Friday, April 30, 2010

Some Photos from the Big House Garden this Morning

We're midway through switching out the container arrangements for the summer, and have started switching out some of the annual color beds, as well.  As a result, it was a good morning for Chuck to roam around with the camera for a little while early this morning.

The breezeway is "bright shade," and is the most-used family entrance, so it's an area where we focus on some of their favorite colors and textures.  Here is Xanadu philodendron that we overwintered in the greenhouse, along with Kimberly Queen ferns, "Salmon with Eye" Butterfly Impatien, Torenia,  Heliotrope, and a Gold-Edged Ivy whose name I don't remember.              

Near the breezeway I hung this gothic planter last fall.  When looking out a bay window, the view is of this big blank brick wall, so the planter serves its purpose well.  The planting box itself is actually pretty small (28 inches by about 8 inches deep), but I jammed it with plants so that it would really "make a statement" there. 
It has many of the same plants as the breezeway pots, plus a passionflower vine to climb up the trellis, as well as white scaevola, butter yellow million bells, and chenille plant.  I'll get more pictures as this flushes out through the season, but I think it's going to be pretty awesome!
In the gazebo near the pool, we have a situation with four planters that need to look the same but have noticeably different light conditions.  We came up with the solution of putting them on wheels, so we can move them every couple of weeks.  Here is one pair, with Kimberly Queen ferns, those salmon butterfly impatiens, and assortment of ferns we've overwintered, Algerian ivy, and some Rex begonias.
Above those planters (on each side of the gazebo), I just got new hanging baskets.  The photo is deceptive, since you can't get a good feel for how HUGE this baskets are.  They are 26 inches across, and each one holds one of those gigantic bags of potting soil for starters!  Then it takes 22 plants to fill each basket (the smallest in a four inch pot, the largest in a 12-inch pot of its own.)
Here's a wide shot of the gazebo to give a feel of just how beautiful this space is.  We try to bring the colors from the surrounding space into the container arrangements.
Perhaps the most challenging of the containers are the ones which hang off the sides of the footbridge that crosses the creek.  Again, it's hard to grasp the size of this group, but each side has four baskets, each 60 inches long.  That means "one" container arrangement that is 20 feet long.  The challenge with installation is really weather dependent, since two of us need to stand on ten foot ladders placed in the creek, and then we have an assembly line of people handing plants over the railing.  Again, these haven't "flushed out," but I'm hoping they will grow as I've imagined them. 
Just as a footnote, we line these baskets with a natural dried moss basket liner from Kinsmon.  When they get wet, they reconstitute to give this pretty cool look.  They can be a bit of a nightmare to work with the first time, but we've figured out lots of little details that make it easier.  If anybody is trying these for the first time, I'm happy to share some of the tricks that work for us if they are helpful.  And, as always, feel free to steal ideas if they appeal to you! 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Some Spring Color

It has been overcast most of the day, with gusting winds that promise a big storm, though none has materialized.  Twice today it's been "spitting rain," as my father would say.  It was actually the perfect day for gardening, and I got a few shots from the Stepchild Garden while puttering this morning.  I like the contrast between the Centaurea montana and this pass-along yellow bearded iris from my friend Alice's garden.
The Clematis "Fireworks" is a pretty generic clematis, but it works well climbing up the New Dawn Rose.  Once the rose comes into bloom, the clematis blossoms still work with the color.  I got lucky when "Ortel's Rose" yarrow self-seeded itself there, since it provides a third texture in the same color family.  Pamela Harper and Penelope Hobhouse would be so proud!
This white bearded iris is not fully opened, but positively glows!  I don't recall ever having it bloom before, or even where I got it......but who cares about that, right?  Just look at this baby go!
I do remember buying this one called "City Lights" a couple of years ago, and it's finally blooming!  The color is a really shocking purple-blue that really doesn't translate well in a photo.
This little one was originally at the John Paul Jones House in Portsmouth, NH, planted in 1905 to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Portsmouth.  I stumbled upon their plant sale last summer, and carried the irises in a ziploc bag in my suitcase for a week!
Even these Walmart azaleas that were planted by the previous owner looked good this morning.  I cut down a nasty sweetgum last year that was in the middle of the clump, which now makes the perfect base for a trio of pots --- "Royal Velvet" supertunias from Proven Winners, a red banana, and a brugmansia called Betty Marshall that blooms white with chartreuse veins

Getting Down to the Wire with This Tour

We spent another good chunk of a day yesterday working on last minute grooming things for the Stepchild Garden.  We're not really at the "last minute" yet, since there are just under three weeks to go.  This is the point at which the final fence panels went up, mechanical pieces for some of the "fru fru" stuff got attached, etc., etc.  ("No, really, there are always five perfectly cleaned vintage galvanized watering cans of various sizes hanging from coordinated hooks on the wall of the Not Shed!")

