Monday, March 30, 2009

Hurry Up and Wait!

This is the time of year when I am chomping at the bit to get stuff planted. Yesterday I must have paced around the greenhouse thirty or forty times, picking up a pot, putting it back, picking it up again, dying to get that plant outside in the fresh air. Fortunately my logical side took over and I left things right where they were, since we got frost last night.

I'm confident I'll do that little dance every day now, holding back every time I decide to plant something, reminded of the April 11 freeze of a couple of years ago when we lost all the hydrangea blooms for that year. Even though we're running warmer than usual this year, I'll be patient.....really I will...........or maybe I'll just put the new perennials out........

The Releasing of the Roses

Since the horse fans have "The Running of the Roses" every May in Louisville, it only seems appropriate that we have "The Releasing of the Roses" in metro Atlanta.

I never knew it was such a big deal until I went to Autumn Hill Nursery this afternoon to pick up the new roses for "Missus." It was like a mad house there, with all of these people picking up roses! I almost got into it with the chick from Sandy Springs who though she was going to switch the tag on my tree form Neptune with hers! (The neighbors won't be hearing from her any time soon.........)

For those of you who don't know Autumn Hill, it is a really awesome nursery in the Hickory Flat area of Cherokee County, where all of those other growers and nurseries are. Autumn Hill is where to go if you're looking for some more unusual things (Cliftonia, Carolina Silver Bell, unusual perennials, etc.), and a great collection of high end containers, fountains, and such.

Pictures will follow once the new Abraham Darby is in place next to the Graham Thomas!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

They're Not Invasive! They're Exuberant!

I was walking through my own garden this morning with a cup of coffee, just sort of roaming (as much as one can "roam" on a half acre). It was too wet to work in someone else's garden today, since the skies were opening every fifteen minutes. As I looked around, I realized that I have accumulated lots of those dreaded plants that every garden snob hates; I like to call them "exuberant," instead of invasive.

The Akebia is already half way up the poles of the pergola, and the scent was awesome. It's one of those things that garden snobs say, "You grow that???" To add insult to injury, I have porcelain vine (AKA crazy weed) growing up the other pole (that's it in the picture above). I have never found anything else with such beautiful berries.

I seem to now have six forsythia bushes growing in different spots. Is there anything as happy in the gray of winter? I planted two, and don't truly know where the others came from, but they aren't bothering anyone, certainly not me.

Then there is the Mahonia, with those awesome butter yellow blossoms in January, followed by the berries than look like hanging clumps of blue grapes until the birds get them. The Eleagnus ("Ugly Agnes") really needs a good haircut, since she's looking more like Medusa, with those gangly shoots that appear out of nowhere, and reach out to grab small children. (I haven't seen the little boy from next door recently......)

The huge clumps of Yellow Cannas (I would love to say they're a "cultivar," but they're just yellow) seem to swell more each year. Another plant that gets zero attention from me, and blooms its heart out in summer.

I tell people I'm going to thin out some of the yarrow this year, since the clumps now run together in various shades and colors, but I'm really can never have too much yarrow.

I was excited to see all of the new sprouts of Verbena Bonarensis, which I like to think of as "punctuation marks" around the perennial bed. This is a plant that everyone should have in their garden somewhere. Just buy one, since you'll have ten next year!

If Alice's Cleome and the Verbena B. ever cross-pollinate, I'll have no choice but to move!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Better Shot of the Pansy Container

Here's a better shot of the container. It's in the midst of a sweep of camellias and azaleas, so it's a sea of glossy dark green in the summer. Morning sun only, once the trees leaf out.

Anyone have a brilliant suggestion for summer color? Last year I used Kimberly Queen Fern, Pink Double Impatien, Caladium and Creeping Jenny. The bowl is fairly shallow, so it won't accommodate things with large rootballs. I'm using apricots, oranges, and blues this summer.

Maybe I'll come up with a prize if the ideas are really good!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Some Other Photos from the First Morning of Spring

Here are some photos we took early Friday morning. I'm sure we'll have at least one more cold snap before spring is officially here, but for now it's pretty glorious!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The First Day of Spring

Nothing to write this early in the morning, but I thought this picture was pretty fabulous! (Double click on the photo to enlarge it)

Look at the peony almost visibly stretching toward the early sun on a chilly morning! Have a glorious spring!

