Saturday, January 28, 2012

This is the Rationale for Crape Murder.....

We started pruning the Crape Myrtles at the Big House early this morning.  Since these photos reflect a full six-hour day, it might give non-Southerners a better understanding of why most landscaping companies go the "crape murder" route shown in an earlier post.  When we were about two-thirds through today's process, the man who lives across the street pulled up in his car and said, "Dude, there is NO WAY I would be doing that!  It terrifies me just to watch the process!"

The truth is that pruning the crape myrtles makes no real difference in the number or quality of bloom;  you'll often see ancient crape myrtles when driving past old farmsteads around the South, blooming their hearts out in mid-summer, while nothing remains of the house except the firecplace and foundation.  In this particular case, the trees at the driveway entrance have simply outgrown their space, and are no longer in scale to the surrounding landscape.  The choice is to keep them in bounds through pruning, or replace them, which would be such a shame since they've just reached that point of having the truly magnificent exfoliating bark.

An appropriate caption for this one might be, "Really?  You have fifteen of these to do?  Really?" as the other Tim began tree number two today.
To put the size of these trees (Latin name, "Big honkin' Crape Myrtles") in perspective, Chuck (in red) is about 6 feet two inches tall.   The pile of branches is part of what was taken off the first tree.
A particular difficulty with pruning Crape Myrtles is that their branches aren't especially strong, and are more brittle in the winter temperatures.  Nick, the slightest of our group, gets the special job of climbing to the top of the extension ladder to do the finishing cleanup with pruners.  Nick has vowed to become fatter before next year's assignments, so he can be at the base of the ladder. 
Two almost done in this photo, only thirteen to go........(they really are the same height, just a bad camera angle....) 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Crape Murder

Just sayin'.......

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Gardening Program You Don't Want to Miss!

Since I am President-Elect of the Georgia Perennial Plant Association, I'm using this post as a little plug for the upcoming Symposium that GPPA co-produces with the Atlanta Botanical Garden.  Each year this is an incredible program, and gives a great blast of gardening energy to the attendees just as winter is coming to a close.  If you're anywhere near Atlanta, this one is definitely worth attending!  Make a weekend of it!

Here is some further information from the GPPA website,  (There is a link to register on the site, as well.)

Winter finds most gardeners starved for spring – the season of new beginnings, a fresh opportunity to get the most out of our landscapes. As springtime approaches, immerse yourself in this full day of exciting garden inspiration. Come away with fresh ideas for making the garden of your dreams!

This year’s featured speakers are Katy Moss Warner, Steve Brady, Shannon Pable, Norman Kent Johnson and Stephanie Cohen. 

Beautiful Landscapes: The Key to Healthy Communities
For five years, Katy Moss Warner, dynamic presenter and President Emeritus of the American Horticultural Society, has been judging towns and cities for America in Bloom. She has witnessed first hand what happens when communities focus attention on their landscapes. The spirit of optimism and volunteerism reflect not only in the beauty of the community but also in its vitality. Communities with beautiful landscapes are the places where people want to live, work and play.

Easy-to-Grow Fruits
After 30 years of working for the University of Georgia as the Cobb County Extension Agent, Steve Brady has a wide range of personal and research experience in fruit and vegetable production. Almost anyone can grow a variety of fresh fruits in their yards with proper planning, establishment, and care. Imagine fresh fruit ready to pick April through October. This can truly be edible landscaping.

Cinderella Natives:
Transforming Wild “Weeds"Into Residential Ornamentals

Shannon Pable is a life-long artist and gardener with a love of wild edible and medicinal plants. She is a certified arborist and award-winning garden designer (owner of Shannon’s Garden Gallery), specializing in native plants, woodland designs and environmentally friendly landscape designs. Learn the tricks of how to incorporate native plants into the tidy residential landscape and some of the myths associated with natives. Shannon will also include a list of her favorite natives to use in sun and shade areas.

Other People’s Gardens
One of the hardest things about reworking an existing garden is the question, “Why?” Knowing how you will use your garden must play a role in defining the garden. Do you need to accommodate your dogs, children or more cars? Do you have horticultural challenges: too much shade, too much sun, or poor soil conditions? Or maybe the garden is simply tired and ready for a change. Whatever the case, the “why” must always precede the “what.” Renowned garden designer and author Norman Kent Johnson will guide you through thought processes for rethinking your garden to make it right for you.

