Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Winter Projects at the Big House

The weather has been very odd today; waking up and going outside, I was prepared for the usual chill, but it was eerily warm.  Later in the day the sky looked like a giant bucket of gray paint being slowly stirred.  One could literally see the clouds churning as it prepared for the crazy rains we got later today.

It was the perfect day for Patti and I to get some holiday things done for the house, as well as catch up on the progress of plants we're overwintering in the greenhouse.  Wiring tuteurs with lights to put into the containers around the pool, a boxwood wreath for the gate to the wall garden.....

In the greenhouse, this is the time of year when things look rather sad; many are still adjusting to being yanked out of their pots a few weeks ago for the winter season indoors.  The bougainvillea is getting too big to keep moving back and forth, so once it finishes adjusting, it will start getting trained up and across the glass roof of the greenhouse.  Since only the lateral branches really bloom well, that's a great way of making shade.
The "Betty Marshall" brugmansia got cut down in late October, and the pieces are starting to root in the bucket of water.  Once they're rooted better, we'll put them into pots to start growing out for next summer.  By going through the process now, we keep the plants "young" for next year, and will usually have blooms by June 1 at the pool. 
The cannas were taken out of the koi ponds this year, broken apart, and repotted.  Hopefully we'll be able to put them out already with some good foliage in late April, giving them a head start on the blooming season.  (Something tells me Patti has hidden a "mystery plant" in that front pot.....) 
Dichondra totally fried late this summer, so it's been chopped back and is just starting to peer over the edge of the hanging baskets again.  This one, "Emerald Falls," really earns its name! 
The shade lovers below are jammed into that trough for the winter months.  We'll separate them out into lots of different containers in spring again. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Leaves, Leaves, and More Leaves

The Stepchild Garden is actually quite small, being about a half acre, though I guess that might be considered big by some subdivision standards.  In any case, it is as casual in design as the Big House garden is formal.  One of my favorite features of the Stepchild is that fully half of it is shaded, which is a treat in the midst of an Atlanta summer;  when the leaves start to fall, however, it's quite a different story.

Even with some help from Chuck and his leaf blower, I spent six hours in the Stepchild Garden today, and have only made it through about 75 percent of what needs to be cleaned up this weekend.  I hate everything about gasoline leaf blowers, from the noise to the rattle-your-bones feeling to the horrible gasoline fumes; as a result, I spend much more time with my little electric blower or (better yet) a rake.

I did cave in this year, though, and get a chipper-shredder, mostly because it was a good deal and because I've never owned one.  It is now my new favorite toy during leaf season.  It is deafening loud and incredibly hard to maneuver around the back garden, but it makes short order of leaves that would otherwise be bagged or run over multiple times with the lawnmower to shred them. The plastic hose shown in this photo is about five feet long, and is a huge vaccuum tube, so the leaves can be sucked up, shredded, and blown right back out over the mulched areas.  Pretty cool,  huh?


Happy Birthday, Grampy!

Today would have been my maternal grandfather's 100th birthday.  I've have always felt very lucky that all of my grandparents lived at least until I was in college, so I had a close relationship with them.

This is a favorite photo of my grandfather, which I would guess was taken in the late 1920's, when he would have been in his late teens.  It's a photo of him and his mother sitting next to her little vegetable garden.  It's such an unusual photo because later in life he worked for a supermarket chain as the produce manager, and the last thing he wanted to do at home was grow vegetables!
This next one is a few years later when he was in the Coast Guard.  Between the uniform and the car, is it any wonder my grandmother fell head-over-heels in love with him?
I find it ironic that he had four children and 12 grandchildren, but always made it clear that he had no use for children until they were at least eighteen years old.  One of my strongest memories was of a day that he was somehow railroaded into babysitting my brother and me (I was in first grade, my brother in third).  Imagine my mother's horror when she discovered we had spent the day sitting at a bar with my grandfather and his buddies, and that our lunch had consisted of pickled eggs, beer nuts and Coca Cola!  Archie Bunker had nothing on my grandfather!  He wasn't the most nurturing, but certainly one of the most fun!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Succession Planting in the Cutting Garden