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Creeping Fig Photo

Chuck was working in the garden this morning with me, and I got him to snap a good shot of the infamous creeping fig. This is the fig I mentioned cleaning off with a stiff broom a couple of days ago. In this photo, you can probably see remnants of the dead leaves, with the beginning of the new growth starting to show through.

There's not a lot more growing in that particular bed (I just pulled the last of the winter stuff that was starting to bolt), but the blueberries are covered with blooms, and the thyme is looking pretty good for the first day of spring!

Celia Thaxter's Garden

I finally was able to make a reservation to see Celia Thaxter's garden!

For many years I've heard about this famous garden on Appledore Island, off the coast of Maine, but have never been able to arrange my schedule to accommodate a visit. It is a challenge to reach (in my case, a plane to a car to a boat), and is only open eight days a year for tours, on eight consecutive Thursdays in the summer.

I have a mild issue with seasickness on some of these boats, but even if I'm carrying a brown paper bag with me, I'm going to see this! The garden was recreated in 1977, based upon the exact plan and plants that Celia Thaxter put there in 1893.

This is one of those cases of following my passion. There is something oddly magical about this place for me, though I've never been there. On a recent trip to the Birmingham Museum of Art (in Alabama of all places), I fell in love with an oil painting, which turned out to be of this garden. I'm sure it's destiny!

I won't have any updates or photos until July, but they're coming!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Bit of Spring Cleaning

After a weekend of cold drizzly rain (which we desperately needed), it was a treat to be in the garden today in the warm sun. It got into the high 60's, and was the perfect day to do some "spring cleaning" in the vegetable garden and the big perennial beds. Can you believe we're only a month from planting summer annuals?

The blueberries are positively covered with blooms, which are pretty in the walled garden, since everything else there is either still dormant or just starting to grow for spring.

I managed to pull out some of the winter cabbages, which had started to bolt with this warm weather, and are developing that funky odor that occurs when they start their decline. Time to move the last of the "Antique Shades" pansies from the nursery area to the displays at the front of the house, since it still needs to look good for another month before the spring things arrive. They are the perfect color for the brick of the house, but a challenging cultivar that needs lots of babying.

Took the broom to the creeping fig that covers the wall in the garden; it starts to look pretty ratty at this time of year, so the broom makes quick work of brushing away the dead leaves, exposing the new growth; it was exciting to have to tiptoe through the spears of asparagus that have just started popping up in the past couple of days! One of the luxuries of being the gardener is standing in the garden, in the silence, in the sun, eating the first stalk of the season's asparagus......

I was raking away the last of the autumn leaves from the vegetable beds (we leave a light covering there for the winter), and discovered the tiny little shoots of sweetpeas around the base of the tuteurs....I can't wait to see them start racing up the slats in the next couple of weeks!

Across the gravel walkway, the peonies are showing their heads (one in a particularly hot spot is about six inches high already), so I got to put out their cages for another spring show. Peonies always make me smile, thinking of my grandmother calling them "Pee-OH-nies" with the New York accent that still came through, even 70 years after leaving her childhood home.

I finished my day giving a haircut to the "Sunny Yellow" Knockout Roses that arrived a few weeks ago, grooming them to go into containers at the pool in a few weeks. There is something magical about spring, when you can literally watch things grow right in front of your eyes!

Leave the dreaded leaf blowers and power mowers in the garage for just another week! Sit back and enjoy the simplicity of the spring garden.....and look for those first spears of asparagus!
PS....The sakurafubuki is getting closer!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Historic Oakland Cemetery

This weekend hasn't exactly been "gardening weather" in Atlanta (low 40's and raining on and off), but yesterday turned out to be a very interesting morning!

I had some Bridal Wreath Spireas that had seriously outgrown their home, and needed a new one. I've wanted to visit Oakland Cemetery for some time, but have never gotten there, so escorting the orphaned shrubs provided the perfect excuse. I'm sure that Sara, Chuck and I looked a little bedraggled in our mud-covered raincoats, but the Spireas are in and will hopefully love their new home!

