Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Leaving the November garden

Today is the last day of November, and even though autumn is not officially over until December 21st, the fall will be a distant thought as of tomorrow.

But, I wish I could stretch out November.  I love all the foliage arrangements you can make.  Above is the one I had for Thanksgiving this year.  In my usual fashion, I was running around trying to clean the clutter from my main rooms, throwing things into closets and furiously sweeping up obvious debris from the floor.

On the morning of Thanksgiving eve, I called a wholesale florist to see if they had any red rose hips.  In the past, I've combined those with American beech leaves I've picked Thanksgiving morning (they don't last overnight, but shrivel and turn a tan color, so I have to gather at the last minute).  The wholesale guy I talked to said, yes, he would pull me some.

I drove like a maniac over there, only to discover there were no rose hips at all.  He had three packages of aronia berries waiting for me.  But they were a dark red, and I really didn't want to spend $45 on something I didn't want, so I rushed back here and ran up the hill to the vacant house.  You can see my haul here.

Despite my panic at running out of time, I greatly enjoyed gathering material for this arrangement, which was thrown together in record time Thanksgiving morning.  I did have a large oasis that was already soaked, so that made it easy.

Here's what I found:  Brown-backed magnolia (I'm thinking it's not 'Bracken's Brown Beauty', but can't be sure; the habit is more open on this tree),  Japanese maple that shriveled a bit overnight (I had all this in buckets outside), Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'; nandina berries that hovered between orange and red.  The yellow-green American beech leaves you see on the left came from my tree outside the back door.  Usually, it's already tan, but I was lucky it hadn't all turned yet, so I had good yellow, green and bronze color.  Those were gathered Thanksgiving morning.

My time of foraging on the vacant lot next door may soon come to an end.  If the new U.S. President lifts sanctions on Russian plutocrats, I imagine this property will either be occupied or sold.  The rumor has been that it was bought by a Russian billionaire whose assets in this country were frozen.

On Sunday, I went to the farm to gather winged sweet gum sticks, American red cedar and pine for Christmas arrangements at church.  I almost had a meltdown when I realized that my favorite cedar tree - the one with tiny brownish-orange berries - was dying on the bottom.  I was able to reach a few branches, but I first assumed that the drought had taken its toll.

But, as my friend Richard with the jeep and I soon realized, most everything was dead or dying around the edges of the fields.  We concluded they had been sprayed - unthinkable!  I can't really write much more about this, as I want to keep my blood pressure down.  The hay man had taken it upon himself to kill everything in sight, including all the pines, cedars and a beautiful stand of berry-laden native yaupon holly next to one of the fields.  Even the young sweet gums, which are a nuisance until I need the winged sticks, were dying and brittle.

When I called Mr. Hay Man the next day, he thought I should be grateful because he killed some privet, too.  He scolded me and said I needed to let him know next time what I didn't want sprayed  - as if I had been forewarned of this travesty.  I was sick over it and can hardly think about it now, but all that lovely foliage the jeep guy and I gather every year - one of my favorite traditions of Christmas - is now brown and unsightly.

But, I was able to salvage some evergreens - just not as many.  I think I made it clear to Mr. Hay Man that he needn't warn me, because there won't be a next time.  Who would ever have guessed anyone would do such a thing on someone else's property without their permission?

But, back to November and this last day of the month.  I hate to think that I might not be able to duplicate this arrangement next year.  It's bad enough that I am trespassing now (I had called the realtor two years ago to ask for permission, but she never got back in touch with me;  I justify my actions because I've kept ivy off the magnificent old trees up there).  In my own yard, I do have a 'Little Gem' magnolia and nandinas,  but I need to replant a 'Yuletide' and find someone willing to spare Japanese maple foliage.  Or maybe I can find something at the farm that the Hay Man hasn't killed.  I've used lots of autumn branches from there in the past.  I guess we'll see next year what happens.

Below, American beech leaves on the dining room table.  That goose decoy will be changed out for the darker, more elegant ones I use on the tables at Christmas.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Stopping by a shady garden

If you've read my blog, you know that I long for a large sunny, flat space to make a garden.  For 43 years, I've had anything but.   I live in a forest with steep hills.

There are compensations.  Just this morning, I did a double take when what I thought was a large orange cat trotting down my driveway turned out to be a red fox.  I haven't seen one since 2011.  While he was going too fast for me to grab a camera, I am going to record his appearance in my bird book so I'll remember.  I was afraid the foxes were gone forever - I used to hear them scream in the wee hours of the morning.  Then, for years, silence.  So, I was so happy to see this little creature zipping along.  My tenant saw him last week, so maybe he's back to stay.

I do like to walk around my house looking for potential garden spots.  I'll think I've found a sunny spot, but then the seasons change, and I'll realize there is not enough light for what I would like to do.  So, I'm back looking at places for yet another shade garden.  While wading through some old photographs, I came across this grouping in an Atlanta garden.  This is something I could do if I can find the right spot with the proper overlook.

A word about these woods, and one good thing I can say about the deer, who first came here around 1999.  They have cleaned all the underbrush from the forest floor.  I had pretty much eliminated poison ivy from my four acres, but a part of my neighbor's property which I can see from my kitchen window had plenty.  Deer eat poison ivy?  Who knew?  Now, there's not so much as a piece anywhere.

One time I was on a train going into Brussels.  Out the window was this exquisitely beautiful forest with very tall trees and absolutely nothing on the forest floor.  It was so magical.  Ever since, I've thought a clean forest would look great here.  The deer have helped me out, but I do have a good many fallen trees that sort of mar the idea.  Still, it's not out of the realm of possibility to get someone with a chain saw to help me out.

So, I now have a mission.  To find just the spot for a grouping like the one above.  Not that I would ever take the time to sit on a concrete bench, but I'd love to look at a scene like this.  Sometimes you just have to "settle", rather than get exactly what you want.  If I could have a serene garden area like this, I think I would be ecstatic - at least until I started thinking about rose-covered arches and a giant cutting garden where I would grow all those sun-loving flowers I've dreamed about for so long.  Until that day comes, though, I can work on being a good steward of the riches I've been given and be grateful that I have a place to get out and garden.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Remembering garden friends of days gone by

One autumn, I decided I would follow an experienced gardener's formula for reviving flower borders.  Actually, her garden was more like a field of flowers, a giant cottage garden that must have covered four acres.  She and her English-born husband worked day in and day out all year long to encourage re-seeding annuals and to ensure the health and life span of scores of perennials.

At the time, I had two struggling flower borders, each backed by a newish hemlock hedge and outlined by dwarf English boxwoods, the latter only a few inches tall.  The beds were not very wide, but could hold two to three rows of flowers.

The borders were on two sides of a rectangular lawn surrounded by the evergreens.   On one side I had my favorite combination ever - a green and white variegated hydrangea next to pinkish-red rubrum lilies, white garden phlox 'Mt. Fuji', and yellow black-eyed Susans.  At that time, before the seasons got moved backwards (meaning earlier flowering), the peak bloom for this combination was mid-July.

I enjoyed this mix of flowers and foliage for a few years before the blooms became more and more sparse.  That's when I finally tried out the formula my guru and her husband used in their giant garden.  After the first killing frost, I cut back everything except the hydrangea.  Then, I put down a layer of composted manure which I got from my daddy's barn; next, I sprinkled granulated trisuperphosphate over the the manure.  The last and thickest layer was finely ground up pine bark  (the brand was Nature's Helper).

During the winter, this was not a pretty sight - just brown earth.  But, the next summer, there was an explosion of flowers. In July, the garden phlox had never had such large flower heads.  The rubrum lilies seemed to have multiplied, and the variegation on the hydrangea was pure white and vivid green.  The black-eyed Susans were bigger and better than ever.  It was like the Galapagos Islands had come to my garden.

