Friday, February 24, 2012

Antiques & Garden Show 2012

I swore I wasn't going to do it.  A couple of years ago, after 17 years of involvement, I had "retired".  This year, I was simply going to be in attendance at Nashville's annual Antiques & Garden Show.  I would walk the floor, peruse the items, chat with old friends and maybe have a Bloody Mary or two.  Then the phone call came.  Cheekwood, our botanical garden where I started my Nashville career 19 years ago, needed an assist.  I've never been able to say no to Cheekwood and to make matters worse, it was one of my best friends who made the call.  How could I possibly say 'No'?

And so I found myself planted firmly in the middle not just of creating a garden, but creating THE garden that sits right at the main entrance to the show--the very first thing people see when they come in the door.  It was time to pull out all the stops!  I had done this garden one time before, but this year was different.  For the first time in the 20-plus-year history of the show, Cheekwood was going to be front and center.  They had to look good, and so did I.  So it was that the Cheekwood garden staff and I set to work with my talented designer friend Phillipe Chadwick (a talented designer in his own right and the gardener in charge of Cheekwood's Color Garden, among other things) and I at the helm, creating the garden of Cheekwood's dreams.  We hoped. 

There were times when it was an uphill climb, but we made it.  The first picture below is what the garden looked like at about noon on Monday and the rest are what it looked like at about the same time on Thursday, just a few hours before the show opened for the annual Patrons and Preview Parties.
Construction was well underway by noon on Monday, but the floower was still plywood, the reflecting pool still needed its liner and our "tree trunks" still needed to have their bark attached.
The same view of the garden at noon on Thursday!
Our amazing "grass people" created by Parisian artist Mathilde Roussel just for our garden at the Antiques & Garden Show.
Our "tree trunks" after they were full of flowers.  These were created from cardboard sonotubes and cedar slabs with the bark still attached.
The theme of this year's show was "Collective Color" and each flower arrangement was created in a more or less monochromatic scheme to create a rainbow of color across the back of the garden.
The largest arrangement that Phillipe and I created was nearly 5 feet tall by 8 feet wide and stood atop a tree trunk that was 8 feet tall.
One of the favorite features of this year's garden were these antique gates that were donated to Cheekwood about 10 years ago.  They have been fully refurbished and will now be prominently featured in the newly-renovated Howe Garden which will open later this spring.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Winter Weather Advisory

Winter Weather Advisory.  Those are words we've only heard once or twice here in the Nashville area this winter.  In fact, our winter has been closer to a Zone 8b winter than our typical Zone 6b (or 7a if you choose to believe the new USDA Hardiness Zones Map that was just published ).  Yes, we've gotten warmer.  Imagine that.  The new Hardiness Zones Map is based on 30 years worth of data, rather than the typical 10 years, so at least we're headed in the right direction and looking at long-term weather data rather than potentially anomalous short-term trends.

Narcissus pseudonarcissus

While I have personally enjoyed not having those frigid winds whipping across the ridge and the treacherous road conditions that go along with living in a region that is notoriously unprepared to deal with winter weather, the garden has been confused.  Not all of the plants are confused, mind you, but some that have a predisposed notion for popping up early in the season were waaaay ahead of schedule.  Narcissus pseudonarcissus the early daffodil that is naturalized all over the southeastern U.S. usually begins flowering about now--sometime between Valentine's Day and the end of February.  This year, it was in full bloom in my garden on January 20.

Helleborus niger 'Josef Lemper'

Hellebores, also called Christmas or Lenten Rose depending on the species, are staples of the Southern shade garden.  Their evergreen foliage provides year round interest, but it's their flowers that are most welcome during the short, gray days of winter.  I have several and can honestly say I don't think I've ever met a hellebore I didn't love.  Some of the most impressive that I have trialed over the past three years include Helleborus niger 'Josef Lemper', which began flowering the week of Thanksgiving (2011) and continues to produce new flowers even as I'm writing this, the third week of February, three months later.

Helleborus niger 'Double Fantasy'

Helleborus niger 'Double Fantasy' as it ages.

Helleborus niger 'Double Fantasy' is a fairly recent introduction from Japan and has pristine white flowers which, once the plant is well-established, will be fully double in form.  Younger plants will produce what are often called "anemone-flowered" blooms with a ruff of central petals like the photos above.  I also love the way the flower ages, with the outer petals often turning green while the inner petals remain white.

Helleborus x 'Winter Moonbeam'

Another outstanding performer in the garden during the past three years or so has been Helleborus x 'Winter Moonbeam'.  I love its foliage in the summer--a dark, almost black-green with creamy silver marbling in the veins.  It's right by the front door where I can appreciate it every day.  And in winter, it greets me from around New Years Day until late March with creamy white flowers that age pink and eventually to almost maroon.  They remain on the plant for several months and I remove them only when the new foliage begins to push up in mid-spring.

I also love the opportunity to visit other gardens around Nashville and wherever I may be traveling for business or pleasure.  Some recent trips to Cheekwood, our local public garden and Glen Leven, a property owned by The Land Trust for Tennessee, offered up these spectacular winter and early spring garden gems.

Edgeworthia chrysantha--Chinese Paperbush

Chimonanthus praecox--Wintersweet (flowering at Christmas!)

Arum italicum--Italian Arum (Leaves appear in autumn and remain throughout the winter.)

And a very special little narcissus, known throughout the South as a "Sweetie" because of its intoxicating fragrance, Narcissus jonquilla (flowering about a month early).

So if, like me, you live in USDA Zone 6b or warmer, you too can enjoy many of these winter-flowering beauties.  Many are hardier than Zone 6, growing even into Zone 5 (and in the case of the Narcissus, Zone 4).  They'll just flower at the end of winter instead of throughout the winter months like they do for me.