Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ivy Green, the birthplace of Helen Keller

Helen Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama at Ivy Green, her family home. It is within 6 miles of my house and I'm embarrassed to say that, until two weeks ago, I had only been there once and that was on a class trip when I was very young. I'm writing an article for Alabama Gardener about gardening restoration at Ivy Green and I've been engrossed in a biography on her. I've heard of Helen Keller my entire life but I never realized just how famous she was. She was especially popular overseas, where admirers mobbed her like they do rock stars.

She was a fascinating woman and her achievements are quite remarkable. Try as I may, I just cannot fathom living in a world of darkness and silence. I also find the whole concept of sign language and reading lips (Helen did it by placing her fingers on a person's mouth) quite fascinating but totally perplexing. I still don't understand how Annie Sullivan could transcribe lectures by spelling it all with sign language. How did she keep up? It just baffles me!

Helen Keller was born a normal child but an illness (probably scarlet fever or meningitis) at the age of nineteen months left her totally deaf and blind. She grew up as a wild child, totally unmanageable by her bewildered and helpless parents. An article in a magazine led Helen's mother to contact the Perkins Institute for the Blind for assistance. They sent Annie Sullivan, a young woman who had just recently graduated and was partially blind herself, to Tuscumbia to teach Helen sign language. With Sullivan's skills, Helen's remarkable transformation from an unruly child into a poised and intelligent woman made both of them world famous.

Helen Keller's birthplace, Ivy Green, so-called because the house and trees were clothed in blankets of ivy, is a tiny white clapboard house with an adjoining cottage and a few outbuildings. The surrounding 600+ acres were lush and filled with trees, shrubs and gardens that Helen's mother lovingly tended. Her mother adored roses and it was said that hers rivaled any you would find outside a glass house. She grew them on arches and all around the house.

An old family photo (taken after Helen was an adult) gives you a sense of what the property looked like.

Helen was actually born in this tiny cottage which sits about 30 yards from the main house.

Nature was very important to Helen Keller - she grew up playing in the garden and the woods around her home - she learned the scents of plants and the way they felt - later Annie Sullivan would teach her the names of them. Flowers and plants would continue to be a source of intense pleasure throughout her life.

One of her favorite places to play at Ivy Green was inside this boxwood circle. Recently, the volunteers have added a bench and planted 'Annabelle' hydrangeas.

In 1954, when Ivy Green was donated to the National Registry of Historic Places, most of the garden had vanished. Massive mature magnolias, boxwoods and other trees still dotted the landscape but the roses and other shrubs and flowers were gone. The city of Tuscumbia took care of the grounds and this mainly consisted of mowing the grass.

Thanks to the Shoals Master Gardeners, the Shoals Beautification Alliance, Men's Garden Club and various other local organizations, efforts are now underway to renovate the gardens. It is not a historically accurate recreation but rather creating areas with plants that Helen wrote about in her works and plants that are tactile and fragrant.

The fountain area has been recently renovated. Ragged nandinas around this bust of Helen Keller were replaced with colorful petunias.

A small Japanese garden has been added. Helen Keller made several trips to Japan. The concrete lantern is a gift from that country.

The famous pump where the "miracle" occurred - Annie Sullivan taught Helen her first word - "water"

More plans are in the works. An herb garden, a butterfly garden and a rose garden (I may be helping with that) are just some of the enhancements that are coming to Ivy Green. For more information about Helen Keller and Ivy Green, visit their website.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Blackberry Lily

Blackberry Lily (Belamcanda chinensis)
(aka Leopard Flower)

Hardy to Zone 4
Bloom Time - June through August
Color - Orange or yellow with red/brown spots
Foliage - Narrow sword like blades (similar to iris)
Size - 1-3 ft.
Exposure - Full sun or partial shade

Culture - This short-lived perennial has dried seed capsules that split to reveal clusters of black seeds which resemble blackberries. The plant is actually a member of the iris family. It grows wild along roadsides and in rocky woods. In the garden, the vivid orange blooms look good next to delicate foliage plants like Russian sage, baby's breath or yarrow. It grows well in average soil and full sun or partial shade. The vibrant color of the blooms will be prolonged if given afternoon shade. You can expect the plant to self sow or collect the seeds and distribute them in the fall. Native to China and Japan where the dried rhizomes are used medicinally.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Raindrops on roses...

Hallelujah, we finally got some rain! Not a lot, I'm guessing around 3/4 inch, but anything is welcome at this point. We also got a brief sprinkle this afternoon.

