge of the gravel parking area on the right side of the house.  I will need to get some rebar and have it bent and anchored in concrete to form the arches.  Then, I can train the boxwoods on the forms.  I think this will work.  Those straight little ones I'll reserve as accents in the garden on the other side of the house.

Somewhere in my too-numerous books of slides is a photograph of Dan Hinkley's garden at Heronswood, the famous nursery he used to own on the Kitsap Peninsula across from Seattle.  He had trained fastigiate European hornbeams into arches outlining part of the garden (actually, if you Google Heronswood, you can see those arches).  Right now, I have camellias along that edge, but I need to move them - their shape is too irregular for the space.  I think I could do a shorter version of what Dan did.  One of the arches could be bigger and form the entrance to the deer garden (where the deer eat everything at present, but I have hope).

But before I worry about the latter, sunken garden, I want to experiment with these boxwoods.  What I need, in addition, is a trip to England just to visit gardens great and small for more ideas.  In the meantime, I want to go ahead with this plan this fall.  I can't bear to let Elizabeth Dean - who nurtured the boxwoods and sold them to me - know that they have yet to be put in the ground.  But, it's going to happen soon, now that I have a vision.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

An iris lullaby - I mean goodbye!

My friend Kathryn (a great gardener) was dropping me off at my house after yoga class last Thursday. I asked her to wait a minute.  I wanted to show her the sunny space I had planned to turn into a flower garden (the only sun I have at my house; it's not ideal - brutal afternoon sun, in front of the house, in an awkward area).

I was talking about what I planned to put there and pointed to the spot where I had some white flag iris generously shared with me by a member of the American Hydrangea Society (she'd read that I'd lost my white flags some years ago and brought me some).  Kathryn asked where they were.  I looked, and not a blade of foliage in sight!  They had disappeared.  Then, I ran around the corner of the house to look at some taller bearded iris I planned to move - half gone, shredded.  

When did deer start eating bearded iris?  These flowers have been here for three, four, five years or more and have never been touched.

So, panic flew through me.  The iris up on the abandoned lot next door!  There were dozens of them  - all my favorite tall deep, dark purple.  A year ago when they were in bloom, I cut some and took them to church.  I dragged my shovel up there in late May with the intention of digging a few.  I wouldn't take them all, but just several fans to give me a start.  Besides, they needed dividing (my excuse for taking some; there's no one to ask permission, since the owner lives in Russia and apparently has no intention of keeping up the six-acre property).

But, I decided to wait until the iris went dormant in July, the best time to dig - only I never got around to it.

Last week, when I saw what had happened to the iris down here, I pulled on my long boots and the equivalent of a hazmat suit (it was 94 degrees with bright sun) and slogged through the tall weeds up the hill.  

Previous owners - there have been three in my 42 years here - had added many wonderful flowers and shrubs, including this long, curving row of dark, velvety iris.  

My heart pounded when I approached the area where they had been.  Nothing.  Not a blade to be found.  I rummaged around in the Vinca major, up through which the iris had been valiantly growing, but they were gone.  Did the deer eat them last year?  I somehow think it happened more recently.

No, I shouldn't be going up on that property, although I've pretty much kept the English ivy off the big, beautiful trees up there.  And, I confess that I've cut a few branches of pittosporum to take to the church. 

It makes me sad that I did not save those iris.  At least, I would have kept something going that has likely been there for years.  

After I had come down from the hill, I looked out the window to see a doe eating the liriope at the side of the house, right next to where the white flags had been.  I don't care about the liriope.  In fact, they've mowed it down so that it now resembles mondo grass, which I like better.  But then the deer walked over to the side of my house and chomped off a leaf of Boston ivy.  I ran out screaming.  A few weeks ago I noticed they'd eaten a big swath next to the music room windows.  I had splashed some deer repellent on the wall and finally had some new growth.  Now here she was again.

I ran inside and grabbed the container of Liquid Fence, a horrible-smelling thick ooze that you mix with water.  I shook the bottle violently, and all this stuff came flying out onto the tile floor of the hall and onto my leg.  The smell!  The waste of an expensive product!

