Thursday, December 29, 2011

Some Favorite Photos

Like many gardeners, I've become overwhelmed with the number of photos I have accumulated from the past few years.  Since I need to review the plans for the spring containers with "Mrs" soon, I am collecting some favorite container photos in an album on my Facebook page for her to look at.  Here's one I just came across, which I had completely forgotten about....I just LOVE this photo of a dahlia just coming into bloom in August!  It has nothing to do with container plantings, but it makes me happy!

Hopefully this will add some warmth to wherever you are at the moment, in the darkest and coldest time of year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

An Awesome (and Easy) Holiday Hors d'oeuvre

I made this for Christmas and might do again for New Year’s Eve.  Fortunately it’s two different groups of people!  Everyone loved the toasts, and it’s super easy!

I got this recipe from Splendid Table, which is a show on Public Radio.  They, in turn, excerpted it from Laura Werlin’s Cheese Essentials:  An Insider’s Guide to Buying and Serving Cheeses.  I’ve restructured it a little, showing which parts I did in advance to make it easy once guests arrived.

In my opinion (as someone who earned his living in the high-end food world for thirty years), this recipe is really brilliant.  It takes into consideration those classic qualities of Chardonnay (vanilla, butter, and “toast”) and enhances them to magnify the flavors even more.

Brie Toasts with Chardonnay-Soaked Golden Raisins

1-1/2 cups water
1 cup Chardonnay
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 vanilla bean, split in half vertically (I have also done this with 1 t. pure vanilla extract)
1 c. golden raisins
12 oz. double-crème Brie
24 slices of baguette, ¼ inch thick
4 tablespoons melted butter

The day before serving:
In a medium saucepan, combine the water, wine, and sugar.  Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat until the sugar is dissolved.  Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for five minutes.  Turn off the heat.  Scrape the insides of the vanilla bean into the liquid, and add the remaining bean (or add the extract).  Add the raisins, allow them to steep for 1 hour uncovered at room temperature, then cover and refrigerate.  (This mixture will hold for up to two weeks, refrigerated).

A few hours before guests arrive:
Drain the raisins, reserving the liquid.  Remove and discard the vanilla bean.  Put the liquid back on the stove and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, and allow to reduce to 1/3 cup, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Once it begins to turn a golden brown, remove from the heat so it doesn’t burn.  It will thicken as it cools, and have a texture like maple syrup.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Brush each side of the baguette slices with melted butter, and toast in the oven about 10 minutes, until golden brown.  Allow to cool to room temperature.
Slice the cheese while it is still cold into 24 pieces.  (I spread them out on a cold plate and put back in the refrigerator (covered), since Brie can be a nightmare to work with when it’s warm.)

A little while before guests arrive:
Put a slice of cheese on each toast.  Spoon a few raisins over the cheese, and drizzle the syrup over the top.   (This is where the original recipe ends, serving the toasts at room temperature.  I put them back in the oven for about 10 minutes, and it was INCREDIBLE!)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Visit to Vizcaya

A few weeks ago we were lucky enough to visit Vizcaya, which is an extraordinary property in the Coconut Grove section of Miami.  Built in 1916 for James Deering (of International Harvester), it is really beyond description, and definitely worth visiting.
Most of these photos came from the Vizcaya website (my photos from that day were just not good), and even these don’t do justice to how beautiful this place is. 
What makes Vizcaya special (in my humble opinion) is that, unlike lots of the grand house museums from the turn of the last century, the designers of Vizcaya paid as much attention to the gardens as they did to the house. 
When we were in England last year, one of the gardens we visited was Hestercombe, where there are still large elements that exist as they were designed by Jekyll and Lutyens.  In those gardens, there is a definite calming feeling that comes as a result of brilliantly designed spaces; strolling the gardens at Vizcaya gave me that same restful feeling, while astounding me with the sheer size and brilliant design. 
This is definitely a garden to visit if you find yourself in South Florida

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Just Getting This Recipe In Under the Wire for Christmas!

Double Decker Sweet Potato Pecan Pie

I haven't made this one yet.  In fact, it arrived with a Christmas card from Project Open Hand just today, and sounds amazing.  It's on my list of things "to do" in the next few days.  In the meantime, if you're of the mindset to get in some more holiday baking, let me know how you fare with this!  It sounds to be as Southern as a recipe can get.

As always, click on the recipe to enlarge and/or print.  Bon Appetit, y'all!

