Monday, November 30, 2009

The Stumpery

For two years I’ve been waffling about what to do with the last corner of my own garden that hasn’t been attended to. Like the plumber with leaky pipes and the cobbler whose children have no shoes, I spend my days making good decisions about the gardens of others, but simply cannot commit to a plan for this particular wasteland that I own.

The area in question is tiny, perhaps 75 feet long and about 25 feet wide. It is a gully that runs under a cluster of pines and sweetgums, and was filled until a few months ago with ivy and wild raspberries. During the process of cleaning out the scrub, I’ve had a few different ideas, one of which was simply filling the gully and planting a few understory trees. It has become a really convenient spot to throw the miscellaneous pieces of a couple of trees we’ve cut down, big branches that have been pruned, etc. Since we’ve lived here there has never been a sign of this being an active water route or anything like that…..until the rains of this past season! Now I’m clear that I can’t fill this gully in any serious way that’s going to affect the passage of water across my property and into the creek down the street. The obvious solution? A “STUMPERY!”

I first read about the Stumpery at Highgrove (Prince Charles’ estate in Cornwall) in 2007, and it seemed appropriately eccentric for my tastes. I allowed myself to be talked out of the idea and into the plan to fill the space. When I recently read that Prince Phillip (Charles’ father) asked, “When are you going to take a match to this pile?” I realized that the stumpery was just perfect for me…..that is exactly what Frank asks with some regularity when I start a new project!

In any case, I have officially committed to this area being my new stumpery, a collection based upon tree stumps that provide shelter for birds, chipmunks, snakes, and whatever else may choose to utilize the space (It’s far enough away from the house that I’m ok with that idea). It will also provide haven for shade loving ferns, perhaps a few hostas, trilliums, hellebores, and the like.
I’ll keep you posted about progress, but for the time being, I’m delighted to have finally made the decision to move forward!

This, incidentally, is a great book! I purchased it two years ago fully expecting it to be just a great coffee table decoration, but it is filled with very practical information. I think it was well worth the somewhat expensive price tag!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Renovations at the Big House

As I've mentioned before, the owners of the "big house garden" are really a pleasure to work for; I'm clear it's their home and garden, but we've developed a good rapport over the past few years, and they are usually receptive to suggestions for improvements to the garden.

Like many properties that were originally landscaped by the builder/architect, there are certain plants that were used to death (can you say "azalea" and "daylily"?), and many that were installed simply because they were available in large quantity at the time. The garden is obviously very beautiful, but there are few named cultivars, and lots of places where I'd like to see plants that are more "special." We are also finding that ten years later, there are certain plants that simply aren't appropriate anymore, such as the overgrown arborvitaes used as foundation plants.

Mr. & Mrs. gave the green light recently to making some needed improvements, and it is proving to be a lot of work, but also a lot of fun! The overall plan is to soften the house and garden, give it a sense of age, and also make it more reflective of their personalities.

A couple of weeks ago, we had Danny come in and cut down TEN arborvitaes that had been used as foundation plants. I happen to love arborvitae, but sadly they had planted in such a way that they were now dead on one side, tied to the house in a couple of cases, and growing up and over the gutters. I was nervous, since they were such a key part of the landscape design, but when they were removed, it was as if the sun came out from behind a cloud! The top photo shows how large they had gotten....this one arborvitae was covering TWO dining room windows!

In some places, we've been removing plants whose living conditions have changed. Ten years ago there were dozens of shrub roses installed, since the large trees were still fairly small. Over the years, we've reached the point at which the roses are largely shaded, and were blooming poorly, if at all. The middle photo used to be shrub roses; it's now "Setsusekka" Camellias (which will form a hedge to block the neighbor's driveway), fronted by "Pinky Winky" paniculata hydrangeas. They in turn are fronted by Ryan's Pink perennial chrysanthemum, and "By George," a daffodil that blooms in a coral pink and white.