To put an end to this tale, I rushed out and mixed up a batch of the foul liquid and splashed it on every place I could think of.  I wish I could anticipate what they're going to get into next.  Meanwhile, I am still trying to remove the revolting odor from my front hall.  And, I am still heartbroken over the iris I did not save.   

But, these are the vagaries of loving plants and gardening.  A vole can pull down a beloved hosta as fast as a deer can chew one up.  I'm going to go back up on the hill and try again to find some vestige of these beautiful iris.  Meanwhile, I discovered two fans of the white flags, clipped close to the ground.  Rest assured, they are covered in Liquid Fence.  If the weather cools down, I'm going to start clearing my new cutting garden in the front.  It's going to look funny, especially surrounded by rods rigged with fishing line.  I plan to have some pretty white iris blooming by April of next year, and if I'm lucky, some dark purple ones, as well.  We shall see how it goes.

Note:  The gorgeous iris above are likely Louisiana iris.  The photo was taken on the Atlanta Botanical Garden's tour on Mother's Day of this year.  The iris on the hill are bearded German iris.  They were pretty much the same velvety, dark color.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Hydrangea Lady's legacy - the what ifs?

Fifty years ago yesterday on July 5, 1965, I was struck by lightning.  It is amazing that I wasn't killed or that I didn't suffer any permanent physical or mental damage.

This is what happened:  I was working as a lifeguard the summer between my sophomore and junior years at Vanderbilt.  The other lifeguard - my childhood friend Millie - had gotten me the job.  It was a sunny day, but in the afternoon, I heard a distant rumble of thunder.  You could barely make out a small storm cloud out to the west.

I had a history of being afraid of lightning, so I got off the lifeguard tower and walked around to ask Millie if she thought we ought to get the children out of the pool.  Her words were, "If we hear any more thunder, we'll blow the whistle."

I walked back around the pool and climbed up on the metal tower, and BLAM! - a brilliant flash and a deafening crack, followed by earth-shaking thunder.  At the moment the bolt hit (witnesses said I "lit up"), it was as if a giant had hit me on the top of the head with a huge sledge hammer.  The deepest, most intense electric shock went through my body.  The next thing I knew, I was in the dressing room in the club, staring at the burned bottoms of my feet.

Well, I obviously didn't die.  Millie had calmly gotten everyone out of the pool and into the clubhouse.  But the sun continued to shine, and there was not so much as another rumble of thunder nor a drop of rain.  I had a tremendous headache, but that was it except that my feet were tender for a couple of weeks.

So, yesterday, on the 50th anniversary,  I thought about how lucky I was.  Then, I went into It's a Wonderful Life mode, thinking that there would have been no Anne Tate Pearce or Laura Tate Yellig or a 10-month-old jolly granddaughter named Carter Pearce.  Chip Tate would have married someone else and would have had different children.  I couldn't think of much of an impact I've had, but it did cross my mind that there might not have been eleven years of A Gardener's Diary on HGTV or a Flower Guild at the Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, two things I did have a hand in creating.

I didn't get very far with my "what ifs", though, because I started thinking about the post I'd begun working on a few days before about the late Penny McHenry, a.k.a. The Hydrangea Lady and founder of the American Hydrangea Society.  I remembered the story Penny told me when I first interviewed her.  What if she hadn't planted those potted hydrangeas she had received as gifts decades ago? And, what if she had just left them alone instead of figuring out that she wanted more and thus started propagating them.  We would have no 'Penny Mac's, nor any 'MiniPenny's, nor any of the other re-blooming hydrangeas that have one of her hydrangeas as a parent.

And, her daughter Marcia Melick probably wouldn't have the fabulous hydrangea garden she now tends on a precariously steep hillside in Sandy Springs.  For sure, I couldn't have taken the photo of those 'Annabelle's pictured above.  This row is right below Marcia's front terrace, but the entire hillside is covered with descendants of her mother's extensive collection of hydrangeas, along with many other shrubs and perennials.