But there was a downside to this.  In June, invasive yellow primroses had spread like mad, although I loved the pale lemon color.  The mistake I had made was jumping on the 'Stella d'Oro' daylily bandwagon.  I had scads of them down at the end of both borders.  The color seemed to go with nothing, and after the first flush of bloom, the foliage of this supposedly miraculous re-blooming dwarf daylily looked ragged and unkempt.  In addition, they appeared particularly harsh next to light blue Stokes asters and the now over-sized purple coneflowers.  I also had some red Asiatic lilies mixed in there, and it almost hurt your eyes to look down at this over-flowing border that was just plain garish.

Still, I reveled in the scene once that July combination came into bloom.  There were no digital cameras then, and I think somewhere I must have a slide of this very pleasing blend of flowers and foliage.  I thought if I kept up the formula my friend had recommended that the border would go on forever.

But, it didn't.

The next spring, a giant pine tree died and had to be taken down.  The rogue tree cutters paid no attention to me, out there wringing my hands.  They dropped the main trunk right onto my July border, crushing the box border and two hemlocks.  That huge tree, which looked like it belonged on a logging truck, lay there for two seasons.  When it was finally removed, there was no sign of a rubrum lily.  I had two or three moldy stalks of white phlox and some struggling black-eyed Susans.  I never saw the hydrangea again.

I dug up the Stellas and gave them to a nurseryman.  I just couldn't get used to that color.  Across the rectangle, I had a few blue platycodons in August and some white Japanese anemones in September.  At some point, even those disappeared.

Today, the rectangular zoysia lawn that was to be a bocce ball court has been replaced with a sea of tiny pea gravel.  The dwarf boxwoods are probably three feet tall and grow right up to the hemlocks.  There's not even an inch of space for a flower where the borders used to be.

When I look back at everything I have planted over the decades, it amazes me how many different things I have tried.  Some (mostly perennials) I had for years.  Others for just a season - or even less.

Sometimes a friend I had long ago but have lost touch with will pop into mind.  It's sort of like that with flowers, too - 'Becky' daisies, Monarda 'Jacob Cline', Japanese anemone 'Whirlwind,' 'Sarah Bernhardt' peonies, Salvia guaranitica, blue baptisia, Helianthus angustifolius (I had a dog who ate that!) - just to name a few (I won't even mention the shrubs and vines I used to have).  They were in my life for a while, then one by one were gone.

There might be a day in the future when I will have some of these flowers again.  I hope so.  I took the above photograph of Phlox paniculata 'David' when I visited a friend in Montana.  She and her husband have since sold the house and are back in Nashville.  I don't know if that border is still there.  Things change - people move, deer come into the area, drought takes its toll.  

But, the good thing about gardening is there is always another day.  I'm not sure where or how it will happen, but I intend to create that rubrum lily, white phlox, variegated hydrangea and black-eyed Susan combination again.  'Stella d'Oro' won't be back - that's for sure - but maybe many of my other "lost" friends will.

Japanese anemones (I also had this single form at one time)

Monday, October 3, 2016

Great texture (and other things) in a Raleigh garden

I think if I had a garden that looked like this one, I would shout it from the rooftops.  When my daughter was engaged to be married, her future father-in-law Ned Yellig and his wife Sylvia White came to Atlanta for a visit and stayed with me.

We had a wonderful time and hit it off immediately.  The visit was maybe for two nights only, but we talked about a lot of things.  But not once did either of them mention Ned's garden.  When I went to Raleigh this past April, I about fell over when we got out of the car, and I saw the main garden in back of the house.

Ned, who is a retired physician, wasn't there, but his son Christopher took us on a tour.  Sylvia had sent some pictures the previous April, and I thought the flowers were lovely, but it hadn't dawned on me that there existed a garden Ned had planted and tended for years.  I was dazzled by the structure and the wonderful combinations of shrubs and perennials Ned had put together.

Above, you are seeing only part of the garden near the entrance, which has a certain formality to it.  Clipped boxwoods, barberry hedges,  Amsonia hubrichtii (the lacy foliage and light blue flowers in the left foreground) and the white flowers of Deutzia gracilis coming into bloom in the background - it was a stunning arrangement of texture and color.

The rest of the garden is actually quite informal, and if I had to describe its look, I'd say "country garden."  Rustic paths - mostly gravel lined with stones - wind throughout, and toward the back, there are bird houses, a sitting area and a patch of lawn.  Over to the left of the entrance is a rose garden.  There were irises in bloom and a large philadelphus about to pop open, plus other perennials planted along the paths.  A sweet shrub near Ned's detached "office" was in bloom and sent off its unmistakable fragrance as we walked by.

I am only hitting the highlights, of course, as there was plenty more to see in the front shady areas - ferns, hostas and hellebores and yet another stand of roses right along the driveway.

I hope to go back to Raleigh soon to see what happens in October.  Meanwhile, I am happy that Ned took what I dream of having someday (a large, sunny flat lot) and made it into a charming garden.  I know he's been working long and hard, but he has created something very, very special.

Below:  1)A Japanese maple in its spring beauty along a path that has a country garden feel and 2) the climbing Schizophragma hydrangeoides 'Moonlight' near the back of the garden.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Yellow is the color . . .

I'd almost forgotten what I had planted years ago outside my kitchen window.  Because of the way the light fell on the rectangular space outlined in boxwoods, I figured out that yellow and chartreuse would look best, that is, if I chose to do a monochromatic garden.

So, I started out with a yellow-leaved forsythia and Hosta 'Sum and Substance.'   Then, I planted a yellow woodbine honeysuckle to climb up the walls, and lemon-yellow day lilies in a row against the house.  I started thinking of every yellow flower I could use, and the list seemed endless.

It was going quite well until my husband suddenly went into garden project mode without consulting me.  He hauled in some dark red bricks to cover the ground.  I didn't say anything, as he was enjoying what he was doing.

The piece de resistance of his design was a cement basin with an elf sitting atop.  It came from his mother's (where its placement was very attractive), but when I saw it right in the middle of the space, I shuddered.  It was not raised basin, but sat on the ground.  It mainly collected leaves; it was too deep for birds to splash about.

I realized then that the dark red brick would not work with my yellow theme, and I could barely look at that elf, so I moved everything up to the little house, all except for the honeysuckle, which eventually disappeared.

Since 2013, when a giant white oak that shaded a lot of this little garden had to be taken down, I finally came up with a new gravel arch garden in this very space.  The bricks were all removed along with the cement elf sitting atop its shell.  I have resurrected my plans for a yellow garden.

At the very end of the rectangle behind a bench, I have Rosa 'Graham Stuart Thomas' planted.  Despite my neglect and this hot summer, it has continued to turn out lovely, dusky-yellow flowers.  It is tall and gangly and splaying everywhere, awaiting an arch which I think I'm going to have to have custom-made.  I have trained a seedling Japanese holly to form an eight-foot tall line (so far).  I envision this attached to the arbor so it will be evergreen in winter, and then have the yellow rose covering it for a good part of the year.

I took the above photograph in the village of Giverny in France.  A long, paved garden, or rather a series of gardens, contained squares of flowers and foliage all of one color.  This is the yellow one.

I don't have that much space, but I'm still inspired by the sunlight hitting the acorus (or is it an iris with variegated leaves?).  The pale yellow, airy pincushion flowers won't do here, I don't think.  They like cooler, less humid weather.  I would love to put them under the arch, but I will think of something else.  I don't know what will go in the one planting strip I have, but it's going to be fun trying to figure it out.  Do I dare put day lilies and hope the deer won't reach them?  I like lemon-yellow flowers best, but I don't mind the funny yellow of the 'Graham Stuart Thomas.'

