Friday, October 20, 2017

If you love hydrangeas, come hear Robert Mallet!

On a beautiful day in May 2006,  my two daughters and I drove our rental car from an underground garage in Paris to the coast of Normandy.  We were celebrating my younger daughter's graduation from college and my older daughter's completion of a master's degree in journalism.  Although it was a year late, I, too was celebrating.  However, mine was a milestone birthday (oh, how young I was!)

There were many highlights on the our trip from Paris, where we had stayed in an apartment in the Marais for a week.  We first went to a very crowded, but floriferous Giverny, then made our way to the D-Day beaches.  There, we got to see the end of a Memorial Day ceremony in the American cemetery.  We all shed tears.

Our ultimate destination was Varengeville-sur-Mer, where a visit with Robert and Corinne Mallet turned out to be the perfect ending for the trip.  I had had the pleasure of meeting the Mallets, arguably the two most knowledgeable people in the world on the subject of hydrangeas, when they came to Atlanta.  Penny McHenry, founder of the American Hydrangea Society, had arranged for several of us to visit nurseryman Eddie Aldridge in Birmingham so the Mallets could see oak leaf hydrangeas in their native habitat.  We also saw the Aldridge Gardens in Hoover, where Eddie had planted rows of Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake', the double-flowering oak leaf Eddie's father had introduced to the world from where the plant was found in an obscure corner of Alabama.

Back to France:  My daughters were charmed by Robert, who took us on a wonderful tour of his family's ancestral manor house and the extensive gardens begun in the late 19th century by his grandfather.  I have photographs of my daughter in front of towering rhododendrons in full bloom.  Then, we drove to a two-hectare (just under five acres) field.  We got out of the car and walked around to see only some landscape cloth stretched out, with a few newly-planted hydrangeas (only identifiable by the emerging leaves) in an otherwise empty space.

Robert told us about the plan for a glorious garden, which would house a collection of hydrangeas from around the world.  He and Corinne would plant fast-growing paulownia trees to provide shade.  I couldn't picture this because for us in Georgia, this is rather an aggressive, not-too-attractive tree that can pop up in unwanted places.  Robert assured us that this was not the case in France, that the large leaves would quickly provide cover for those hydrangeas needing shade.

I have to admit that I could not picture any kind of garden in this blank field, although the surrounding countryside, with gentle, rolling hills was lovely in the fresh burst of spring. 

Today, 11 years later, that lonely-looking field is a paradise of hydrangeas. Visitors coming from all over the world are awe-struck by the glowing colors and the magnificent blooms of every shape and size along the maze of trails meandering through the five acres.

Robert Mallet will be at the Atlanta History Center on Monday, October 23rd, to give a presentation on the Shamrock Collection, now the largest and most extensive assemblage of hydrangeas in the world.  The title of his lecture:  The Ultimate Exhibitionist:  Hydrangeas from Private to Public.   American Hydrangea Society meetings begin at 7 p.m., with refreshments and time for buying raffle tickets for a wonderful array of hydrangeas.  The lecture will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Woodruff Auditorium located in McElreath Hall, 130 West Paces Ferry Road, N.W., Atlanta 30305.

The last time Robert addressed the American Hydrangea Society, I left with my heart beating wildly, wanting every hydrangea I saw in this notable collection.  His charm and enthusiasm are infectious, making him the perfect spokesperson for this genus of plants that has brought beauty and joy to so many gardens around the world.

Robert in the "before" Shamrock Collection in 2006

The beginnings of a world-famous garden 

The Shamrock Collection "after"

Entrance to Robert's family's manor house, La Maison du Bois des Moutiers, designed by Edwin Lutyens.  Those are hydrangeas in the terra cotta pots.  You can see Clematis montana 'Alba' in bloom in the enfilade.

Part of the garden around the manor house

A Lutyens bench, of course.  Windows of the manor house festooned in clematis.

Note:  The photograph at the top of the page shows giant-flowered hydrangeas at Amy Linton's house in Peachtree Hills in Atlanta.   On Sunday, October 22, 2017, yet another award-winning documentary film edited by Amy - Robert Shaw - Man of Many Voices - will make its Atlanta debut at the Rich Auditorium at the Woodruff Arts Center., 1280 Peachtree St., N.E., Atlanta 30309.   The time is 4:00 p.m., and tickets are $10 general admission.  The fascinating story of a great man, plus beautiful music.  I have to brag that Amy edited A Gardener's Diary on HGTV, produced by Kathryn MacDougald and me, and starring Erica Glasener.  Now, Amy is even more big time, with many acclaimed documentaries to her credit. for information and to purchase tickets.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Plant combinations to consider copying

A couple of years ago, I put together a Powerpoint presentation called "Copycat Gardening."  In it, I tried to find examples of scenes in gardens worthy of translating into your own landscape.

