Tuesday, February 24, 2015

All I need is 50 years and a strong wood chopper

I have been fighting the notion now for 42 years, but the facts are there.   I am not going to have a sun-drenched garden.   I live in the middle of the woods.

Wendie Britt recently gave me a wonderful present - a booklet, which is an excerpt from Elizabeth Lawrence's The Little Bulbs made into a work all its own.  It's called Lob's Wood.

It's about a Mr. Krippendorf from Cincinnati, Ohio, who corresponded with the great garden writer Elizabeth Lawrence.  She wrote about him for ten years, as long as the reports from his woodland garden came to her through the mail.

In the chapter entitled, "The Year Begins", Miss Lawrence writes:  "In a woodland garden the year begins and ends with keeping the woods clear.  This means hard physical labor, and that is what Mr. Krippendorf liked.  He liked chopping down trees and cleaning up dead branches, and cutting out undergrowth."

For years, I've thought about creating a woodland garden.  I vowed every winter to pick up all the dead branches, to clear out brush and create a wide pathway that leads to a stone cistern dating from the late 19th Century.  I watched for several years the growth of two ironwood trees along my driveway.  They stood as a natural entrance to the above imagined path.  As soon as they got up where the lower branches were over my head, I intended to join them together, sort of pleach them, to make a proper entrance to this secret garden.

Now, the lowest tree branches are way above my head,   I have long missed this opportunity, but the two trees would still make a nice entrance to this fantasy garden in my mind.

But, here's the problem.  Although I own an ax, I am terrified of it, and swinging one is just beyond my physical ability.  I would never try a chain saw, as I would certainly lose a limb of my own.  I used to have a saw I loved, a sort of stubby one, but I broke it and never replaced it.  And then, a giant tree fell, with no way to move it or chop it up.  The good thing about the passage of time in the latter case, is that I can now dig out the decayed wood from the thick trunk and spread it over the forest floor.  There's even a chance that its hard remains could be dealt with rather easily.

Mr. Krippendorf kept his woods clean; he cut down smaller trees that were never destined to be magnificent and ended up with a forest with enough light to grow thousands upon thousands of bulbs.

He wrote to Elizabeth Lawrence:  "Along one of the woodland paths the ground is white with Christmas rose (Helleborus niger); some of the Byzantine snowdrops are in bloom, and there are buds on the Lenten roses."

Look at my bloom above.  It is a Christmas rose and has emerged from a plant given to me years ago by the late Jitsuko Johnson.  In 2006, half the plant was dug (another story; I thought I was going to sell my house, and I let a lady and her son have a lot of plants), and it took eight years for it to produce another flower (last February).  This year there were three flowers.  I cut the one you see above and brought it into the house.  Usually, the blossoms of this particular hellebore last a long time as a cut flower.  This one wilted immediately, sort of like the Lenten roses do.

Then, last week, when the temp went down to 12 degrees at my house, I cut another half-open bloom the night before, because it was too far up to cover, and I didn't think it could withstand the cold.

So now there is one more hidden bud, and I have made a tent for it.  It's supposed to snow tomorrow, and I want this one to have a chance.  That second bloom is holding up inside, but did not open.

What is the fuss over three flowers?  First, the plant was given to me by a very beautiful person and a generous, wonderful gardener who died too soon.  Second, I want what Mr. Krippendorf had - a ground white with Christmas roses.  It's taken me decades to realize that I will never have a garden filled with sun-loving flowers.  But, couldn't I get the pleasure Mr. K. got, at least for a couple of months in the early spring?

While ago, I went to check on my tent situation.  It will hold up, I think.  But, I need dozens and dozens of Helleborus niger. (the species and all the new hybrids, too).   I need snowflakes (I have tons I could transplant from the little house).  I want thousands of daffodils,  scillas,  crocuses, bloodroot (there is one plant near the cistern; it has endured valiantly for decades), winter aconites and on and on.

But first, I need to get out there and get serious.  There are dead branches all over the place.  And, another big branch (or was it a mid-size tree?) has fallen into the area I intend to clean up.  This latter fact is discouraging, but not nearly as disheartening as the realization of what I really need:  a Mr. Krippendorf.  And, unless some miracle happens,  I'm not thinking one of his ilk is going to come down my driveway anytime soon.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A rose without a name is still a rose. But I wonder what it is!

On the walls of The Yesterday Cafe ("Home of the Buttermilk Pie") in Greensboro, Georgia, hangs a photograph taken in the early 1900's.  Seated in the middle of the picture is Lula Channell.  It was Lula's father, Thomas Jefferson "Fox" Marchman, who took the photograph.  "Uncle Fox", as he was known around Greene County, Georgia, survived the Battle of Gettysburg in early July 1863.  But on June 1, 1864, he was shot in the leg at Cold Harbor, Virginia.  Despite his wound, he stayed until the end of the war and was present when Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865.

