Thursday, December 31, 2009

It’s raining this morning….go figure, as we end the second wettest year in Atlanta’s recorded history. It’s hard to argue with the notion of climate change, since 2007 was the second DRIEST year on that same scale. Just when we learned how to master gardening in times of drought, with the requisite rain barrels, 5 gallon buckets in our showers to catch “gray water,” xeriscaping our gardens, etc., we have found ourselves with more water than our gardens know how to absorb. The rosemary that has thrived for the past few years out next to the street is chronically soft and dark, but the ground in the stepchild garden feels more like soil than terra cotta and the hydrangeas that have struggled for a few seasons are visibly bursting with buds right now!

I’m not unhappy that it’s raining, since I’ve been under the weather (no pun intended) for the past week, and this forces me to stay inside and get some things done. The Christmas greens are beyond dry and crispy on the mantel and there’s a hunk of candy cane stuck to the carpet, so a day like this is perfect for getting things out to the compost pile. I’m going to start majorly redoing some of the containers at the penthouse garden later this month, so my most strenuous activity today will probably be going there to take some exact measurements and photos of what will get changed.

The reporters on television this morning were chatting about the changes that this past decade brought, and expectations for the next one. Since 2010 is when I’ll hit 50, it all seems somehow more applicable this year. I’m finally at that age of saying, “Where did the time go?” while also being able to maturely consider what I want to accomplish in the years to come.

For me personally, this first decade of the millenium has been pretty awesome! We relocated to Atlanta, I look forward to going to work every day to do something I love, and I think I have more balance all the way around. Frank and I have developed a relationship over the past many years in which we don’t take one another for granted, but delight in having been together for so long. I have much more laughter (and laugh lines) in my life, and feel that I have a better sense of what matters in the grand scheme of my life (if there really is one……) I’m okay having a body shape that is more like “The Barefoot Contessa” than the gardener on “Desperate Housewives.”

Perhaps the greatest learning in my life of this past decade has been my acceptance of life as it is, and my realization that I CHOOSE to be happy or not. I certainly have goals, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t also celebrate the amazing state of the present. It’s raining, I’m sick, my house needs to be cleaned……and life is unbelievably FABULOUS!

Have an incredible New Year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This Planter is "Tha Bomb!"

Just down the street from the mystery gambler's house I passed this wall that is associated with a pretty large estate, as well. In this section of Valley Road (between Habersham and Tuxedo), everyone has walls, everyone has huge gates, and many homes even have bridges crossing the creek to get into their homes. Without sounding jaded, it's hard to out-do your neighbors when it comes to ornamentation on those walls. I think this house might just have done that!

This structure marks the end of each side of the curved wall, and (in my humble opinion), is pretty fabulous. To give you an idea of scale, the structure is about 4 feet across and perhaps 8 feet high, without the finial. The urn alone is about 24 inches tall and wide. The finial looks a little out of scale in this photo, but because there are several of them along the length of the wall, it really works.

This isn't flashy, it's very simple ivy done in the most simple way......but, boy, does it make a statement! (Just to add a little icing to the cake, the niche is very softly lit at night).

Another Pretty Awesome Christmas Decorating Job

"You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, know when to run..........from a really bad plastic surgery job".

OK, I added that last bit in....did it give you any clue about the reported owner of this pretty awesome (albeit, Baroque) Buckhead home?

What I really like (all kidding aside) about the decor is the split wreath, which we've seen much more of this season in Atlanta. I think it's pretty ingenious to have the wreath split, so you can do larger wreaths on the (seemingly-mandatory in Atlanta) gates. The truth is that with some of these massive sets of gates, a pair of 36-inch wreaths gets lost. Anyway, some brilliant designer created this option, which works beautifully.

