Excursion to Gibbs Gardens

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Last Sunday I joined four friends for our virgin visit to Gibbs Gardens, located about an hour north of Atlanta near Ball Ground, Georgia.

I’d heard a lot about this place, and despite the fact that it’s located on my route to and from the cabin in Blue Ridge that I spend time in most months, I somehow had never gotten around to visiting.

Gibbs Gardens was established over thirty years ago but was opened to the public only in 2012. The place is huge – 220 acres of a 300-acre estate, with sixteen distinct garden areas, all connected with walking trails. Gibbs features a large variety of plantings and some magnificently designed landscaping. The gardens include:

  • possibly the largest plantings of daffodils in the United States (20 million bulbs spread over 50 acres of rolling hillsides)
  • a 40-acre Japanese garden, the country’s largest
  • the country’s largest collection of water lilies (140 varieties)
  • 32 ponds, fed by springs or running streams crossed by 24 bridges, one of them a replica of Monet’s bridge at Giverny

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The miles of walking trails meander through all sorts of plantings, and the self-guided tour includes a walkabout of the exterior of the beautiful – and gorgeously landscaped – manor house where the Gibbs family lives. (Well, when anybody’s home: the 70-something-year-old Gibbs is an avid traveler. That he generously allows visitors to tramp around the patios and porches immediately adjacent to the house must be a bit unnerving when he’s there.)

yet another manor house photo

Here’s a video (from the Gardens’ Facebook page) of what we saw on Sunday:

I wish I could report that wandering through 20 million daffodils was a Wordworthianesque peak experience, but, alas, that aspect of our tour of the gardens Gibbs was, surprisingly, a bit underwhelming. (Will the planned extravaganza of tulips that Gibbs staff has planted be similarly disappointing?) I have no explanation for why the Daffodil ramble was not more exhilarating, but there are plenty of other reasons for putting this garden on your gardens-to-tour list.

If you decide to visit, I highly recommend you arrive as early in the day as you can. This is especially important if you visit on a weekend. Otherwise, you will find yourself forced to park in a remotely located parking lot (quite a few acres of Gibbs’ property are devoted to multiple car-parks) and, once you finally get to the welcome center, you could find yourself waiting in a very long line. Better to arrive early and conserve your energy for all the walking you’ll be doing once you get your ticket.

I also recommend eating lunch at the garden’s outdoor cafe. The sandwiches and drinks are pricey (I spent $12 for a sandwich and a bottle of water), but the food is fresh and the shaded outdoor eating area is a pleasant place to rest after a morning’s worth of walking.

There’s also a gorgeous (if also pricey) gift shop:

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Whether or not you decide to visit Gibbs Gardens yourself, you might find this 24-minute North Carolina public television video worth watching. It includes an interview with Gibbs, who explains how the garden came to be. The video also highlights several of the different garden areas on view at Gibbs:

http://video.unctv.org/video/2289814506/

Watching this video after my visit – and reading the best of the articles about the garden that I found on the Internet – made me want to return to see the sections of the garden (such as the fern garden) that I somehow missed seeing last Sunday. I especially want to return in the fall to see the gardens’ 2,000 Japanese maples!

japanese gardens in the fall

japanese maples

Meanwhile, here’s a bunch of photos that garden visitors have posted to Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/gibbsgardens/

For even more photos, Google Images has hundreds of them.

Directions, ticket prices (as seniors we paid $18 plus tax for a single visit; annual passes cost $70), and a list of visiting hours is available at the Gardens’ web site, www.gibbsgardens.com

Note: All of the photos included in this blogpost I obtained from a variety of sources on ye Internet.

In Praise of Garden Fountains

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Admittedly I am easily amused, but getting my patio fountain re-started this afternoon after its long-delayed winter hiatus easily reaches the threshold for this month’s potentially blogworthy events!

I have enjoyed my current fountain for nine years now. I found it in March 2009 at the Atlanta Water Gardens; if you’ve never visited their enchanted establishment on Cheshire Bridge Road, you really should do that sometime. (I’ve taken several out-of-town visitors there.)