The Nonstop Garden: Four-Season Design
Gardeners seem to fall into two broad categories: Those who are growing more mature want to garden but encounter physical drawbacks; newer gardeners with very busy schedules trying to incorporate gardening as a passion and pleasure into their lifestyles. We all want year-round beauty, but in order to attain it we must work smarter not harder. This means making the most of the space and time you have. Join Stephanie Cohen, the “Perennial Diva” herself, in an adventure to get the dirt on nonstop gardening!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Some Favorites for Winter Containers

As a follow up to the last post, here are some favorite plants that we use in winter containers.  All do  well throughout the winter in north-Metro Atlanta, and many would probably do just fine (if not better) in colder climates.

This first is a basic red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora), which lives in what can only be described as HARSH environs.  It is on the corner of the building, on the 42nd floor, with ridiculous winds almost all the time.  (The cement container has been blown off the plinth at least twice and needed to be replaced, though the plant has survived each crash.)
The arrangement below was in front of the Big House during the winter of 2010-2011, when we had extremely cold weather (and lots of snow by Georgia standards).  The variegated boxwood did just fine (again in a really windy spot where it gets hammered by Northwest winds), and we replaced the cut things every couple of weeks.  For some of the broadleafed evergreens like the magnolia, we sometimes use an anti-dessecant spray to prevent windburn, which is actually easier to find in northern states.  The variegated boxwood is a standard container plant for us, but I don't honestly know how far north it is hardy. 
This is the front entrance at Christmas 2009.  We have since replaced most of the evergreen hedges with a softer look, because the arborvitaes and all that holly was really becoming oppressive in the grand scheme of things.  At the holidays, though, you can't get a better look for a traditional Christmas decor.  The corkscrews are Carolina Sapphire (Arizona cypress), which gives a great blue contrast to the dark green of the arborvitaes.  Further forward, the mondo grass is evergreen for us (but an absolute bear to maintain year round).  And before you ask, the boxwood gift boxes are artificial boxwood......sorry..... 
Here's a closer shot of the corkscrews, which also shows the hellebores at the base.  We regularly dig hellebores out of the garden in late fall to use in winter containers that are protected from really harsh wind.  In the early spring, they go back into the garden.  Lots of people have told me that they can't be moved, but I would respectfully disagree.  They are "tough as nails" plants in my mind. 
Pinus flexilis "Vanderwolf's Pyramid" lived in a container for two full years (in full sun) before going into the landscape.  Here we used it with Pieris "Cavatine", pansies, prostrate rosemary and ivies. 
As always, click on the photos if you want to enlarge them, and don't hesitate to ask if you have questions about specific things.  I'm happy to share whatever I can.

Friday, January 13, 2012

"Anyone can have a garden that looks good in May......

“……..but it takes skill to have one that looks good in February.” 
That simple statement is one of the best things I’ve learned over the years. 
The service driveway at the Big House in winter

Perhaps the only good thing about snow is that it frosts the barren winter garden with a beautiful white blanket, covering up a multitude of sins.  Here in the South, once the herbaceous things die back, the gardening mistakes we’ve all made stand out like beacons in a field of brown.  That bad pruning job, the spot of paint peeling off the fencepost,  the crack in the pavers in that one particular area, all scream for the gardeners attention.

In both of “my” gardens (the Big House where I work, and where there is a substantial budget, and the Stepchild Garden, where I live, and where there is definitely NOT a substantial budget), I find this is the perfect time of year to get out and really explore the property.  It is also the perfect time to come up with my list of tasks for the coming months, whether that is Shovel Pruning some things at work that have outlived their usefulness and attractiveness, or planting that hedgerow at home that I’ve been meaning to plant for the past few years. 