I don't want to tempt fate, but so far the weather seems to be cooperating well, though many things are blooming earlier than usual because we had such hot weather during the first half of April.  The good part of the warm weather is that it looks like most of the macrophylla hydrangeas will be blooming a few weeks early.  In the big picture that's not my preference, but hopefully they'll look good for the tour.  Here's one of "Generale Viscomtesse von hah hah hah" last summer......(the name is simply too long for me to remember).

Anyway, I just added a link to the article from yesterday's newspaper that gives the basics of ticket buying. Remember this is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Cobb County Master Gardeners....send your money!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sticky Toffee Pudding Recipe

I have several South African friends, so when we were invited to supper club with an "Out of Africa" theme, this immediately came to mind for dessert.  Toffee puddings are somewhat of a staple in South African communities; unfortunately most are obscenely sweet and not particularly attractive.  This one is delightfully light, and attractive, to boot!  It sounds more complicated than it really is, so don't be intimidated!  The other great thing is that nobody will ever guess that the base flavor is from dates.

Sticky Toffee Pudding with Caramel Sauce
(originally in Bon Appetit at least 10 years ago)

For the Sauce:
2 c. whipping cream
1 c. dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 c. unsalted butter

For the "Pudding":
1-1/2 cups chopped pitted dates
1-1/2 cups water
2 t. baking soda
2-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1 c. unsalted butter
2/3 c. granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 t. vanilla extract

Extra whipped cream for serving, and powdered sugar for decorating

Make the Sauce (can be prepared a day earlier):
Bring the cream, brown sugar and butter to a boil in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring frequently.  Reduce heat and simmer until reduced to 2 cups, stirring occasionally (about 6 minutes).  Set aside to cool, cover and refrigerate.  Rewarm before using.

Make the cake ("Pudding"):
Bring the water, dates and baking soda to a boil in a heavy saucepan; remove from heat and cool completely.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 12-cup Bundt pan.  In a mixing bowl, sift the flour and baking powder together; set aside.  In another bowl, with an electric mixer, combine the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.  Add the vanilla and half of the flour mixture.  Stir in the date mixture (with liquid), and then blend in the remaining flour mixture.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until cake rises and is golden brown, about 35 minutes.  Remove from oven, pour 3/4 cup of warmed caramel sauce over the cake in the pan, and return to the oven for another 15 minutes.  Bake until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out free of crumbs, but still wet with the caramel.  (It's like a magic process, with the sauce being absorbed into the cake).

Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a platter to cool completely.  Dust with powdered sugar, and serve with the caramel sauce and whipped cream.  This cake holds beautifully for a couple of days.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

My Own "Whatever, Martha" Moment

It started with the Wardian Case that I found at my favorite flea market, buried amidst a bunch of stuff and priced at $3.00.  How could I turn down such a bargain??
Forty dollars worth of preserved moss and twenty dollars worth of "fillers" later, I am pretty happy with the results of the case and my nasty little plastic table from the garage.  It's not rain-proof, but I think it's pretty cool for a season.
I don't know why the neighbors talk.......

Josh is really getting down to the wire with the wine bottle edging for the paths, since I want to have mulch put down next week.  Josh is also rehearsing for his school's production of "Alladin," which opens in a couple of weeks.  (He's the parrot character).

In any case, Josh called this afternoon, and said (in 17-year-old speak)...."Oh, cool, I'll come straight from rehearsal to work in your yard for a couple of hours.  We're trying out the hair and makeup it ok if there is some makeup left on my face?"

This is Josh arriving to work in my garden.....and I wonder why the neighbors just look over and scratch their heads when they see us in the garden......