Although I had always envied the wonderful pond in the back yard of my D.C.-based friend Terry Hanlen, Terry convinced me many years ago, when I was contemplating putting in a similar (if necessarily smaller) pond at my place, that installing a pond of any size would be way too labor-intensive for a gardener as lazy as I am.

I was determined, however, to install some sort of water feature in my garden. Shortly after laying the patio a few years after buying the house over twenty years ago, I began buying a series of small fountains, each new one replacing its predecessor. This large and final fountain its manufacturer calls the “Europa Murabella Greenman.”

Here’s the base of the fountain in a photo I took after constructing a pad of bricks for it to perch upon:

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A few days later it was up and running, although the climbing hydrangea I had attached to the fence behind it was just getting established:

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A photo taken a bit later, when the climbing hydrangea had leafed out but before the neaby oakleaf hydrangea – hardly visible in this photo – got so big it began obscuring the view of the fountain from the rest of the garden:

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Much of the time that I spend at home outside at my house I spend in the garden shed my brother Michael constructed for me two years ago. A photo of the shed that my friend Walter took earlier this month:

Garden Shed May 2016 photo by Walter

From my table and chair inside the shed, just beyond the grape arbor that shades the double French doors, I can look out toward the patio:

Patio May 2016

I can see in the distance the stautue that my friend Brad rescued from the condo of another friend of mine, Russ, when Russ was packing up to move to Costa Rica a few years ago. Here’s the statue closer-up:

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My fountain is immediately to the right of the statue, behind the gardenia bush.

Although I can’t actually see the fountain from inside the garden shed, I love being able to hear it from out there.

On the other hand, until last year, I could see the patio fountain from inside the house…

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… but I couldn’t hear it! So I finally got around to installing a portable screen for the door in my study that opens up onto the patio, and I can now hear the splasing water from inside the house as well as from inside the garden shed.

Another fountain-related pleasure besides the soothing sight and sound of gently splashing water: it reminds me of my trips to Italy, and inspires me to dream of further trips there someday.

Bliss!

A close-up of the fountain, taken this afternoon:

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First Attempt at Ikebana

First attempt at Ikebana

This past Sunday, during lunch with some friends, one of them mentioned that Ikebana had been a hobby of hers for many years (did she say 20 years? she might have).

That got me to remembering that I have been meaning to experiment with this flower arranging form for some time now, and had even bought, years ago, a container designed for that purpose. Like so many other things that interest me, I never got around to doing anything with Ikebana, other than admiring arrangements wherever I happened to spot them. But the meditative aspect of the practice of Ikebana continued to fascinate me. Ikebana’s use of asymmetry is also appealing. And I am attracted to Ikebana’s resonance with the wabi-sabi notion that that there is beauty and value in anything that is imperfect, incomplete, and impermanent.

Inspired by my friend’s comments, and gifted with my lunch hosts’ invitation to pluck a few Hosta leaves from their garden, I did the plucking and returned home to search out a few other items from my front yard to add to them.

The photo above shows what I came up with.

As the spring progresses, I think I will continue poking around my garden, looking for candidates for additional arrangements. Meanwhile, I’m going to see if I can figure out the perfect spot inside my house to dedicate to future Ikebana experiments.

The Unexpected Hardiness of Grape Vines

Grapevine September 2015

My brother Michael and I devoted the entire month of April 2014 to demolishing my dilapidated carport and custom-building a brand new garden shed.

One of the more troubling moments during that month-long process involved pulling a fifteen-year-old grapevine off the rickety trellis that the vine envelops every year, and bungie-cording this venerable vine to another tellis nearby – in the opposite direction the gravpevine had always grown in.

Traumatizing the grapevine proved unavoidable, as we needed to clear enough leg-and-ladder room for Michael to construct the shed’s front wall and install its front doors.

At the time, I felt sure that my brutal mangling of the grapevine might’ve fatally injured it, especially since I needed to leave the vine hog-tied for several months afterwards, until I finally got around to replacing the old metal trellis over the entrance with a much larger, much sturdier custom-built wooden trellis.

Well, I need not have fretted.