Before I plant anything, I have to improve the soil in back of the bench.  This is going to take some doing.  Today it's too hot and humid, but next week promises to be cooler.  Maybe that's when I'll get started.

Below:  the rectangular garden ends with a bench given to me by my late friend Benjie. That's where a new arch will go along with some yellow foliage and flowers.  I'll train the fastigiate holly and have it be the backdrop for the poor, neglected 'Graham Stuart Thomas,' which is now splaying all over the place, waiting for a support.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A 50-year-old perennial flower keeps on going

Today is my beloved mother's birthday.  She was born in 1910 and lived until just shy of her 97th birthday.  I can't grieve too much for her, although I miss her and can always conjure up her lovely voice.  Instead, I am grateful each day for both my parents, for a happy childhood and for so many opportunities they provided for my older brother and me.  I marvel now at the amount of energy they had.  I am lazy in comparison.

I don't know where my mother got a start of the flower above, but I do know it has come up and bloomed for well over 50 years - right in the same place.  It's tall - maybe to four feet - but does not need staking.  That's surprising because the stems are so slender.  Maybe I've seen it blown over by a huge rain or wind, but I don't really recall that happening.

I wrote about it a couple of years ago, and at the time, I wasn't really sure about its identity.  I knew it was either a heliopsis or Rudbeckia laciniata.  Someone from Africa saw it and set me straight.  I now know, after being corrected, that it is indeed the latter.

My mother loved this flower.  It grew right under the breakfast nook window.  Hummingbirds and butterflies loved it, too. Mother would cut a big bunch and plop them in a vase with some zinnias.  This combination reminds me of fried chicken and sweet iced tea - staples of my mother's summer meals.

Here in Atlanta (actually, this flower is at the farm in Chattahoochee Hills), it blooms in late July and August.  It's over now, and even though no one has been taking care of it since 2007, it flowers on.  Over 50 years is a good long run for a perennial that seems slender and vulnerable.  Rudbeckia laciniata is, in this case, one tough and long-lived plant.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A gift of green

The other day I did a favor for someone, and in return he offered me at least two dozen Korean boxwoods he had in containers in his back yard.

At first, I protested.  I hadn't considered what I did a favor, just helping someone out when he needed it.  If I really think about it, I owe this person much more than he could ever owe me, if we were keeping score.  He has come immediately when trees fell across my driveway or when pipes froze and broke at the little house.

He is insisting that I take the plants, and I have been roaming around in the heat, trying to figure out how to use them.

What I really want is a flat, sunny space like the one you see above.  The two hedges on either side are maybe twenty feet long and form a narrow allee.  This section reminds me of the hedges we had at home in a side yard.  I spent a lot of my childhood crouched behind those clipped hedges while playing Kick the Can or Hide and Seek.

But here where I have lived for 43 years, there are no flat spaces.  Well, I've created one - a lower gravel area surrounded by a double line of boxwoods and hemlocks, the latter looking the worse for wear after a summer with 90-plus degree heat every day.  I could break up that large rectangle with some sort of parterre, using the new boxwoods.

If I could figure out how to get around the City of Atlanta, I could use those boxwoods in a different formation.  Back in May, I had been inspired to cut down three giant trees that should have been removed when we built this house.  They are on a berm across the parking court in front of the house.  My son-in-law pointed out that the biggest one appears to be leaning toward the upstairs room where my granddaughter sleeps when she visits.

So, I re-imagined this space - one of the only sunny spots on the property - with the trees and berm gone, and a level, boxwood-edged garden in their stead.  I would somehow move the climbing roses that are languishing in the shade and grow them on tuteurs.  I would also have some room for sun-loving perennials.  And, I would use two of the twenty fastigiate boxwoods I'm keeping alive to form an arched entrance.  The gift of boxwoods could form either a rectangular or oval border of low hedges.

But, the city arborist drove up (we have to have a permit to cut down a tree in Atlanta) and turned around so fast, I knew my plans were sunk.  In a couple of days I received the rejection letter.  There would be no roses billowing off giant tuteurs, and the berm is so uneven, you couldn't have any sort of box border.

Of course, that dreamed-up garden wouldn't have looked anything like the one in the photograph above.  Actually, that is Alex Smith's nursery, which is where he grows out plants for his landscape and garden design clients.  He has it arranged like a garden, and you can get tons of ideas by just walking through.

I'm going to keep my thinking cap on and try to figure out how I can take advantage of this generous gift and of that area of sun.  I had a friend who wished for a tree to die, and it did.  I won't go that far, though, because I might end up with a giant poplar crashing through the roof.  There must be another way.  I'll keep looking through books and magazines and on Pinterest.  Something will come to mind eventually.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The summer of my discontent...

Back when this old-fashioned Deutzia scabra was in bloom in early May, I couldn't have foreseen what lay ahead that would leave me bereft during this long, drought-stricken, meltingly-hot summer. I haven't had the heart and really the time to come back to this blog which I love and have missed so much.

Starting in May, about the time the above shrub was blooming in his yard, my very close friend from church, Benjie Jones, began losing control of his congestive heart failure condition.  One day later in the month, he called me from the hospital to say I needed to come be with him because the doctor wanted to talk.  I sat there stunned as we were told the choices:  a heart transplant;  a medieval-looking, artificial pump to give him maybe a year (the dressing around the tube leading into his chest would have to be changed daily, and he would have to carry around battery packs wherever he went).  The third choice was hospice.

I quickly made the decision for him - we'll take the transplant.  I volunteered to serve as his caregiver. The interview to see if he would qualify was set for June 22nd.  Long story short, a roller coaster of hope and despair set in.  His heart got unexpectedly weaker.  By June 2, he was in the CCU intensive care at the main Emory Hospital.  It was a nail-biting week, but he passed all the tests to get on the transplant list.  He was officially accepted on June 6th, a Monday, with the status of "most critical."  On Wednesday, he felt great, got on a stationary bike and walked around the room with all his tubes trailing after him.

The next morning - Thursday - the doctor called me to say he was unconscious with a 105-degree fever.  He had contracted a staph infection in one of the two main ports in his neck and chest.  This proved too much for his barely beating heart.  By the next Thursday, he was gone.

I was heartbroken.  He had held out such hope and tried so hard.  The nurses loved him, calling him a "chick magnet" because he was so handsome (this is ironic, as he was gay; he never told them).  He was always so kind and uncomplaining and the best patient.

So, the rest of the summer I have spent watering his beautiful garden (why didn't I take more pictures before the 90 degree heat set in?), while his friends took on the massive task of selling his wonderful collections  -  he was a designer with great taste and a penchant for Baccarat, Cartier, Tiffany, plus an eclectic assortment of the most wonderful furniture and paintings. His house has been featured in numerous magazines.

Despite the relentless heat, the summer is waning now, and the house is empty.  Everything he had - down to some rusted hedge trimmers - was snapped up in an estate sale last weekend.  The 1924 bungalow, which he loved so, will go on the market next week.

I am still in shock.  I have spent just about every day recently watering the garden he and I designed.   I thought at this juncture, he would be returning home with a new heart.  He was to stay at my house for the month-long recovery.  We joked that we would be having the parties we always said we would have.  It would be a new start for both of us.

But it was not to be.  He was an only child, and his 93- and 94-year-old parents are still numb with disbelief and grief.  I think we all are.

Meanwhile, I've let my own garden, such as it is, go a bit wild.  Despite my best efforts, the deer got Mother's hydrangea just last week.  The center is okay, but the two plants I layered and which were growing great, are pretty much eaten up.