Monday, April 19, 2010

Lots of Whites and A Couple of Blues

Mr. & Mrs. Penthouse (who are a completely different couple than Mr. & Mrs. Big House) are moving back to Atlanta for the spring season, so Patti and I spent the day grooming and fluffing the garden up in the sky.  For a change, it was a really pleasant day to be working up driving rain, no ridiculous winds, no hawks nesting ten feet above our heads.....The New Dawn roses were the last of things that needed to be installed.  I'm confident they'll do well there (it's a protected balcony), but I'll know better later in the summer.

In any case, I had my little point and shoot camera with me, and was strolling around the Stepchild Garden for a couple of minutes this morning.  It seemed that everything white was simply glowing today in the early sunlight.  The azalea called "Snow" looks great right now, just about to burst into bloom.  Once it's open for a couple of weeks, it starts to look like used tissues and I have to "blow the bejeebees out of it," but I don't have the heart to take it out.
This is a flat of strawberry begonia still to be planted in the shade garden at the back, which looks like a giant block of white foam with all those blooms
Up in the tree near The Wild, these two little cherubs are really bordering on being too "kitschy," but I like them anyway.  Their names are TJ and Maxx.
The tree form Doublefile (AKA my favorite tree) is looking pretty fabulous at the moment.  Shame it will look like so much nothing by the time of the tour, but my garden is really for my own enjoyment, anyway.....
Here she is peeking over the clipped hedge from another angle.  My competitive side just loves the fact that so many of my gardening friends covet this tree.
The Iris Crestata doesn't seem to mind being planted next to the gas and electric meters....
This afternoon when I came home, things were still looking pretty good, since it's been overcast all day.  The Centaurea montana caught my eye as I was walking in the door.
Hopefully your garden is doing some glowing of its own today, as well!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tax Day Photos

These photos were actually taken Friday morning, April 16, once all that tax stuff was done and life could get back to the pleasures of the garden.  Walking around the garden at the Big House, I was amazed to see all of these things just literally "popping" from one day to the next.  As always, click on the photos to make them larger.

This ajuga was taken out of the walled garden a couple of years ago, where it always struggled.  It is now largely ignored, baking in the heat along those stone stairs.  Clearly, it likes the abuse!  At the top of the stairs there is a big blank spot where we had some diseased Leylands removed; they've been replaced with three "Alta" magnolias and a couple of Chinese Fringetrees, which should fill in nicely there.  For this season (and some instant filler), we're adding in Castor Bean, which typically grows about 12 feet tall!
This shot of the Bridal Wreath Spirea shows why it's one of my favorite plants!  It is beautifully positioned above that wall, and seems to be just dripping white blossoms in a waterfall!
In the walled garden, things are having their "last hoorah," since the collards have bolted and some of the other things are beginning to fry in the heat.  The collards are now too bitter to eat, but how fabulous are those flowers?
At the pool, some of the winter containers are just starting to pop, as well!  This one has colors that remind me of citrus sherbets.
On the other side of the pool, the delphiniums are beginning to put on their incredible show, made even more special by the fact that they typically don't do well in Atlanta.  The fact that they are upright and so beautiful is the only good thing about our recent lack of rain.  They are planted behind a large bank of coral-colored daylilies....perhaps we'll get a couple of early blooms for an awesome combination!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Stepchild Garden is Coming Together

Walking around the Stepchild Garden this morning, I was amazed to see all that has burst open over the past few days.  The "Stonewall Jackson" native azalea is really a showstopper this year, with those shades of apricot and orange contrasting against all of the spring greens.
Just beyond the azalea, Hydrangea macrophylla "Mme Emile Mouillere" is already starting to open, about a month earlier than normal because of the incredible heat we've had for the past couple of weeks.  All of the other macrophyllas have buds, too, and might even bloom earlier than the oakleafs, which always tend to bloom first.
Phyllis and Debbie "groomed" the succulent bed a couple of days ago, and the results are pretty fabulous!
Calycanthus "Athens" is beginning to open those fabulously fragrant blossoms!
And, as expected, Tetrapanax is starting to pop up everywhere except where it was planted last year!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Few More Photos of the Stepchild

