Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cherry Clouds.....

A shot from the garden early this morning, looking up through the cherry blossoms (Definitely one to click on to make larger)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Spring Bulbs at the Big House Not Playing by the Rules

A few shots from Friday morning at the Big House.  I would love to tell you that I know the cultivars, but all have been there longer than I.

These tulips obviously have never read that tulips don't survive long term in Atlanta because our winters are too warm.  They come back most reliably every spring, and get zero attention all year.  They are deeply imbedded in the root ball of a maple, on the side of a very steep slope that is filled with mucky clay soil.  Go figure.....
The daffodils below also don't play by the rules.  They are absolutely beautiful, and the most I know about them is that someone with a great amount of knowledge about daffodils says, "They don't grow in Georgia".......
Beautiful little violas growing in a rusty gothic planter on the garage wall.  I would love to tell you they are some fancy cultivar, but the truth is that they came from Walmart very late in the season when I bought the planter, and none of the fancy nurseries had any pansies left.....

A Little Pain the Morning After.....

These containers look innocent enough, so when Mr. and Mrs. Penthouse asked about doing some rearranging of the sculpture collection on the terrace, I thought, "What could be so hard?"  After all, my only responsibility is getting these containers out of here so that the sculpture can be moved back a little.....FAMOUS LAST WORDS.......

First mistake:  Thinking the containers were fiberglass rather than concrete.  Every step of the prodding, poking and knocking seemed to indicate they were fiberglass.  They are not.

Second mistake:  Thinking the trees would be somewhat flexible.  After all, they're deodor cedars in these "small" containers.  In fact, they are incredibly stiff branches from handling ten years of brutal wind on the 42nd floor.

Third mistake:  Perspective.  These trees look fairly small outside, in that context.  In fact, they are each between  ten and twelve feet tall.  This mostly is an issue since the doors going into the condominium are eight feet tall, as are most of the interior openings.

So Chuck, Patti and I decided to spend yesterday morning moving the containers out of the apartment, thinking it would take "a couple of hours".  Needless to say, we are all in major pain this morning. 

A few highlights:
When the pots are this size, they "max out" the length of the straps we have for moving pots.  As a result, each time the pot is lifted, it draws blood on one's knuckles.

The pots must be tipped to clear the doors, but when tipped, they spill dirt onto the white silk carpeting, which we fortunately covered with plastic dropcloths first.

Rolling these pots down the halls of the apartment to the service elevator, the choice was let the branches cut my face or scratch paintings that are each worth more than my house.  My face isn't pretty this morning.....

Just to give you an idea of the weight of these things, FIVE containers threatened to break the axle of the rented U-Haul truck.  Fourth mistake:  Having SIX containers.......

Oh, and did I mention that not one, but two, service elevators went out of service during our adventure?  I'm spending the day watching Spartacus on television.......

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Resources for "Jenny Brook" Wallflower

A reader named Wendy asked in a comment where she could find the "Jenny Brook" wallflower in her area.  Unfortunately, she isn't registered as a "follower" of the blog, so I have no idea what part of Georgia she lives in, or how to contact her.

The sad news is that, because I buy in quantity, I usually buy direct from the wholesale growers, which was the case with this one.  Allan Armitage talked about it at an event, and in my usual way I became somewhat obsessed.  I attended a lecture with the curator of the Dallas Arboretum, who also recommended it, and that was the icing on the cake for me!  I had to commit to the entire flat of 225 "plugs" coming from Colombia (the country, not the city).

The Jenny Brook comes from Blooms of Bressingham, which is based in England, though they have divisions in the US.  According to their website ( ), they have no retailers in Georgia, but I would guess that if you asked at your local nursery, they could give you more information. 

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Day for "Honest Foods" in the Kitchen

It's 56 degrees and overcast, which is like being tossed back into winter after these past couple of days; fortunately the rain they were predicting doesn't seem to be materializing, so it's just dreary and drizzly.  This is one of those "if God gives you lemons....." kind of days, so it's been a perfect excuse for some cooking.  Looking at the bright side of icky weather, it's the perfect day for some old fashioned, honest foods.