But I can always salvage plants.  Losing my friend, though, has cut me deeply.  Just this morning, I went into the empty rooms and out into the garden, now stripped of its benches, tables and even the  boxwoods in Italian terra cotta planters someone bought at a deep discount.

I walked around to the side where the wonderful deutzia you see in the above photograph grows up and over a tall fence. Next to it is an equally tall philadelphus.  Both were covered with white flowers this spring.  We used branches for arrangements for church just months ago.  I have tried without success to root both these plants.  I must get some more cuttings.

Already, someone is looking at the house today, even though it's not yet officially on the market.  Word has already gotten around the neighborhood, and I'm thinking it will sell quickly.  I hope I will get to talk to the new owners, to tell them that these two plants growing in a narrow strip next to the air conditioner on a forgotten side of the house have probably been there since the thirties.  They need to be preserved.

The newly-designed walled garden in back, installed after a giant oak uprooted and fell on the house several years ago, consists of boxwood hedges, camellias, variegated euonymus pyramids, tall arborvitae, 'Annabelle' and 'Limelight' hydrangeas, espaliered sasanquas, fatsia, two lime-colored cedars, fragrant tea olives and a tiny pond surrounded by cast iron plant, hostas and  autumn and holly ferns.  All are arranged around an expanse of paved orchard stone.  Benjie already had two mature cryptomerias and a large yew - dark green and healthy - despite living in this hot climate.  These trees and shrubs helped the garden to look mature, despite its young age.

I hope whoever buys his house will love all the wonderful features, including the heavy, rustic shutters and antique-looking tiled roof.  And, I especially hope they'll enjoy the garden.  Benjie had said earlier this year that this fall we'd have garden parties for sure.  We didn't get our new start, as we had envisioned, but maybe the people who move there will, in our stead, spend cool autumn evenings with the sweet fragrance of tea olive wafting over this very special space.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Mama's hydrangea is changing!

Driving back from a doctor's appointment today, I almost ran off the road.  In fact, driving in the last couple of weeks has been dangerous.  At last, after two years of a paucity of blooms, the Hydrangea macrophyllas are putting on a spectacular show.

The two bushes that nearly caused an accident had deep royal blue flowers.  One was a lace cap that was about the diameter of a soccer ball.  The other was a mop head in the same rich blue, I'd say royal blue but bordering on navy.  Both shrubs were covered in blooms.  If they hadn't been on such a busy road on a dangerous corner,  and if I'd had my camera with me, I would have stopped and asked permission to take pictures.  And I still may get up my nerve to ask if I can having a cutting or even do a layering.  I've got to have them both.

Back at home, I've been lucky so far that the deer haven't gotten into the macrophyllas.  They did chomp on the Annabelles, but I have the remaining blooms "roped" off with fresh blue fishing line.  What I want to make sure of is that Mother's hydrangea doesn't get eaten.  It is so special to me and has been through some weird changes ever since it was moved up here.

It arrived by surprise one winter in a giant plastic pot.  At first, I didn't know what it was.  Then, the nice men who brought it told me they thought it should be up here, as down there it was in vicious afternoon western sun.

It stayed in that pot for two years.  The first June, the flowers were the loveliest purple-grape color - not as dark, glowing purple as they had been at the farm, but still very beautiful.

But, the second year, the flowers were a sickening Pepto-Bismol color.  That spurred me on to have it planted in the ground.

The next June in my soil brought enormous blooms of a medium, bright rose color with a blue eye - very showy, but not what I had hoped for.  Last year the cold got the plant, so I had not so much as a single flower.  The number of blooms this year is disappointing, but we're getting back to a deeper, richer color in the purple range.  I've taken dozens of photographs of the blooms, and they all look different - some blue, some purplish, but none exactly right.  I've gone out so at so many times of day, trying to capture the purple color, but it just won't work.  I hate to toy with the contrast or exposure, so this is as close as I can get.  It looks blue, but it's not.  And, it is a bit darker than it appears here.

But enough about my hydrangeas (I have a lovely light blue one that looks like it should be at a baby shower; ditto a pale pink one I rooted from the Piedmont Driving Club, and I think it's going to stay that color).

THE AMERICAN HYDRANGEA SOCIETY 'S 22nd annual tour is this Saturday, June 11, 2016, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., rain or shine.  Seven gardens are on the tour, and with this bonanza year, it will be breathtaking.  The tickets are $30 for one, $40 for two in a family.  This price entitles you to tour the gardens and makes you a member of the AHS.  Meetings this coming season will be at the Atlanta History Center, and you'll enjoy informative talks and beautiful photographs by hydrangea experts from around the world.  The meetings are on the fourth Monday of the months of October, February and April.

If you don't have a ticket you can purchase one at Garden #1 (The Burson Garden, 2607 Cotton Mill Ct., Marietta GA 30068) or at Garden #7 (The Moseley/Harris Garden, 3254 Wesley Chapel Rd., Decatur GA 30034.

Below:  Mother's hydrangea two years ago (compare to the top photo);  Lacecap planted by the late Margaret Moseley (probably 'Larnarth White').  Back in my garden:  one I rooted that is a lilac color.

Friday, May 20, 2016

A garden's entrance and memories of arches past

As I approached this garden's entrance in St. Simons, Georgia, a flood of memories came rushing back.  First, I have to say that I was entranced by this entire garden, which was on a tour last weekend.  It had all the elements I love - arches, hedges, gravel paths, with exuberant vines everywhere (example:  a dusky pink, wild-looking rose billowing from a live oak tree; fragrant Confederate jasmine outlining the back door).

But the memories.  I saw this arch and thought immediately of my late husband's folly.  He was a part-time gardener, that is, he went mostly in spurts and frequently abandoned projects midstream.  He had seen a similar entrance arbor like the one above in a Smith & Hawken catalog.  So, in spite of dozens of other projects that needed attention around our house, he set out to re-create a rose-covered, white wooden garden entryway up at the little house.

Only, the "entrance" he had two men build was not an entrance at all, but a free-standing arch that led to nowhere.  Once you stepped through the impressive structure, crunching the pea gravel underneath, you were at a dead end.  Well, not exactly, but you would have had to step down a slope covered in raucous Vinca major to get anywhere.  This was especially dangerous, as you would have to have legs five feet in length to make the giant leap to the next level.  Your best bet was to slide through the vinca and just hope.

But, he was proud of the arch.  There were six round columns, three on each side.  The white wooden columns, discarded by a law partner who was renovating his house, were connected at the top by  beams; perpendicular cross pieces formed the canopy.  While the one above is fancier, with iron sides, a gate and an arched top, my husband's looked remarkably similar.

That first year, he planted an old fashioned annual vine called Dutchman's pipe.  It was much too rustic for his elegant white pergola, but the thing did have a lot of leaves and a few crazy-looking blooms.

The next spring, I suggested digging a 'Dorothy Perkins' rose (the most popular rose from Jackson & Perkins in the early 20th Century) that was growing a few feet away.  Instead, nothing was planted.  The arch stood without adornment.

Not too long after my husband died, the bottoms of the columns began to rot.  Even though the wooden plinths at the base were up on bricks, they rotted, too.  The guys who built it had long since moved away, and no one seemed to know how to fix it.  Every workman who looked at it was a naysayer.  When you lose a spouse suddenly like that, you have a million other things that take up your time and efforts.  I just didn't have the gumption to tackle the project.  At last, the whole thing collapsed.

So, I felt a little glimmer of guilt and sadness at seeing this entryway.  But, it also made me smile thinking of my husband and his arch to nowhere.

This one was partly covered in Confederate jasmine.  Below, you can see a view of the other side.  I loved walking down that boxwood-lined path and coming out into the open garden overlooking a lake.  The house was set among tall live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, and the narrow, winding road leading to it was like being in an enchanted forest.  I'm sure their wooden arch in such a humid climate requires a lot of upkeep, but it adds to the magical setting and for me brought back some bittersweet memories.