Since I've undertaken replanting the cutting garden/perennial bed at the Big House in earnest,  I'm deferring to the creators of some of the wonderful gardens we visited in England (though I'm aware I'll need to make some specific plant changes to suit the Atlanta climate.)  There are few gardeners in recent history who had the incredible sense of color (and the bravery to explore it) of Christopher Lloyd.  His garden at Great Dixter is legendary, and for good reason.                                      
 I've just started reading Lloyd's Succession Planting for Year-Round  Color, and  am enthralled by the combinations he created in that garden.  (Interestingly Lloyd wrote some incredibly good books, and some incredibly bad ones at different times of his life.  You might want to read some reviews prior to automatically spending for a book just because it has his name on it.  I found this one on Amazon for $7.50)

Here are some recommended combinations, just from the first few pages:

Byzantine Gladiola planted into a chartreuse striped low-growing bamboo.  The contrast between the dark-stemmed hot fuschia glads and the bright chartreuse bamboo is just amazing!  Since anyone in the Southeast knows that planting bamboo is right up there with planting kudzu, I'm going to use a chartreuse acorus as the base plant for that same effect. 

Aucuba japonica underplanted with hellebores, a spring-summer blooming medium height blue annual, and Japanese anemones.  Just go with this for a minute and let it digest.  The aucuba will bear fruit in the winter/spring at the same time as the hellebores bloom; when the hellebores start to look messy, the blue-flowering annual will take your eye off the fading hellebore leaves.  At the same time, the anemone leaves will grow up into the hellebores, fulling masking them in their "less attractive" time.  (In the border at Great Dixter, this is right next to the bamboo/gladiola mentioned above.)

Crocosmia planted right at the base of dark-leaved cannas.  The flowers of crocosmia are like little firecrackers in the perennial bed, but the strappy leaves are often a little ratty looking.  Just picture the hot orange crocosmia flower against the dark burgundy canna leaves!

Also in the first chapter, there are two "method" points that Lloyd makes that I think are worth mentioning. 

First, he talks about using pruned branches from shrubs as discreet supports for tall-growing flowers that will come later in the season.  I saw this everywhere in England, particularly at Nyman's to support dahlias and such.  We always save the trimmings when pruning interesting plants like contorted filberts to use as plant supports that aren't covered with dark green plastic.

Second, he mentions the use of mushroom compost in the clay soil around Great Dixter (Kent has similar soil to Georgia, though not red.)  According to Lloyd, the reaction between mushroom compost and clay soils results in a soil that is much more alkaline than normal, which is a problem for some plants that one would typically grow in this part of the world.  I can't vouch for the validity of that statement, but I'm certainly not going to challenge Christoper Lloyd, dead or not!  I'll let you know the results at the end of the season.

Anyway, all of that in just the first few pages of this book.  I'm thinking it was $7.50 well spent!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Where is Elmer Fudd when We Need Him?

No photos this morning, since I'm on a mission to have a face-to-face chat with a deer.  This absolutely beautiful giant buck has been in the neighborhood for a couple of years, and has suddenly decided that "Antique Shades" pansies are his version of M & M's. 

The problem, of course, is that I've only seen him very early in the morning, standing defiantly on the far side of the lawn, looking much like a $50,000 bronze garden ornament.   He is like this mythical creature, emerging out of the mist.

I'm afraid he knows that I think he's an incredible garden accessory, and I would never dream of doing anything to harm him........I'm going to need to call on Elmer Fudd, since all I can do is smile, shake my head, and continue to put out more pansies on his buffet....

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Too Late to Change My Mind!

 Since buying our house five years ago, I've hated the bathrooms.  They are standard 1980's issue (in keeping with the house), and were given a fresh coat of paint and new accessories just before we bought the house.  With lots of gardening and other projects to do, they've always just sort of been there, always on the "when I have a few thousand extra dollars I'll think about it" list.  The only thing I have done in the guest bathroom in five years is hang the "Merman" shower curtain I bought at an arts festival a few years ago.