Cemeteries are not usually my thing, but this is one of those Victorian park-like settings in which the graves are in and amongst huge collections of flowers, monuments and trees. It is a little like stepping onto the set of "Oliver Twist," particularly when outside the walls of the cemetery one sees the old factories and mills of the late 1800's (fortunately they've all been repurposed as condos, so the skyline stays the same). If you've been to Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Boston, it's a similar feel.

If you haven't visited Historic Oakland Cemetery, you need to! I would love to see it on a sunny day, but there was something very romantic in a turn-of-the-century way about being there in the cold drizzle.

I'm planning to be there the second Saturday of April to do some more volunteer gardening (with lots of others), so if that's your thing, come and join me!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


"Sakurafubuki" is the Japanese term for the blizzard of cherry blossoms that occurs every spring. If you know me personally, you'll understand that this is one of those bizarre sorts of things that I just HAVE to know!

Anyway, I was walking through the garden this afternoon as I was finishing for the day, amazed at the things that have visibly grown in the past few days. It's been very warm in Atlanta, and as my friend Carolyn said, "Everything is looking like a big Easter basket!" I was walking under the grove of Yoshino cherry trees that are behind the greenhouse, looked up, and was so excited to see blossoms on one of the branches. Not buds, mind you, but full blown blossoms!

It's not exactly the Sakurafubuki that will come in a few weeks, but it's definitely on its way! When it happens for a couple of weeks every spring, it reconfirms for me what magic there is in gardening!

I will definitely get a photo this year from under the trees (in the midst of the "blizzard"), but here's one from last year that shows just how awesome this sight is!

If you don't have Yoshino cherry in your garden, go out NOW and buy one.....or twelve!

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Battle of the Fragrances

It's been in the high 60's and mid 70's for the past several days, and as much as I know that we'll get zapped with at least one more good cold blast, I can't help but be in the garden as much as possible. Everything is budding, I'm popping Claritin, and I can finally see the warmth on the horizon.

Yesterday I was at the big house cutting back the Jurrasic Park-sized Fatsia japonica, and walked on a path that goes between the house and the garage. As a result of the warm weather, there are just dozens of white Dutch hyacinths blooming there. We planted them last fall in three rows in front of the gardenias which will bloom later; in fact I mixed the white (L'Innocence) with a butter yellow (City of Haarlem), but only the white are blooming so far. In any case, the fragrance is so awesome I kept making excuses to take that path again.

When I got home, I had to pass the Daphne Odora which is planted at the base of the front steps. It is my favorite miserable plant (I'm sure it will up and die any day now), but while it's in bloom, there is nothing better! The fresh, almost citrusy fragrance is such a welcome note in the early spring.

Once in the house I opened the kitchen window, and was met with the most wonderful fragrance from the Burkwood Viburnum that is planted outside that window. It's really nothing to look at, and I honestly planted it because it was inexpensive and would form a hedge between me and a neighbor's yard; the early spring fragrance is another one that is pretty amazing! This is one that you need to have in your garden, and keep it somewhere fairly close to the house where you can enjoy the fragrance before real gardening season starts.

Back out to the garden again, still working to clean up some of the mountain of leaves that have fallen over the winter.......and to see what else is blooming!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

White Bean & Fennel Soup

I made a soup for the Master Gardener Intern class today, which is a recipe I make with some regularity at home. Since I've gotten five email requests for the recipe today, I decided I would just list it here. It is vegetarian, freezes beautifully, and like most soups, gets better with a day of aging.
White Bean & Fennel Soup
2 lbs. dry Great Northern Beans
1/4 c. olive oil
2 heads fennel, cut in half and thinly sliced
2 large onions, chopped
1 T. chopped garlic
12 c. vegetable stock
3 lb. red skinned potatoes, cut in chunks
1 c. dry sherry
3 bay leaves
2 t. cayenne
Rinse the beans, picking out any that are discolored, leave to drain in a colander.
In a heavy soup pot, heat the oil, add the garlic, onion, fennel and spices, and saute until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the beans and vegetable stock, and bring to a boil. Turn off heat, cover, and leave for one hour.
Return to a boil, and simmer approx two hours until the beans are soft. The fennel will virtually "melt" into the soup during this process. Check every half hour or so during this process, and add water as needed to keep the beans covered. Add the potatoes and sherry and cook 20 minutes longer, until potatoes are cooked. Taste for seasoning, add salt and pepper as needed.
For all of you cooks who MUST change a recipe (you know who you are), at least try this as written first, then tweak it if you must. I'm sure this recipe could support other veggies, other spices, etc., but it's one of the few recipes that I actually make exactly as written every time, and it gets great reviews.