The presentation, which I did for a garden club (sadly, I've since had to give up speaking to groups), included subjects like "copying gates"; copying paths"; copying hardscapes", etc.  You get the idea.

One of the subjects was "copying garden scenes."  In this selection of photographs, I included a lot of plant combinations, usually set against some sort of garden ornament.

Back in June, I worked a shift at the American Hydrangea Society's annual tour.  The day before, I got to see all the gardens and take pictures.  This was a wonderful selection of gardens, and there were things you'd want to copy at every place I visited.

Above is one of the scenes I loved in the garden where I worked.  This charming coneflower (I do not know if this is one of the Saul brothers' selections - should have asked) was planted next to a bench and backed by Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle.'

I love the blue-gray foliage of the dianthus over next to the leg of the garden seat and also the smattering of blue from what I'm guessing is a salvia.

There were so many scenes to copy in this multi-acre garden that I had trouble narrowing the photos down to just one.  I would scroll through the pictures, but I kept coming back to this one.  It's something to keep in mind if you have a bench that needs some flower personality.

Below is yet another coneflower/'Annabelle' combination.  This time the ornament is a pyramid-shaped tuteur.  This was in a country garden near my hometown.  Again, there are endless combinations to copy in this amazing garden which stretches for acres.  The owner saves the coneflower seeds and plants them all about the many outbuildings, along fences and mixes them in her extensive vegetable gardens.  It's one of those places I go that sends my envy meter skyrocketing - so many flowers, herbs, shrubs, trees, vegetables - all put together in garden rooms (in some cases, huge rooms) that take your breath away.

Stay tuned for more Copycat Gardening.  I admit I have no shame.  If I could re-create either of these scenes, I would do it in a heartbeat.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Obsessed with "little" hedges

I have a longtime, cherished friend who often has me come and give her advice about what to do with her yard.  Not once has she taken any of my suggestions.  It's actually pretty funny, and it doesn't hurt my feelings at all.  I do have to say that I kept suggesting a pair of boxwoods to flank her front door, and she kept saying she didn't like boxwoods.  She later hired a garden designer (I am not one, by the way) who got her to plant two boxwoods by the front door.  They look great.

The last time I was over, she was concerned about a blank area on the white brick wall on the back wing of her house.  In an instant, I could see it.  An espalier on the wall, then a four-foot-wide space for some perennials for cutting, mixed with low-growing, flowering shrubs.  All this to be outlined with a hedge of dwarf boxwood, sheared as the one is above, to form a border and give a neat, controlled look.

"I don't like little hedges," she replied immediately.

"Oh," I said, and sort of chuckled to myself.  Here was yet another of my suggestions dismissed forthwith.  I was sure the design I had in mind would answer all her concerns, but it wouldn't work without the low hedge.

Take, for example, the scene pictured above.  There's a lot going on behind that low box hedge.  Without something to keep the chaos all in, I don't think the yellow flower garden would be as attractive.

But, then, I am obsessed with hedges of all heights.  I love them.  For over a year, I have been looking at the only space that receives sun in front of my house (besides the parking area, which is blazing hot in summer).  I have designed in my head a beautiful little sun garden that requires a low hedge like the one above.  I even have access to one I could dig and move here.

But there is a major problem.  Sitting right where I want this garden is a berm with three giant trees - a tulip poplar, a sweet gum, and a second tulip poplar.  When we built this house, we carved a space out of the woods, and every tree that could be saved was left standing.

When I had a garden designer come in the beginning, she suggested taking out those three trees and flattening the berm (oh, how I wish I had).  My husband would not hear of it.  He was determined to save every tree.  In fact, he insisted on lopping off a planned carport to save a white oak which hovered over the new house.  Years after my husband died, a 40-foot-long limb fell from that tree.  The oak is now gone, and in its place my arch garden.  There is still no shelter for cars.

I am off subject here, but I need to explain further.   I did apply for a permit to remove the three trees, not because of my vision of a flat, sunny garden, but because the biggest and closest poplar is listing toward the front of my house. Furthermore, the roots of all three trees are exposed, and that worries me.  My son-in-law more than once has expressed his reluctance to let his two-year-old daughter and her younger sister sleep in a second floor room that is right in the path of the largest tree.

The City of Atlanta did send someone out.  I saw him drive up, turn around, sit for about two seconds and then drive off.  He never got out of the car and was gone before I could get to him to explain that the top had already broken out of the tree and that several limbs had dropped.  The permit was denied.

It's silly, but not a day goes by that I don't look at that berm and see a flat, sunny garden filled with sun-loving flowers.  You would enter under a rose-covered arch which would free my 'Climbing Iceberg' that has been imprisoned in a container for three or more years.  I also have four more roses that would flourish in this spot.  They are pillar roses and would need tuteurs. but that would add some height to the space.  Right now, the roses are languishing in too much shade.  The best part is I could put up a fish-line barrier that would keep the deer out.  And, of course, I would have that lovely little hedge.