Thanks to All for Your Concern!

Thanks for all of you who expressed concern that there was something wrong and that I had disappeared or fallen off the face of the Earth.  Nothing is wrong, I've just been a slacker when it comes to the blog.  I'm trying to be better as we enter the New Year.  I'll still never understand how it is that so many people are interested in my babbling, but it's definitely good for the ego!

On a similar note, my computer's security settings don't seem to be playing nicely with those at Google, so I'm often not able to post on the blogs of others.  Please know that I love reading them, and would love to let you know that, but the great Google in the sky seems to prefer otherwise!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

It's Put Up or Shut Up Season

This is the time of year when the summer containers typically are looking their best.  In the heat of the South, some things are stressed, but in the northern states, the containers should really be at their best.  It's the time of year when it's time for containers to either produce or get stuck behind the garage until it's time for autumn planting.

Here are a few containers that have done well this summer, with some "notes from the gardener".

In the breezeway, we used the darkest-leafed cannas we could find for structure.  "Missus" isn't a big fan of red flowers, so we have cut most of the blooms off as they come up.  Kimberly Queen Fern is also a favorite plant for shade containers.  It goes forever in the summer heat and humidity, overwinters beautifully if you are so inclined, and is very inexpensive in most cases.  (I buy the giant hanging ones that are a "loss leader" at one of the big box stores every spring, and cut each hanging plant in four pieces to use in containers---this container here is using one quarter of one hanging basket that we bought for $9.99)
The front entrance pots are doing really well this season, with a "Fox Tail Palm" in the middle, with the elephant ear "Elena" that was mentioned in the previous post.   
The containers in the gazebo are virtually all shade, and a great place to utilize house plants during the summer.   
Ginger is a container standby for us, and this one has a great peach bloom that will start soon.  Ruellia also performs really well for us in containers, as do hibiscus.  We have a really difficult time overwintering tropical hibiscus in the greenhouse (scale magnets!).  This one is cold hardy, so we'll see what happens. Oleander really pops in late summer, and this year we've used a good amount of "bat face" cuphea, which has just exploded with color all summer!
This container grouping repeats lots of the same plants that are on the other side of the pool (above), and tends to get only morning sun.  For many of the filler plants (coleus, etc.), we pointedly buy full flats of 4 inch pots, and then split them up between the different containers for consistency throughout the property. 
This semi-shaded pot also is using canna for structure this season, which I'm really happy with.
Hot, hot hot!  These terra cotta pots bake in the sun for at least 8 hours every day, and are still blooming like mad!  Angelonia, convulvulus, and callibrachoa all seem to be loving life! 

A tip that I learned from Rita Randolph (the container queen) involves topdressing.  Once the container is completely pot-bound (not before), topdress the container with a couple of inches of play sand.  That very fine sand from Home Depot or Lowe's that one uses in kids' sandboxes, or to underlay pavers.  When watering, that sand will hold water like nobody's business, and will bring you another few weeks of great looking containers.  A bit messy to disassemble at the end of the season, but it's worth the extra step!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

August Garden Photos

The Chinese Snowball Viburnum (Viburnum macrocephalem) doesn't seem to know that it is a spring bloomer, and seems to produce a new giant flower head every day.
Confederate Rose (Hibiscus mutabilis) dies back to the ground every year, and then grows at a maniacal rate to reach at least 8 feet, and will soon be covered with frilly pink and white blooms.  It's one of those old-fashioned plants that you'll see driving through the countryside near old home sites. 
Aren't figs just the most seductive of fruits?  I really believe it was a fig that Adam and Eve couldn't resist..... look at that nectar just dripping out of the fruit!
One can barely see the front entrance of the Big House through the Limelight Hydrangeas and Begonias!  (For those who are interested, this is "Babywing," which puts up with crazy hot Western sun, and the foliage doesn't go red.)  The Elephant Ear in the containers took off this year (after two years of being really whimpy).  It is Colocasia esculenta "Elena," and Tony Avent says it's winter hardy as far north as Zone 7B.  I'm going to plant one in the ground at the end of the season, and will let you know in the spring. 
Begonia grandis "Heron's Pirouette" is a real winner in the shade garden.  In it's first year, six plants are now covering an area 4 feet by 6 feet.

