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.

Friday, April 17, 2015

A native vine that deserves attention

I took this photograph last Saturday in LaGrange, Georgia, and I meant to come right home to see if my vine had started blooming.  I planted it two years ago up at the little house, and after a couple of samplings by the deer, I think they decided they didn't like it.  Well, I can only say that for the foliage, which I checked on a few weeks ago.

The first time I ever saw crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), it was growing on the iron railing bordering the steps up to my friend's mother's townhouse.  The mother had brought it from her family home where it had grown wild.  The native form is a dusky yellow with a brownish center.

From that first introduction, I began looking for the flowers every spring, noting them in the woods first at Lovett School in Atlanta.  Next, I saw the vine climbing a tall pine at a garden whose owners had been active with plant rescue groups.  Another time, I hit a brand new tennis ball over the fence at Bitsy Grant Tennis Center in Atlanta.  There, growing all along some out-of-control privet and other scrubby brush were these muted yellow flowers.  In those days, we had no cell phones with cameras, so I never returned to take pictures (amazingly, I did find the ball).

Another place where the American native vine has naturalized is along Interstate 75 between Chattanooga and Knoxville.  It is (or at least it was 25 years ago) growing in the trees in the median.  I was traveling with my husband and children, probably en route to my sister-in-law's home in Abingdon, Virginia.  My children, as they were wont to do, started making fun of my excitement over the yellow vine.  That sort of burst my bubble at the time.

Then, about five years ago in late autumn, I was on a jeep ride at the farm.  I saw a vine with the deepest, most beautiful burgundy leaves.  I knew in an instant it was crossvine.  I gathered some for a Thanksgiving arrangement and took note of the location along a creek.

It was three more years until I saw the vine in bloom, despite having looked for it every spring.  The native form blooms later than the selection you see above, B. capreolata 'Tangerine Beauty', which is the one I planted at the little house.

Looking back, I doubt I would ever have noticed wild crossvine if I hadn't seen it at my friend's mother's townhouse.  It was a few years after the initial discovery that I saw 'Tangerine Beauty.'  It was on an arbor at a garden we did in Texas for HGTV's A Gardener's Diary.  My Atlanta Journal Constitution editor Danny Flanders sent me a picture of an entry arch draped in the vine at his house.  It was stunning.   Danny is now at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, where this bright orange form covered (and maybe still does) a portion of the long trellis leading to the Fuqua Conservatory.

I think one of the most spectacular uses I've ever seen was at another HGTV garden we did.  The gardener had put up a series of chains connecting the trees in his large back yard.  'Tangerine Beauty' grew along the chains, dipping and cascading to form a reddish-orange floral display that took your breath away.

Today it is raining again, and I'm not sure I'll be walking up to the little house.  If it's sunny tomorrow, I'll go check on the crossvine, in hopes that the deer haven't taken a liking to the flowers.  Maybe since they don't bother the native form, 'Tangerine Beauty' might be safe.  I'll let you know.

Note:  Just to prevent confusion, this is not the summer (late June-July) orange trumpet vine, Campsis radicans, you see naturalized along roads in the countryside.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The one tree still standing

Around the corner and down a bit from my house, a tear-down situation has occurred.  The house, a sixties ranch that was pretty large (I know, because whoever lived there at one time had four children; my daughter baby-sat for them), is gone now.  Unbelievably, so are several century-old trees.

I wasn't the only one who watched in horror as the mighty oaks (could have been other types, too) came down.  A neighbor posted his lament and disbelief on our neighborhood blog.  Yesterday, I passed by, and there was one tree left, right in the middle of the giant corner lot.  It was a Japanese maple in all its spring glory.

As I've driven around these past few days, I've been bowled over by the colors of these trees, reminding me of what a good investment they are.  You get two spectacular seasons of color - one when the new leaves unfurl in April and then again in the fall when some of the colors blind you, especially when backlit by the sun.

But, the branching on the trees is also pretty in winter, and even though many turn plain green (my favorite color) in summer, you still have the beautiful texture.

In the photograph above, you have a great example of how the deeply cut leaves on some varieties add a laciness to broader evergreens.

The other day I was talking to Bill Hudgins, an inveterate Japanese maple collector who has ended up with literally hundreds of trees he's selected from seedlings and grown out in containers on his Atlanta property.  He was selling them in the fall for $18, so I asked if he had any for spring planting.

"I have hundreds and hundreds," he said with a laugh.  "The whole thing just got out of control."

The trees, most of which are six feet tall or better, are priced from $8.00 to $30.00.  There's a discount on quantities.  If you've bought a Japanese maple, you know this is an incredible bargain.  They aren't named varieties, but Bill chose them for their leaf structure and color, so they will be more interesting than some of the more common. but pricey, cultivars in the trade.

They are available now through Bill's shop, Lush Life at 146 E. Andrews Dr., Atlanta 30305.  The phone number is 404-841-9661.

I'll be interested to see if that big Japanese maple around the corner disappears.  I'm thinking they are going to sell it to a landscaper or try to build around it.  Since the rest of the lot is cleared, and the tree is smack in the middle of where you think a house would go, I'd bet my hat on the former.

Meanwhile, a Japanese maple, as you can see in this photograph I took at Bill's house, is practically as showy as a spring-flowering tree or shrub.  One of my favorite combinations ever (unfortunately, I only have it captured on a blurry slide) was a cut-leaf Japanese maple hanging over a stone wall.  The new leaves were a rich burgundy-red.  Cascading next to it was Rosa 'Red Meidiland' with a white center.  That image is one I would copy if I had world enough and time (and a stone wall and some sun).  Maybe someday.  Anything is possible.