For some reason they wouldn't let me pull into the driveway with my truck loaded down with pruning waste (was it the cracked windshield that put them off?), so I had to stalk this one from the street. Check out the garland around the door, which seems to be made of silk poinsettias. Again, it was one of those things that could have been a tacky disaster, but really seems to work on this massive and elaborate house.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas in Atlanta

Driving around Buckhead today, there were a few homes that seemed particularly well done. This first one is on the lawn outside the gates of a massive estate. Very simple and very beautiful, I think. (The deer are life-sized). This second one is so tailored, and just beautiful. What you can't see is that the entire right side of the property is nandina, which is just covered with red berries right now.
The main house of a huge estate, below, where the owners understand that the decorations need to be massive, just to be in scale with the residence. From having catered parties here, I can tell you that the entire property is this well done.
This one below isn't even one of my favorite houses. It's just for all y'all who think every house in Atlanta looks like Tara.

A Frosty Morning in Atlanta

I happened to have my camera with me this morning on my way off to work, and got some shots in the stepchild garden while the frost was still fairly heavy. This urn has annual color in the summer, so the prostrate deodor cedar is looking both lonely and cold. Ilex meserva "Blue Princess" looks like a Hallmark photo at this time of year! I don't see it used nearly as much here as I do in northern climates. Not sure why, since it does just fine here, as well.
The "Teddy Bear" magnolia is not looking very Southern under the coat of frost!

This was my bargain purchase last week with Jo-E and Jack. It was in the reject section at the concrete place, since the aggragates are all exposed through the cement. I think the bad mixing job only adds to the charm of the piece, and makes it look almost ancient! Behind the sculpture is "Hot Lips" salvia, which will probably start blooming again as soon as the frost is gone....gotta love that plant!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Few Christmas Shots from the Big House

Some great color from the pansies, despite yesterday's ridiculous rain (3.2 inches!). This is the combination of Delta "Apple Cider Mix" and "Premium Persian Medley". The Kale in the background is "Toscano Laciniato"
At the front door, the English hollies look pretty awesome with the sheer red and gold ribbon. They are filled with white LED lights, which seem to reflect off the variegated foliage and make them really glow at night. The artificial garland always looks very artificial in daylight, but next to the kale, it's perfect!

This variegated boxwood is actually surrounded with pansies. They really are in there somewhere under the cut greens we put in for a few weeks! Perhaps it's just working as fancy mulch!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Another Fast Party Recipe - Red Beans and Rice Dip

I can't take credit for this, since I used it right off the back of the box. It was actually much better than I expected, and lots of people asked for the "secret recipe!"

Prepare 1 box of Zatarain's Red Beans and Rice according to the package directions. Add 1 c. salsa and 1 T. Jalapenos (I used canned). Grind in a blender (or food processor) until smooth. I actually left it a little more "textured" than smooth.

Serve with crackers or tortilla chips.

Sounds funky, but it's great hot or cold!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"Bar Nuts" to Keep Around the House this Season

I really haven't disappeared from the face of the Earth, just fully enjoying this holiday season.

The decorations are up at the big house (it sometimes takes a while, since it's a pretty big place), "Mr. & Mrs." have left the penthouse for warmer places, and I'm finally starting to get a grip on things in the stepchild garden. Chuck spent four hours blowing leaves on Sunday morning (ya gotta love sweetgums!), so things are pretty clean for the winter. In the meantime, there always have to be some holiday get togethers.

Here's a recipe for "bar nuts" that people consistently ask for. I typically make a big batch at this time of year, since they're great to keep in the house and also make perfect last minute hostess gifts.

1-1/2 cups EACH of unsalted cashews, walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts
6 T. fresh rosemary leaves
1 t. cayenne pepper
2 T. dark brown sugar
1 T. kosher salt
3 T. butter

Put everything except the nuts in a glass bowl and microwave just until melted; stir to dissolve the sugar. Add this mixture to the nuts in a large bowl and toss to coat.

Roast in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. Be careful, since nuts will go from "white" to "burned" very quickly. Let cool and store in an airtight container for up to 10 days.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Seasonal Evolution of Limelight Hydrangeas

My friend Laurie, who is the salesperson extraordinaire for Buck Jones Nursery, has taken photos of the Limelight Hydrangeas in front of her business three different times this year, three months apart (July, September, December). The evolution of this plant, combined with the fact that it is virtually maintenance free, makes it a "must have" plant for your full sun areas!