Tomorrow, I have a tree man coming to give me an estimate on a dead hickory in back.  I am going to ask him what the chances are I could get a permit for those three trees.  I would love to get this project started and finally have a sunny, although small,  garden.

September would be the ideal time to move that existing hedge (wonder what my friend will think when she sees it).  I don't want to lose the chance of getting it.  So, I'll cross my fingers that something will work out, but I may just have to wait for the next big limb to fall.

Here's is what I had in mind for my new hedged-in garden:

Just kidding!  This is Le Jardin de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris.  The photo was taken by my friend Carol Tessier, who has her own spectacular jardin on the outskirts of Paris.  Note the yellow hoses - wondering about a sprinkler system.  Those look very heavy.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Gather ye rosebuds....

We planned to have parties - many of them - in his new garden.  We talked about it a lot.

Years ago, when I first walked into my friend's back yard, I sort of winced.  It was dominated by a giant oak tree.  It was a dark space and wasn't very inviting.  Oaks are wonderful, majestic shade trees, but they are messy and not the best canopy for a garden.  You have the catkins in the spring and leaves and acorns in the fall.

As fate would have it, the tree fell on his house one night.  He wasn't hurt, but the tree did a huge amount of damage, and the back of the house had to be rebuilt.   All of a sudden, he had a sunny back yard.  He was marking time until he could afford to do a major overhaul of the space.  That first year, we planted zinnias in the space where the root ball had come out, but it was pretty much a hodgepodge of broken stones and some stubborn weeds and overgrown tropical-looking plants.

Another year passed, and he asked me to help him design a garden.  I demurred, saying I lacked experience, but he persisted, and finally I came up with a plan, chose the plants and had them delivered and installed.  He took care of the stonework.

The whole garden was surrounded by a six-foot tall stucco wall.  Against this, we planted two espaliered Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide.'  There were two mature Cryptomeria japonica which cast shade in one corner where an existing yew (rare in the South) was healthy and happy and took up a good bit of space.

We made outlines of boxwood hedges around 'Annabelle' hydrangeas and several camellias we bought at a garden outlet store.  This same hedge turned a corner to line the entrance to an antique tool shed.  Some struggling cone-shaped boxwoods were moved over behind the hedges on either side of the shed.  We also added some tea olives, and along the sunny part of the wall behind the shed, we lined up arborvitae trees left over from my daughter's wedding.  He found two variegated conical euonymus plants that were about five feet tall.  These added some light to the shadier area and shone beautifully on the sunny side.

On the opposite end across from the shed, near the exquisite iron gate that marked the entrance from the driveway, was a tiny pond which had a pump that circulated water over some rocks into the pool.  He planted lemon-colored cedars in a narrow border and moved some hostas over against the wall where he also had some existing cast-iron plants and autumn and holly ferns.  In several places, he had overgrown Fatsia japonica, which we cut back to a better size.

In the middle of the garden where the tree had been, he put a stone table and had hanging lights installed on an iron pole, perfect for the small dinners we would have.  Since he was an interior designer, he was able to have custom cushions made for all the benches and chairs.  It was all set for entertaining.

But in the spring of 2016, he began to have shortness of breath.  It ended up that the congestive heart failure that had manifested itself four years before, but had been in control,  had returned.  He fought hard, and was in and out of the hospital for weeks on end.  Finally, his doctor told him the only way to survive was to have a heart transplant.

The photograph above and directly below are two of several I took while he was in the CCU waiting for a heart.  I brought my computer over to show him.  We vowed that in the fall, when he would have recovered from the surgery, we would have our first party in the garden.  Our plan was to have it when the tea olives would be blooming, and sweet fragrance would waft over the romantic scene with the lights and some soft music and candles.

I won't go into the agony of the roller coaster ride of hope and despair that ensued, but a week after we celebrated his getting on the top of the transplant list,  he contracted sepsis and died a week later on this day - June 16, 2016, at age 65.

It turned out there was a party in his garden, after all.  His dear friends Robert and Edwin, who never left his side during his ordeal,  planned a wonderful celebration so his designer friends could see the new garden and say good-bye to his fabulously decorated house (full of wonderful art and furniture; it had been featured in many publications and on home tours).  The party was held on the Sunday after his August 12th birthday.  There was plenty of laughter and sharing of memories.  He would have loved this wonderful occasion and all the attention, but this was not the party we had so often envisioned.

I actually tried to write this yesterday on the one-year anniversary of his death, but could not finish.  I started thinking about all our plans - we talked on the phone every day for years.  He was so proud of the garden and was having fun buying plants - mostly boxwoods in various shapes - to put in containers.  That first year the garden was finished, he had red tree roses underplanted with yellow creeping jenny and red begonias sitting atop the wall.  He was loving decorating the garden.

