Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Visit to An Enchanted Garden

Have you ever visited some place for the first time and had an eerie feeling of deja vu?  The rational part of your brain tells you that you have never been here before, but everything looks so familiar, and deep within you, a mystical voice says, "I know this place." You feel a bit like Alice stepping through the looking-glass, but instead of confusion you feel a sense of wonderment and delight.

Such were the feelings I had back in May when I visited a very special garden that you might recognize, too.  When plans were being made last winter to attend the Asheville Fling, a flurry of emails went back and forth between traveling companions Lisa, Beckie, and me.

"Can we make some time to see the Biltmore Estate?" I asked, knowing that I might never again be this close to a site I've wanted to visit for a very long time.
 "Yes!" they all agreed.  "Let's add another day to our trip so we can see this."
"And while we're on the road to Asheville, wouldn't it be great if we could make a little detour to see a special private garden?"
"Yes, yes, I'd love it! I have always wanted to see this garden!" each quickly replied.

 And so I reached out tentatively to a fellow gardener, asking would it be possible to swing by for a short visit before or after the Fling.  We didn't want to be an imposition, knowing she would be packing up to attend the Fling herself and had many things on her plate that week, but just a teensy, brief peek at her garden would make our trip complete. 

You can imagine my excitement when a response to my email came quickly and with an enthusiastic, "Yes!  I'd love to have you come by!"  Lisa and Beckie were just as thrilled as I was when I let them both know it was a "go," and plans were quickly made to leave a day early for this side trip that we had all dreamed about. 

And just where was this enchanted garden that we three were so eager to see?  If you haven't guessed already, the next image will surely tell you if you think very hard.

Yes, indeed, just a short detour from Knoxville, Tennessee 
found us in none other than the fabled Fairegarden!

As soon as I stepped out of the car, that feeling of familiarity came over me as I viewed the "lawnette" with its mini-meadows full of lilies, verbena, and salvia in bloom. Our gracious hostess Frances greeted us at the door; the four of us had met once before at the Chicago Spring Fling, but that was three years ago.  Still, when you read someone's blog on a regular basis, there is a bond formed, and you feel as though you are re-uniting with an old friend.  Hugs were exchanged all around, and then the tour of the garden began.

Up the garden steps we went--no wonder Frances is so fit and trim, traveling up and down this slope countless times a day!

Stopping to admire an array of hydrangeas--oh, those beautiful blue blooms!

Lilies of all kinds were everywhere, including this special Martagon lily.

Violas were still in bloom--perhaps this one will be a contender in next year's beauty pageant?

Up we went to one corner, to see the oft read-about Zen garden and then off to another area to see the Knot Garden (too sunny for a good photo).

It was strange yet wonderful to see sights familiar from years of "virtual" tours now in person and in three dimensions.  Other readers of Fairegarden can understand the feeling I experienced when I saw what must look to others be just a hole in the ground--the site of the long-departed Ferngully.

Up to the very top of the sloping garden, where we visited the vegetable garden, and Frances explained some of her plant trials with us.

We even got a peek into the well-equipped garden shed, where Frances shared some of her bounty with us--nigella seeds!

Every corner of this beautiful and large garden is filled with all sorts of wonders. Frances was a wonderful tour guide, patiently answering our questions and explaining different plantings as we stopped to admire them.  Resting spots are strategically placed along the winding--and did I mention sloping?--paths.  I suspect, though, that Frances spends as much time in these spots getting inspiration for new ideas for her garden as she does resting:)

Nowhere is Frances' attention to detail and creative genius more apparent than in her fairy garden. The centerpiece is a house made from leaf casting, built and decorated by Frances herself, sure to delight any resident fairies. Note the retaining wall beyond the fence, another one of her many projects.

The garden is located under a canopy of shade, a secluded retreat for fairies to relax after a long night of revelry. Careful attention is paid to placement of new furnishings to ensure the proper Feng shui.

Moss-covered stones provide a soft lounging spot for any little sprites who want to take in a little more sun.

My favorite accessory--a rusted toy truck, once the plaything of a child long ago now gracing the front yard of this fairy village.

The sloping paths necessitate a slow pace through the garden, but that is good, because there is something to see around every corner, and you don't want to miss a thing, such as these glass pieces shimmering in the morning sun. 

Even when you reach the last step and the ground levels out, there are a myriad of small treasures to be found lining the retaining wall like this hypertufa trough filled with foliage.

Or a re-purposed old toolbox.

A bonsai tree illustrates Frances' many talents.

The garden gods obviously look down upon this place with approval.

I was delighted to see and meet some more familiar faces like Athena.

Or the resting lady--I've forgotten her name, if she has one.
(She does have a name--"The Sleeping Maiden."  Thanks for the i.d., Frances!)