Friday, May 13, 2016

What's in your garden?

It was a dreamy day.  Four of us drove to Americus, Georgia, to visit the inimitable Furlow Gatewood, famous designer, New York antiques dealer, tastemaker and gardener.  At 95, he is still witty and urbane and very active.  We took a picnic, and he came out with a huge bag of cheese straws he'd made himself.  Furlow insisted we spread our lunch at a large round table in the solarium of the main house, which was formerly his mother's barn (that's what he called it; I think it was actually a carriage house).  It's the largest of the structures on the expansive property, which has been in his family for generations.

Marsha Powell from our Flower Guild team at church arranged the excursion.  Her father is from Americus, and his brother was a childhood friend of Furlow's.

Hidden behind a curtain of trees, Furlow's collection of houses and cottages - all decorated in a style that can only be called genius - contains stunning antiques, some rustic, some more sophisticated and rare - gathered throughout the years.  Interesting fabrics and slipcovers are everywhere.  I asked him about a particular pillow, and he said he'd seen a dishtowel he liked, so he bought several pieces to cover the pillows.  On another pair of chairs, he had turned the fabric inside out, because he liked the "wrong" side better.

I have his book,  One Man's Folly, and it shows this magnificent compound and details of many of the rooms in the four decorated houses (another cottage is actually the chicken coop where Furlow gathers fresh eggs every day).  Another elegant little building contains garden tools.  Yet another outbuilding houses antiques that aren't being used at present.

Seeing all this in person on a cool spring day, the floor to ceiling windows open, and the fresh air drifting in, peacocks squawking and jumping about on the roof or sauntering among the gardens - it was almost otherworldly.

Furlow must have a hundred giant snowballs (Viburnum macrocephalum) planted in rows here and there.  Below is a tree festooned with the white version of Lady Banks rose outside one of the cottages.  I have more photographs to show in another post very, very soon.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Is this my garden?

For at least two weeks, I have been in heaven.  The white Lady Banks rose I planted several years ago finally topped my hemlock hedge and spilled over the sides and rambled across to an iron arbor covered in trumpet vine (not visible here).  I couldn't believe that this was actually my garden.

For years, this area was a disaster.  What had started out 30 years ago as a croquet lawn with sodded zoysia grass surrounded by a hemlock hedge and English boxwoods, eventually disintegrated into a sparse patch of weeds that got mown only occasionally.   It was just too shady for any kind of grass.  I finally gave the croquet set away, as the mallets and balls had languished unused after a few games in the early days.

In exasperation and trying to buy myself some time to figure out what to do, I covered the area with black landscape cloth.  That was fine for a few weeks, but the weeks turned into months, then to years, and weeds popped up between the seams.  I put my head in the sand, so to speak, and wouldn't even look down from the terrace above if I could help it.

In 2013, my daughter became engaged and wanted to have the wedding outdoors at our house -something I said I would never, ever do.  I gave in, and the decision forced me to go into high gear. There was no place for about 20 people to gather for the small ceremony.  We could have a tent in front for a bigger reception later, but to line up chairs and make an altar (her childhood minister agreed to do the ceremony) and have room for a cello and violin was problematic.  I didn't have a room large enough inside, and we needed the back terrace for a bar and the cake and for people to just get away from the band at the reception that followed.

I had already made a small, narrow arch garden on the opposite side of the house, but there wasn't room for twenty people to stand, much less sit.  For that area, we had used tiny pea gravel with sharp edges that were not slippery like the rounded gravel I had in the front parking court.  What if we could take up that terrible black, messy cloth, edge the rectangle with cobblestones and cover the ground with this small pea gravel?  I already had 4,000 Belgian blocks - very heavy ballast stones - stored at the farm; the cobblestones had been in the front parking area, but kept sinking.  A few years before, at great trauma and expense, I had them dug up and hauled the 40 miles to Chattahoochee Hills to deal with later.

Long story short, we created the "lower garden" in back, and that's where we held the small ceremony.   The wire arch you see was used along with two handsome wire obelisks I borrowed to make a sort of altar.  For the greenery,  Elizabeth Dean contributed long strands of Italian ruscus (Danae racemosa) to go with smilax vine from Alabama.  A bigger reception took place under a tent in front, and guests wandered all through the house.  Most important of all, it was a perfect October evening, although I had already lost a good ten years off my life worrying about the weather.

There's still much to be done - perhaps plant foxgloves behind the boxwoods to the right and add a climbing rose to cover the wire arch which needs to be stabilized.  Maybe put out some French cafe chairs and a small round table and more benches to enjoy a cocktail before dinner (as if I ever throw any dinner parties!).

Still, I'm ecstatic.  On a recent evening, just at dusk, I stepped out onto the terrace and looked down.  A stretch of cool weather had preserved the roses that glowed in the low light.  For a moment it seemed that finally, after years and years, I had, at least temporarily, a dreamy garden scene in a place that had once been a nightmare.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

On this date - A safe bench among spring greens

If this bench had been in its current place some 20 years ago, it would have been looking out over a kidney-shaped pool.

And the boxwood knot garden would have been under aquamarine water.  But lacking a lot of garden space, Mary Wayne Dixon, a leading supporter of the Atlanta Botanical Garden since its inception, made a drastic decision.  With her daughter grown, and no one to use the pool, she had it filled in.  In its place, she created a boxwood parterre, designed by her late friend, English writer, gardener, designer and lecturer, Rosemary Verey.

Back when Mrs. Verey was on the lecture circuit, she stayed with Mary Wayne during her visits to Atlanta.  It was the Englishwoman's influence that inspired the giant leap from pool to picturesque garden.

The nice thing was that the space was already lower than the house and the rest of the grounds - an ideal situation allowing one to look down upon the design.

I took this photograph on this very date four years ago.  Interestingly, we had an early-ish spring that year.  Just before you step down into this garden, there is a Viburnum macrocephalum in a shrub border.  In 2012, the flowers had already turned from green to white.  While spring came rushing down on us this year, the Chinese snowball is still in its green stage, or at least it is at my house.

I don't know if my friend ever sits on that bench, but I love its placement against the espaliered fruit trees.  The variegated boxwoods make it seem cozy.  And, what is very important to me, although I hardly ever find time to sit outside, is that you would feel comfortable putting your feet down on the gravel where you can see what's happening around you.  I'm making this latter statement because years ago on a garden tour, another erudite English gardener pointed to a lovely bench set among some tall grass and flowers.

"That is an ill-placed garden seat, " he said. "I would feel uneasy sitting there.  I like to know there's no creature lurking about unseen.  You should always make sure you feel perfectly safe when you're sitting in the garden."

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Spring in the garden - bearing down upon us

It has all come too fast.  We had a bout of hot weather a couple of weeks ago, and all of a sudden, spring started popping.  I was unprepared.

Actually, that's an enormous understatement.  I walk outside now, and I feel helpless.  So much to do, and everyday that passes, I become more panicked.

There's a reason for my frustration.  Last week, I had to have surgery on my lip for a skin cancer.  It had been scheduled for tomorrow, but there was a cancellation, and I took the appointment.

Now, because I have more stitches than anticipated, I can't bend from the waist or lower my head.  I can't do any strenuous activities, which I take would include moving four camellias from their too-sunny spot to a site a little further back in the woods.  I am not supposed to lift more than ten pounds, which I had not realized.  Too late, as I already took 20 pounds of hot bird seed out of the trunk of my car yesterday.