I haven't cooked collards in years, but they're up and beautiful in the walled garden at the Big House.  Before passing on the recipe to Mrs. that I have marked "Awesome" in my file, I thought I should make a batch just to see if I still feel that way about this recipe.  It's from Gourmet magazine at least 15 years ago, with some minor tweaking from me.

Collard Greens with Red Onion and Bacon
(serves at least 8, probably 12)

1/2 lb bacon, cut into 1 inch cubes
3 c. chopped red onions
1-1/2 c. chicken broth
1/4 c. cider vinegar
2 T. packed dark brown sugar
1 t. red pepper flakes
3 lb. collards, chopped and rinsed

In a heavy pot, cook the bacon until crisp; remove with a slotted spoon onto paper towels.  Pour off all but 3 T of the bacon fat.  Add the onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Remove the onions with a slotted spoon to a bowl and hold aside.

To the kettle, add the broth, vinegar, sugar, pepper flakes, and half the bacon, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Add about half the collards (until you feel they'll start falling out of the pan), and let them wilt down until you have room to add the rest.  Cover and simmer/steam for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the onions to the pot, recover, and simmer another 30 minutes.

I still think it's a pretty awesome recipe!

I also made Cuban Black Beans, for absolutely no reason other than my recent craving.  It's another of those foods that is best when made with the plain old-fashioned methods and "honest foods," without shortcuts.

Cuban Black Beans
(makes one big pot)

2 lbs dried black beans, rinsed and soaked overnight
4 qt cold water
1 ham hock (or smoked pork neck bones)
12 cloves of garlic, chopped
1-1/2 cups of olive oil
4 c. chopped yellow onions
6 fresh banana peppers, diced
1-1/2 T salt
2 t. black pepper
2 bay leaves
4 T. sugar
5 t. oregano, divided
1 c. red wine
3 T. red wine vinegar
1 t. cumin

Drain the beans, put into a pot with the cold water and the ham hock, and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook one hour.  Meanwhile, cook the garlic and onions in the olive oil in a heavy skillet, about 10 minutes.  Add the banana peppers to the onion mixture, and cook another 10 minutes.  (You can use any not-too-hot, sorta sweet chili pepper). 

Remove 2 cups of the beans from their pot, add it to the onion pot, and mash together, with an old-fashioned potato masher.  (DO NOT USE ANY NEW MODERN CONTRAPTIONS TO DO THIS!  NO BLENDERS, FOOD PROCESSORS, IMMERSION BLENDERS, OR THE LIKE!)  Add to the beans, along with the salt, pepper and bay leaves.  Continue to simmer 30 minutes more, stirring occasionally.  Add the sugar, 1 teaspoon of the oregano, and cook for one hour.  

Finally, add the red wine, vinegar, the balance of the oregano and the cumin, cook for 15 more minutes. 

This seems like a lot of work, but it's worth the effort, and is even better if it's made the day before serving.  Perfect to cook on a weekend, and hold for a weeknight dinner with rice and meat of some sort.  

A Few More Photos of Spring

The delphiniums have been planted, and are visibly growing after just a few days in the ground.  This bed is a favorite of mine, since it starts early with some crocuses, then the leucojem will pop up at about the same time as the delphiniums.  All the while, the barberry in the background will start putting out its burgundy foliage, and the azaleas in the back will bloom through spring.  Soon after the daylilies will fill this space, backed up by the nicotiana (both the very tall "Woodland" and the much shorter, self-sowing purple.
This poor camellia has been hidden behind an enormous arborvitae until the winter.  After the bloom it will need some serious reshaping, but for now it is blooming its heart out!
The Okame cherry in front of the house speaks for itself.  It's not something one would find appealing in a wooded garden, but here in a formal setting, it's pretty spectacular!
The pansies are coming back to life with the recent warmth and sun, backed by the Italian kale,
The walled garden is ready for planting, and lots of the perennials are showing some life.  Kales, collards, mustard and cabbages are all ripe for picking!  Lettuces are planted in the metal trough, so that if it's going to be crazy cold, we can bring them inside for the night.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Some Early Spring Containers

The weather today was just delightful, sunny and around 70.  It was one of those days that really brings the promise of spring.  Today was one of those days when I really appreciated being able to spend my days outside!

