Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Frozen except for looking at gardens

I have managed to waste this entire day.  Earlier in the day, I went down to check on the progress of my Helleborus niger.  After someone chopped it in half in 2007, it has taken this long for it to recover.  Last year, it had one bloom after none for years.  There are either three or four blooms about to unfurl.  I will be posting the first flower - I can't wait.

But, what has me disturbed is my lack of gumption to get some things done.  I mentioned the camellias and sasanquas I need to move.  Now, I'm panicking over the fact that I need to trim back some (not so dwarf) English boxwoods.  I've let them go too long, procrastinating too late into the season.  Right now, I can already see new leaves forming.

The suffruticosas need to be handled differently than the Korean box - the latter I can shear.  But I've never sheared the English ones.  I've always understood that you should reach down inside and prune that way, gradually evening them up.  And, if you make big mistakes, it takes a while for these slow-growing types to recover.

However, I have to get this undulating hedge around my new-ish trellis garden into some kind of straight line.  I went out earlier and gave up.  It was cold, and I needed to do a ton of paperwork inside.

I ended up doing neither.  So, I'm going out now to assess the situation - I have three places around the house where there needs to be a lot of evening up.  I can't imagine having to do it the way my mother and also my mother-in-law taught me.  It will take forever.

I look at Ryan Gainey's garden above.  Look at all that trimming.  Someone is not afraid to take out the shears.  But, are all those Korean box?  I think not.

Right now, I'm going to grab my camera and take some "before" pictures.  Then, I'm going to start trying to even up the lines and get the look I want.  If I have more even structure, then I can let some things grow out of control.  That's the contrast I like, but will I do it?  It remains to be seen.  I'm already thinking it's too cold and getting too late to start the project today.  Tomorrow, perhaps.  Meanwhile, I'll study Ryan's garden.  I have some more pictures to post that might help inspire me.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A camellia dilemma - what would Margaret do?

I walked up to the little house yesterday - after not having been up there since before Christmas - to see how many buds there were on my 'Pink Perfection' camellia, which I planted two (or was it three?) years ago.  I had bought several plants - some Camellia japonica and some Camellia sasanqua - to replace some scrub hollies that I had cut down.

I passed the Camellia x 'Taylor's Perfection' which I had planted very close to the driveway. I was pleased to see that it had a good many buds.  It's somewhat misshapen - tall and spindly with a sort of pot belly and then a ball at the top.  It's been there for several years and should be a very tall shrub by now.  By habit, it is not very compact, but this double lollipop is beyond the pale.  I can only think that the soil is not very good there.  I'm pretty sure I fertilized it last spring, although it's been sort of on its own most of the time.

Then, my heart sank.  The two 'Cotton Candy' sasanquas had been partially eaten.  In the fall, they only had a handful of blooms.  Another unnamed Camellia japonica I got as a bonus from Perry Walker's nursery in Jonesboro looked like it had been frozen in time.  It hasn't grown an inch.  But, there was one bud.

The easy-to-grow, "can't miss" 'Pink Perfection', planted either two or three years ago (I'm thinking this is its third season), was sitting there without a single bud.  Plus, had it decided not to grow an inch, too?   At least the deer hadn't sampled it, but still, I was so disappointed and rather ashamed that I, who wrote about other gardens for years, could not grow an old-fashioned camellia that has been in Atlanta gardens for decades.

It only took me only a second to realize what I have to do.  I quote here from my book, Margaret Moseley's A Garden to Remember:

- "Don't ever mind moving a plant.  Normally, I have to move things four or five times to get them in the right place.  I've never thought twice about moving a plant because I knew where it was going and was excited about its new location."
-"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.  I don't think I ever lost any plants this way.  It's better to get them in a place where they'll have the right amount of sun or shade."

Margaret, who was in her early nineties when she gave me a list of her hints for a successful garden, would have already had those plants moved.  At age 89, she dug up a six-foot-tall Michelia maudiae and dragged it to a bed at least 50 feet away.  It must be 30 feet tall now and blooms like crazy.

 Actually, I've been looking at a cleared-out space up here in front of the house where I thought I could plant some camellias.  But, I had envisioned buying new ones.

I don't have Margaret's confidence.  It's too bad because it is going to rain all day tomorrow.  There's no telling when those plants will get moved.  I have to dig up some English ivy, inspect the soil and haul a ton of compost up the hill before I dare plant anything.  The truth is, even if I had good soil like Margaret's (she admits that has been a huge factor in the success of her garden), I don't think I could get excited over moving plants I thought would be where I put them forever.