The garden now belongs to someone else - a young couple who bought the house.  I can't help but wonder if they have clipped the box hedges like he wanted, or if they've added furniture (all of his, including the clay pots of boxwoods, was sold at an estate sale).  I wonder, too, if the couple has planned parties, as the space, even without the table or any of the planters or furniture, was still beautiful and just right for entertaining.

I had written down for the  couple the names of the two large bushes on the side of the house.  The plants had probably been there for decades (the house was built in 1924).  One was an old-fashioned Deutzia scabra and the other a mock orange (Philadelphus sp.).  We had used branches of both in church arrangements.  I had asked the couple not to cut them down, so they, too, could enjoy the flowers in the spring.

Actually, my title above from the poem To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time by Robert Herrick is meant as a reminder for young women to hurry up and marry.  But that second line, "Old Time is still a-flying" makes me think of how we ignored such an idea. We thought we had all the time in the world.  I'm glad that he never realized that he didn't.  I'm also glad he had something to look forward to, that kept his spirits up and his hope alive until he lost consciousness.  There's nothing like a garden to do that for us.

The tool shed and the table with the lights; we did several hedges of Korean boxwood around the garden:

  Old-fashioned Deutzia scabra on the side of the house:

An Easter arrangement he did for church, using branches of his mock orange.  That's it hanging down on the right front:

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Plant combinations - carefully planned or happy accident?

When we were producing A Gardener's Diary on HGTV, we had fun latching onto phrases that kept cropping up and appropriating them to other situations.

For example, in the pilot for the series, host Erica Glasener asked gardener Ruth Mitchell how she had decided on a combination of a bright pink spreading verbena and a prolific low-growing rose (was the rose red?  I don't remember!).

Ruth answered with typical enthusiasm.  "Oh no. I didn't do it on purpose.  It was just a happy accident!"

After that, the producers and editors had fun calling just about any circumstance that cropped up a "happy accident." There was sort of a competition as to who could come up with the silliest use of the phrase.

Later, when I was visiting an Atlanta garden, the owners wanted to ask if I could identify the orange vine that had slipped down into the flowers of their grancy graybeard.  I told them it was crossvine, Bignonia capreolata 'Tangerine Beauty.'  The gentleman said he had not remembered planting it, but he loved the combination that had somehow come about.

"A happy accident," I said, and he agreed, not knowing how many times I had said those words in the past.

I have a happy accident about to take place in my little arch garden alongside the house.  There is a Japanese holly (the kind that resembles boxwood, but is not as elegant) that has grown up next to a parent plant.  For some reason, it has not branched out and has remained fastigiate.  I do keep it clipped some so it will remain narrow, and it is now about 10 feet tall.

Several feet away I have 'Graham Stuart Thomas' rose, growing on the same line as the holly, both  just begging for an arch.  Yesterday, I bought a large wire one, which I hope will prove sturdy enough to let me train this narrow evergreen up and over it.  From the other side will come the yellow rose.  I'm hoping for complete coverage from both sides to smother the arch.

While I'm now officially planning this combination, it was truly a happy accident that the holly anomaly came up where it did.  I know I'm going to have to jerry-rig some support for the sides of the arch to stabilize it (the holly is strong and stiff and sort of crooked), but I think it's going to be a lovely combination, if I can get it to work.  I think I"ll know soon.

Below:  Some errant roses that fell from the tuteur.  Soon they'll all be attached to a new garden arch.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The green behind hydrangeas

Here is an excerpt from the book Margaret Moseley's A Garden to Remember.  The chapter is about her collections and how she started a garden from scratch:
One way Margaret built her garden was by collections.  She would fall in love with a genus of plants, and after she was hooked she'd launch a search for varieties she didn't have.
"It's the best way to start a garden," she says.  "It's like a treasure hunt.  And, if you collect both deciduous and evergreen shrubs, then you'll have a good mix and can work from there."
Margaret, a self-taught gardener, had an innate ability to picture how a plant would appear and how it should be used to its best advantage.  She realized early on that deciduous shrubs should be backed by evergreens so the garden would have structure in winter.  This meant that the four collections which form the backbone of her garden - viburnums, Camellia sasanqua, Camellia japonica and hydrangeas - all complement [one] another.
The photograph above, taken in Margaret's garden, shows a Hydrangea macrophylla against a backdrop of evergreen camellias.  Margaret used many evergreens in her garden - boxwoods, camellias, Florida anise, daphnes, pieris, azaleas and rhododendrons, to name a few.  When she planted, she considered how a plant would show up best in summer and how the winter garden would look when the leaves had fallen.  Evergreen hellebores and holly and autumn ferns were also strategically placed against deciduous shrubs, particularly hydrangeas.