This is the shrub rose Gruss An Aachen. Considered to be the first floribunda rose, it is a low growing (under 3 feet) upright shrub which is covered with plump, pale pink flowers that fade to creamy white with age. The name means "greetings to Aachen" which was the city where Emperor Charlemagne made his home and also the hometown of the rose breeder.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A touch of the whimsical

This month's topic at Gardening Gone Wild is whimsey and I have to say, I almost skipped it because I don't feel that there is a great deal of whimsey in our garden. I've been running across things though and I would think, "That might be considered whimsical" and decided to join in. Some of these objects probably don't fit the category at all but I threw them in for good measure. For a better look at things whimsical, check out some of the links on the GGW blog.

First of all, I'm a huge fan of statuary, plaques, ornaments, birdfeeders, wind chimes, you name it. A few years ago, during a trip to Mentone, Alabama, we found a wonderful little shop that sold unique handmade items. This wind chime is made with forks and spoons - perfect for the vegetable garden, no?


They also had these cute little things made from broom handles


I did a presentation on hydrangeas for the Master Gardener's a few years ago and this is what they gave me. I believe this was made by an Alabama artist.


Our garage wall is adorned with plaques from our various trips and vacations.


More bric a brac on the garden wall


The chandelier that I discussed in an earlier post


On a similar note


Wind chimes again. A good thing to know - Target carries Smith and Hawken merchandise!


Cute little bunny hiding in the ivy


I love faces!


I have an affinity for Pan and the mythological story


Plus he's such a sexy dude



You better believe it!

It's getting hot in here...

And it is only lunch time!

Monday, July 14, 2008

July Bloom Day


Many thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens who invites gardening bloggers to post photos of what's blooming in their gardens on the 15th of each month.

As I strolled out to my parched garden this evening, which is taking a Herculian effort to keep it watered nowadays, I was surprised at the number of blooms I found. Not a lot mind you, but anything that can bloom in this hothouse is worth mentioning.

The lily at the top of the page is "Star Gazer." I don't know the name of this one -


A Pee Gee hydrangea -

A red salvia
Phlox and shasta daisies (the background foliage is Harry Lauder's Walking Stick and Banana 'Musa Basjoo')

Lantana 'Pink Caprice'

Lantana 'Miss Huff' snubs her nose at those who say that pink and orange don't mix!

Purple petunias

A container with coleus and creeping wire vine (Muehlenbeckia axillaris).

The late evening sun illuminates Miscanthus sinensus 'Adagio'

The orange berries of Italian Arum

Euphorbia corollata

Not quite ready for Bloom Day, but close, Crinum Lily

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A bloom worth waiting for?

This is hydrangea 'Ayesha' which finally decided to bloom for me. I've only been waiting about 4 years! I've always wanted this hydrangea because it looks so unique and different from other mophead hydrangeas. The clusters of flowers are densely packed with sepals that are spoon-shaped. It is also described as being fragrant, but I haven't detected a strong scent. I first had this hydrangea planted in the secret garden area and decided to move it because it would not bloom. I transplanted it last year, again with no blooms but this year she seems to be coming out of her shy spell. Not prolific yet, this is only the second bloom but isn't it gorgeous?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A road trip and a new plant

Michael and I did something this past weekend that we haven't done in a long time - we took a road trip. We decided to drive up to Memphis to visit our friend JoAnn with an alternative agenda which was to stop at a huge concrete statuary place along the way. Well, it figures that the statuary place was closed. We drove on to Memphis and had a good time. JoAnn took us to some places that we don't have in Florence, like the Davis Kidd bookstore, the Whole Foods grocery store and some really cool (and expensive) gardening shops. I had spied a nursery before we got to her house on Poplar St. called Trip's so we headed back there.

As I was surveying the rows and rows of plants, I came across a pomegranate and knew that it would be coming home with us. For some reason, pomegranates have been popular here lately. People had been asking me if I'd seen that gorgeous orange shrub blooming here and there and when I tracked down what they were describing, it was the pomegranate. I'm sure they are not hardy plants and I suppose our recent string of mild winters have really let them do their thing. I had seen some at a local nursery but when I decided I wanted one, they had already sold out.

I have really become enamored with orange plants this year and I don't know why. I'm working on an orange and blue themed garden on the north side of the house (so far the results have been nothing to write home about). The pomegranate will get very large, assuming that it makes it through the winter, and requires sun so I'm planning on putting it in the southern most border that gets the most sun. I can't decide now if I should go ahead and plant it in these 90+ temperatures or hold off until fall. If anyone grows it, send me your suggestions.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Fireworks in the garden

We are back in drought mode here in north Alabama so it is back to lugging the hoses around. Yesterday was a super nice day with low humidity, a pleasant breeze, lots of clouds and temperatures in the 80s. Unfortunately, I was stuck at work. Why is it that all the nice days come on work days? Anyway, I took some photos in the evening. Here is what is blooming right now -



Lily 'Muscadet' in a pot - the fragrance is incredible








Hosta 'Gold Standard'


The common orange daylily

Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan)


Plume Poppy


Creeping Jenny with another trailing plant that has become one of my favorites and I totally can't remember what it is called