The worst is that I didn't get any deer protection put out up at the little house.  That's where a big clump of 'Sum and Substance' was about to pop out of the ground.  I put out some Milorganite at my house, but I didn't make it up there.  I can imagine the deer have already struck.  They had shredded the hosta by the end of the season last year.  I have some tablets to put in around it (I had planned to dig it and bring it up here and plant it in a container), but I need to water them in.  At present, I can't crawl up inside the basement to turn on the outside spigot;  buckets of water are too heavy to take from here.

I am, however, able to drive around (with a bandage looking like a giant white mustache), and there's so much beauty already.  The Yoshino cherries are at their peak; spireas are putting out snowy white blooms; dogwoods and azaleas are suddenly acting like it's April.  Our native Carolina jasmine is covered with cheery yellow flowers.  Banksaie roses are also showing some lemony-yellow blooms.  Other yellows are out, too -  Kerria japonica and bright yellow forsythia.  Everywhere I drove yesterday and today, I saw loropetalums literally smothered in hot pink. It's a real explosion of beauty.

But, there are plenty of leftovers from late winter.  Many camellia bushes are still blooming their hearts out.  And the hybrid hellebores, or Lenten roses, although now almost all green, still stand out in the garden.  Most of the daffodils are over, but I saw plenty of clumps of late bloomers.

On Saturday, I received an e-mail from someone at my church.  She sent along two photographs of a fluffy pink flowering shrub, asking if I could identify it for her neighbor.  It was about forty years ago that I had seen this shrub for the first time.  I was driving along a road in what was then rural Cobb County.  I almost had a wreck.  Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed these spikes of light pink tufted flowers coming out of the ground.  I had no clue what they were.

A few years after that sighting, I learned that this old-fashioned passalong plant was dwarf flowering almond (Prunus glandulosa).   An elderly gardener in Athens, Georgia, gave me one of hers, and I've loved seeing the buds burst open into fluffy pink balls each spring.

The plant you see above is from the late Margaret Moseley's garden.  Margaret also had the white version, as well.  I love the latter, but I still remember that moment so long ago when I saw those pink puffy flowers sticking up in the yard of a weathered clapboard house.  The flowering almond doesn't last very long, but it's worth the space in the garden.

Back to the spring which is barreling down upon us.  There are so many chores to do, it makes my head spin.  Weeds are coming up in the pea gravel.  I have some organic fertilizer for roses, but I can't do anything about that for another week.  I need to move those camellias, and I really ought to rescue some hydrangeas that are vulnerable to the marauders.  I'll just have to wait and in the meantime sit back and enjoy the show.  It's not the first spring I've gotten behind on everything, and it probably won't be the last.

Monday, March 7, 2016

"If there could be no roses..."

For the first 18 years of my life, my family lived in the small town of Palmetto, Georgia.  At the time, I thought I was deprived, because we didn't have so much as a Tastee-Freeze or any other spot where we could hang out (what would I have given for a drive-in hamburger joint with waitresses on roller skates!).  I later came to appreciate what I did have - five acres to explore and a setting (complete with a scary ancient lady next door whose house I could spy on through a tall privet hedge) that fueled a child's imagination.

The pre-Civil War house my parents bought in 1941 came complete with all kinds of fruit trees, big vegetable gardens and great places to play Hide n' Seek and Kick the Can.  There were lots of flowers, too.  My mother had a rose garden, which was her pride and joy.  She grew enormous blooms and would cut them for the house or to take to people.  Sometimes she put arrangements in the church.  Her favorite was the pink grandiflora rose, 'Queen Elizabeth.'

But, Mama's rose garden really wasn't very pretty.  It consisted of hybrid tea and grandiflora bushes, arranged in rows.  She grew her roses, not for garden beauty, but for cutting.  There were a lot of these sorts of rose gardens in the 1950's, when hybrid teas were so popular.

In the 1980's, people started planting more garden roses, that is, plants that looked pretty on fences or arches. These roses had always been around, but had gone out of fashion.  I longed to have them at my house in Atlanta, but I didn't have enough sun.

Then, one Sunday afternoon four years ago, I came home from church to find a 40-foot-long limb from a giant white oak tree lying in my driveway.  This enormous tree had hung over my house since it was built and cast a huge amount of shade.  I had to have it taken down, and in its place I made what I call my arch garden.  I would now have sun!  I quickly ordered own-root climbing roses from Pat Henry at Roses Unlimited in Laurens, South Carolina.  I would be able to sit here at my computer and look out at big, cabbagy roses climbing my wall and growing over the arches.

But, it was not to be.  The sunlight I counted on did not materialize.  Ironically, I had been the author of articles advising people to watch a spot for a year to know the sun-shade conditions so they would know what to plant.  I didn't practice what I preached.

So, I have moved all but two of the roses into containers to await a home.  The remaining ones are languishing, but I'll rescue them soon.  On the opposite side of the arches, I planted Confederate jasmine - not at all what I'd pictured, but at least it's fragrant.

But I did finally realize that there is sun now that the tree is gone.  It's just not where I wished it to be.  In fact, I had planted camellias there, and they are scorching and will have to be moved.  There are three big trees in the very place I need to plant roses.  One is a 100-foot-tall poplar that to my mind is leaning toward the house.  I had the City of Atlanta come out last week to see if I could take it down.  They refused to issue a permit.

The solution is going to have to be that the climbing and pillar roses ('Cl. Iceberg', and I've forgotten the names of the others) will use the trunks of the trees in the sun as their "tuteurs."  The sunny garden I'd imagined will have to be re-designed.  Right now, nothing is coming to me.

It remains to be seen how I will fare.  I keep checking the view from the front window all day long.  There is direct sun, at least for now.  I also noticed last summer, when the camellias started to look sketchy, that I had sun for most of the day.  If there can be any roses for me, this is where they'll have to go.  I will have to put fishing wire around them and hope it will fool the deer until I can get something permanent.

It's going to take a lot of study to figure out how this awkward space can look like a garden.  Unlike my mother, I want garden roses rather than a rose garden.   Last week, I ordered a song from ITunes.  It's called "My Heart Reminds Me," sung by Kay Starr.  It was the favorite of my friend's mother.  There's a line that says, "If there could be no roses."  I've thought of those words so many times in my quest for lush roses like in the photograph above (from Ryan Gainey's garden in Decatur).  Maybe this new scheme will work, and there can be roses for me.  We shall see.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Camellias or chameleons?

I estimate that for the last 20 years (at least), I have taken a photograph of this camellia in Margaret Moseley's garden.  Margaret bought it as Camellia japonica 'Governor Mouton'.   If you look at the picture in The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Camellias by Stirling Macoboy (Timber Press, no date), the flower looks like my photograph above.  Here is the written description:

"Introduced in the early 1900's by an unknown grower, 'Governor Mouton' is a medium-sized camellia of semi-double to loose peony form and vigorous growth habit.  Coloring is oriental-red, often splotched with white."

While there appear to be tiny spots of white in this particular photograph, all the others I had taken through the years showed solid red flowers.  I love Margaret's plant because it produces bright red blooms all winter that grow in large clusters.  You can see it from all the way across the garden.

But when I went out to the garden on February 2 of this year, I was shocked to see that 'Governor Mouton' did not look like 'Governor Mouton' at all.  There were no "oriental-red" flowers.  In fact, most of the blooms appeared to be dark rosy-pink.   And, much to my surprise, there were several variegated flowers.  I had never seen any such blooms on the giant shrub (must be 15 feet high by an even greater spread).

So what has happened?  Despite my wish to start a camellia walk on my property, I never did.  I now have several camellias, but some of them are struggling (I have now discovered the only sunny spot around my house - the very place I planted most of the camellias;  I have moved three back into more shade; the others I'll move after they stop blooming).  I have seen camellias on one shrub have different colors (not due to the understock).  I've also seen a branch that was a sport and had some variegation where the other flowers are usually solid.