Marcia is continuing Penny's tradition of propagating in a big way.  Every year in late winter, she goes out into her expansive garden, which contains trails that wind along terraces cut out of the slope, and does her annual trimming of the 'Annabelle's.  Then, she takes the lopped-off branches and pushes them down into the ground, not even bothering with a rooting hormone.  In just a few weeks, the "sticks" start leafing out, and she finds herself with dozens and dozens of new 'Annabelle's.  She has given away hundreds.

After having lost a host of 'Annabelle's to deer, I now have a protected place, and this year I enjoyed a couple of giant blooms up next to my house.  Marcia also gave me a black plastic pot with several "babies," so now I'm going to have tons more flowers next year.

I try not to think of twists of fates very often.  I'm glad, though, that somehow someone told me that Penny McHenry would be a great subject for an article in the newspaper.  She then introduced me to her friend Margaret Moseley, which led me down even a different path to television episodes (we taped both Penny and Margaret twice, years apart) and eventually to a book about Margaret's garden.

Marcia often reminds me that I should have written a book about Penny.  I wish I had, but her influence has been felt all over the world.  I'm just grateful that she planted those first hydrangeas and that I got to know this funny, vibrant, enthusiastic woman who passed along a great gift to us all.

Note:  I have taken the liberty of writing 'Annabelle' with an s at the end to indicate the plural.  That's not really correct, but it prevents you from having to read Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' over and over again.  Now, I could do a ton of "what ifs", just about the 'Annabelle' hydrangea and how it came to be in so many gardens from just one garden in Anna, Illinois.  We'll save that for another time.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The color purple

Sometime long ago, maybe 40 years or so, my mother planted a potted hydrangea (probably one someone had given her) at the back corner of her house.  It couldn't have been a worse location for a macrophylla.  The site had both a southern and western exposure, and the shrub received the reflection off a white brick wall.  The full afternoon sun and heated glare were brutal.

Yet, the hydrangea thrived, and every year it produced the deepest purple blooms.  And that brings me to the title above.  My husband, Chip Tate, died suddenly on this date - June 17 - sixteen years ago, in 1999.  Sometimes it seems so far away, and other times it's like it happened yesterday.

At any rate, his favorite color was purple, and he always admired Mother's purple hydrangeas.  She would often cut flowers for him when he was down there.

Two or three years after he died, I went up to the family cemetery in Tate, Georgia, and took a bouquet tied with a purple ribbon.  The flowers were the darkest ones I'd ever seen on the shrub.  He would have loved them.

Fast forward to the winter of 2011.  I came home one day to find an enormous black plastic pot in front of the chimney of my house.  A bunch of sticks were coming out of the container, and I was puzzled.  What on earth was this?

A couple of weeks passed, and finally the man who maintains my late parents' property came by and told me he had dug Mother's hydrangea for me.  The roots had gone down very deep, he said, so that's why he needed such a large container.

Above, you can see that when it bloomed that first June, the flowers were a grape color.  The plant was still in the container, which weighed a ton.  But, I couldn't think of a place for the hydrangea, so I just left it as it was.  The next year, lots of blooms came on, but they had turned Pepto-Bismol pink.  I knew I had to make a decision to get the plant in the ground.

Finally, in 2014, I was able to add a new little section to the side garden, so that's where the hydrangea landed, after spending the previous cold winter in a protected place.  Its first year in the ground the blooms were enormous and a darker, rose-pink - but still pink.  Hydrangea expert and nurserywoman Elizabeth Dean saw pictures and thought it was H. macrophylla 'Merritt's Supreme'.  She was encouraging, saying that it would likely continue to deepen in color in the ground.

When the plant was at Mother's, the branches were so brittle and upright that I could not find a way to layer it.  But here, I was able to put down some stems, and now I have three new plants.  The mother plant did not produce a single blossom this year.  But one of the babies has a flower, and I can see that it is headed in the purple direction.

I sort of doubt that I will ever achieve that dark, dark color that would glow in the sun at Mother's.  The plant is in much more shade now.  I'm not sure if that will make a difference.

Still, if I could achieve the color shown above, I'd be very happy.

