Friday, October 24, 2008

Something we don't see very often!

I can't remember the last time I saw 100% chance of rain in our forecast!

The rain started late last night. We got an inch overnight and it is still raining. I'm sure our garden is thankful for this. I know I am!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fall planting

It took me a while to learn about the advantages of fall planting. Everybody plants in the spring, right? As consumers, especially in the mainstream outlets, like Lowes and Home Depot, fall gardening is touched upon briefly before their inventories are shoved aside to make way for Christmas decorations. The rush of excitement as spring approaches among winter weary gardeners is just not as powerful as the fall season when we are led to believe that our gardens are going into sleep mode.

In the South especially, fall planting (of shrubs, trees and perennials) can be very beneficial. The reasoning behind this is that their roots get a head start during the fall and winter months before active growth in the spring begins. As our growing season seems to be increasingly hotter and dryer, the plants don't have to work as much to gain a stronghold. Southern gardeners rarely have to deal with ground heaving and other problems that northern gardeners have so, as long as you can keep critters from digging them up, plants can be planted, mulched, watered and they are on their way.

I have found that plants purchased by mail order seem to have a better chance at survival when planted in the fall. This year I've placed a few orders and it is exciting to receive boxes of plants in the mail (or at least I think so).

The box pictured above arrived a few days ago from Lazy S Farm Nursery. I've ordered from this nursery in the past and I can't recommend them highly enough. They have an incredible selection of plants and they have lots of rare selections that are difficult to find. I ordered several epimediums from them this year. I'm working with a difficult area with dry shade and I've discovered that epimediums are very good in this situation. I also ordered some plants from them that they recommend for dry shade (like pachysandra procumbens).

Another great plant for dry shade are hellebores. This year I ordered the Sunshine Selection, hybridized by Barry Glick at Sunshine Farm and Gardens.

Sunlight Gardens, which I confuse with the previously mentioned nursery, is one in Andersonville, Tennessee that I've wanted to try for some time now. I finally placed an order with them this year and was impressed with the quality of their plants and their packaging. Among my finds there were the clematis "Durandii", baptisia "Purple Smoke" and ironweed, a stunning purple wildflower that I first saw in Randy and Jamie's garden.

I have a tendency to go overboard when ordering. I go to the website or catalog with one plant in mind and end up buying a lot more. But it is a lot of fun (until I check my bank account). So don't be afraid of fall planting. Prepare your planting sites in advance if possible and keep the plants well watered until the really cold temperatures set in. Rain is usually plentiful during the winter months and moisture tends to remain in the ground longer than the summer months. One more tip - it is advisable to mark your plants after they are in the ground so you won't dig them up accidentally next spring!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

October blooms

Bloom Day (started by Carol at May Dreams Gardens) is an invitation for garden bloggers to show what is blooming in their gardens on the 15th of each month. The fall color seems to be sadly lacking this year but maybe it is still just too early. We are still dry, dry, dry. I didn't get a chance to photograph all the blooms in my garden but here is what I have for this month...

The roses have a final fling in the fall. The first one is the colorful David Austin rose "Pat Austin"

"Gartendirektor Otto Linne" is a wonderful shrub rose

This little miniature came from our first garden, almost fifteen years ago. It is called "Rise-N-Shine"

This is a hybrid musk rose called "Prosperity"

You can always depend on coleus for a strong splash of color

The sasanqua camellias are just beginning to bloom. This one is "Hana Jiman"

I love Mexican Bush Sage

And what would fall be without chrysanthemums?

Friday, October 10, 2008

La Mortella

One of my dreams is to visit the great gardens in England, Italy and France but for now I will have to be an armchair traveler and see these beautiful places in the pages of books. I just finished a wonderful book about a garden that I was not previously familiar with. La Mortella, on a little island called Ischia in the Bay of Naples, is an amazing garden first begun in the 1950s by Susana Walton, the young wife of English composer Sir William Walton. I don't know a great deal about music and I'm embarrassed to say that I had never heard of Sir William either. He died in 1983 and Lady Walton still lives and gardens at La Mortella today. I recently saw a little article in one of my gardening magazines (Horticulture maybe?) with a profile of her and it mentioned her book, published in 2003, which is a chronicle of their creation.