As I get older, I’m much less sentimental about things in my garden that I don’t like;  if a particular plant is no longer bringing me pleasure, it is time for it to find a new home (one can always find another garden looking to adopt).  Since the Stepchild Garden is less than one-half acre, I don’t keep things that I don’t love.  As I write this I am reminded of the outrage created by Christopher Lloyd at Great Dixter when he had the audacity to remove his roses and replace them with tropicals.
Much like winter cleaning in the house, this is a great time of year to really look closely at some of the art in the garden for needed repair, repainting, or perhaps even removal.  As someone who works primarily with container plantings, I am always surprised with just how crazy people will get at the notion of moving a container in their gardens.     Maybe 2012 is the year for you to really “go wild” and rearrange a container or two in your garden.

Please consider this a personal invitation to take a walk alone through your garden and really look at it with a critical eye.  If you have a close gardening friend who isn’t afraid to be honest with you, ask his opinion of your garden, as well.  Remember that the real point of one’s garden is to bring pleasure; if your garden doesn’t bring your pleasure, make this the year to take action…..whether that’s with a shovel, an axe, or a martini in the perfect seating area you’ve created for yourself.   

Monday, January 9, 2012

Some Favorite Photos from the Past Couple of Seasons

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was reorganizing some photos from the past couple of seasons, and here are a few favorites.  As always, click on them to enlarge.

This first is one of a pair of containers I purchased last year.  They are concrete and new, but I love the finish on them.  They are made to resemble rusting cast iron containers, and I really like the sense of age they bring to what is a relatively young garden (12 years old).  I don't even know the cultivar on the pansies.  I purchased the containers in late winter, and these pansies were what was available at Lowe's in a large-enough quanity to fill the two containers.  I particularly like the contrast against the Spanish bluebells, which have naturalized in the bed on the upper level (these containers are on a ledge at the top of a small staircase).
The gazebo at the pool is mostly shade throughout the day, so it's the perfect place to put some of the houseplants for the summer months.  We have these four containers on wheels, so they can be moved a few times during the course of the season to grow more evenly.  This colocasia (elephant ear) is called "Elena," and is an awesome chartreuse that lights up every container combination. 
The gate into the walled garden cuts through the center of the (mostly) white border. This is early spring, with variegated boxwood and violas in the urns, and white peonies just about to open.  The sago palms on the pillars stay outside except in the coldest weather, as do the potted ivy topiaries.  (I only know the date because we flip the containers to summer flowers April 15, which is generally the last frost in metro-Atlanta.)

 The fig in August is literally dripping with nectar; we manage to pick whatever the birds and squirrels don't beat us to!

The front entrance explodes in July, and these Hydrangeas will stay until we cut the blooms off in October.  We replaced a clipped holly hedge with the Limelight Hydrangea a couple of years ago, and cut it back to about 2 feet every spring to control its summer height.  In the containers on the porch is Colocasia "Elena" again.

(Please feel free to borrow any ideas you'd like, but please don't "borrow" my photos and claim them as your own!  Thanks!)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Winter Chores

One of the best things about winter in Atlanta is that it is generally mild, and the cold snaps tend to be short lived.  Earlier in the week we had overnight temperatures down into the twenties, and we didn't warm out of the thirties for a couple of days.  Now that the sun has returned, the plants (and our old gardener bones) were loving today's 60 degree temperatures!
"Mr and Mrs" were away last week with their children, so we had the perfect opportunity to disassemble lots of the holiday decorations in and around the main house, and it was also the perfect time to do a good cleaning of the glass house.   We started in the potting shed getting rid of things that had outlived their lives or simply hadn't been used in the past couple of years; in the glasshouse proper, it was time to do some hard pruning on some of the tropicals and start shaping them for their spring re-emergence at the pool and elsewhere in the garden.  (The red hibiscus doesn't seem to realize it's winter, though, and continues to bloom its little heart out!)
The glass house still looks somewhat empty, though this is the time of year when it's a favorite reading spot for "Mrs" when we leave at the end of the day.  (It is positively glorious in a snowstorm!)  The first of the seeds are starting to sprout;  this one I like mostly for the story it brings.  A parrot seems to have dropped it at a friend's garden in Coral Gables last year, and the seeds were collected and brought back when I was there in November.  I think it's an iris or something similar, but we'll see soon! 
Outside, we've been topdressing the vegetable beds, giving the earthworms a couple of months to work their magic before we start planting summer crops.  The winter brassicas and such are continuing to provide kale, chards, and other greens.  We pull the snapdragons from the patio containers for the coldest part of the winter when they aren't blooming.  After a brief respite here, they'll bud out again and go back to the area around the house. 
Carmen, the weeding machine, preps everything prior to the topdressing, and also takes great delight in clipping the Creeping Fig that grows on the garden wall.  She is also the one who does such perfect squirrel-proof packaging for the potted tulips that will go up nearer the house when they start to sprout. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Camellia Follow Up

I got several comments about the camellia photo in the last set, and a few emails, as well, so here are my comments/responses to all (I think.)