I'm not going to the cemetery today - it's way too hot.  But, I can look out the window from where I'm sitting and see the one bloom on the new little plant.  Perhaps next year there won't be a late winter freeze, and I'll have plenty of flowers to take to Chip.  I'm pretty sure he would like this color, too, since it is still purple.

There's just something special about hydrangeas - no matter what the color - that conjures up so many happy memories.  I'm so glad the man from the farm went to the trouble to surprise me with this cherished plant.  It was such a nice thing to do.

Friday, June 5, 2015

If I had some sun

I have here on my desk a big Ziploc bag stuffed with all kinds of seed packets.  Long ago, I wrote "Summer Seeds" on the outside of the clear bag.  Many times when I open my storage closet and reach for batteries or nails, the sack falls out, and I am reminded of what I haven't done.

Several of the packets are unopened ones that were bought either by my late husband or me.  Most, however, are envelopes marked with someone else's handwriting.  Several are from a couple, and I am embarrassed that I cannot remember who they are.  One says "Linearis - White Zinnias '94.  This same couple gave me seeds of orange linearis zinnias, as well as pink asters, small blue asters and a commercial packet marked "Hummingbird Garden."  I assume all these other assorted packets - too many to name - are from the same era 21 years ago.

One thing they all have in common is that they are seeds for flowers that require sun.  In 1994, I hardly had a speck of sun on these four acres.  Today, there is one patch up on a slope at the little house that gets the afternoon western sun.  I do have my terrace up here, but even parts of it are shaded now by a maple tree.

So, what if I had a big, flat open space that got sun all day, what would it look like?  First of all, it would not be the Gertrude Jekyll border I wanted in the 1980's.  That would have been a clipped hedge with tons of perennials and shrubs that would start with the tallest in back and taper down to the shortest in front.  It would have been a long, wide border, and the colors would have ranged from cool to hot along the straight line.

Today, I would want a space similar to the one pictured above, where green boxwood hedges have been mixed with plantings of flowers.  I might not have rows of a single plant, like the peonies seen here, but I would want a plan where I could keep things tidy.  A jumbled border for someone with my chaotic habits just would not work.

If you went on the Atlanta Botanical Garden's annual Mother's Day tour, you may have visited this garden.  It's actually a commercial space where garden designer Alex Smith keeps plants for use in his clients' gardens.  I worked there on the Saturday of the tour, and by the time I got to walk around, it was very hot.  I realized that I would have to plant shade trees in this imagined garden of mine, but I would have them in a row, sort of like an allee, with benches set along the way.   Then, the above gardens would be off to the side.  I'd also have paths of tiny gravel (or coarse sand?) that would be easy to walk on.

But here I am back to reality.  I just walked out of my basement door and came face to face with three does, scrounging for food.  They weren't here in 1994 when I accepted those seeds from the couple whom I can't recall.  And, this up and down terrain with some very steep banks is not going to flatten out.  Plus, even though I've lost trees, many more have grown tall and cast a lot more shade like the maple.

The good thing about being a garden lover is that there is always room for dreaming.  For 20 years, I have kept stacks and stacks of cut granite rescued from a house that burned next door, with the intention of someday building a small stone cottage.  That's where I'll have this fantasy sun garden, where the pink climbing rose I bought three years ago will not languish in shade but will clamber over the door of said cottage.  My space won't be as large as Alex's, of course.  It will be manageable, and I will go out each morning and cut bouquets to take to an ailing friend or someone who needs cheering up.

When I first married, I would take seeds down to my parents' farm and plant them.  It was nice - there were no deer there then either.  I made sunny borders and had things just for cutting.  My mother loved cut flowers, and there was always a bouquet on the kitchen table.  She and Daddy had huge vegetable gardens, and Mother would plant flowers for cutting in rows, just like she did the vegetables.