On this coming Monday, April 24, award-winning and renowned landscape architect Dottie Myers will present a program to the American Hydrangea Society entitled, "The Importance of Evergreens in the Garden."   Dottie is currently the longest standing member of the Georgia Gold Medal Committee, which each year selects the best plants for Georgia gardens.  She has taught landscape classes at several universities and has been a frequent lecturer for three decades.

The meeting will be held at the Atlanta History Center in Woodruff Auditorium in McElreath Hall, 130 West Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta 30305.  Refreshments, social time and sign-up begins at 7:00 p.m.  Meeting starts at 7:30.  Raffle tickets will be sold for some wonderful hydrangeas and companion plants.  There is ample free parking.

Come and join or renew your membership (last chance before prices go up at the end of May) and purchase tickets for the annual American Hydrangea Society tour on Saturday, June 10, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., rain or shine.  Single tickets are $30 and $40 for couples/family.  The price includes a one-year membership in the American Hydrangea Society.

Everyone is welcome to attend.

Below in Margaret's garden:  Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake' backed by the dark green, lustrous foliage of Camellia japonica 'Lady Clare'

A lacecap in Margaret's garden:

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Where did all the passion (for gardening) go?

I'm preaching to the choir here, I feel sure.  But, I have seen a disturbing trend recently.  There's been a slowdown in the interest in ornamental gardening.  I mean the kind that consumes you, where you go to a nursery and want every plant and come home with half of them.  You have nowhere to plant anything, no plan in place, but you had to have the shrub or perennial - likely one you've always wanted, and here it is.

Do a lot of people do this anymore?  In November, I went out to longtime grower Bobby Saul's wholesale nursery.  Down at the end, some veteran garden designers had put in an extensive garden.  In one section, there were ground covers, punctuated by unusual grasses and some agave-type plants.  There were also ornamental peppers mixed in and lots of herbs.  I had actually come to check out some zinnias my friend told me about, but they had been nipped by a cold spell.  They were supposed to be spectacular.  I hope to catch them next year.

As I walked around with Bobby, he talked about how his business had changed.  I can remember going there, say 15 years ago, and my heart would race, wishing I could buy every shrub and every perennial on the huge lot.  Trucks were coming and going like mad.  Business was booming.

"The millennials aren't into gardening," he said.  "They're not buying a lot of ornamentals. We've seen an uptick in interest in growing vegetables, but it's not like it used to be."

I was dismayed.  I have a daughter who is a couple of years older than the oldest millennial, and the farthest thing from her mind is a proper garden.  She does want an arbor to cover a concrete patio and a vine to provide shade from the western sun.  She and her husband have just moved into a newly constructed house.  I've only been once in the semi-dark, so I haven't had a chance to study the contractor's landscape.

What I did see scared me - terraced walls made of landscape timbers leading steeply up to a house in back of them.  They also have an undulating wooden fence surrounding a tiny back yard that has been recently sodded.  I immediately started rattling off things I would do, plants I would use to block the neighbors, but I think my words failed to register with them.

To be fair, they were still unpacking boxes, and I was already redesigning their front entrance in my head.  They both work long hours each day, so there hasn't been much time to do anything.

By contrast, my other son-in-law, who is 41, has only a balcony at their apartment in a Brooklyn, New York, brownstone, but he is obsessed with gardening.  He and my daughter have bought a house in Montclair, New Jersey, but are renting it for two years due to their nanny situation.

My son-in-law has made a beautiful "landscape" in a space that must be only 12 ft. x 16 ft.  He has climbing roses, a boxwood hedge, hydrangeas (the blue macrophylla he bought as a 'Limelight' has spent a lot of time indoors recently) and lots of herbs and annuals.  He was all set to buy an expensive espalier of apple trees, when my daughter stepped in and blocked that idea.   He's already dreaming and studying the large corner lot in Montclair and drawing out possible scenarios.  This is encouraging.

I say all this because ornamental gardening has been such an obsession with me.  Due to my circumstances, I haven't been able to fulfill a lot of my own dreams, but one thing is for sure.  In whatever time I have remaining, gardening, I know, will always be a thrill to me.  As my late guru Margaret Moseley said, "Gardening is so exciting - watching over plants and waiting for them to bloom...There isn't anything like it.  I can't wait to get out there every morning to see what's going on in the garden.  There's never a dull moment."

Photo above:  Part of a beautiful garden belonging to friends who spent decades changing and improving and experimenting with their back yard.  They were often on the big tours sponsored by the Atlanta Botanical Garden.  I ran into them and was surprised to learn that they had turned everything over to a maintenance company.  But, I know this wonderful landscape gave them years and years of pleasure.

Monday, March 6, 2017

An owl inspires a garden design

For more years than I would like to admit, I've had 20 fastigiate boxwoods sitting in their original 3-gallon containers, awaiting placement in my landscape.  These plants are treasures - I had wanted them for years, and I was finally able to buy them at a fall sale at a specialty nursery.  My dream come true.