We have said for a long time that when we got back from England there would be no big trips for a couple of years, and we were going to do some work on the house.  Well, we're back from England and it's time.  I'm delighted to say that everything is gone from the old bathroom, and we're starting to put back together.  Until you've owned a pinkish beige composite bathtub and surround for five years, you have no idea how exciting it is to be the owner of a simple white bathtub!  The garage is filled with travertine tiles, and the sofa in the little sitting room downstairs is covered with faucets and such.  Pinkish plastic tub is sitting in the trash pile, along with the "faux marble" sink (complete with cigarette burns from a former owner of years ago).  So far it's a beautiful day in my bathroom.....

The Walled Garden "Re-do" Continues

It hardly seems possible that a month ago this bed was literally overflowing with vegetation!  The fact that it was mostly "vegetation" and not specifically "bloom" is why it's now been stripped down to the bones.

As I mentioned a few posts ago, we've reached the point at which the walled garden needs to be pulled apart, edited, and rearranged in order to continue its purpose as a cutting area.  This first shot shows the first of the flower beds to be totally taken apart and put back together (really about as much as we can do with it until spring.)  We'll fill in all of the blank spots in spring with other perennials and some strong annuals.

This photo also shows off some of the great details that make this such a beautiful garden.  The brickwork has filled in beautifully with creeping fig (not nearly as high maintenance as it might look, but it does take a clipping once every couple of weeks in season).  These white tuteurs get used for different things in different years (tomatoes, hyacinth bean, cypress vine), and are really most effective in winter when the beds are not brimming with produce. 
In this other angle, you can see where those wretched banana shrubs got removed, and we've replaced them with tuteurs to support Rose Zepherine Drouhin.  It's a thornless repeat bloomer that has brilliant cerise flowers in spring and then again in fall.  We're refilling this bed with many of the same flowers that were there before (just majorly thinned), as well as some others to give a longer consistent bloom season.  I've been working with Christopher Lloyd's "Succession Planting" book, trying to adapt the principles to plants that will tolerate Georgia's hot days AND hot nights.  (For example, the back is being planted with delphiniums and then Ruellia in one area, and with foxgloves followed by tall white Nicotiana in another).  
The long hot dry summer has done great things for this little island bed, where the Mission olive seems quite happy underplanted with Mother of Thyme.  The edge is Buxus "Grace Hendicks Phillips," which is a true dwarf; it is painfully slow growing, but hopefully during my lifetime as the Big House gardener it will grow into a solid hedge. 
The photo below shows the beatiful color from Blueberries (after all, this is also the vegetable garden). 
Lastly, here's the second of the flower beds to get tackled; we've finished most of the stripping, and will hopefully start on the new plantings one this rain stops. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Autumn Color, Part Deux

It's raining like crazy at the moment, and is expected to continue this way through tomorrow, so I'm sure all of the beautiful autumn leaves will be lying on the ground by Wednesday morning.  For the time being, though, it's still looking great outside the window.

Here's one of Japanese Maple "Crimson Queen" yesterday at the Big House.  The laceleaf is really fabulous against the very sharp angles of that stone pillar.
Here is that same Crimson Queen next to another (obviously much larger) Japanese Maple.  The contrast in color is pretty awesome in my mind. 
Plain old Nandina is showing off her stuff at this time of year, as well! 
The fruits of Crataegus "Winter King" against the brown of a Dawn Redwood ready to drop it's summer outfit. 
This container has three different examples of the same plant.  Used to be called "Korean Mum," with "Sheffield" being the most commonly available cultivar.  For some reason it is now Dendrathema rubella, and tends to cross-pollinate like crazy.  What I love about this is that all of the offspring tend to be different shades of the same color family, so they blend together beautifully.  When they go out of bloom, I'll put them into the garden, where they usually live happily for years, and continue to develop into larger mounds.  They are very drought tolerant and bloom for several weeks in the fall. 
Ivy topiary with "Antique Shades" pansies.  In this particular case, it's really all about the Italian terra cotta container. 
So far I am loving Camellia x "Winter's Star," which is going bonkers right now.  What I find most impressive is that this hedge is in full Western sun, and seems to be just fine!  Since it was such a long hot summer this year, I can't wait to see it mature and fill in more. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Autumn Color

Seasonal color is never really consistent in Atlanta from one year to the next.  This year has been better than many of the past few, since it's been really dry.  Not all of these photos are autumn foliage, but some interesting things I saw while walking through the garden this morning.