Friday, December 4, 2009

It Seems Winter is Here

It's 48 degrees at the moment, but the forecast is for another cold night. It was in the 30's this morning, but the weather did the classic Atlanta thing and warmed up quickly. My transplanted Bostonian attitude has kicked in as I hear shoppers talking about the "snow coming to Atlanta!" (Translated as perhaps a semi-frozen flake in the midst of the rain tomorrow morning.) Quick! Let's all run out and buy toilet paper and milk! (I've never understood why these are the two things that we MUST have in our homes during a blizzard.....I'd rather have brownies, ice cream and cognac if I'm being snowed in).

In the garden, it's amazing what difference comes in a week. Here are a few shots from this week.
From the top: This camellia was hidden for ten years behind one of the arborvitaes that was cut down a couple of weeks ago. It's amazing what a little sun will do for a flower!
The mustards and chards are taking on incredible color as the weather chills.
The creeping fig looks so beautiful at this time of year when the asparagus is down for the winter.
The fatsia japonica with its "Sputnik"-like blooms
It looks like snow, but it's just a view through the elderly Autumn Cherry.
Bake some brownies and light the fireplace!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Cannellini Bean Obsession

It's been miserable, cold and rainy all day. I spent a couple of hours at the Big House tweaking some of the Christmas decorations. Don't you just hate when one section of lights on a big piece goes out??? Anyway, those things are done, the ribbons have been fluffed, and tomorrow it will be outside.

My gardener side gets crazy on days like this, since I can't go outside; my chef side, however, loves cold rainy days. Lately my rainy day activity of choice has been catching up on recorded episodes of "Barefoot Contessa," since I really like Ina Garten's approach to cooking...great quality foods prepared simply.

I stopped at Whole Foods on the way home from work, and decided it was a cannelini bean kind of day. I got started on the White Bean and Fennel Soup (that recipe was posted in February) too late for it to be dinner tonight, so the giant pot of soup that's simmering on the stove now will go into the freezer for lunches.

While I was already in the kitchen, I decided to try another white bean recipe, which became dinner. It was very easy to put together, and really good! It's much less "gourmet" than it sounds, and the fried sage leaves really make a difference, so don't skip that step!

1/4 c. olive oil
3 c. fresh bread crumbs
20 fresh sage leaves
1 large onion, chopped
1 T. chopped garlic
1 lb. chicken sausage, removed from its casings
1/2 c. dry white wine
3 cans (19 oz) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

If you can't find fresh breadcrumbs (look in the bakery section at the supermarket), just grind up a baguette in the food processor. Fresh makes a difference here! Mix 3 c. breadcrumbs with 2 T. olive oil and set aside. I guess you could always use panko for this, too, but no canned breadcrumbs this time!

Heat the remaining oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. When it's hot, add the sage leaves (they have to be dry), and fry for about 2 minutes, until they start to crisp like bacon. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.

In the same pan (with the oil), saute the onion and garlic until translucent, then add in the sausage. Stir to break up the sausage a little, then add the wine and the beans, and cook about five minutes until the sausage is cooked.

Pour this mixture into a shallow casserole dish, top with the breadcrumb mixture, and bake 25 minutes at 350 degrees. When it comes out, top it with the fried sage leaves.

This with a green salad was an amazing rainy night dinner!

The Sandhill Cranes Flew Over

Patti (AKA "The Witchdoctor") has almost been visibly pacing for the past couple of weeks, stopping every now and then to look at the sky. She is very much in tune with nature, and regularly will stop what she's doing momentarily to ask, "Did you hear that? It's the mating call of a such-and-such."
Yesterday during lunch she jumped up and went outside to look at the sky. I pointed out that we were in a greenhouse with a glass roof, and perhaps she didn't need to run outside. "You don't understand!" I was told, "The sandhill cranes are going over."

This post is just to let all of you know that we can relax and enjoy Christmas. The sandhills have passed over metro-Atlanta on their way to Gainesville, for their winter hiatus. (I don't ask how she knows they winter in Gainesville.....)

Interestingly, I went to the National Geographic site and read a little about Sandhill Cranes. This paragraph might explain Patti's fascination with them. During mating, pairs vocalize in a behavior known as "unison calling." They throw their heads back and unleash a passionate duet—an extended litany of coordinated song. Cranes also dance, run, leap high in the air and otherwise cavort around—not only during mating but all year long.....I think they might be relatives......

