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?