In the bottom shot, we replaced another bank of shrub roses (this time red), with "Tardiva" hydrangea that we'll cut back every spring to control the size. These are underplanted with "Joan Senior" daylily (ivory), pale yellow and white Dutch hyacinth, and crocuses. I can't wait for spring!

A Grand Thanksgiving Morning

I don't have to cook this year, and it's 60 degrees and sunny outside, so it has been the perfect morning to alternate between getting some shrubs planted and watching the Macy's parade.

As always, the end-of-season plant sales released this buying monster in me, and I had managed to accumulate way too many shrubs that are being planted along the back property line (AKA the jungle) in the stepchild garden. It's been a property line for at least a hundred years (it was the border between two farms until the mid 1980's), so I have a fairly good barrier of old fashioned generic trees (hickories and such) there. Since they're all deciduous, though, my house becomes a bit of a fishbowl in winter, and I've wanted to add some more interest in that area.

I'm happy to see it's not even 1 o'clock, and I've gotten planted all of the shrubs that have been perched in pots around the garden for a few weeks -- 7 Parneyii Cotoneasters, 2 Camellia japonica "Gunsmoke" for some January color, a "Gold Finch" deciduous holly for the birds, a "Southern Gentleman" holly for the "Gold Finch," and a "Wolf Eyes" dogwood, because I want Phillip's garden. Since they are all at least 5 gallon plants, the effect is really pretty good.

The "Saratoga" gingko has dropped its leaves for another season, and it looks like it's going to spend another winter in a pot. I bought it with absolutely no place to plant it two years ago, and it just keeps getting bumped into larger containers. One day I'll learn.....

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Some Late Season Bloomers

It may seem like a warm autumn to us, but the koi are definitely aware of the seasonal temperature changes. They have made it clear that they're not coming off the bottom off the pond until April!

Echinachea "Matthew Saul" just decide to start blooming at Halloween....go figure! Brenthurst Pink, a perennial salvia, seems to love this cooler weather!

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Few Cool Weather Containers

In the walled garden, we tend to plant edibles in the few containers that are there. Here is a Hick's Yew that will go into the landscape in spring, surrounded by spinach for picking during the next couple of months. At the pool, "Spring Bouquet" Viburnum, surrounded by "Miracle" heuchera, "Liberty Bronze" snapdragons, variegated ivy, and "Delta True Yellow" pansies
Across the pool, we've repeated some of the same fillers around the cryptomeria, and added "Bull's Blood" beets. The tree will be part of a new perimeter border in the spring, and the ivy stays in these pots indefinitely.
Next to the garage, here is the same cryptomeria (part of the same border ultimately), with "Whipcord" arborvitae and variegated aucuba. The "Whipcord" seems to like life in a container far better than in the ground, so it just gets moved from pot to pot over the course of the year. It's also better seen in an elevated position, since it just catches all the falling leaves when planted in a bed!
Like lots of people, we have a tremendous number of Leyland Cypresses that were planted at the edge of the property ten years ago, and they're slowly starting to fail. They're such a beautiful plant when used correctly, and it kills me to see how they're always jammed into the "builder's special" privacy row! It's never a case of IF they will fail, it's just a question of WHEN they'll fail. We're going to use some of these cryptomerias to start replacing the ones which fail in one area, eventually replacing the privacy screen with an assortment of evergreens, rather than the great wall of leylands.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fall's Last Hoorah?

We woke up to rain and pretty strong breezes this morning, so it's probably the end of this year's color show. I really like the autumn shades, but I'm ready for the leaves to stop dropping. Sadie the dog is up to her elbows every morning as we walk near the old sweetgum! Here are a few shots from yesterday.

This is the oak near the driveway at the Big House. The colors are almost surreal this year, with shades that appear blue in the sunlight.
This is the one month of the year that I think "burning bush" justifies the space it occupies in the garden.
The "Lion's Head" maple has been moved from the front porch to it's winter residence in the wooded area.

This last one is a Japanese maple whose name I don't know. It's one of the few that holds its burgundy color in the southern heat, so when it starts to go red, the shading is pretty fabulous.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Untucked Shirt Question

Someone asked me the other day why my "uniform" tends to be an oversized untucked shirt; since someone bothered to ask, I thought I'd respond.