What has said photograph to do with the rose pictured above?  As I was going through my now 24,853 photographs (I finally purged a few thousand), I didn't realize I had this one which I took at Margaret Moseley's 98th birthday celebration on June 1, 2014 (her actual birthday is May 28).  Since my muse seems to have left me today, I'm taking the explanation of the rose from the book, Margaret Moseley's A Garden to Remember.  I have always been intrigued by this antique rose and wonder if it will ever be identified.  Maybe someone out there will see the picture and know its name.

Here is the story:

In the early 1970's, Margaret was visiting her aunt in Veazey, Georgia, in Greene County.  The aunt told Margaret she needed to propagate a very fragrant and beautiful pink rose that had belonged to her (Margaret's) grandmother, Lula Channell.  No one knew where Lula had obtained the rose, whether it had been a gift or if it had been a passalong plant from a neighbor or friend or relative.  Margaret's aunt estimated the one plant had been there for at least 100 years.

That September, Margaret went back and made a cutting from the rose and took it back to Atlanta.  She stuck the piece in the ground next to an outside faucet and forgot all about it.

The next spring, Margaret looked down, and on the eight-inch-high "stick" was a bud.

"I never will forget walking out there.  That bud was the tiniest thing you've ever seen, but it was going to bloom, right there by the spigot.  That's where it all started.  You talk about getting excited.  I couldn't believe that tiny little stem had lived."

From that one piece, Margaret rooted hundreds and gave them away.  Margaret says two men who were rosarians came to her garden on a hydrangea tour one year.  They were fascinated with the flower, but couldn't identify it.  The rose starts out as a medium light pink in bud, but then opens very double into a different, deeper hue.  The shrub blooms from late April until the first frost.

"I've rooted worlds of them," says Margaret.  "Everyone who has it loves it.  We just don't know what the name of it is."

So, in my mind, this is The Greene County Rose until any further identification can be made.  There are still Channells and Marchmans in Greene County.  I'm just wondering if this rose is somewhere over there, too.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Obsessed with arches and what lies beyond

On Saturday, I sort of got the wind taken out my sails about shearing the English boxwoods.  Someone who does that for a living and keeps at least two fabulous gardens, both with brimming with all sorts of boxwoods, told me my idea of shearing the row in the garden beneath my kitchen window is a bad one.

He showed me the same method that my mother-in-law and my own mother always used, that is, you clip down into the shrub for that type of boxwood.  The result would leave me with a lot of woody stubs and no green.

So, he came up with another solution.  When he pointed out that some of the boxwoods were not filled in on the bottom (understatement), I could see that any kind of pruning/shearing was going to make it unsightly for a long time.

Instead of trying to make these particular boxwoods into something they cannot be, he suggested replacing them with Korean boxwoods he has grown at the farm.  They can be sheared and will make an instant hedge, and I'll have the look I want.

But what to do with all these boxwoods that we take out?  He suggested planting them where they will be able to be shaped and kept in a more natural form, as they were meant to be.

I was okay with this plan, and then we walked around to the back where I showed him the 20 fastigiate boxwoods I bought from Elizabeth Dean.  The idea was that in the fall when I went to pick them up, I would get them into the ground immediately.  They were pot bound, she said, and needed to be freed.

Well, I couldn't figure out where to plant them, so I didn't.  When the temperature dropped into the low teens in December, I put them under the concrete deck to protect them, just in case.  There, they remain.

However, the boxwood expert had a great idea.  I had envisioned a long allee - ten boxwoods on each side.  The fact is, though,  that I have already used all the level ground that would work for such a formation.

So, in the new (2013) lower garden, he suggested taking out a row of raggedy hemlocks which also have no growth on the bottoms and thin, scraggly branches on the tops.  There's no way they will ever look good.   They stand at the end of a large rectangle which is bordered by cobblestones and filled with tiny pea gravel.  The two sides are fine, with boxwoods covering up the base of healthier hemlocks, which form a tall hedge.

The upright boxwoods can be planted at the end.  And, he can take out a thin, rusty arch leading up from this garden space to a terrace and make a living arch with four of the fastigiate boxwoods.  In other words, he would plant the boxwoods and then train them to grow together at the top.

I'll also gain an arch of these boxwoods at the other end where the doomed hemlocks are.  That would give me something to concentrate on, although it is fairly shady beyond the proposed portal.  Some of those boxwoods we'll remove from the arch garden could actually grow there, perhaps marking a path that would lead to an untamed area that could be gentrified with some hellebores and scilla and maybe a rock edging.  A visitor would look through and find a new part of the garden, one I hadn't even thought  of before another pair of eyes assessed the situation and opened up a lot of new possibilities.

Photograph above:  Arches abound in Ryan Gainey's garden in Decatur, Georgia.  I love looking through to see what's on the other side.