Sir William Walton was smitten with the young Susana when he met her in her home town of Buenos Aires when he was there on a tour. He was 46 at the time and she was only 22. They were married shortly after that and lived briefly in England before moving to Ischia. Both of them disliked the cool gray climate of England and preferred a sunny, more tropical atmosphere. Sir Walton had fell in love with the Bay of Naples area twenty years prior to their marriage and wanted to settle there so he could write his musical compositions in a remote location where he could fully concentrate. An employee at a travel agency knew an Englishwoman who was renting an ex-convent on the island of Ischia. The Waltons jumped at the chance. The dwelling proved to be very uncomfortable and after six months, they rented another house where they would live for the next twelve years before buying their own property. They bought a hillside with a ravine that faced the setting sun which they called "La Mortella" ("the divine myrtle") after finding the name on an old map. Myrtle was growing wild all over their hillside, sprouting from rocks and crevices.

The Waltons hobnobbed with many famous friends who visited the island such as Maria Callas, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, Christopher Isherwood and W.H. Auden, but it was mostly a quiet existence. Sir Walton would spend months working on compositions and would only venture from his studio for meal breaks and brief walks. Suzanna devoted her time to the house and garden.

The story of the evolution of La Mortella is a fascinating one. Their land basically consisted of a sun-drenched and parched ravine full of boulders (their friend Laurence Olivier advised them against buying it saying that it was basically a stone quarry). Susana was adamant however and sought help from famed garden designer Russell Page. Page saw the potential for La Mortella and spent three days drawing out plans and dispensing advice. Susana clung to every word, writing down everything Page said, and would spent the next ten years developing the bones of the garden.

It was no easy task. It took workers seven years to build the terraces to the top of the hill. The garden had good soil but alas, very little water. It wasn't until the mid 1950s that the government brought drinking water to the island so during those first years, water had to purchased and delivered by truck. Cisterns were later installed to collect rainwater. The seedlings and small plants were being baked by the sun so straw roofing was installed to shade them during the first three years.

Russell Page made a second visit to La Mortella twelve years later and made a few revisions. He redesigned some of the slopes as well as a main fountain that would become a focal point. This also initiated a series of four fountains that would be added in future years.

Sir William Walton died in 1983 and his ashes were placed at the top of his favorite rock in the garden which is also at the highest point on the property with incredible views of the town and ocean.

Lady Walton continues to develop the garden adding rare plants from all over the world and erecting structures like the "Victoria House" for her collection of orchids. The garden is now a showcase of more than 800 plants from 4 continents with concentrations of palms, cycads, tree ferns, colcasias, water lilies and rare tropical plants. The garden is now open to the public but if, like me, you can't visit, by all means read Susana Walton's book. It is a fascinating story.

(A special thanks to Mellow D2B, mberry and for allowing me to use their Flickr photographs.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Pineapple Sage

One of my favorite fall plants is Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans). In late September and early October it puts on quite a show with it's ruby red tubular spikes. The hummingbirds, soon to depart, love it and I'm sure they appreciate this last minute nectar source as most other plants are fading away. The fragrance, released when you crush a leaf, is indeed just like crushed pineapple.

It needs sun to flower nicely and will form a nice 3'x 3' clump. It has an airy, open-branched habit and will need watering during dry spells. It will wilt when deprived of water but will quickly bounce back after watering.

I've grown Pineapple Sage just about every year that I've been gardening. I couldn't find it one year at any of the nurseries and I really missed it that fall. It is not reliably hardy in north Alabama and I only recall one year when it returned after a mild winter. If I were more frugal and had more patience, I would try to root pieces for next year. I've heard too that you can dig it up, pot it and keep it over the winter. Maybe I'll try that this year.

I've also not been very adventuresome in the kitchen with the leaves of pineapple sage. I have tried in tea (delicious!) but have not cooked with it. I came across this web page which has recipes.

The plant is native to Mexico and Guatemala. In Mexico, it has traditionally been used to treat anxiety. There have been no scientific studies to back this although preliminary reports find that it has been effective an an antidepressant in treating mice. Now my question is - how can you tell if a mouse is depressed?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Red Spider Lily

About a month ago, I was writing about Lycoris squamigera (better known as "Naked Ladies") and now her cousins, Lycoris radiata (also known as Red Spider Lily or Hurricane Lily) is sprinkling the neighborhoods with their bright red flowers. Grown from bulbs, red spider lilies seem to thrive on neglect and the prettiest ones are usually in the poorest soils. Do you have hard red clay? No problems! They thrive in it. The bulbs are hard to find in nurseries and most people get them from friends and trade lists. They multiply rapidly regardless of drought.

Like the Naked Ladies, these plants grow in the same manner, appearing out of nowhere in early fall and blooming with no foliage. The foliage appears after the bloom and grows throughout the winter. Shade is not a problem for these bulbs as long as they are planted under deciduous trees because they will get the winter sun to develop the nutrients for next fall's bloom.

Although they are usually seen sprinkled here and there in lawns, they made a statement when planted in masses. The big splashes of red are a sure sign that fall has arrived.