First, since I'm fat, it's a shirt style that I like, even though it tends to make me look even fatter. Pretty consistently I buy lots of cotton oxford shirts, and wear them in the garden until they fall apart. Anyone who gardens knows they take incredible abuse, so once they are beyond bleaching and scrubbing, they become very effective rags. I have been known to shop for gardening shirts at thrift stores and Goodwill, much to Frank's horror! ("Are you really wearing that outside where people can see you?")

These shirts work beautifully (at least I think so!) with my LLBean slip on black shoes. At any given moment, I have three pairs of the same LLBean shoes. They are my "nice LLBean shoes," "my gardening LLBean shoes," and my "climb in the creek LLBean shoes." Once they have been used a time or two for climbing in the creek, they finally become trash, and I buy a new pair of the same shoes, which become the "nice" ones, and the cycle continues.......does that make sense?

The other factor with the shirts is the bug issue. A couple of years ago, I was walking from the greenhouse into the potting shed, and was wearing a TUCKED IN shirt. From somewhere above the doorframe, a giant "palmetto bug" (that's their nice name in the south) fell into the collar of my shirt. If you ever get a live palmetto bug stuck inside your tucked in shirt at 7 AM, you'll start letting the tails of your shirt hang when you're gardening, as well.....

Putting the Garden to Bed for the Winter

In a peculiar way, this is one of my favorite seasons in the garden, because things slow down and stop growing for a few weeks (or at least it seems so). Every year I feel a little guilty about liking this season of cleaning, but then I realize it's all just part of the cycle.

The top photo is one section of the perennial bed in early October, at is overwhelming autumn peak. The Helianthus angustifolia is tied to the wall, threatening to crush anyone who happens to walk by when it starts to topple. The asters, phlox, and zinnias are all crying out, "I'm not done blooming yet! Don't cut me back!"

The second photo is virtually the same spot five weeks later. We've reached a point of imminent (temporary) death for the blooms, and they've gone to bed for the winter. This is when I find I'm able to enjoy just how beautiful the garden at the Big House is. I suddenly develop a new appreciation for the beautiful hardscaping, which is just starting to develop some of that "softness" that comes as a garden ages. It seems that our days are filled with removal of spent blooms and foliage, hauling it off to the green waste site for composting. We are finally getting rid of the packaging involved with the winter annuals, and getting the opportunity to take brushes and hoses to things.

On one hand it's a little sad, but on the other, very refreshing! Go outside today and enjoy what's left of autumn!

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Beautiful Day to Be in the Cemetery!

Saturday was "the big planting day"at Oakland Cemetery, and the weather couldn't have been more perfect for it! It's been much warmer than normal this month in Atlanta, so it ended up being sunny and in the low 70's. In the morning there were about 100 volunteers from different groups around the city, and then in the afternoon there were another 100 who came from Emory University to assist.

We got tons done, and the eclectic mix of people to garden with was great! All of the fastidious pre-med students have much more patience with extracting little weeds than I, so by the end of the day things looked pretty awesome.
Each time I visit Oakland, I discover something new. I had never noticed the bronze plaque on the fountain shown above. On Saturday, I saw that it came from the JL Mott Iron Works in the early 1900's, which is sorta cool, since my family was one of the principals in that company around the turn of the century.....interestingly, none of the old relatives can tell me where the family money went!

I can't take credit for these photos, they are from my friend, Sara. Check out those gingko leaves!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Chuck's Latest Purchases

I learned a long time ago not to mention any idea to Chuck unless I was prepared to IMMEDIATELY move forward with it. Chuck is my friend from across the street, who also works with me regularly at the big house, and has built most of the wooden arbors, trellises, etc., around my house.

Chuck has been “tweaking” the landscape around his own house for a couple of years, and it’s coming together beautifully. The added benefit to me is that the view out my windows is constantly improving!