The koi ponds look especially good once the tropical foliage plants start to fill in around them. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sally & Jim Gibbs' Garden

As I mentioned in the previous post, I volunteered last week to serve as a "bus captain" on one of the day tours associated with the national Perennial Plant Association's Symposium in Atlanta.  Here are some photos of the Gibbs garden, visited later that same afternoon.

To give you some background, this property is 292 acres, and is about an hour north of Atlanta, just at the base of the mountains. Mr. Gibbs owns one of Atlanta's leading landscape design, build and maintenance companies, and this is his personal home.  The long term plan is to open the garden up as a public space.  It took Mr. & Mrs. Gibbs several years just to locate and choose the property, based upon its natural topography, and abundance of spring-fed water features. 

What a fantasy to have the resources, the technical skill, and (most of all) the forty years of experience under your belt before taking on your "new" garden. This one is now in its second decade, and things are starting to flesh out beautifully.

Because our buses wouldn't fit all the way up the driveway to the main house, we went in via the lily pond, which contains the largest private collection of waterlilies in a natural setting in the US.
One of the Gibbs' large collection of bronzes is mounted in the middle of one of the lily ponds, which also features a full-sized copy of Monet's famous bridge over the lily pond at Giverny. 
Close up detail of a very cool little maple in the Japanese garden.  Have I mentioned that the Japanese garden covers FORTY acres? 
One of the spring-fed ponds in the Japanese garden. 
Another of the ponds in the Japanese garden.......they seem to never end...... 
As one walks up the path through the woods to the main house, the first view is of the enormous rose arbor which separates the lawn in this area from the flower garden.  It must be incredible earlier in the season! 
A little further up the driveway, I found this urn, which I think is just exquisite in its simplicity. 
One view of the flower garden.  It's important to note that there are lots of perennials here, but also an enormous number of annuals.  As a company, Gibbs does a great job with annual color displays, and this garden gives that classic look while using mostly annuals. 

I happen to love this combinaton of Perovskia (Russian Sage) and Lythrum virgatum "Morden's Pink" lythrum, which I may replicate at the Big House, in a bed that is almost entirely daylilies, and fries out by early July.  My home is that this duo will come up and explode in color just as the yellow daylilies are going to sleep for the season.   "Morden's Pink" is a sterile variety; having said that, I know there have been some issues of it spreading in other parts of the country.  I've had it in another area at the Big House and in my home garden for three years now with no sign of casually sending off seeds. This is one of those "do what you are comfortable with" plants. 
Looking down from the main house over the flower beds. 
Another angle showing effective use of annuals that do well in Georgia's crazy summer heat. 
As always, click on the photos to see them in more detail. As for me, I'm off to pull some weeds.......

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bernadine Richard's Garden

Earlier in the week I had the pleasure of volunteering as a "bus captain" for a group visiting Atlanta as part of the Perennial Plant Association's national meeting.  Whenever I'm with groups like this, I'm always pleasantly surprised by how humble and delightful gardeners can be, particularly those who are on national (and international) speaking circuits, etc.  I get such enjoyment from spending the day with all of those creative people!

One of the gardens we visited was the home of Bernadine and Jena-Paul Richard, where I had been a couple of times before, and always love visiting.  This time was different, as well, in that it was a group of about 75 of us (between two buses) rather than the hundreds that are often present on some tours.

The Richard home was built in 1929, from stone quarried on the site, and has beautiful oak doors and trim that were also created from trees growing on the site at the time.  It is a big property (about 9 acres), with an enormous art collection, yet no pretense, which says a lot for the Richards'  warmth and demeanor.

Mr. Richard is French, which explains the hybrid mix of European styling and Southern hospitality that this house and garden exudes. 
The large house is beautifully nestled into the plantings, and the stone color adds a real element of warmth.
There are several art installations around the property.  This is one that I particularly love, since it adds a whimsical note to an otherwise very formal building.  I would love to go back when this wisteria is blooming! 
This waterfall is truly massive, extending the length of the pool deck, above.  The water slowly pours down the wall and adds that necessary cooling element needed in Atlanta in summer. 
Another whimsical touch in the garden off the kitchen. 
At first glance this front door seems a little "staged," until you realize that those incredible blooms were all picked that morning from existing plantings in the garden.  No silk here! 
As always, click to see them bigger!  More gardens from this tour later.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The White Bridge Dilemna

The garden at the Big House is divided in half by a natural creek which runs through it, from front to back.  It is a fabulous feature to have in the garden, and the original landscape installation incorporated two bridges crossing the creek, essentially one at each end of the property.  We have named them brilliantly in my mind, to differentiate one from the other....."The Brown Bridge" is in the wooded garden, and "The White Bridge" is nearer the house, and crosses from the rose garden to the koi ponds.  Since that part of the garden is much more formal, the white bridge is also more "done up" than the brown one.
 The brown bridge was having some real structural issues, so was rebuilt last week, with the new version being virtually identical to the original.  Since this bridge is in shade and only a few feet above the surface of the water, nature takes its toll on even cedar.  Since both bridges are similar in overall design, I've put a photo of the new not yet brown bridge.