Winter containers are tough to make look good when the weather is as bad as it's been this year; I was thrilled to see some of the containers "coming into their own" this morning!  This first one is "Ultima Morpho" pansies planted in a little rustic basket.  I like the contrast of the very rustic container in such a formal setting by the pool.
The container below is in the middle of a wooded area, surrounded by camellias that have passed and azaleas that have not yet started to bloom.  It's actually a new container, but I think it looks ancient.  Patti "tweaked" the flowers a couple of days ago, mixing the newly sprouted daffodils with more of the "Morpho's".
This one is the "Jenny Brook" wallflower, in a little terra cotta pot with "Antique Shades" violas.

The pot below is in the lower garden, and the cryptomeria and ivy have been there for a few seasons.  The pansies add just a little burst of fun color to a very formal arrangement, I think.

Bluebirds at the Big House

Chuck was roaming around the garden at the Big House very early this morning, and was able to catch a lot of shots of the bluebirds that have taken up residence in the South border.  Everything I've read says that bluebirds like to have a lot of space between houses;....fortunately, the birds didn't read any of those books, since they seem delightfully happy living in houses only about 20 feet apart.  You really need to click on these photos to see them in full size to appreciate them.

I find it amazing that one will stand sentry while the other goes in and out of the house.  We haven't dared get close to the house to check things out in more detail.  I feel honored that these birds feel safe enough to let us approach this close.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Garden Angel Day

The weather was perfect this morning for the first "official" garden angel workday leading up to the tour.  Since the ground is still soaking wet (I'm guessing it will stay that way until 2012), the weeds were pulling very easily, and we got a TON of things done.  I'm amazed at how many things have sprouted just in the past week!
Since the bulk of my front garden is perennials, I'm putting in lots of early annuals to beef up the color for mid-May.  It will all fry by Memorial Day, but for the tour, it will hopefully look good.  (Look, there's even a spot of color in all of that brown surrounding Carol!)

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Early Season Flowers Have Started to Arrive

As if to reassure me that spring really is coming to Atlanta sometime soon, "The Other Chuck" delivered the first round of things for the Big House garden a few days ago.  Obviously none are in bloom yet, so I've used photos provided by the growers.
The first, which I am WAY excited about, is from Blooms of Bressingham, and is a perennial wallflower called "Jenny Brook."  At the test gardens at University of Georgia, this one has been going for a few years, and Armitage says it's been blooming reliably from March until June.  It starts pink, goes to lavender, then to peach, all on the same stalk!

We also got several of the Pacific Giant delphiniums called "Blue Bird," that Martha S grows in her cutting garden in New York.  They are likely to melt in the Georgia heat, but for the spring, there are very few things that can rival a delphinium for a show!  They're all planted in one drift, with barberry behind and an apricot daylily growing in front of them....can't wait to see how they develop!

For containers, and some color at the front of the perennial bed (at least until May or so), the calendula called "Alpha" will give some great bursts of orange, and the Forget-Me-Not called Bluebird is always a spring workhorse. 

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Making Progress on the Not Shed

It's been pretty dreadful weather today, not sure whether it wants to rain or not.  Combined with the Daily Savings Time confusion that always seems to happen with my inner clock, this was not a day to get QUANTITY of work done.  Josh and I did make some progress in painting the facade of the not shed, though, and I think it looks pretty awesome! 

The door color (Martha's "Hummingbird Blue") is definitely bright (and definitely not to Chuck and Cricket's liking), but I think it's going to be perfect for the look I want.  After all, subtle has never been my strong suit.  There's still lots of accessorizing to do, switching out the chairs for the permanent pair, and some planting, so I'm expecting the blue will be less jarring.  For the time being on this gloomy day, it's definitely the happiest thing in the garden!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Squish, Squish, Squish

Spring is coming very late to Atlanta this year, but at least the temperatures seem to be moderating.  It seems very peculiar to garden after two years of extreme drought, since everything now feels like I'm walking on a wet sponge.  I figure we'll start to dry out around Memorial of my friends commented yesterday that she's entering her hostas into the 200 meter breast stroke.
One of the early cherries (above) is slowly coming out of winter hibernation at the Big House, just a week after having 3 inches of snow!  It's getting ready to put on a show, while the Prunus Mume "Peggy Clark" (below) is at her peak, and starting to drop it's faded blooms.
The crocuses are up, looking as happy as ever, sure that January has finally come! 