Photo above from Margaret Moseley's garden:  Camellia x 'Fragrant Pink'

Monday, January 5, 2015

A (bright white) light bulb goes off

First of all, I have to get my Christmas/blog failure out of the way.  As it seems to happen every year, time moved on without me, and Christmas came, ready or not.  It all started when I went to New York for Thanksgiving and didn't get home until December 4th, and it was downhill from there.  I thought I had Christmas under control once I had my tree up (but not decorated) by the following Sunday.  But then, I can't say what occurred.  Suffice it to say, I hardly made it to the computer during the month of December, so all my blog plans fell by the wayside.  My brother called me today to see if I had been kidnapped.  No blog.  No returning his phone calls wishing me Happy Thanksgiving and then Merry Christmas.  Inexcusable, except that my daughter, her husband and my granddaughter came for two weeks, and there were a lot of comings and goings.

Early on, I went to the farm and gathered cedar, pine, winged sweet gum branches and moss-and-lichen-covered branches.  Oh, and I got tons of Mother's dark, thick boxwood to make wreathes and to use at church.

Then, I set about collecting Fraser fir from Home Depot, making several trips.  I cut holly and magnolia.  By the time I'd finished, I had enough greenery to deck 100 halls.  I took some to the church, but reserved plenty for the boxwood wreathes I make for my windows and for the garlands I construct for the stair case and around the French doors inside.

Only, the greenery kept lying there in a big pile.  Christmas Eve came, and the cedar, pine, sweet gum and holly arrangement was only in my imagination and never made it into the big silver punch bowl in the dining room.  I did get this done the day after Christmas, but that was too late for the Merry Widows' family party (Tutta Glass and our families) on the evening of the 24th.

Oh well.  Time to move on, and I know all the birds around here will appreciate the evergreen cover I'll be adding to the brush pile.  There they can hide from the owls and the hawks.

Sorry.  I had to tell on myself in hopes that I won't do this again in the future.  It never fails that I have all these expectations for a perfect Christmas, and once again, I found myself wrapping presents Christmas morning, trying to beat everyone downstairs.

Now on to gardening, where my mind is now.

I have been staring at a new space across from the three-arch garden for a couple of months now. It's sitting there, raised beds shored up by a cobblestone wall.  There's no telling how much of the rich compost I've been harboring for decades is now in this space.  It's sort of a right triangle with a curved hypotenuse.  Right now, there is a boxwood right inside the 90 degree angle and Mother's hydrangea a few feet away.  The rest is blank.

Yesterday, I decided to come rushing back with this blog and do something I had done at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  I would show a picture each day that I had taken throughout the months of the entire year.  That is, I'd show you a scene from January, then one from February and so on.

Actually, I may still do this.  But when I was looking for something for April, a light bulb went off.  I was looking at photographs I took in Madison, Georgia, and when I saw this one, I realized I had at least a partial solution for my new blank space.  I could do a white garden, and that's where I could put a bird bath.  I've needed the latter for years now, given that my bird feeding stations are just down the slope.

If only I could find those same wonderful little violas and somehow keep the deer away from them.  Ditto the tulips, which they are especially fond of.  I have some variegated Japanese Solomon's seal I could transplant, and I could do some white alyssum and let it cascade over the edges.  I had already thought to put a couple of the new white hybrid Helleborus niger (the ones that face outwards).  Then, maybe two more boxwoods in the interior angles, some blue star creeper for the ground cover (I'm okay with the blue since it doesn't last long; may have to go with green creeping jenny, though; I think the white Mazus reptans is too shaggy for the look I want).  If you look closely, you can see that the gardeners used white liriope as an accent (across from the tulips).  I don't know if it would hold its color during the hot season, but I wouldn't mind some more green.

My pseudo-triangle won't look at all like the picture above, but I think I can capture the spirit of at least part of it.  I can't tell you how much I've studied that space and come up blank.  Now, just that one photograph has made my heart race with anticipation.

There's only one downside, and that is I won't be able to see the bird bath unless I stand at the side door in the den.  The overgrown Osmanthus fragrans blocks the view from the window over the sink.  I'll have to think about this some more, but for right now I think I'm willing to spend some time looking out from this room and not the kitchen.  I don't really wash all that many dishes anyway.