No forgetting these names, though--so happy to finally meet you in person, Mr. and Mrs. Bongo!

The Wise Men--I wonder if they share their gardening wisdom with the keeper of Fairegarden?

Alas, poor Yorick!  I knew you well, too:)

Despite our intentions to keep this visit brief so that Frances could pack and attend to all the last-minute details in preparation for the Asheville Fling, we stayed much longer than promised.  Frances was such a gracious hostess, not only giving us a full tour of the garden, but giving us a tour of her beautiful home as well and providing some delicious refreshments while we took time to chat about gardening and blogging.

Many, many thanks, Frances, for letting us visit your enchanted garden--
it truly was a dream come true!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wildflower Wednesday: Cycles of Change

There's a change in the air.  Evenings are cool, and early mornings are even cooler.  More Monarch butterflies are seen floating through the air, and the hummingbirds are in a feeding frenzy at the feeders and at their favorite plants in the garden, perhaps fueling up for their fall migration.

It is still August, however, usually a hot and muggy month here in my little corner of the Midwest, but after the hottest July on record, the cooler days and occasional rainshowers of the past two weeks have been a welcome relief.  I can feel a little bit of fall in the air.

Nowhere in the garden is this subtle change more evident than in the natives. Goldenrod and asters are taking the spotlight in the butterfly garden. 

I'm not sure of the name of this goldenrod, possibly Solidago canadensis, Canada goldenrod, or Solidago altissima, tall goldenrod.  But it is definitely a native, having never been planted by a gardener's hands, but growing freely around the farm wherever it wants.

The asters are also growing at will in the butterfly garden, but these were intentionally planted--or at least one of them was.  One small seedling, simply labeled "Native Aster," probably a New England aster, was planted several years ago in this space and has multiplied over and over.  A few bloomed unusually early this year, as you can see from the faded blooms, but most are just now beginning to open up.

Also blooming in the butterfly garden is this Agastache 'Blue Fortune.'  Although it's actually a cultivar, at least one of its parents is a native, and in many ways it acts like a native.  It's attractive to butterflies and has a slight licorice fragrance; it has also been as tough as any native, surviving the hot, dry summer in an area that rarely receives any extra watering.

Another native that should have been included in my recent post on volunteers is this pokeweed Phytolacca americana. A giant specimen found growing behind the barn several years ago was cut down, but not before the birds decided to spread its seeds, apparently.  Technically, this is really a weed, but it's been pretty well-behaved thus far, and the birds love these dark berries, so I've left the few plants alone. 

One of them even found its way into the lily bed this year, and I decided to let it grow.  As you can see, I definitely belong to the "clown-pants" style of gardening mentioned recently by Cindy of Texas and a term coined by our hostess Gail.  The pokeweed is flanked by a 'Vanilla Strawberry' hydrangea, a NOID phlox, and not pictured, irises and Rudbeckias--whatever happened to my design plan for this garden??

Still carrying on during this transition time from summer to fall are the Susans.  There are Rudbeckia hirta in the butterfly garden, but elsewhere are a few Susans whose origins are a mystery to me.

I think these may be the brown-eyed sisters, Rudbeckia triloba, since they have reddish stems and a dome-shaped disk in the center.

I do know the name of this Rudbeckia, however--'Prairie Sun.'  I first found these last fall amongst the usual mums and kale for fall plantings at one of the local garden centers.  I just love this variety and started some seedlings this spring.  Only two of them have bloomed, and this one certainly doesn't do justice to this green-eyed species, but it's in the roadside garden, another place that I am very negligent about watering.  We'll see if it self-seeds like the other hirtas; I certainly hope so.

While the previous natives are just beginning their season, for many natives this is time for making seeds. There are still a few late coneflower blooms, but most of them are looking pretty tattered.  I always debate with myself--should I cut at least some of them down to make the garden look a little neater?  My decision was made last week when I spied a pair of goldfinches (his mate--I presume--was below him out of camera range) feasting on the seedheads.  Needless to say, the fading coneflowers will be staying the rest of the year.

The birds may not be fond of these seeds, but I think Baptisia seeds are very striking, and I like the way they rattle in the breeze.  Even my oldest son, who was helping mow one day, noticed these and asked me about this plant.  When one of my non-gardening children notices a specific plant, then you know it is something special!

   Butterfly weed, Ascelpias tuberosa, is a host plant for Monarch larvae.  I haven't noticed any caterpillars on my plants this year, but it was hard to miss these creatures--Large Milkweed Bugs Oncopeltus fasciatus (oh, the wonders of Google!)  According to, they feast on the seeds of milkweed plants. During the feeding cycle, they ingest toxins which can sicken any predators who might try to devour them.  Those bright-colored bodies are a warning to any foolish predators that danger lies within! As far as I can tell, they don't do any damage to the plant, but merely enjoy the seeds--and there are plenty of those to go around.