I Know It Isn't Spring Yet......

I know it isn't really spring yet, and we're going to get zapped with a few more good freezes before it's really here, but today was a pretty glorious day in the garden!

I got to work early and it was one of those chilly but not painfully cold mornings. It was the perfect morning to take a stroll with my Venti Americano, and see what was going on. I was walking around and realized this is the sort of weather when non-gardeners have no idea what we gardeners are seeing in the pinestraw. Those of us who have that trained eye, though, can see the first tip of green coming up from the base of the hydrangea we thought had perished in that last bad freeze. The daffodils are safely up now, and there are enough of them to see the different cultivars that have been added over the years, some pale and creamy, some screaming lemon yellow, some tiny little dwarfs. There is a good-sized patch of the little dwarf daffodils that are somewhat hidden by the azaleas that have grown up, and we've talked about moving them to a more visible place; this morning I decided, though, that "Mrs" is a walker, too, and I like the idea that when she's walking in this part of the garden, there's a little surprise there behind the shrubs that she won't see until she's right on top of them. If those tiny little daffodils make her smile, I've done my job well.

The tulips that were planted in the fall are poking their heads up ever so carefully, as if they know there will be more freezes. The hyacinths and muscari are also readily visible, as though reaching for the sun. My "neat freak" side thinks I should pull out some of the Dutch hyacinths that have grown a little scraggly over the years, but when it comes time to do it, I always reconsider.

The tiny little "Miss Kim" lilac is starting to show a little bit of leaf growth, and I realize that soon we'll see that lonely single flower that comes every year. Lilacs are definitely one of the things I miss about New England.

Later in the day we got some seeds started; it's hard to believe we're done with frost in just five weeks. Starting tomato seeds, some unusual zinnias, cannas and moon vines in the glass house was promise enough for me that spring is coming soon. And is there any more glorious feeling than the warm sun on the back of your neck as you start that first-of-the-season weeding?

Monday, March 2, 2009

If It Doesn't Bring Me Pleasure, It's Not Worth Doing (in the Garden, at least)

I spent Saturday at the Garden Symposium that is presented every year by the Georgia Perennial Plant Association, at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. More about that in posts to come.
(Doesn't "Garden Symposium" sound so very proper and fancy gardener-like?)

This year's theme was "Back to Our Roots: The Southern Garden Revisited," which is somewhat in keeping with a post here a while ago, talking about having a sense of "place" in one's garden. That was the overwhelming (underlying) theme at the Southeastern Flower Show this year; in a nutshell, stop trying to have a Maine garden in Atlanta, and stop trying to have a Texas garden in Minnesota!

All of this led me to come up with a list of things I spend my time doing in my garden that DO or DO NOT bring me pleasure. I'm committed to spending more time doing those things that bring me pleasure, and less time doing those things that do not.

For example:

1. I'm going to spend more time reading the Sunday newspaper and Martha Stewart Living with a cup of coffee outside in the garden, rather than indoors; that is the whole reason I used for buying the bright blue patio furniture that my neighbors hate; (I know Martha makes us all live in a fantasy world, but I want to BE Martha and live on that "farm" in NY!)

2. I'm going to spend more time exploring more parts of my little garden, rather than just the area I see when I travel from the front door to the truck;

3. I'm going to apologize less for areas that are messy and simply enjoy them as they are. I got over that phobia about the inside of my house a few years ago, so doing the same thing outside is huge progress for me!

4. I am going to stop stressing over the fact that I don't edge my lawn. I hate everything about the lawn, most of all the amount of maintenance it requires. Since it is mostly native "greens" rather than fescue or zoysia, edging seems rather pointless, anyway.

5. I'm getting rid of the fancy heucheras that don't grow of their own accord! As one of my friends said on Saturday, "I believe in tough love gardening. If it doesn't want to grow here, I don't have time to BEG it to grow here!"

6. I'm buying more hydrangeas, and don't care if they're overused! I LOVE hydrangeas (and those I'm willing to beg)!