The blooms of Autumn Cherry always seem particularly beautiful to me.  (In fact, this is the tree that "Mr" always says "only Tim could love" because it's elderly, covered with lichens, and looks like it has leprosy most of the time.)
Burning Bush off in the distance above the waterfall. 
I just love the flowers of Fatsia japonica! 
The Festival Grass is now completely dead (it's an annual), but I really like the contrast against the vibrant new pansies.  Tomorrow's rain will probably finish it off, and it will need to come out. 
The berries of Pyracantha "Mojave" against those of Parneyii Cotoneater. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tearing out the Perennial Bed

After a miserably long and hot summer in Atlanta and a delightful trip to see a gazillion gardens in England during September, it became clear to me that it was time to tear out some of the beds at the Big House and revamp them. 

The walled garden that surrounds the greenhouse was redesigned and planted by my predecessor about five years ago, and served its purpose well for a few years.  The problem, as with many gardens, was that it was planted with lots of "bulletproof" plants that would give the homeowner instant satisfaction.  Over the course of a few years, that means that we were overrun with asters, rudbekia, and a few other plants.  Another factor was that "Mrs." really likes fine textured foliage, so by late June each year, the garden has been a mass of green stems with fine leaves.  Hence the "ruthless thinning" that we are now undertaking.
I'm afraid neither of these photos is great, but it will give you the idea.  Since they are also taken at very different times of year, I trust you can use your imagination.  I'll post more photos as we progress with this project. 
This bottom photo shows us making some real progress with the "demo" stage of things.  Gone are the banana shrubs, which have a unique and fragrant flower (as long as you stand on a stepladder on the right day in spring, and the wind is blowing in the right direction).  The treehuggers of the group are probably cursing me at the moment, but there simply wasn't room to keep them.  Our goal is to make this more of a cutting garden for house flowers, while also having it be an attractive display garden around the greenhouse.

The longer I garden professionally, the more comfortable I become at editing plants that don't produce.  As much as I love old fashioned garden phlox, I'll not spend the rest of my summers fighting powdery mildew when there are lots of better cultivars out there.  When six purple irises turn into 50, I'm comfortable donating them to a plant sale and don't feel obligated to keep nurturing them, moving them, grooming them, etc.  I'm clear that not every plant needs an exquisite bloom.....Canna "Pretoria" adds incredibly to the garden bed and the floral arrangement with or without blooms. On the other hand, I'm happy to plant something to hide the late season peony foliage, because (in my opinion) there are very few flowers that are that beautiful.

We're up to the replanting phase in a couple of the sections, and I'll get photos on Friday.  It has been a great project to have three experienced gardeners (including myself) honestly go through the different plant options and justify why a particular plant should be used in the beds.  Hopefully it will be as incredible in reality next summer as it is in my mind right now.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Too Much of a Good Thing

While checking email this morning, there was a photo from Fine Gardening, showing a bed chock full of Verbena bonariensis that a couple had installed in their garden in New York.  It looks absolutely beautiful, particularly backed with Solidago.  The combination is really pretty fabulous (you'll have to go to their website to see the photo, since it's copyrighted).

This photo is one I took at Merriments Garden Center while we were in England, which puts the infamous verbena in another (equally stunning) setting, playing off the white birches and white sculpture.  I was chatting with one of the b & b owners there, and he said they sometimes have difficulty keeping it alive.  To that, I say, "Come to Georgia!"
I have Verbena b. in the Stepchild Garden, as well as in the cutting garden at the Big House.  Not only does it love being in beds, but it also loves being in cracks in pavement, in the lawn, in the gravel paths, etc.  It is a plant that I love, so I'm happy to tolerate its wayward behavior, and just know that throughout the season, I will need to yank out a few seedlings every time I walk through the garden.

It's easy to fall in love with this one.....but make sure you're not thinking it's going to be a "one nighter," because this one is "til death do us part......"