I can't help but be curious to know if any of these seeds are still viable.  I doubt it, but then there's only one way to find out.  I'm too late this year, so I guess one more year won't matter.  My parents are gone now, but there is someone who keeps a fenced-in vegetable garden at the farm.  I could mark off an experimental plot and see what happens.  It won't be the same as having my own sunny garden surrounding my stone cottage.  That day will come, I feel sure.  Right now, I just need to appreciate the fact that it is always a few degrees cooler here in the shade of large, old trees.  There's something to be said for that, too.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Learning from a great gardener

Today would have been Margaret Moseley's 99th birthday.  We lost her one month ago.  It was time for her to go, though, as her body had given out, despite a bright, funny mind that stayed intact until the end.

I came under Margaret's spell in 1994.  I couldn't believe it when I drove into her driveway and saw her garden on a spring day.  Despite a rocky start (the article I wrote about her in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution appeared in black and white on a back page; she did not like that at all and let me know it), she and I became the closest of friends.

It was impossible to go to her garden and not come away inspired.  You caught her enthusiasm for plants, and you vowed to come home and try to emulate everything she did.  You also had a plastic grocery bag filled with dark soil and some wonderful perennial or shrub she had just dug for you.

For years, I vowed to write a book about her.  Not only did I want her garden to be remembered, but I wanted to capture her spirit and enthusiasm, which inspired so many people, not only locally, but all over the world.

So, today I want to pass along some excerpts from Margaret Moseley's A Garden to Remember.  The passages come from the section entitled "Hints."  Margaret practiced several techniques that led to her success in having a year-round garden and something in bloom practically every day of the year. A reporter from the AJC, who wrote a feature article on her after she died, wanted to know if Margaret was humble about her garden.  I had to laugh. "Not in the least!"  I loved it when she would call me on a dark winter day or a hot, humid August afternoon and exclaim, "You ought to see my garden today.  It's the prettiest it's ever been."

Here are some of Margaret's tips that served her well during her four decades of gardening:

-  Don't ever mind moving a plant.  Normally, I have to move things four or five times to get them in the right place...Also, I have no patience in waiting.  If I want a plant moved, I do it immediately.  As long as you can water, you should never fear moving a plant....It's better to get them in a place where they'll have the right amount of sun and shade.
- If you live in an area where gardenias are hardy, plant one every 25 feet.  I have at least a half-dozen kinds.
-Hydrangeas can be easily propagated by layering.  Take a lower branch, scratch off some of the green bark, make a slight dent in the soil, and place that part of the branch in the ground.  Then, secure it with a brick.  Leave several inches past the brick.  After the roots form, cut the new plant away from the mother plant....Azaleas can be layered in the same manner as hydrangeas.
- Place a good size rock on top of the soil next to a new plant, and water evenly for at least a year.  The rock keeps the wind from rocking the roots.  This applies for plants three feet or taller.  I've always done this, and it works.
-Daylily foliage can look unsightly after the flowers are spent.  I cut the foliage back to the ground after they bloom.  You'll get a new flush of leaves, and this will also give other perennials a chance to shine.
- When someone gives me a plant or when I buy one, I make sure it gets into the ground immediately. There's no holding pen at my house.  I find a place, even if I have to dig out into the lawn and expand one of my rock-lined beds.
-Don't plant anything with big roots next to the house.  Also, remember that camellias, sasanquas and hollies get very tall.  They're not good foundation plants.  Plant them where they won't have to be pruned so hard or at all.
- Seize an opportunity.  I thought I would die when I lost a huge limb off my ginkgo tree.  I took advantage of the new area and filled it with blue pansies in winter and golden creeping Jenny and petunias in the summer.  This also created enough openness for the bluebird box.  I have several families of bluebirds every year.
- Plant dogwoods, especially the kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa)
- If you have burrowing critters that are eating roots, place the plant in a black plastic pot with the bottom cut out, and plant in the ground.

Most of all, Margaret cherished her friends, and they cherished her.  We celebrated her birthday with her every year, gathering on her sun porch surrounded by hydrangeas coming into bloom and a special light that shone through the garden and radiated from this remarkable character.  Happy Birthday to one whose heart touched everyone she met and whose soul belonged to every plant she touched.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Wedding dreams that do come true

Two things I said I'd never do:  1) Have a wedding outside 2) Have a destination wedding.  Now I've done both, the first twice.

