Spring's finally here in the Northeast, but in the deep south it arrives much earlier, and finishes too quickly, the really hot weather coming on full force by May. This little photo essay was done last year, when I visited my family in Louisiana just at the moment when everything seems to burst into flower at once, and because I wanted to document the garden my mom has created there over the last thirty-five years. It was originally sent out to a group of close gardening friends, a couple of whom have requested that I resend it, and Mothers' Day seems an appropriate time so share it with all my readers.
The houses on her street were originally summer cottages with silly names, some of which have been retained. The next house over is "Harmony Hill".
The property is four acres of pinewoods sand hill with underlying red clay, about one acre maintained as lawn and garden.
'Formosa' Azaleas line the steep drive up to the house... they were probably planted when the house was built in the 1920's.
The house sits at the top of the hill and is now almost smothered in Nandina, Leucothoe and Ligustrum.
The gnarled branches above the seat are Ligustrums originally put in as foundation plants many years ago, now tree size.
It's hard to capture in photos the magnificence of the tree canopy there... huge mature specimens of Longleaf Pine, Hickory, Red Oak, Cherry.
Dogwoods grow like weeds in the understory, volunteering everywhere and loving the sharp drainage of the sand hill.
Camellias thrive there too... we've planted a dozen or more varieties over the years.
Some start blooming before Christmas, but most reach their peak in February and March, risking late frosts.
The Azaleas are really the big guns of spring there, as in most southern gardens.
They are mostly older Indica varieties: the pale pink is 'George Lindley Taber' and the fuschia one is 'Formosa'.
'George Lindley Taber' has a sweet, light perfume that always takes me back to childhood Easter egg hunts.
The white one is 'Fielder's White', but neither my mom nor I can remember planting the hose-in-hose pink in the foreground, or what it's called.
'Gulfpride' is one of our favorites, an old lavender cultivar that's pretty much unavailable now in the nursery trade.
'Formosa' is gaudy, common and absolutely reliable, so you see it everywhere down there.
There are lots of southern Trilliums that look similar, but I'm pretty sure this is Trillium foetidissimum.
Christmas Berry, Ardisia crenata, is a pretty evergreen sub-shrub that's invasive in Florida but only seeds around modestly here.
Ophiopogon, "Monkey Grass" and clumps of Aspidistra make a good groundcover planting in areas of deeper shade.
'Kyoto Dwarf' Ophiopogon, Ajuga and Southern Maidenhair Fern mingle near the back door.
Yellow Rosa banksiae and pink flowered Loropetalum chinense clambering up a big pine.
We rooted the white Lady Banks Rose in the background from a cutting years ago, and the Cherokee Rose in front just appeared.
Crape Myrtles are very common in the deep south, and many people pollard them every year to get the best flower display, but if left to grow naturally they develop incredibly beautiful trunks.
Next to the house the plantings are more structured, with brick paths laid to define the beds. My dad and I designed and built this arch as a birthday gift for Mom twenty-five years ago.
At one time we had a collection of Tea Roses grown from cuttings we begged from elderly ladies in the older part of town. This one still survives, but I don't remember its name.
A Rosemary plant has grown to shrub size in one corner.
A Fig tree and another Loropetalum compete for sunshine.
Another late Camellia... this one is an old French variety, 'Ville de Nantes'.
Wisteria and Bamboo planted when the house was built have overrun much of the property and must be constantly beaten back. Remarkably, my 85-year-old mother and her occasional yard man, who's almost the same age, manage to keep them under control.
Salvia lyrata overtaking one of the paths. Echinaceas and Stokesias are native to these pinelands and thrive here as well, blooming in May and June.
The resident garden gnome and one of her cats. I'm very much in awe of the beauty she's nurtured here over many years of vision, passion and effort. At her age and in her current condition I'm not sure how much longer it will exist, but I think this quote from Thomas Rainer and Claudia West's book is appropriate...
"A garden's purpose is not to endure, but to enchant."
Thanks, friends, for indulging me in this little tribute.
Welcome to Sempervivum, an opinionated, sometimes informed and completely unqualified journal of gardens, plants and plantings by artist-gardener Robert Clyde Anderson.