The White Bridge is also having some issues, and needs some attention from Tony the fabulous contractor.  Before he begins work, I'm looking for some input from the brilliant individuals who follow this blog.

As you can see from the other two photos, there are hanging baskets which are suspended from the sides of the bridge, which are used for annual color.  They are changed out twice a year, and are equipped with misters from the irrigation system.  They are the "hayrack" type of basket, each 56 inches long, and are lined with moss/cocofiber liners.

Here are the issues I'm trying to correct:
1.  In order to replace the plants, at least one person is standing on a 12-foot stepladder in the creek to work.  This doesn't sound so bad, until you are faced with having to replace the potting medium with giant bags that are being balanced on a non-too-sturdy ladder (on the rocks in the water).  Another person has to lower the plants from above to the planter, since building codes only allow a 4 inch space between balusters.
2.  Because of the constant moisture in the baskets, we've replaced the sideboards once already (the bridge is only ten years old).  We line the back of the baskets with heavy black plastic, but I'm thinking about a new type of container and/or taking the baskets to a metal fabricator to have a new solid back panel installed.

Has anybody out there seen any brilliant designs that would allow for annual color in this situation, without ruining the bridge (and almost killing the gardener)?  I think I've figured out the access issue by exploring the idea of a railing section that can be removed, but I'm not married to that idea.  With reference to the baskets, they can certainly be replaced with something else, but I'm out of ideas.  (The window box type that are sold to hang off deck railings are simply not "high end" enough in appearance, and aren't really in scale with the bridge.

Any ideas, guys?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Sunflower Farm Festival

We spent the morning with Tony & Nina at the Sunflower Farm Festival in Rutledge, Georgia.  It is always a great, simple way to start the July 4th festivities, and an excuse to eat peach ice cream at 10 AM.  This first photo is a pretty substantial "container arrangement" near the entrance to the artists market.
The fence around the sunflower fields becomes a little more "artsy" every year, as different treasures are added to the old fence. 

Another great container arrangment, next to one of those "necessary" outbuildings.  The ones that are actually in use aren't a lot more sophisticated than this one, though. 

This little boy was having a grand time having his own parade in a mixed cottage garden on the property. 
The farm produces sunflower seeds for planting, eating, and bird seed mixes, and the family is incredibly generous with their property, sharing all gate proceeds with various charities.  The artists market and food vendors all set up tents in a shady grove in the midst of 15 acres of blooming sunflowers.

As always, click them to see more detail.

Enjoy the Fourth!

Celebrate what makes you happiest about being an American!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Summer Whites

July came into Atlanta with a roar of heat, and it was still in the high 70's when I left for work this morning before the sun was up.  Here are a few photos from the garden at the Big House, taken around 7:30 this morning before the furnace heated up for the day.

This is a good example of why, in my humble opinion, there are few plants that can rival the Natchez Crape Myrtle for tough-as-nails beauty in a Southern garden.  They're just starting to bloom, and will continue this way for many weeks.
Two types of hydrangea, below.  In the distance, the paniculata "Pinky Winky" is just starting to flush out.  In the forground (under the crape myrtle) is macrophylla "Mme. Emile Mouillere," an incredible white mophead with a tiny blue eye that gradually bleeds the faintest blue color throughout the blooms.  The macrophylla has been blooming for several weeks now.

Hydrangea arborescens "Annabelle," will keep that form until the blooms ultimately dry looking almost exactly as they do now. 
The front of the house faces Northwest, so it's a challenge to get some things to grow well there.  These guys all look pretty light and fluffy, but they're all extremely tough, and hold up beautifully to the Atlanta heat.  For the plant geeks, this begonia is called "Baby Wing," and will take full Atlanta sun and heat without the leaves bronzing.

The gazebo near the pool offers some respite from the crazy heat, and it's where many of the ferns and houseplants spend the summer months.