Lush Life


I know that Lush Life is a fabulous shop in Atlanta, Georgia-but it also describes my garden post the second rainiest spring on record since 1880.  Over 14 inches-that is an embarrassment of riches in rain. I can see the effect of that rain every place I look. The Princeton Gold maples have leaves the size of dessert plates; their chartreuse green spring color is all the more intense for all of the rain. 

The European ginger leaves are huge.  It has to be the most beautiful groundcover for shade ever. The glossy rounded leaves grow parallel to the ground plane.  Circle after circle of dark green shiny leaves growing densely just a few inches above the ground.  It is completely happy underneath my steel bench, even though the light must be very low.  I planted a pair of clematis at the rear right side of the bench early this spring.  The very pale lavender and white cultivar-I have forgotten the name.  But I will not soon forget the flower.  The dark purple “The President” will bloom later.  Should someone ask me what romance in the garden means, I would show them this picture.

The new growth on the boxwood is bent over with its lavish spring flush-it will be impossible to trim for at least 2 weeks.  My pollarded Palabin lilacs have roared back with lots of foliage, and a decent bloom.  They should be spectacular next year.  The snakeroots are already over 3 feet tall.  

My rhododendron are in their glory.  They came with the house 15 years ago-they have never looked this good.  The giant flowering trusses are spectacular.  I pruned them considerably last spring after they flowered.  I am pleased to report I have at least 2 breaks every place I pruned.  Night temperatures in the low 50’s, and daytime temps in the low seventies will extend the bloom time considerably. My magnolias and dogwoods flowers blew away with two days of 90 degree days and high winds.  I am hoping for a good many days with my rhodies. My yews are flushing so fast and so much they are chartreuse green to my eye.  This is a different look than the one to which I am accustomed.  That new growth phase on evergreens is so beautiful.  This spring greening is lush beyond all belief.

May I talk a little about my roses?  I do not have a big collection, just a concentrated collection.  Carefree Beauty, Carefree Wonder, Sally Holmes, Jeannie LeJoie, and Eden-these are my girls.  Two Carefree Griffith Buck shrub roses, one old English bred shrub rose/climber Sally Holmes, and two climbers.  The dwarf Jeannie LeJoie is a great foil for that heavy headed very girly climbing rose-Eden.  They are so loaded with buds right now I think I should be planning a party.

The foliage is lustrous and unmarked by fungus or bugs.  There is not an aphid in sight.  Every day after work Buck and I go up there to check on the progress.  The dwarf Jeannie LeJoie is always the first to show color.  I so highly recommend this rose, if you are partial to roses, but not necessarily a rosarian.  These climbers grow vigorously, and reward with thousands of little pink double flowers.

My Jeannies can be devastated by aphids and fungus, but never enough to challenge the life of the plants.  Truth be told, I never spray anything, except rabbit repellant.  The rabbits exasperate me-I am happy to shoo them off. Otherwise, I live with the holes in the leaves.  Fungus however can be debilitating to a collection of roses-I will intervene, should I think I need to.

But this moment all that is on my mind is the giant leg up all of the rain have bequeathed to my roses.  Every one of them is 5 feet tall or better.  Pam gave them a thorough and thoughtful pruning this spring.  Thousands of buds-this is what the rain provided. 

 This is the first flower from my climbing rose Eden.  They have so many petals their heads hang from the branches.  This bloom got set on the dinner table flating in a glass of water. I read the garden blog written by Paul Gervais regularly; his post on his roses, including the so fabulous Eden, is delightful.

Other plants have not so loved all of the rain.  The herniaria around the fountain looks pale green.  I have dead patches.  Too much rain.  At the shop, we moved all of the succulents into the greenhouse; I was fearful of rot. The alyssum has suffered much.  Many flats we simply threw away.   Too much rain ruined many of them; the high winds further burned them.  The high winds damaged a lot of plants.  The calla lilies have wind whipped leaves.  Some topiary plants were blown over multiple times; we were treating a good many broken arms a few days ago.   Cases of heliotrope were dessicated by the winds-those irreparably burned plants we threw in the trash.  The nicotiana are listing in a windward way in their pots.  I am not posting any pictures of that mess.

Every season has its lingering triumphs, and its shockingly stinging disappointments. Does this not sound similar your gardening life?  My professional gardening life is incredibly busy right now. I have barely posted this week; most all of my waking hours are about designing, getting plants delivered, and being out there, planting.  The saving grace of the rain?  When I go home, I see a garden growing vigorously-even though I am not there so much to help out.

A Couple Of Days Worth


My annual planting season is in full swing.  My cork board is filled with job cards-there is a lot of work to do.  I do the design work-but that part is a fairly small part of the process.  Finding and ordering plants is followed by an installation and cleanup.  We like to check back fairly soon after a planting to be sure everything is growing ok. 

 It is a well known fact that only one person at a time can drive a bus.  What goes into planning and planting a job is much like delivering a busload of people to a destination.  A lot of seats on the bus are occupied by growers of perennials, annuals, tropical plants, herbs, and vegetables.  I know them on a first name basis.  I only ask for special help when I really need it.  I try to order by the truckload. I have a lot of respect for people who grow plants for a living-it is not easy. 

Some seats on the bus are for the people who plant.  They get seats in first class.  The most outstanding design on the planet means nothing if the installation is not first class. They know to water plants before they load them on a hot day.  They will water again-any plant they bring back at the end of the day.  They plant expertly, and quickly.  They know which side of a plant should face forward.  They know how to plant a rootball crooked, so a plant stands up straight.  They know how to soak a planting through and through.