But what have I done with them besides hauling a few around here and there to see how they'd look in various places? Nothing.  I've had lots of ideas, but one by one, each has been rejected, mostly because a plan only incorporated a few of the plants.  What to do with the rest?

Late yesterday, after a day-long feeling of fatigue, I trudged up the hill to the vacant lot and pulled a few strands of English ivy off ancient trees.  I did this to give my dog some exercise, or at least a feeling of being outdoors for a while.  He had been cooped up inside with me on a beautiful, perfect-for-gardening-or-tennis day,

We came back down, and I could hear two barred owls communicating just behind my house.  I already had my camera (I always take it up on the hill, hoping to snap photographs of the elusive red-headed woodpeckers who live up there), so I thought I might at least be able to catch the outline of one of the owls in the fading light.

So, I sat down on a mossy knoll in the woods and waited for one of them to announce its location.  Not another sound.  I was outsmarted.  They were still there, because I would have seen at least one of them fly - hard to miss, because their wing span is so wide.

As I waited, a thought came to me.  I had just looked with consternation at three camellias I planted several years ago.  I bought them at a big discount center that's only open part of the year.  They had some French name like Comte de (Quelque Chose), so I thought they'd be perfect for my French-inspired house.  Beside them, right in line, was a fourth camellia (from a different, very respected nursery) that I thought would turn out to be a favorite.  I bought it for its impossibly deep, almost black flowers.   The catch is catching the flowers open.  I see them in bud, then partially open, but then they fall off the bush.  I have yet to see what a full-blown bloom looks like, although the partial flower reveals a waxy texture, not something I'm wild about.

The blooms on the pseudo-French ones are red, which I like, but are disappointingly small.  Adjoining this planting is a line of English boxwoods, forming a sort of low, irregular hedge that parallels the side of the house.  All of this was done piecemeal and is too chaotic.

Suddenly, as I waited to hear the guttural trills (an oxymoron?) of the owls, it came to me.  All those boxwoods and camellias must be moved.  Somehow, some way, I need to train the slender boxwoods on arched frames in a long row, extending from the back corner of the house all the way out to the tree where I have a Banksiae rose planted at the corner of the parking area.

I got up and walked off the length of the space.  It would take 18 boxwoods.  That would leave me two to put at the bottom of the steps that go down beside the music room (meaning I have a piano in there) terrace.

I will need nine rebar arches that will have to be set in concrete and which will have to be identical.  This is where I run into trouble.  Should they be single, or should there be two arches connected with six-inch bars to make them sturdier?  That's a lot of welding and much more money, and is it necessary?  The arches cannot vary an inch because if they are to form a row, they have to be perfectly in line - all the same width and height for my sensational green enfilade.

And the final question is:  Do I plant the boxwoods in the existing pea gravel, which is held by a low cobblestone retaining wall?  That way, they'd be the right height, but it would make the path on the side of the house much narrower.

Well, I'll measure and work this out.  I've been around and around my house trying to find where to use these plants.  I knew I wanted to train them on some sort of fixed guide to get them to grow together at the top, but if it were a here and there thing, it would look like Disneyworld instead of a garden.

It's only a germ of an idea.  Now to figure out the logistics.  I must get these rarities in the ground.  I have to talk to a welder, but where is he, she?

Note:  Above are two fastigiate boxwoods in the late Ryan Gainey's garden.  If memory serves me right (I probably have slides to show the "before", but it would take a lot of time to locate the one I want), Ryan had these two upright boxwoods planted side by side to flank a walk and then joined them at the top.  I don't know if he used some sort of guide to get them to grow together, or if he just pruned the tops to link to each other.  I need mine to be very uniform at the top, since I have so many.  I've got to have those rebar forms.  I would have something similar to this, but with more slender boxwoods and not as thick.  If you Google Heronswood arches (images), you will see a taller and fancier version of what I am contemplating.  To my recollection, they were hornbeams, trained on some sort of forms.  Dan Hinkley designed these when he owned the nursery, and I saw them in a much less mature stage.  Somewhere I have slide I took, but where?

Monday, February 20, 2017

Thoughts about a warm winter and early blooms

My memory is not as good as I thought.  I was convinced that we had a later blooming time last winter, due to much colder days in January and February.  My camera tells me I am wrong.

This photograph of Camellia japonica 'C. M. Wilson', was taken on February 2, 2016, in Margaret Moseley's garden, which now belongs to her daughter Carol Harris.  Also, in full bloom that day was Margaret's Daphne odora, several hybrid hellebores, Helleborus niger and Edgeworthia chrysantha, among others.

I was forewarned by Carol in January that things were early.  She called to say that the Michellia maudiae was covered in fragrant blooms (also that it is now a good 25 feet tall).  To illustrate how this warm winter has changed bloom times, I have pictures of this banana shrub/magnolia relative in full bloom on March 20, 2010, along with Daphne odora and dozens of camellias.  There was a Spiraea 'Ogon' in flower then, as well.  I've noticed they are blooming right now, exactly a month ahead of 2010.

