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.