My older daughter's wedding was on October 5, 2013.  She and her then fiance had wanted to have the wedding at Pawleys Island, South Carolina, where our family had vacationed for forty years (we missed the year following Hurricane Hugo which destroyed half the structures on the island).  I said absolutely no, but then ended up having the wedding at my house in Atlanta, a very dangerous thing to do.  My friends helped me (or actually did all the work) to decorate with greenery and candles, fabulous flower arrangements and topiaries.  With all the twinkle and cafe lights we put up, along with chandeliers wrapped in greenery, tons of smilax vine, olive branches and rosemary and a glorious tent, the wedding reception was magical.  The weather, with its 40% chance of rain, held off until 24 hours later, when it poured at the time the reception would have started.

But, here I was again with my younger daughter.  She was not to be dissuaded.  It was Pawleys Island and no compromise.

So, I rented the 19th century Pelican Inn and prayed for good weather and a florist who would know how to transform the place.

On Sunday before the wedding last Saturday, I finally looked at the extended forecast.  Clear all week until Saturday, starting at 4 p.m., a 70% chance of steady rain.  The wedding was scheduled for 6 p.m., followed by the reception - outside, of course, as there is no large room in the Pelican Inn to escape the elements.

When I talked to my brother on Sunday evening, he checked another source:  that prediction had risen to 80% chance of rain.

By Wednesday, though, the wedding planner told me the forecast was improving.  On Thursday, a mighty wind passed through the area, and it was actually too cold to sit on the beach.  With it came a forecast of 0% chance of rain for three days.  Friday was magnificent, clear with no humidity.  The same held true for Saturday.

Still, I have lost years off my life, imagining 100 people huddled on the porch of the Pelican while rain slashed sideways and soaked us all.

Now, to another semi-worry.  How to turn the rustic Pelican Inn into a magical place.  I met with Andrew, owner of Callas Florist at Murrell's Inlet last October.  I told him I wanted lots of twinkle lights and cafe lights suspended from the live oak trees.  I also said I wanted smilax, an evergreen vine that grows mostly in Alabama.  I was worried, though, because in early May, broadleaf evergreens have new growth that wilts the moment it is cut.  We always have this problem at church.  He assured me he could get old-growth vines.

My daughter loves blue hydrangeas and wanted them for her bouquet and for the tables.  I also emphasized that I wanted any big arrangements to be loosey-goosey, which he said he understood.

What he did surpassed my wildest dreams.  He was able to get smilax from a local farm, and there were miles of the green vine.  He outlined the arches of the porches that extend around three sides of the Pelican.  He ran it up the railings of the stairs going up the back of the inn.  Down the road, he wrapped the railings of the rustic little chapel sitting on the marsh with the green vine.

He also used so many flowers I love - white peonies, cabbage-type white roses, green viburnum, blue and white delphinium, white veronica, white lisianthus, blue thistle, white stock and yard greenery.

The photograph above was taken the next morning and shows part of one of two large arrangements that sat on the ledge of the porch.  It also gives you an idea of the ambience he created with his artistry.  In the background is the smilax that outlined the tall arches of the wide porch, with its hammocks, rocking chairs and joggling board.

As you looked down onto the dance floor and out into the live oaks that grow between the inn and the dunes, endless ropes of tiny white lights glittered as dark fell.  Andrew had lined the wooden walkway to the beach with candles and had hung lanterns all through the tree branches.  Larger cafe lights lit the dance floor below the porch.

So, my nightmare of five inches of rain (which actually fell sideways the weekend before when a tropical storm formed off the coast) didn't happen.  Instead, it was a perfect night, with the sun setting  on the marsh across the beach road as everyone arrived at the reception.  As night fell, it all became magical with a million stars suspended from the dark branches of live oaks for as far as you could see.  It really was a wedding dream come true.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The year of the foxgloves

Have you ever had a weird phenomenon occur in your garden and could never quite figure out what happened?

There's no way to know if an event in June 2011 had anything to do with an explosion of flowers the next April, but I can't think of any other explanation.