There are still a few blooms on the butterfly weed, but most have turned to seed pods,  I love the bright orange of butterfly weed when it is in bloom, but I think I enjoy this wispy stage almost as much.  Soon the winds will carry these tiny treasures off, and the cycle will begin all over again.

Wildflower Wednesday is celebrated the fourth Wednesday of every month by our hostess Gail of Clay and Limestone.  Thanks, Gail, for hosting this--I learn something new about wildflowers and natives every month!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

August Bloom Day

Where has the summer gone?  In just a few short days, local children will hoisting backpacks and boarding big yellow buses for the first day of school, a day that has always marked the end of summer for me. The calendar, however, says there is still a month of summer left, and it is much too early to be planting bulbs or emptying containers (though mine are looking pretty sad right now).  In fact, the past week of cooler temperatures and a few brief rainshowers have revived the garden, just in time for the monthly recording of what is blooming now--Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

August is the time for my favorite hydrangea, 'Limelight.'  I've been trying to prune it every spring to create more of a tree-like shape, but it likes to sprawl, even surrounding the stake holding the suet feeder for the winter birds, which I never got around to moving.  Sprawling or not, I love this plant with its large white flowers that look good through the winter.

A newer Hydrangea paniculata, 'Vanilla Strawberry,' is also blooming this month.  The flowers look nothing like the advertised blooms that resemble a strawberry ice cream cone topped with a dollop of vanilla, but I won't complain.  Perhaps it's because mine is in full sun all day.

The 'Bloomerang' lilac is putting out its second flush of blooms this season. 

Also putting out a new flush of blooms is the yellow Knockout rose, 'Radsunny.'  The one disappointment I have in this carefree rose is that the soft yellow only lasts a short time--the blooms quickly fade to a near-white.

Other shrubs, though, are blooming for the first time.  Getting ready for its fall show is the beautyberry.

The first ever blooms, pathetic though they are, have also appeared on the Clethra 'Ruby Spice.'  This poor plant has had a rough time with two consecutive years of drought.  I'm just glad to see it still alive and hope that maybe next year it will take that proverbial third-year "leap."

On the other hand, I'm excited about this new shrub Caryopteris 'Summer Sorbet.'  I ordered it this spring from Bluestone Perennials and wasn't sure the small little seedling would do much of anything this year.

Not only has it grown by leaps and bounds this summer, it is also just starting to show these lovely blue blooms. A local gardener told me this weekend that her caryopteris has not always survived our winters; I hope that is not the case with this plant, because I've fallen in love with it.

In the shade garden, the last hosta blooms have appeared.  These are the plain green hostas, sometimes called plantain lilies, I think, that aren't particularly showy, but their August blooms are certainly attractive and fragrant as well.

As I mentioned in my last post, there have been quite a few surprises in my garden this year.  I should expect these, whatever you call them--Resurrection lilies, Surprise lilies, or Naked Ladies--yet their sudden appearance every summer always catches me by surprise.

In the just plain weird category--I had three or four liatris that grew four to six feet tall this year.  When they finally bloomed, they were so heavy that they flopped over or, like this one, leaned against the arbor bench for support.  Have you ever seen anything like this before??

The volunteer 'Blue and Black' salvia already received mention on my last post, but since it has really burst into bloom, I just had to include it one more time.  Besides, all flowers look even better with raindrops, don't you think?

 All the rest of the new bloomers are annuals whose seeds were directly sowed into the garden late this spring.  I had to search the internet to find seeds for this Celosia spicata 'Flamingo,' but I finally found them through an organic seed company called Floral Encounters. I didn't think these had germinated until I suddenly saw them last week, hidden in the midst of all my nicotania.  I think they deserve a better spot next year where they can be appreciated more, don't you?

A favorite from last year, the knee-high Cosmos, 'Snow Sonata' is back again.

As are the taller cosmos, rising behind the arbor bench. 

I don't remember the name of this mix from Renee's Garden, but they will definitely be ordered again next year.  I love these old-fashioned favorites.

And finally, August means zinnias ('Raspberry Sorbet' from Renee's Garden) . . .

. . . more zinnias ('Berry Basket' also from Renee's Garden) . . .

. . . and more zinnias! ('Zowie Yellow Flame' from Park Seeds)

Looking back, I just realized I ended last month's bloom day post with this same flower.  But it has been going strong for well over a month now through heat and drought, producing these gorgeous blooms in psychedelic colors.  I think there will be even more of these in my garden next year!

What is blooming in your garden today?  Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of every month by Carol and the garden fairies of May Dreams Gardens