We're about to face a week of about 70+ degrees F.  Already these warm days have brought things out prematurely.  The camellias are all blooming like crazy, which is fine, but I worry about the leafing out of Hydrangea macrophylla.  I shudder to remember the Easter freeze of 2007.  Everything was killed back by a hard freeze, and we scarcely had any macrophylla hydrangea flowers at all that year.

Gardeners everywhere have lived through uncertain times.  California has been in what seemed a hopeless drought.  Now, damaging storms are hitting the state, along with vicious winds and flooding rains.  It's hard to have a garden under such circumstances.

Let's hope we don't have a repeat of last summer's above 90 degrees and no rain for months on end.  And, if it's going to be so mild now (not good to set peach crops), I'm keeping my fingers crossed so that the really hard freezes in the low 20's and teens will not happen.

Today, on my way to a wonderful lecture given by photographer Lori Prosser at the Gwinnett Master Gardeners' meeting (her subject was English and French gardens; I came home wanting to clip hedges and plant all the flowers we cannot grow), I saw two white azaleas beginning to bloom.

I want the seasons back like they were when I was in my 30's, when you pretty much knew what would bloom when.  This present weather is not right, and I hope to goodness this is not a trend for the future.

Note:  My Helleborus niger, which threw up a lonely bloom this year, has already started to turn green.  Here's one I took in Margaret/Carol's garden on February 2, 2016.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Early cheer in the garden...and amid my clutter

I'm writing this three days after I had intended to.  It was Valentine's Day evening, and I looked with dismay at my desk - disorganization, chaos, half-worked crossword puzzles, metal filing rack stuffed with papers.  I hadn't a clue what they (the papers) were all about - they had been there for months.

But, as I was feeling a twinge of sadness - for Valentine Days long past, the exchange of presents (my late husband usually gave me something, however small, made of sterling silver, and I would give him something to do with fishing); yellow roses from a boyfriend who wrote a funny message on the card; my daddy handing me a heart-shaped box of candy wrapped in red cellophane.  You can see I was in pitiable, nostalgic mood.

It only took studying the bouquet of daffodils I had picked that afternoon to break the melancholy.  What was I thinking?  Here were the cheerful faces that poets had written about for centuries, that school children had presented to their teachers over the years, with the syrupy liquid seeping through the wax paper around the green stems held in their hands.  How lucky was I that all I had to do was walk around the yard and gather some instant happiness.

The daffodils (of the genus narcissus; when I was young, we called them jonquils, regardless of the size or what division they were) in my bouquet were mixed, a few having been here long before I came on the property.  But, most were ones I've added through the years.  Curiously,  the early "jonquils" and many of the later, larger ones all bloomed at once this year.  This weather has been crazy, with warm spells in January and February more typical of May.

In my thrown-together bouquet are some 'Ice Follies.'  These are from ones I forced one year, then threw the bulbs on the ground afterwards, with all intentions of planting them.  They ended up planting themselves and have spread to make a pretty large clump.  Their large faces start off with creamy petals and a pale yellow cup.  Then, everything fades to white.  My daffodil guru, Berma Abercrombie, who was a founder of the Georgia Daffodil Society, always recommended 'Ice Follies' as a very showy flower for a mass planting.

I took her at her word and ordered 50 bulbs to start off with.  For some strange reason, I decided to plant them on a bank in the woods way behind the house where no one but the deer and squirrels can see them.  They did not take off and spread like the ones I had thrown so insouciantly by the back door.  In fact, their numbers have dwindled.  I wasn't thinking right; the 'Ice Follies' I planted so far away should be on the hill across the driveway where I could see them from the window by my desk.  As it is, I have to trudge past the brush pile and down a steep hill to pick them.  Another of the labor-intensive garden mistakes I have made.

Now, as to the rest of my desk.  I had two of those tall mint julep-type vases.  I took some camellias to my mother in the nursing home once, and apparently someone liked the container as much as I did.  But this is one of my favorite vases for many flowers.  The next occupants will be the dark purple hyacinths that come up every year near said brush pile.  These are more bulbs I had forced, then tossed into the ground without much thought.

There are pictures of three of my Valentines on the desk.  One, you can't see for the glare - that's my husband Chip Tate talking to the novelist Andrew Lytle (in the white shirt).  Another is the real Mr. Darcy - Colin Firth.  He's in a dark leather frame that I thought suited him nicely.  The picture was a gift from my friend Helen Fraser, who always zeroes in on what you would love to have.  I can't tell you how many times I have watched the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice.  Last week there was an article in The New York Times showing what a real aristocrat of the era would have looked like.  Not for me.  Colin Firth, you will forever be Mr. Darcy.