Near the garage, Hyacinth L'Innocence is slowly opening in the sun.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

High Carb, High Fat, Big Ole Southern Casserole

This recipe came from James Villas' cookbook, "My Mother's Southern Kitchen," and he attributed it to the old cook at St Martin's Episcopal Church in Charlotte. I've made a few minor adjustments, and think it's perfect food for a rainy day!  I serve it with a salad to make it feel a little less artery-hardening.....

Annie's Turkey Dressing Bake  (serves 8)

3 c. packaged herb-seasoned stuffing mix
1 small onion, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning
4 c. diced cooked turkey
1 stick butter
1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
4 c. chicken stock
6 large eggs
Turkey Gravy (your own or purchased)

Mix the stuffing mix, veggies, and poulty seasoning in a bowl, and dump into a greased 9 x 13 pan.  Top with the turkey.  Make a roux of the flour and butter, add salt, pepper, and stock, bring to a boil.  Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a bowl.  GRADUALLY add the hot stock mixture to the eggs (one cup at a time or you'll have egg drop soup!).  Once combined, pour over the turkey mixture and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Serve with the turkey gravy.  Sort of a "heart attack on a plate," but really good stuff!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

But shouldn't they just call it Whitebud?

This question was seriously asked of me recently, when I was discussing installing a couple of "Texas White" redbuds at the Big House.  The person asking really did make perfect sense.  After all, why would one continue to call it "Redbud" when its flowers are white?

Similarly, I was presenting a program to a local gardening group last night and we came across a photo of heliotrope.  I had to explain this is not the sort of heliotrope you regularly buy, but rather it's "garden heliotrope," now widely considered an 'antique' flower.

I was reading Claire Sawyers book, The Authentic Garden, a little while ago, and came across this great passage, "A look at gardening catalogs reveals endless efforts to produce plants with 'improved' forms.  Plant breeders work to make tall plants short, delicate petals thick, single flowers double, red flowers blue, flat petals ruffled.  They work to make spring-flowering plants repeat bloom in the fall or fertile flowers sterile to last longer.  They make plants we love look like other plants; consequently, we have daffodils that look like dahlias, dahlias that look like chrysanthemums, and mums that look like peonies.  It seems that we come to take for granted whatever original quality we appreciate in the plant and want to turn it into something else.  Capturing nature means appreciating the distinct character not just of the place but also of the individual plants of that place."

Is it a dahlia or a chrysanthemum?  And should it exist in a garden where it requires such extraordinary effort just for it to survive?  Things that make you go hmmm...........

Signs of Spring

It seems we're finally getting over winter, and we've had a few days in a row that were above 60 degrees.  We're now expecting a couple of days of rain, but at least it's relatively warm.  I met with "Mr and Mrs" today to review the plans for the spring, and it was unanimous that we are all psychologically at our limits with the gray skies.  The concensus seemed to be "Plant anything bright!"

While roaming around the garden this morning, it was a treat to see signs of spring, even though they are weeks behind their normal schedules....hellebores in the woods, daffodils promising to flower soon, and lots of things breaking through the ground.

The aliums in the walled garden are all a few inches tall, just a fraction of their spectacular size that will come in a few short weeks.

The greenhouse is filled to the brim with plants just getting started...artichokes, mignonette, forget-me-nots, hyacinth bean, castor bean, cup-and-saucer vines, nicotiana, and lots of other if only the sun would come out for more than a few hours at a time.....

Saturday, March 6, 2010

There is a Sun After All!