There are two seats on my bus for the people who supervise.  They see to it that everyone is focused on a common goal.  They make executive decisions on the spot when they are needed.  They organize and direct every move.  They all work together amazingly well-I can barely keep up, placing the plants.  There is one seat for a runner-he delivers forgotten plants and materials to to the job.  There is one seat on the bus for Monica.  Every project has a job sheet detailing the scope of the work, the plant material, the hardgoods, and the time spent.  She is really good at spotting what might be missing from a sheet.    

  There are several seats on the bus for me.  Three days a week I shop the markets-between 5:30 and 6 am.  I need to get in and out in a timely way,  I go when the traffic is sparse. I am likely to run into other people who garden professionally; a few minutes may be spent socially, or in a discussion of a particular client that we have in common.  Several other days a week I drive to this greenhouse or that one-to see what looks good.  Then there is a seat I call the order desk. Plant numbers must be calculated, plants ordered, and a delivery coordinated. I direct the crew pulling material for a job.  Sometimes I draw the planting scheme on a picture of a pot from a previous year.  Sometimes I place the plants personally.   

A truckload of plants provide a couple of days worth of material.  Some jobs take a day or better; other days we may do three projects.  In any event, I have a lot of projects swirling around in my head.  I know instinctively when I see a plant that would work for a project-or a plant around which a project can be organized.  Some plants I need I might have to pass on.  Maybe there are not enough available, or they are not the quality I had hoped for.  Selecting the plants is one job I cannot delegate. 

 Blue salvia has never particularly appealed to me; so much undistinguished foliage with not so many flowers.  The Cathedral series is an intriguing one- it comes in a dark purple, white, lavender, and blue sky.  The mix is really good looking, especially if you like subtle color.  I signed up for 24 cases. We’ll see what comes of that decision.  Tomorrow I will shop the market, and order another truckload that will get me through the weekend.  It’s the time to plant the annual flowers. 

75 degrees today, and sunny.  I’ll take it.

Sunday Opinion: The Novice Gardener

My beginnings as a gardener were so many years ago that I cannot really remember them.  But  I do remember that I was enchanted with the White Flower Farms catalogue, so charmingly written by one Amos Pettingill.  Its yearly arrival was a cause for celebration.  I would race through it, and then reread it all winter long.    The directions for cultivation of any given plant were extensive, concise, and very opinionated.  But what mattered the most to me was how their confident and friendly expertise created an aura of excitement and encouragement.  I absolutely believed they knew exactly from whence they spoke.  Like any other beginner, I was interested in formation, rules, parameters and lists.  Luckily they only offered “must grow” plants; I did not need to sort through the list for what seemed like it would work well for me.  Thank goodness for that, I was not far enough along to know what to look for, or when to be skeptical.  I believed they were helping to make me a better gardener.  In retrospect, that catalogue did encourage me, and help me to learn about gardening. 

   I do so remember the luscious photographs and prose accompaning their offerings of the Blackmore and Langdon delphiniums.  Ever more shockingly beautiful, the Blackmore and Langdon tuberous begonias.   Blackmore and Langdon plants come from England; they have had a relationship with White Flower Farms for many years.  WFF does not offer that series of delphinium any longer, but they still sell those shockingly beautiful Blackmore and Langdon tuberous begonias.  I could not afford them 30 years ago.  But I could look and learn. The last I looked, one tuber of the fragrant tuberous begonia John Smith was $125.00.    

What they charged for plants never bothered me.  It was always my option to say no.  What has stayed with me is how much I learned about plants, and more so,  how much I was encouraged to grow plants.  Mr. P was happy to explain how any plant got on his A list.  Plants that performed well made the list.  Rare and unusual plants made the list.  Perennials, shrubs, evergreens, roses, bulbs and tubers-their list was broad and eclectic.

One of my first gardens was a rock garden.  Why?  I had a slope piled with rocks.  Decisions then were easy; I had a lot of ground to cover.  What would like that dry sun drenched soil?  I went on to really become absorbed by those plants; I made it my business to learn more about them.  I planted everything with big empty spaces in between, and weeded like crazy.  I had an amazing patience for that garden, and for myself.  I killed lots of plants.  I had the energy to move things around until I found just the right spot.  The only design on my mind was to contrast the forms of neighboring plants, so I could clearly see how large my stand of encrusted saxifrage had gotten, or the shape of that river of Elfin thyme. 

I read lots of books-every one of which related to plant culture.  I read extensively about plants I really did not like that much.  I remember the first time my Paeonia tenuifolia bloomed, my friends rolled their eyes and yawned.  I barely noticed-I was transfixed by the foliage and flowers of that little peony.  Oh yes, I had read about it in the White Flower Farms catalogue.  I doubt I will ever grow it again, but I have vivid memories.  The plants I grow now are very much different than what I grew 30 years ago, of course.  One’s tastes and interest evolve.  One’s circumstances change.  I mostly work; I garden when I have a moment. 

Some interests return.  I am thinking of taking out a block of panic grass, and planting a perennial garden from scratch.  I have not had one for many years.  I am resigned to being a novitiate, all over again.  It is not that I cannot remember what I learned about the plants.  What matters is that I will be growing them again.  My question for the day-can one grow Dame’s Rocket’s in a perennial garden? The hesperis is blooming everywhere now-on the sides of the roads.  Are they not so beautiful?

As for the novice gardener-that would, in my opinion, apply to everyone who gardens.  Every day there is something new to learn, something old to grow in a new way, something new I have never seen.  I am perfectly happy, being still fairly new at this.

At A Glance: The Tulip Season