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The "Family" Tree

Since the neighbors talk about us already, I thought this might be the year to go ahead and put up a second Christmas tree. The regular tree is very traditional, dark green, adorned with ornaments purchased or received from friends over the years. It always give me great pleasure to decorate, since virtually every decoration has a story behind it. This tree, in the little sitting room near the kitchen, is solely for fun!

There are very few folks who appreciate a white Christmas tree, particularly since Liberace and my grandmother ("People who call it gaudy are just jealous") have both passed on. I've always thought a white tree was just too frou frou, but when they had them in clearance at Walmart last January for $10, it was too good a deal to pass up.

I considered Christopher Radko, but there is something just WRONG about putting an ornament on your tree that costs more than the tree itself. As a result, this little tree is decorated with disco-colored ornaments and aqua glittered branches. I'm not sure this tree will become an annual tradition, but for now we're having great fun coming with it!

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Stumpery

For two years I’ve been waffling about what to do with the last corner of my own garden that hasn’t been attended to. Like the plumber with leaky pipes and the cobbler whose children have no shoes, I spend my days making good decisions about the gardens of others, but simply cannot commit to a plan for this particular wasteland that I own.

The area in question is tiny, perhaps 75 feet long and about 25 feet wide. It is a gully that runs under a cluster of pines and sweetgums, and was filled until a few months ago with ivy and wild raspberries. During the process of cleaning out the scrub, I’ve had a few different ideas, one of which was simply filling the gully and planting a few understory trees. It has become a really convenient spot to throw the miscellaneous pieces of a couple of trees we’ve cut down, big branches that have been pruned, etc. Since we’ve lived here there has never been a sign of this being an active water route or anything like that…..until the rains of this past season! Now I’m clear that I can’t fill this gully in any serious way that’s going to affect the passage of water across my property and into the creek down the street. The obvious solution? A “STUMPERY!”

I first read about the Stumpery at Highgrove (Prince Charles’ estate in Cornwall) in 2007, and it seemed appropriately eccentric for my tastes. I allowed myself to be talked out of the idea and into the plan to fill the space. When I recently read that Prince Phillip (Charles’ father) asked, “When are you going to take a match to this pile?” I realized that the stumpery was just perfect for me…..that is exactly what Frank asks with some regularity when I start a new project!

In any case, I have officially committed to this area being my new stumpery, a collection based upon tree stumps that provide shelter for birds, chipmunks, snakes, and whatever else may choose to utilize the space (It’s far enough away from the house that I’m ok with that idea). It will also provide haven for shade loving ferns, perhaps a few hostas, trilliums, hellebores, and the like.
I’ll keep you posted about progress, but for the time being, I’m delighted to have finally made the decision to move forward!

This, incidentally, is a great book! I purchased it two years ago fully expecting it to be just a great coffee table decoration, but it is filled with very practical information. I think it was well worth the somewhat expensive price tag!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Renovations at the Big House

As I've mentioned before, the owners of the "big house garden" are really a pleasure to work for; I'm clear it's their home and garden, but we've developed a good rapport over the past few years, and they are usually receptive to suggestions for improvements to the garden.

Like many properties that were originally landscaped by the builder/architect, there are certain plants that were used to death (can you say "azalea" and "daylily"?), and many that were installed simply because they were available in large quantity at the time. The garden is obviously very beautiful, but there are few named cultivars, and lots of places where I'd like to see plants that are more "special." We are also finding that ten years later, there are certain plants that simply aren't appropriate anymore, such as the overgrown arborvitaes used as foundation plants.

Mr. & Mrs. gave the green light recently to making some needed improvements, and it is proving to be a lot of work, but also a lot of fun! The overall plan is to soften the house and garden, give it a sense of age, and also make it more reflective of their personalities.

A couple of weeks ago, we had Danny come in and cut down TEN arborvitaes that had been used as foundation plants. I happen to love arborvitae, but sadly they had planted in such a way that they were now dead on one side, tied to the house in a couple of cases, and growing up and over the gutters. I was nervous, since they were such a key part of the landscape design, but when they were removed, it was as if the sun came out from behind a cloud! The top photo shows how large they had gotten....this one arborvitae was covering TWO dining room windows!