My other Valentine is represented here by the mirror.  You can see the frame - it is distressed black with gold leaf.  It belonged to my friend Benjie Jones, whom I lost last June 16th.  The mirror, which is huge, has made this room a much better place to be.

With the sweet-scented flowers and memories of Valentine's Days past, I soon bounced back and let the daffodils direct my mood.  Flowers always help, and these were just the right ones to make my evening, not one of sadness at not having a Valentine at present, but one filled with cheerful remembrances of people I was lucky to have in my life.

Below:  A neighbor down the street has masses of 'Ice Follies' planted on a hill next to her house.  I wasn't able to capture the whole area because the leaves on several beech trees blocked the view.  I need a stronger lens on my camera, but I was able to zero in one of the patches that passersby (and deer and squirrels) can see from the street.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Blues in the garden

My mother told me that I should never begin a thank-you note with an apology.  Her reasoning was to force me to write immediately so I would have no need for an apology for being late.

Well, here I go.  I feel so bad that I have not even tried to write something here for so long.  Sorry, Mama, but I just had to say it.  The more days I skipped, the harder it was to take it back up.

As usual, I let Thanksgiving and Christmas overwhelm me.  My daughter and her family (husband and girls - 2  1/2 and five months) were here for 10 days.  Before they arrived, I was like a whirling dervish trying to dispose of all the clutter I'd accumulated all over the house.  At the end,  I was doing things like throwing stacks of mail into the spare room and not caring where they landed.

And, every year, I try to do too much, decorating-wise.  I want everything to look magical, and it never does.  I did have a really pretty tree, and I got the wreathes and bows made for the windows, but two pine garlands I bought never got put up.  I hung on to them for two weeks after Christmas, thinking I could at least suspend them in my arch garden.  I never quite got around to that either, so I finally tossed them onto the brush pile.  A waste of my money and someone's labor.

So that's it.  I have no excuse for January, so I'm making a fresh start now (speaking of waste - so many wasted paragraphs above making all these excuses).

The photograph above I took last April in the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham, N.C.  I hit at a good time, when so many of the perennials and bulbs were at their freshest.  These lovely blue anemones were in the semi-circular, terraced part of the garden, which consists of 55 acres with many trails and tons of ornamental trees and shrubs.

In this particular, thickly planted "Historic Terrace Garden" (listed that way on the map), the shrubs and flowers were arranged by color.  I never could get an overall view because there were too many people, so I had to settle for close-ups.

I love blue in the garden.  Yesterday, as Wendie Britt and I were putting out flags for some plantings at the Flower Guild garden at the church, she said the same thing.  Afterwards, I went to a big box store to pick up a prescription (they are the only ones who carry this particular one), and I bought a few additional items.

As I checked out, there was a stand loaded down with spring and summer bulbs.  I spied what looked like a French blue bearded iris.  It's call 'Full Tide.'  I had already succumbed to this stand a few days earlier, buying two deep purple bearded iris, two packages of Oriental lilies and some purple coneflowers.

This is not a good time to plant iris - it should have been done last August.  And, the rhizomes aren't very big, except the 'Full Tide' one is pretty decent.  I'm planting all this at the church garden since the deer not only eat the fans at my house but pull the whole plant - roots and all - out of the ground.

We have only two and a half months before the bearded iris should be in bloom.  I think the best I can hope for this year will be a few fans.  I will update you on the progress.

Meanwhile, my mind is whirling, trying to think of all the blues we Southerners can count on in the garden (how many times through the years did I plant delphiniums?  Only once did a few come back.  And mecanopsis - one can only dream).

I have a friend I e-mail with, and we are always having contests.  The most recent one was song titles with the word "moon".  So, here's a challenge:  Blue flowers you've actually seen in area gardens (not counting bedding plants or tropicals).  I'll start off - this is off the top of my head, as I must get this finished:  Hydrangeas, of course;  blue bachelor's buttons, blue platycodons, some caryopteris are bluish; 'Heavenly Blue' morning glories; Phlox divaricata (usually the blue is a bit pale); Veronica 'Georgia Blue'; blue grape hyacinths; Forget-me-nots; Ceratostigma plumbaginoides; Delft Blue hyacinths; Cantaurea montana; Clematis integrifolia (isn't there a blue one, Lindy?), Clematis 'Will Goodwin', 'Ramona' (more blue than purple, I think), 'Arabella' and I'm sure many many more blue clematis (Lindy Broder will know them).

So, you take it from here.  There are some blue Louisiana and Japanese iris.  In fact, I had 'Arcadian Blue' at one point (Louisiana).  Okay.  Finish the list, please.  Oops.  There's a blue wild aster I see in the fall - other fall asters, but I don't know the names.  Elizabeth Dean will. Did I say dutch iris?

Meanwhile, every day I've been watching something else blue in my arch garden....