But, for this 'Governor Mouton' - reliably red - to change colors all over the plant was shocking.

What I was trying to say two paragraphs ago is that I don't have enough mature camellias to know why or how often this happens.  The one plant that was here when I came in 1973 has never changed color nor had a sport or any variegation.

 I meant to join the North Georgia Camellia Society years ago, but due to time constraints, I didn't.  The members with experience would know about this phenomenon.  I'm curious, though, that an entire plant would change - not just a branch or two.

At any rate, I hope 'Governor Mouton' will turn back to red next year.  It has been one of the prettiest sights in Margaret's garden, now kept by her daughter Carol.  The rose color is nice, and the variegated blooms stand out, but I like the plain old red.

Above is the color of the flowers this year.  Below is one of several variegated blooms.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Margaret's daphne blooms on and on

    "But there is something about Time.  The sun rises and sets.  The stars swing slowly across the sky and fade.  Clouds fill with rain and snow, empty themselves, and fill again.  The moon is born, and dies, and is reborn........Around goes the circle of night and day, the circle of weeks forever revolving, and of months, and of years." - Madeleine L'Engle.

If you've gardened for a while, you know that plants, even if you think they'll go on forever, can suddenly disappear for no apparent reason.  You'll be walking along, and all of a sudden you realize a favorite trillium has failed to come up this spring.  It took me several seasons to notice that the Phlox divaricata, which Miss Willie Johnston in my hometown gave me 30 years ago, had practically disappeared from my woods.  At one time, I had two thick patches in a narrow border that has been overtaken by a boxwood hedge.  I also had many clumps of the light blue, fragrant flowers that came up in the high woodland.  For some reason, their numbers have dwindled.  This year, I'm going to pay close attention and see if I can rescue the plants that are left and get them started again.

On the other hand, I've been surprised and delighted to stumble upon spider lilies that popped up among the Siberian iris near my basement door.  How they got there, I can't imagine, but what a thrill to discover them.

Last week before the weather turned frigid, I drove out to Margaret Moseley's garden to see the daphnes and camellias in full bloom.  Margaret left this world on April 28, 2015, a month before her 99th birthday.  I thought it would make me sad to be there and see all the plants she'd put in herself, but instead I felt a sense of exhilaration.

Margaret loved gardening, loved the friends she made through her passion, and had a ball giving plants away to visitors.  Everything about her garden gave her pleasure.  So, when I looked at all the camellias, the edgeworthia, the hellebores and daphnes she planted,  I wasn't sad.  Yes, I find myself wishing I could call her up and ask her opinion about a plant.  Most of all, I miss her calls exclaiming, "You ought to see my garden today.  It's the prettiest it's ever been."

Often, the work of the gardener declines quickly after he or she is gone, but in Margaret's case, her daughter Carol is taking care of the garden.  Not everything has survived, but due to Carol's work, some things have even made a comeback.  I had missed seeing Margaret's prolific Helleborus niger;  in fact, I hadn't seen a bloom for years.  I was delighted to discover a snow-white flower standing up from the place where the clump had been.  Carol had cleaned out that bed and had obviously freed the perennial.

Perhaps one of the more persnickety shrubs is Daphne odora.  Margaret had many over the years.   When one up and died for no apparent reason, as they are prone to do, Margaret had a simple solution:  "Just go buy another one."  There are still several in the garden, sending the sweetest scent wafting over the grassy paths; one by the tool shed is around seven feet wide and four feet high.  Then there is the one pictured above in the iron birdbath garden.  In back of it is 'C. M. Wilson,' the camellia that became Margaret's favorite in her last years.  A few blooms from Camellia x 'Fragrant Pink' can be seen on branches in the foreground on the right side.

I've been looking at a place in my fairly new "Triangle Garden," and I now know it is perfect for a daphne.  I may work in some more soil conditioner, but I think the spot drains pretty well.

So, as the seasons come and go, I will always remember Margaret's enthusiasm and hope I can tap into the lessons she left.  The world will keep on turning; plants will come up and then disappear, but that is all part of gardening, and maybe a part that makes it forever fascinating.

Note: The quote at the top of this post came from the eulogy my daughter, then 15, gave at my husband's memorial service on June 21, 1999.  She loved Madeleine L'Engle's books when she was a pre-teen and knew just the right quote to begin her thoughts about her beloved daddy.

The Helleborus niger (Christmas rose) that magically appeared recently sin Margaret's garden after having disappeared for several years

Friday, January 29, 2016

Hedges - friend or foe?

I love hedges - of any size.  I note them everywhere I go.  The homeplace where I grew up in the small town of Palmetto, Georgia, had formal hedges.  I say formal in the sense that they were tightly clipped and formed geometric lines in the garden separating our house from my grandmother's cottage.

But, these hedges were the bane of my mother's existence.  The reason?  They were made of privet, which grew way too fast to keep up with.  I remember our gardener Felix using hedge clippers in a seemingly endless effort to keep the plants tidy.  My mother complained that he spent more time on those hedges than everything else put together.

Mother and Daddy never got rid of the hedges, though.  For my brother and me, they made great places for hide and seek and chase.  There were two long rows which led to steps going down to Granny Smith's cottage.  The hedges made a right turn on each side and led over to shrub and tree borders.  If the hedges hadn't been there, you would have had a rectangular expanse of lawn.  Someone who lived in the house before my parents bought it in 1941 had created that formal garden.  I'm glad they did.

But, to address the reality of hedges.  When you first plant them, the pace of growth seems agonizingly slow.  It feels like it will take forever for the plants to close in and form an uninterrupted line.  Then, before you know it, the years pass, and you wonder if you have created a monster.

Hedges are high maintenance if you want to keep them perfectly clipped.  Here in the South, most tall hedges are formed from Burfordi holly (at least in Atlanta).  I like the hedges in Europe, many of which are clipped yew.  It's too hot for yew here, and we don't have a lot of choices for tall material that will actually come together so that they can be even on the sides and top.

Years ago, when we built this house, I wanted a hemlock hedge.  I finally got one - outlining a large rectangle of grass.  But the small trees kept dying and leaving gaps.  And, in the beginning, the branches were floppy. Finally, they did fill in, but you can guess what has happened.  They are now way, way too tall and unreachable.  One really needs a cherry picker to maintain them.

Along the way, I've had trouble with this hedge in one way or another.  One day, after they had grown to about ten feet tall, I asked the work crew to shear them down to eight feet.  The men, for some reason, took matters into their own hands.  I came home to find a double line of "lollipops."  Who could have guessed they'd do such a thing?  I could hardly breathe.  They had limbed up the trees, so that instead of a hedge to the ground, I had bare trunks with wild-looking green shoots pointing everywhere on top.

The truth is I now have a monster, sure enough.  Every week, I ask my mower and blower who is supposed to do other things, too, to trim the hedges from the top.  He always promises he'll bring his clippers on a pole "next week"  I don't even want to guess how tall these hemlocks are now.

On the other side of the house, though, I have some short hedges coming along nicely.  They are made of Korean boxwoods, which lend themselves to shearing.  They grow fast enough to form a hedge quickly, but they are pretty easy to control.  By contrast, I also have hedges made of English boxwoods.  They, by contrast, cannot be sheared and are irregular and difficult to get even.

In the photograph above,  the homeowner has used a bit of hedging to surround a fountain.  I love the contrast of the clipped lines against the ground covers and the looser shrubs.

I still know of a double hedge out in the country in what is now Chattahoochee Hills (near Palmetto). Those hedges lead from the road up to the front door of an old house.  They've been there for as long as I can remember, and they look great.  But, Mother would not think these people are wise.  The perfect hedges are made of - you guessed it - plain old privet.