At the moment it is 57 degrees and sunny outside, and the meteorologists have promised this is the first of many days when we'll see high 50's or even warmer!  The sun has been out all day, and it has been the perfect day for working on the stepchild garden!

I had three yards of "flower mix" delivered this morning, and a group of us spent a few hours tidying the big mixed border in the front and topdressing the whole lot.  Four of the "garden angels" from the Master Gardener group were here, helping to get things ready for the tour in May.  What would have been a miserable task alone got finished in about four hours, and people got to do things they loved doing.  Alice was the pruning maniac, reshaping a bunch of the hollies and the buddleia, while Carra, Tony and Debbie cleaned up all of the nasty winter brown stuff and then topdressed.  The last of the "Eye of the Tiger" Dutch iris that I found in the garage finally got planted, and there are lots of signs of life all over the place.  Part of the tour requirement is that I have things in the beds labeled.......since I don't usually remove things that self sow, we're making SLOW progress in that process.....

In the back, Chuck finished the last of the trim work on the Not Shed, so it's ready for the final paint job and accessorizing.  The driveway was the "paint studio," getting a couple of flea market benches, window boxes and such done in the rusty brown finish that we've decided is going to be the color for all of the metal this year (except the fabulous purple chair from Murphy, which would never look the same in brown.....)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Cassia Update from Ruth Baumgardner

I got a return email from Ruth Baumgardner, who clarified that the plant she spoke of on Saturday is Cassia marilandica.  I think the best (brief) description on line is probably at Cornell,

A couple of notes:  I'm not sure if it's going to tolerate the heat in Georgia, based upon the Cornell description.  Second, it appears as though there might be some tendency toward invasiveness. That doesn't necessarily rule a plant out in my book, but definitely means a bit of caution if you're not on top of it.

Monday, March 1, 2010

What a Difference a Door Makes.......

I would add little musical notes to the title if I knew how, so you'll just have to imagine them surrounding the words....

We're making steady progress on the "not shed" along the back property line, trying to work around rain-free days when I'm not gardening for someone else.  We're finally in the home stretch, and I've started some painting.  As you can see, Chuck still has some minor finish work to do, but in my usual way I want to see what it's going to look like NOW!

I've pulled the door hardware, the windowbox, and the light off for painting, and have gotten the primer and the first coat of body color on.  Frank and I finally settled on Martha Stewart's "Lentil" for the body, "Sisal" for the trim, and "Hummingbird Blue" for the door.  This gives us a great trial run on the colors, since they'll go onto the house itself next spring if we still like them as much.

The plastic Adirondack chairs aren't staying (they're just another one of those "I want to see the look NOW" things).    At present, I'm obessing about either finding two great vintage chairs or having Chuck copy the Adirondack chairs Dan Benarcik did at Chanticleer a couple of seasons ago....probably as close as I'm going to get to having Dan Benarcik working in my garden.....

When I went outside to start painting today, this partial apple was sitting as you see it on the porch of the not shed, obviously left by a squirrel mid-meal.  This is EXACTLY what I want to have happening in my garden!  It makes all the building and planning worth the work!

The Perennial Plant Symposium, Part II

I should mention that the name of the symposium on Saturday was The Exuberant Garden:  Creating Joyous Spaces, and that was the theme which wove through all of the presentations.

One of the presenters was Ruth Baumgardner, who owns Mouse Creek Perennial Farm in Riceville, TN.  Her program was entitled, "Putting the Oohs and Aahs into the Garden".  Ruth recommended several great plants to add "spice" to the garden, some old, some new, but all superstars.  Here are a few of her recommendations:

Amsonia "Blue Ice"
Baptisia Australis (an old favorite of mine)
Cassia Marylandii (such a show stopper!)
Dianthus "Prima Donna," which blooms in summer!
Filapendula "Flora Pleno," which looks like a fern, but grows in full sun

Iris Siberica "Caesar's Brother" (How can you not grow this?)
Dicentra "Luxuriant", planted in with hostas for early interest
Heuchera villosa "Autumn Bride," with big white plumes
Tricyrtis formosana "Gilt Edge" (Toad Lily - another favorite)

Time to go out shopping!