Chuck has more stamina than anyone I know, and I have become accustomed to “Hey, I just got a good deal….can you help me move a tree with your truck?” This inncocent request will then be followed by, “It’s only a 17-foot tall b&b Deodor Cedar……” which needs to be moved in the next twenty minutes, and installed NOW.

Exactly two days ago, I mentioned to Chuck that I have a big order coming in, and the company has a couple of things he might be interested in….most notably, 25 gallon Bald Cypress and a 25 gallon Natchez Crape Myrtle. This statement was followed by, “There’s no urgency, look at this list at your convenience. I can order whenever.”

I just looked out the window to see Chuck in the Wrangler, chain around the bases of his existing GIANT privet hedge, yanking them out of the ground to make room for the new babies….and all of this is happening in the dark! (We neighbors are accustomed to seeing Chuck outside with a chainsaw and spotlights at 11 PM). In Chuck’s usual energetic way, he’s ready to have this Bald Cypress and Crape Myrtle in the ground…….are you sure they can’t deliver NOW?????

I have great admiration for his energy levels……..I think I’ll take a nap……..

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Some Slightly Belated Photos

Here is a photo of the "pansy train," as we called it, before we had started to install the 6,120 pansies at the big house. Each of the crates holds a flat (18), which we were staging in different areas of the property by color.

The second photo is the combination used in some of the beds. It shows "Ultima Morpho," and "Delta Pure Yellow." We used equal parts of these two and Delta Pure Blue.

The last photo is a snapdragon we used for the first time this year. It's "Liberty Bronze," and I think the color is pretty amazing! We used it with the Delta "Apple Cider Mix" and "Premium Persian Medley." The house is a terra cotta stained brick, so color choices can sometimes be a challenge.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Some Updates from the Stepchild Garden

I seem to have gone from one extreme to posts for a couple of weeks, and now multiples in one day!

In any case, here are some updates from the stepchild garden at home. I'm on a mission to get some of the structural things done soon, so I can plant some more things prior to the tour in May.

Here are the trellis/tuteurs that came from Sean Conway's book Cultivating Life. We've never really an "entrance" to the back garden, so these guys are now marking the implied gate. I planted them with Jasmine "Madison," which should put on a great show in May.

The next photo is the ajuga bed, that's been planted with "Dixie Chip" ajuga. Once it fills in, it should form a pretty solid blanket. My friend Carolyn is assembling a creeping fig-covered topiary form of a teddy bear, and I think I'll use an actual pillow on the bed.

The last photo is a closeup of Ilex meserva "Blue Princess," which is a favorite of mine, though it doesn't seem to be used that much here in the south. I love the super bright berries against the almost black foliage!

The English Gardener and His Wife

One morning last summer, I was working in a flower bed near the street at the big house, but a hedge blocked my view of the road. The couple walking by couldn't see me working on the ground, but I could hear them commenting about how beautiful the grounds looked (which made me love these strangers instantly!). The woman is a regular walker with her friends, and I assumed this must be her husband.

For those of you who don't know me personally, I have a rather distinctive voice (which means I could never make an anonymous phone call), sort of a hybrid between northern New England, Charleston, and Atlanta. This is only important because the woman said to her husband, "That garden always looks so beautiful! Now they have an English gardener who is out here working all the time with his wife!" Needless to say, that comment would delight Frank (my partner), and Simon (Patti's husband). Since Patti and I spar like an old married couple on a daily basis (mostly to entertain ourselves), I loved this perception by the walkers.
As a result, we've decided on new work attire, so there is no confusion any more amongst the walkers in the neighborhood. What do you think?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Winter Containers

Obviously a major part of what I do at work is containers, both at the big house and in the penthouse garden. Since the penthouse is such a harsh environment to grow almost anything, the containers change very little during the winter. There are some tiny containers that come and go seasonally, but for the most part, the plantings up there are permanent.