Below, at my house:  In this view, the lollipops are less visible now that the "dwarf" (I think not!) English boxwoods have grown up.  A rambling rose and sweet autumn clematis cover the top on the right side, making clipping even more problematic.  The original zoysia lawn is long gone.  In its place is tiny, sharp-edged pea gravel.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Behind the garden bench

Oh, how I wish there had been digital cameras around when we were shooting A Gardener's Diary for HGTV.

When we taped our first episode in 1994 (our show launched with the channel on December 31,1994; actually, A Gardener's Diary aired the next day, January 1, 1995), cell phones were new and cumbersome (and crazy expensive per call).  Looking up information about a flower on the Internet wasn't possible.  To research plants we featured at the end of each episode, I used multiple catalogs and books to come up with a few short facts and to get the botanical name right.

HGTV required us to take still shots on color and black and white film and have them developed for promotional purposes (they never used a single photograph).   I mostly used those throwaway cameras for scouting so I could show garden scenes to my co-producer when I returned from a trip and also satisfy HGTV's requirement.  As a result, I have boxes of unusable photographs of gardens dating back to the mid-1990's.

But I digress.  The reason I so wish that affordable digital cameras had existed was because of all the great garden scenes I got to see.  We taped 240 episodes all over the country.  I was the main scout, so I would fly to a city and visit several gardens.  I saw so many incredible places with great design ideas that I would like to pass on to you.

In one of our episodes in California, there was a segment about how to place a garden bench.  This was an unusual garden, set on terraces carved out of a steep slope.  Basically, there were paths going zig-zag across the terrain with small vignettes along the way.

One such scene consisted of a bench set among pink David Austin roses ('Gertrude Jekyll', I think). The garden's owners/designers explained that a bench should always have a tall, solid plant in back of it so that when you are seated, you feel secure.

Now, this would not apply to every bench, but in the case of this one garden, you would want something behind you so you wouldn't have the sensation that you could fall backwards down a slope several hundred feet long.

But, I've always thought about that suggestion every time I've passed a garden seat of any kind.  I think there's a bit of truth in it, especially in my case.

My friend Benjie gave me a concrete bench in exchange for my designing his garden.  I was thrilled, because it became the perfect focal point for my arch garden.  You look down through the arches to see the bench at the end.

But, I need some backing.  I already have some uneven English boxwoods as a border atop a retaining wall that is around six feet tall.  There's really not a chance you'd fall over the wall, but I still want something in back of that bench.

You can see by the photograph, there is a 'Graham Stuart Thomas' English rose hovering over the seat.  This is coming from a tuteur in the corner where I plopped the rose after letting it languish in a container for two seasons.  The soil is rather poor, and the spot gets about half the sun needed by the rose.  Still, it gave me an idea of what I might do.  If I improved the soil, planted another 'Graham Stuart Thomas'  (or maybe two), and installed a sturdy free-standing trellis, I might get the effect I want.

Of course, I don't want to stick myself with thorns (not that I've ever spent more than two minutes on that bench), but I could move the bench out a bit.  If I ever did sit down long enough, I would be rewarded with a lovely scent.

I also love this rose - the weird yellow color just appeals to me.  The other day, before it dropped below freezing, it had two open blooms (we're talking January).  It's a great repeat bloomer, and if I treated the roses right, they might thrive.

There's only one thing.  You can barely see it in the photo, but a Japanese holly that grows quite tall came up volunteer next to the bench on the opposite side.  I've been clipping it so it will form a single, narrow shape.  I had once envisioned attaching it to a wide arch going over the bench.  I don't dare move it for fear I would kill it, so I'm not sure how I can cram this all in to one space.

But, all this gives me something to contemplate on this cold, sunny day.  I have a while to figure it out before I order the own-root roses from Pat Henry at Roses Unlimited in South Carolina.  And, where will I find a sturdy stand-alone trellis?  That's going to be difficult.  Maybe I can have it made if I can figure out what it should look like.  Just something else to dream about.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The garden: The pain of discipline vs. the pain of regret

The weeks before Christmas, as you know if you live in the eastern half of the country, were unusually warm.  Every so often, such a warm spell will occur (not as prolonged and hot as this one), causing the mid-season camellias to come into bloom.  This was the case in December.  All month long, I was able to keep the red blooms of 'Professor Charles S. Sargent' in cups on my silver service in the dining room.

But these weren't my flowers.  They were all purloined (I'm using that word to make me feel less guilty).  The first batch came from a serendipitous discovery I made near the garden I designed at our church (how did I have the temerity to do this when it involved tens of thousands of dollars worth of plants and the entire future of our Flower Guild?  I was not qualified!)

Anyway, I was checking on the condition of the plants we'd put in - lots of rain in November turned out to be a good thing; I don't think any of the roots drowned - when I noticed some bright red flowers next to a magnolia tree on the lot line.  Camellia japonica 'Professor Sargent'!  I admit I picked a few, rationalizing that the blooms would not be seen and thus not used or appreciated.  Then, I'll confess that I went back a second time in my church clothes and snipped a few more.

But that was it for stealing from the church.  My next adventure took me to the vacant lot on the hill above my house.  I was trolling for some variegated osmanthus (false holly, and it's painfully prickly, too) when I glanced over to my left and saw the red flowers.  'Professor Sargent'!

This time I felt it was okay to take the blooms.  No one as far as I know goes up there except for my dog and me.  I do pull ivy off the beautiful old trees up there, so I am rendering a service.

I loaded up on the red camellias to bring down to put on the silver service.  That's really a beautiful combination, I might add.

But, truth be known, I should have been picking my own 'Professor Sargent' camellias.  Long ago, maybe 20 years ago or longer, I bought a large 'Professor Sargent.'  I'm ashamed to say that I couldn't decide on a place to plant it, so I let it stay in its container year after year.  It would bloom -not a lot - and I would promise it over and over that I would find it the proper home.

I never did.

In 2006, when I thought I was going to have to sell my house, I let a woman come and take a lot of my shrubs.  She was a friend of my parents' in-home caretaker and crazy about plants.  I gave her several camellias and let her dig other plants (I can hardly stand to think of how much I let walk out of here).  She got the 'Professor Sargent', of course, and the 'White By the Gate' and the 'White Empress', among others.

I can't even imagine how large these camellias would have been by now.  I can only console myself that the spot I'd thought about for 'Professor Sargent' would have cut off the view I have of a lot of twisted trees my neighbor left after a mini-tornado hit us.  Also, I wouldn't get to see the deer caravans, as I call them, pass through.

Back in early November, we had a Sunday School teacher who told us that if you don't suffer the pain of discipline, you will inherit the pain of regret.  That's what happened to me way back when.  Had I made good, disciplined decisions, I would not have been stealing red flowers from other sources.  The camellias the woman took would have been much too large to dig, and I would have flowers galore now,

This blog serves as a perfect example of my bad habits.  I have neglected it for two months now, using the excuse of having to clean and decorate my house to get ready for company at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  How I feel the pain of regret in not sitting down to write.

So now, I must either adopt this new way of doing things, or sink back into the abyss of constant regret.  Already, I have been punished by the absentee neighbor's giant dead pine tree falling into my driveway and blocking any passage.  I still haven't received the bill from the nice man who rushed over here in the rain with his chain saw.

I hope I don't experience any such retribution from the church.

With this post, I am going to start my new life of discipline.  Even though I haven't finished taking the Christmas decorations to the basement, I am officially adopting this new idea of one pain vs. the other.  I keep hearing about people my age re-inventing themselves.  Well, here I go.  I am choosing the pain of discipline, and I look forward to being free from this very intense pain of regret!