In some places, we've been removing plants whose living conditions have changed. Ten years ago there were dozens of shrub roses installed, since the large trees were still fairly small. Over the years, we've reached the point at which the roses are largely shaded, and were blooming poorly, if at all. The middle photo used to be shrub roses; it's now "Setsusekka" Camellias (which will form a hedge to block the neighbor's driveway), fronted by "Pinky Winky" paniculata hydrangeas. They in turn are fronted by Ryan's Pink perennial chrysanthemum, and "By George," a daffodil that blooms in a coral pink and white.

In the bottom shot, we replaced another bank of shrub roses (this time red), with "Tardiva" hydrangea that we'll cut back every spring to control the size. These are underplanted with "Joan Senior" daylily (ivory), pale yellow and white Dutch hyacinth, and crocuses. I can't wait for spring!

A Grand Thanksgiving Morning

I don't have to cook this year, and it's 60 degrees and sunny outside, so it has been the perfect morning to alternate between getting some shrubs planted and watching the Macy's parade.

As always, the end-of-season plant sales released this buying monster in me, and I had managed to accumulate way too many shrubs that are being planted along the back property line (AKA the jungle) in the stepchild garden. It's been a property line for at least a hundred years (it was the border between two farms until the mid 1980's), so I have a fairly good barrier of old fashioned generic trees (hickories and such) there. Since they're all deciduous, though, my house becomes a bit of a fishbowl in winter, and I've wanted to add some more interest in that area.

I'm happy to see it's not even 1 o'clock, and I've gotten planted all of the shrubs that have been perched in pots around the garden for a few weeks -- 7 Parneyii Cotoneasters, 2 Camellia japonica "Gunsmoke" for some January color, a "Gold Finch" deciduous holly for the birds, a "Southern Gentleman" holly for the "Gold Finch," and a "Wolf Eyes" dogwood, because I want Phillip's garden. Since they are all at least 5 gallon plants, the effect is really pretty good.

The "Saratoga" gingko has dropped its leaves for another season, and it looks like it's going to spend another winter in a pot. I bought it with absolutely no place to plant it two years ago, and it just keeps getting bumped into larger containers. One day I'll learn.....

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Some Late Season Bloomers

It may seem like a warm autumn to us, but the koi are definitely aware of the seasonal temperature changes. They have made it clear that they're not coming off the bottom off the pond until April!

Echinachea "Matthew Saul" just decide to start blooming at Halloween....go figure! Brenthurst Pink, a perennial salvia, seems to love this cooler weather!

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Few Cool Weather Containers

In the walled garden, we tend to plant edibles in the few containers that are there. Here is a Hick's Yew that will go into the landscape in spring, surrounded by spinach for picking during the next couple of months. At the pool, "Spring Bouquet" Viburnum, surrounded by "Miracle" heuchera, "Liberty Bronze" snapdragons, variegated ivy, and "Delta True Yellow" pansies
Across the pool, we've repeated some of the same fillers around the cryptomeria, and added "Bull's Blood" beets. The tree will be part of a new perimeter border in the spring, and the ivy stays in these pots indefinitely.
Next to the garage, here is the same cryptomeria (part of the same border ultimately), with "Whipcord" arborvitae and variegated aucuba. The "Whipcord" seems to like life in a container far better than in the ground, so it just gets moved from pot to pot over the course of the year. It's also better seen in an elevated position, since it just catches all the falling leaves when planted in a bed!
Like lots of people, we have a tremendous number of Leyland Cypresses that were planted at the edge of the property ten years ago, and they're slowly starting to fail. They're such a beautiful plant when used correctly, and it kills me to see how they're always jammed into the "builder's special" privacy row! It's never a case of IF they will fail, it's just a question of WHEN they'll fail. We're going to use some of these cryptomerias to start replacing the ones which fail in one area, eventually replacing the privacy screen with an assortment of evergreens, rather than the great wall of leylands.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fall's Last Hoorah?