In the garden at the big house, we just finished putting together the winter containers (there are 58 of them). Here are some photos, though most of the arrangements haven't "flushed out" yet. I'll post more photos in a few weeks, once they're looking a little more full.
The top container is part of a grouping of three. For the winter, the largest pot is anchored with a cryptomeria "Sekkan sugi", the middle one is a variegated acuba, and the smallest of the three is this arborvitae called "Whipcord." It's a favorite container conifer of mine, great for shade in the summer, but can take full sun in the winter.
The second photo is "Black Dragon" cryptomera, variegated boxwood, flowering kale, two different types of dusty miller, "Miracle" heuchera, and dianthus. The Black Dragon, heuchera, and dianthus will all go out into the landscape in the spring.
The bottom container is pretty simple this year; just the variegated boxwood with pansies (Delta "Apple Cider Mix"). These containers are right next to beds filled with more of the same pansies, so we try to pull that same color into the other container for continuity.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Glasshouse

In my opinion, one of the most beautiful features of the Big House garden is the greenhouse. It is only a few years old, but based upon some old designs. It is the centerpiece of the walled garden where we grow vegetables and flowers for cutting.

On a cold autumn day, it is a pretty fabulous place to be. On those rare occasions when we get snow (perhaps one or two mornings a year), it's UNBELIEVABLE! We've finished bringing in most of the things we're planning to overwinter, and it's coming together really nicely.
Some of the smaller things are in various stages of growth, and many will get circulated in and out of the house over the winter (amaryllis, begonias, etc.)

The tree fern in the top and bottom photos was an absolute bear to get from the pool area where it summers down to the greenhouse, but I think it really sets the stage for the winter!
The Alocasia that is on the side in a couple of shots is "Portadora," and we've had the bulb for three years now. This is actually one of the babies from the original bulb, and it's the first year that I'm just letting it continue to grow through the winter to see what happens. We did a concrete cast of one of the leaves recently, and it took 120 lbs of concrete!

An Evening with Allan Armitage

I had the opportunity to spend a few hours yesterday with Dr. Allan Armitage, as part of a small group from the Smith Gilbert Gardens Foundation. As I have mentioned in the past, we are incredibly lucky in Georgia to have Drs. Armitage and Michael Dirr associated with UGA. As a result, those of us in the gardening community in Georgia tend to have access to some cool information.

As always, I was impressed with just how approachable Dr. Armitage is, particularly in light of what a big deal he is in the horticulture world. There were about 12 of us, and we spent an hour strolling the grounds at the Smith Gilbert Gardens, and then another hour getting a sneak peek of some of his new favorites in the world of perennials.

I'll share more information later (my notes are outside in the truck, and it's way too cold to go outside this early), but for now, here are some tidbits from last night:

Dr. Armitage spoke about hydrangeas, and how strong the paniculatas are coming onto the scene. Some of the cultivars have been around for a long time, but some of the new ones like Pinky Winky and Limelight are really making a big splash. It's no secret that I am a bit of a hydrangea "junky," and have lots of them in the stepchild garden, but I can't argue with the statement that the macrophyllas can be finicky, particularly for new gardeners. In contrast, the paniculatas seem to grow most anywhere, loving sun, shade, or a mix of the two. They aren't the waterhogs that the big leafed relatives can be, either. I've had H. paniculata "Unique" for a couple of years, and it's just a workhorse in my own garden, and at the Big House, as well. Guess it's time to add in some others..... (That's Pinky Winky in the photo.)
Achilleas (Yarrow) are coming on again in a strong way. The newer cultivars like "Pomegranate" are better behaved than some of the older strains, and stay lower to the ground. Yarrow is another plant that I personally can't get enough of, even if it does tend to roam all over the garden when it's happy.

Lastly, one of the new perennials Dr. Armitage likes is a wallflower called "Jenny Brock." This is one of those flowers that doesn't get used often in the south, since it doesn't like heat, but according to the trials at UGA, "Jenny Brock" is perennial, and has flowered there from February until July! Wallflower is an old favorite of mine (as a transplanted New Englander), so this is one I'm going to start looking for today!

I'm starting my day at the greenwaste site, then planning to work in the stepchild garden today; I'm sure there are still plants living under the foot of fallen leaves......