Here are a few more shots from yesterday's stroll (through my own garden, for a change).....This first one is the Bridal Wreath Spirea, just starting to bloom.  It is such an old-fashioned homely plant, but so elegant in its own way!
The "ajuga bed" completely died with all of the cold and wet this winter, so I've just replanted it with some ajuga moved from elsewhere.  The empty pot in the middle is holding the spot for the creeping fig topiary teddy bear that Carolyn is making for the tour.  I've still got to get the real pillow that will go at the headboard.
"The Wild" is where the snakes, chipmunks, birds, and what-have-you can do their own things.  It's a big ditch that fills with water if we have crazy rain, so I'm afraid to level it.  For the time being, it's an awesome natural compost area!  Whenever there is a leyland cypress or something similar cut down, it justifies buying another cool birdhouse!
The succulent bed near the driveway lives on complete neglect.  These plants seem to love the oppressive heat and lime that gets generated by the concrete driveway.
The Doublefile Viburnum below is a tree form that I dote on just a little.  I'll get a better shot that shows it off in its entirety; I planted it from a 3 gallon a couple of years ago, and now it's about 10 feet tall.  For now, it's blooming its guts out and is pretty spectacular.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Stepchild Garden This Afternoon

Some miscellaneous shots taken this afternoon while roaming around the stepchild garden.  It was the worst time of day for photography, and my cheap little point-and-shoot camera, so you'll have to forgive the quality.  In this first photo, the lady's "hair" is starting to grow back.  This just shows the tenacity of Creeping Jenny, which was completely ignored until a few days ago.  This all survived through the winter with zero water added.
The little child below is one of my favorite pieces.  I've dragged him around for at least 15 years, to three different gardening locations.  He seems happy under the laurel next to the chipmunk tunnel!
The bottle tree just needs a few more blue bottles.  So far I've been drinking a lot of really bad pinot grigios to reach the goal......
The "Not Shed" has turned out really well.  Still some potted things to add before tour day, but I'm thrilled with where it is so far!  We've actually had lunch in these chairs twice already, since it's a great shade spot on a hot afternoon.
The little patio off the kitchen is finally coming together.  All of my "junk store" metal furniture is being painted the same shade of textured rusty brown, then lots of container plants and pillows in bright colors!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cherries at the Big House Garden

Last year we had an almost complete "wash" of the cherry blossoms, when we got torrential rains just as the cherries were peaking. This year, however, has been quite another story!  I think the cherry trees really enjoyed a colder-than-normal winter, with more than the normal amount of winter rain. 

This first shot shows the beginnings of "Sakura Fubuki," what the Japanese refer to as the "Cherry Blizzard" when the blooms start to fall in the wind.

As the trees mature, there is almost a tunnel of blossoms as one walks behind the greenhouse and the walled garden.  On the left are white Camellia japonica "Mine no Yuki," which have already put on their show for the winter.
This other tree is in the front of the house, and Mr. refers to it as "the tree that only the gardener could love..."  For the past three years it has looked pretty dreadful, covered with moss, lichen, old funky bark, and almost no blooms.  Walking up the driveway now, it's as if this tree is saying, "Don't count me out yet!"

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Angels in Workboots

Today was another "garden angel" day for the Master Gardener Tour.  I can't imagine putting the Stepchild Garden on tour without the help of these people!  What takes me weeks to accomplish (that whole "shoemaker's children" thing) gets done in a couple of hours!
Here Josh (not an official "angel," but a key player in the Stepchild Garden) gets a few delphiniums in the ground with their fun support posts.  Josh is family in more ways than one....who else would coordinate the t-shirt and the flower supports?

In this next photo, Debbie and Tony made quick work out of a previously-messy path that runs along the side of the house.  It's where the utility meters are, and where I've always just planted things that didn't fit somewhere else.  Debbie, Tony and Carra tore it all out and made it look beautiful with a collection of ferns, hostas, and obedient plant.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


5733 is today's pollen count.  According to the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic's website, anything over 120 is "extremely high."  It's one of those days when the slightest breeze makes the conifers (not the offending trees) look like exploding vaccuum cleaner bags.  Add the pollen to the list of reasons to not have sweetgums in the garden.

Hopefully NASA doesn't mind that I've borrowed their stock photo of this bee.  I can't bring myself to spend any more time outside today, particularly since I have to keep dusting off the lens of the camera.