We woke up to rain and pretty strong breezes this morning, so it's probably the end of this year's color show. I really like the autumn shades, but I'm ready for the leaves to stop dropping. Sadie the dog is up to her elbows every morning as we walk near the old sweetgum! Here are a few shots from yesterday.

This is the oak near the driveway at the Big House. The colors are almost surreal this year, with shades that appear blue in the sunlight.
This is the one month of the year that I think "burning bush" justifies the space it occupies in the garden.
The "Lion's Head" maple has been moved from the front porch to it's winter residence in the wooded area.

This last one is a Japanese maple whose name I don't know. It's one of the few that holds its burgundy color in the southern heat, so when it starts to go red, the shading is pretty fabulous.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Untucked Shirt Question

Someone asked me the other day why my "uniform" tends to be an oversized untucked shirt; since someone bothered to ask, I thought I'd respond.

First, since I'm fat, it's a shirt style that I like, even though it tends to make me look even fatter. Pretty consistently I buy lots of cotton oxford shirts, and wear them in the garden until they fall apart. Anyone who gardens knows they take incredible abuse, so once they are beyond bleaching and scrubbing, they become very effective rags. I have been known to shop for gardening shirts at thrift stores and Goodwill, much to Frank's horror! ("Are you really wearing that outside where people can see you?")

These shirts work beautifully (at least I think so!) with my LLBean slip on black shoes. At any given moment, I have three pairs of the same LLBean shoes. They are my "nice LLBean shoes," "my gardening LLBean shoes," and my "climb in the creek LLBean shoes." Once they have been used a time or two for climbing in the creek, they finally become trash, and I buy a new pair of the same shoes, which become the "nice" ones, and the cycle continues.......does that make sense?

The other factor with the shirts is the bug issue. A couple of years ago, I was walking from the greenhouse into the potting shed, and was wearing a TUCKED IN shirt. From somewhere above the doorframe, a giant "palmetto bug" (that's their nice name in the south) fell into the collar of my shirt. If you ever get a live palmetto bug stuck inside your tucked in shirt at 7 AM, you'll start letting the tails of your shirt hang when you're gardening, as well.....

Putting the Garden to Bed for the Winter

In a peculiar way, this is one of my favorite seasons in the garden, because things slow down and stop growing for a few weeks (or at least it seems so). Every year I feel a little guilty about liking this season of cleaning, but then I realize it's all just part of the cycle.

The top photo is one section of the perennial bed in early October, at is overwhelming autumn peak. The Helianthus angustifolia is tied to the wall, threatening to crush anyone who happens to walk by when it starts to topple. The asters, phlox, and zinnias are all crying out, "I'm not done blooming yet! Don't cut me back!"

The second photo is virtually the same spot five weeks later. We've reached a point of imminent (temporary) death for the blooms, and they've gone to bed for the winter. This is when I find I'm able to enjoy just how beautiful the garden at the Big House is. I suddenly develop a new appreciation for the beautiful hardscaping, which is just starting to develop some of that "softness" that comes as a garden ages. It seems that our days are filled with removal of spent blooms and foliage, hauling it off to the green waste site for composting. We are finally getting rid of the packaging involved with the winter annuals, and getting the opportunity to take brushes and hoses to things.

On one hand it's a little sad, but on the other, very refreshing! Go outside today and enjoy what's left of autumn!

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Beautiful Day to Be in the Cemetery!

Saturday was "the big planting day"at Oakland Cemetery, and the weather couldn't have been more perfect for it! It's been much warmer than normal this month in Atlanta, so it ended up being sunny and in the low 70's. In the morning there were about 100 volunteers from different groups around the city, and then in the afternoon there were another 100 who came from Emory University to assist.

We got tons done, and the eclectic mix of people to garden with was great! All of the fastidious pre-med students have much more patience with extracting little weeds than I, so by the end of the day things looked pretty awesome.
Each time I visit Oakland, I discover something new. I had never noticed the bronze plaque on the fountain shown above. On Saturday, I saw that it came from the JL Mott Iron Works in the early 1900's, which is sorta cool, since my family was one of the principals in that company around the turn of the century.....interestingly, none of the old relatives can tell me where the family money went!

I can't take credit for these photos, they are from my friend, Sara. Check out those gingko leaves!