On the 18th of June 2011, I was driving back from the farm when I saw an ominous-looking cloud in the distance.  When I got within two miles of my house in Atlanta,  a huge oak tree had crashed on top of a building.  I didn't see any signs that it had rained, so I wasn't really sure what had happened when.

However, by the time I reached my house in a very wooded neighborhood, I was dodging fallen branches, and the usual storm debris consisting of small limbs and twigs were scattered along my driveway.  I decided to walk up to the little house and make sure no big limbs were down to block the way.

I had not even reached the parking lot when I looked to my left.  I couldn't believe it.'  A giant ancient oak had uprooted and fallen across a dip in the land and hit another two trees on top of a hill and knocked them down.

My heart sank.  I already had a lot of big tree damage from a month before when a mini-tornado twisted the tops of huge trees and hurled them down into the woods below.  And now this.

After this initial shock, I rounded the corner to the parking lot of the little house.  What on earth?  Where was the house?  I could only see green leaves and limbs.  No cottage. The leaves were way over into the  yard, covering some boxwoods and my patch of hellebores.  Where was the side of the house, the back deck?  The entire dark green cottage was obscured from view.  Wires lay in the parking lot.  It was hard to figure out what had happened.

It didn't take long for me to realize, though,  that a huge oak tree (large double trunks) had blown over from my neighbor's property and crushed the house.  I won't go into the details about the destruction of a house built in 1929, but suffice it to say I was pretty numb.  Part of the brick wall that surrounded the front courtyard was now a pile of rubble.  The entire house was obscured, even the front porch, but I could tell the tree had come from back down the hill.

Long story short, it took several months to repair the damage, as half the house was basically destroyed, along with the chimney.  I had a maddening moment with the neighbor in back, who claimed it was my tree that fell.  It wasn't, I learned, after I paid for a $1,000 survey to dispute the GPS on her cell phone, which she had used to make the claim.  It didn't matter, really, because it was my insurance and deductible that would have to pay.  But, she wanted me to take down several trees that had been damaged during the fall.  These were all on her property, as well.  My insurance company would only allow the trunks to be sawed to the property line.  The enormous remains are still there.

But, this is not really about this horror story.  It's about what happened when all the debris had been cleared from the ground.

All of a sudden, I started noticing little foxglove plants springing up everywhere.  I'd had a couple of plants bloom earlier in May, seeded from years past.  But, now there were dozens of seedlings popping up, not only where the tree branches had reached, but way over on the other side of a hill that hadn't been touched.

I watched them as they grew all summer.  The rosettes became larger, and I knew there would be a lot of foxgloves blooming the next spring.  I even thinned a lot of them out and re-planted them up here.

So, the next spring, beginning in April, I had foxgloves everywhere.  It was crazy.  They were pretty sturdy plants and came in different colors.  I let them bloom out and then saved the seed, which I scattered all over the yard up there.  I removed the old, spent plants.

But, that was the end of that.  The next year, there were few flowers.  This spring, there is one plant in bloom at the little house, and one plant struggling to make a show up here.

So, what happened?  Did lightening strike and charge the seeds that had been lying dormant for years?  And why, when I scattered seeds in the summer of 2012, did I not have many plants come up?

I used to think the time to sow foxglove seeds for the next year was in August.  But, I'm going to give it another try this June.  I need to make sure I have a controlled environment where I can water and weed.  I'm lucky the deer don't bother these plants.  In a couple of weeks, I'm going to fix a place up here (as opposed to the little house in back) for a bed of foxgloves.  I could wait to buy plants in the fall, but I want to give this a try first.

Meanwhile, I'm hoping a terrible storm that did a lot of damage is not what it takes to have a lot of foxglove seeds germinate (the straight line winds also made a tall pine tree lean toward the little house; at great expense I had to have it taken down).