I have to say I don't know the particular cultivar for the white camellia in the photo.  It predates me in the garden at "The Big House," but I would venture to say is fairly common, since there is a huge swath of them (perhaps 50 shrubs).  This particular bloom is in complete shade, at the base of a yoshino cherry.  What I find interesting with this particular camellia is that it does so well under the cherries.  Because the cherries are "Mr Big House's" favorite tree in the garden (and they put on an incredible show in early spring), we tend to add a little extra lime to our naturally acidic soil.  The conflict exists in that the camellias really prefer an acidic soil, so in this particular area they don't always do so well.  I will try to dig around at the base of these plants and see if I can locate an old tag from when they were planted, but it's 26 degrees at the moment in north-metro Atlanta, so that isn't probably going to happen in the next day or so!

A bright white camellia that I personally love is Nuccio's Gem.  It is as pure white as a gardenia, and is incredible against its dark green glossy foliage.  We have it growing on a north-facing wall, but it is up against the brick wall of the house, so it tends to stay a little warmer.  (Do a search of "Nuccio's Gem" on this blog for a photo of it blooming last year).

For those readers who live in the northern part of the US, I can't honestly offer advice about which are the cold-hardiest.  I would defer to Michael, who pointed out in a comment to the last post that the New York Botanical Garden has several that tolerate NY winters.  I never grew them prior to my move south.  I will say that I have a hedge of "Winter's Star" at the Big House that is very cold hardy (down to about 20 degrees, at least), and "Winter's Snowman" in the Stepchild Garden.  Both are hybrids that are also growing in full sun, so they are definitely heat and humidity tolerant, as well!

Lastly, if you are new to camellia-growing, it's important to point out that they are like hydrangeas, in that there are several different forms with completely different growing patterns, likes and dislikes.  Do some research before choosing one, since there are literally dozens if not hundreds.  My personal opinion is that if you are looking for a classic elegant Camellia with the dark glossy leaves and big blooms, you're probably looking for C. japonica.  That being said, I will tell you that I have japonicas, Sasanquas and hybrids in the Stepchild garden, and love them all for different reasons.  Again like hydrangeas, planting the different varieties give a much longer bloom season.

And for those who have "zone envy" for the South, just know that I would kill to have my parents' 100-foot-long hedge of lilacs that grow like weeds in their New Hampshire garden.  And don't even get me started about yew hedges......

Monday, January 2, 2012

And The Cycle Starts Anew

The forecast is for Atlanta to get a couple of days of crazy cold weather, so I was at the Big House this morning making sure containers are wet and things that are borderline hardy were pulled into the glass house for the next couple of days.  While I was there, some of the very early blooming plants caught my eye.  These are some of the colorful things that make January in the south so much more bearable that winter in the north.  (Fortunately I am one of the few who delight in the summer heat, as well!)

Prunus mume "Peggy Clark" (flowering apricot) is one of the first trees to bloom in winter, and the blossoms are just incredible!  This particular cultivar has a dark rose flower before it leafs out in the early spring.
A closer shot of the blooms, which look like miniature roses against the winter sky.

Rhodea japonica (Nippon Lily) is really nothing special in summer, but the color just pops in the winter! 
A perfect white camellia blossom was wedged up against the base of  a tree in the shadows. 
Hellebores are rather promiscuous plants, so one never knows what the blooms will look like.  This shade is just beautiful peeking out from under the now-bare hydrangeas! 
Even the naturalized daffodils at the creek are braving the cold, seeming to say, "Bring it on, Mother Nature!  We're ready!" 
As always, click on the photos to make them larger, if you'd like.  I hope you're somewhere warm for these next couple of days.