I won't ever know the answer to what really happened, but that's the way with gardens.  You sometimes have these wonderful surprises that you can never really explain.  There are other phenomena - like the yellow Japanese calanthe orchid that popped up in the woods in 1998 - that still have me baffled.  And the verbascum that bloomed so charmingly and was never seen again.  I still look for that plant, just in case it makes a comeback.  One never knows.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A gardener to remember

Margaret Rainwater Moseley

May 28, 1916 - April 28, 2015

What wonderful gifts you gave us, welcoming us to your garden and sharing your plants and your great enthusiasm for people.

You've been an inspiration to so many.  We'll never forget you, and we'll always cherish those words you said so often: 

"Gardening is so exciting - watching over plants and waiting for them to bloom.  There isn't anything like it.  I wish everybody could have a garden."

Monday, April 20, 2015

The right type of boxwood

As I wrote in an earlier post, I was concerned about pruning English boxwood (Buxus sempervirens 'Suffruticosa').  As it happened, an expert at pruning boxwoods (he works for a high-end garden designer who includes lots of boxwoods in her landscapes), confirmed what my mother and mother-in-law had taught me.  If you shear off the tops of English boxwoods, you'll have to wait a while for the "sticks" to leaf out.  The proper way is to reach down into the plant and prune out in bunches.

This did not suit me.  I had let boxwoods that came from my mother-in-law's home in Virginia (brought here in the early 80's) grow in a a rather harm-scarum fashion.  What I should have done was prune them every year, and I would have had the hedges I wanted.

But not to worry.  The expert pruner approved of my choice for the new arch garden - Buxus microphylla var. koreana 'Winter Gem'.  This boxwood can be pruned any time into any desired shape (well almost).

Seen above is an example.  In 1841 (yes; that is the correct date), Sarah Ferrell took over the garden her mother had started in 1832 around a home in LaGrange, Georgia.  Sarah immediately added boxwoods to create a maze and parterres that spelled out different words.  She used English boxwoods and probably kept them pruned so they didn't get out of control like mine.

Sarah's garden was taken over in 1916 by Ida Cason Callaway, wife of successful businessman Fuller Callaway who bought the Ferrell property (the Ferrell house was replaced by an Italianate mansion in 1916), and named the estate Hills & Dales.  Sarah's gardens had languished for several years, but Ida restored many of the plants and added fountains and statuary.  Upon Ida's death in 1936, Alice Hand Callaway, wife of Fuller Callaway, Jr., began her reign in the garden and nurtured it for 62 years, until her death in 1998.

Today, the magnificent gardens and the mansion are open to the public.  I was lucky to have a tour led by Alice in 1998 and had obtained her permission to feature her story on HGTV's A Gardener's Diary.  Sadly, and very shockingly, Alice died soon after my visit.

So, I was happy to see the gardens so well tended when I went back last week.  I was also interested in the state of the boxwoods.  Back in the mid-19th century, Sarah Ferrell had planted a parterre which read "G-O-D".  The tour leader explained last week that this area was replanted recently with B. microphylla 'Winter Gem'.  Thus, the letters can be sheared easily so one can readily discern the spelling originated by Sarah Ferrell.

Where was I going with all this?  Oh yes.  I have now added the same 'Winter Gem' to the upper part of the arch garden.  With all the rain, though, I haven't gotten the boxwood pruner over here to shear the straight lines for me.  I could do it, but he uses a plum line and gas-powered trimmers.  If he doesn't have time soon, I will tackle it myself.  The good thing about this boxwood is that it takes to shearing and rebounds quickly if you make a mistake.

I wish I could have gotten a proper, right-side-up camera angle on the parterre above, but my vantage point was higher, and I was already way behind the tour group.  In the foreground is the tea plant (Camellia sinensis), which Alice Callaway kept in hedge form.  I have it here on the property, but I let it go so we can use it to create tall backgrounds for church arrangements.  This time of year, it looks pretty scrubby, but it makes for long-lasting branches in the summer through fall when little "apples" appear and make it even more interesting.

I highly recommend this garden.  It has so much personality, and I love the fact that it has been overseen almost continuously for 183 years.  It is easily one of Georgia's oldest gardens, and even though much has been added or replaced, there are still trees that were planted by Sarah so long, long ago.  It's a very special place.