As you can see from the photo, the grapevine returned this spring as usual, and is busily clambering over the new garden shed’s tin roof (as well as covering the new trellis). I couldn’t feel more relieved!

I’m hoping next spring will bring a similar rebound/recuperaton for the Carolina Jasmine vine I planted so long ago on the other side of the new trellis – and likewise bungie-corded away from its normal growing pattern. Usually the first thing in my garden that blooms (usually in February!), the Carolina Jasmine – which I had planted in my yard because I liked the ones Michael had festooning the deck alongside one of his former houses – didn’t blossom much this year. It has clearly survived the shed-building, but not as obviously – at least this first post-construction growing season – as the grapevine did.

I have high hopes for next February, however. I’ve always ejoyed watching the Jasmine and the grapevine grow toward each other every spring over the trellis tha frames the shed’s main entrance. They end up mingling together to provide plenty of welcome shade for that part of the shed – as, alas, my wonderful garden shed, despite its numerous other virtues, is not air conditioned.

Stay tuned for more gardening reports! The recent cooler weather is perfect for some long-postponed weeding, and as soon as I post this I’m getting out there and getting started. What with all the weeds that grew up during the summer, I can barely distinguish any longer the separately-potted two dozen plants in my recently-expanded herb garden, and the two Italian Cypress trees I planted a few months ago have been engulfed by yet more weeds.

A gardener’s work – especially any gardener without a Staff – is never done…and that’s at least partly A Good Thing. At least my little garden is a little one!

Butterfly, Butterfly

Butterfly August 2015

This is why I’ve always had butterfly bushes in my tiny back yard.

The three bushes back there now – all, predictably, different shades of purple – are allegedly dwarf varieties that replaced the non-dwarf varieties I’d previously planted. I write allegedly because these plants also grew to be six feet high, just like the previously-planted standard varieties had.

In any case, I will soon need to move them all to allow more sunlight for two Italian Cypresses I planted earlier this year, as reminders of my obession – even in my reading – with All Things Tuscany.

But I’m glad I let these three bushes flower for one last season before moving them. Or they, and I, might not havespotted this recent yellow-and-black-winged visitor.

Adorning the Garden Shed

It’s been exactly a year since my brother Mike replaced my about-to-collapse carport shed with a wonderful new garden house.

For the twenty years since buying the house, I had used its already-dilapidated carport mostly as a storage area, although I’d annexed to the back of it a tiny outdoor potting area. Here’s what the carport looked like when Mike arrived in April 2014:

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A month later, here’s what the new shed looked like until recently:

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And here’s what the drive-way facing end of the shed looks like now, after a twelve-month search for a suitable sun-burst to hang above the shed’s main entrance:

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So, yay, that part of the shed adornment is now done! Thanks again, Mike, for the quantum-leap upgrade to my amateur gardening life. And thanks also to my sister Gayle, for talking me into forking over some big bucks for the sunburst instead of shopping around for another year or two!

Herb Garden Upgrade

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Potting up each April a host of favorite herbs is one of the highlights of my gardening year.

There are two main reasons I enjoy my annual herb-planting ritual:

  • Rather than planting herbs that I might actually use, I plant herbs that I simply like the look of, or whose lore I am particularly charmed by. (Almost two dozen of the 145 books I own about gardening are devoted to herbs, so although I’m no expert, over the years I’ve definitely read a lot about them.)
  • I usually buy most of my herbs on a much-anticipated annual expedition to several nurseries in the mountains of North Georgia that I make most Aprils with my sister Gayle, who lives in Blairsville and who is also an enthusiastic amateur gardener.

For at least a decade, I’ve been wanting to expand the number of herbs I grow. And as the 2015 planting season approached, I also decided this would be the year when I would finally replace with gravel the bed of ivy that I planted underneath my pots of herbs. In the twenty years since I had (foolishly) planted it, the ivy had gotten out of hand, and I could no longer deny that most of my herbs would fare better if I undergirded tjhem with sun-reflecting pea gravel rather than over a bed of pot-invading ivy.

So I spent several days in early April painstakingly uprooting the ivy and buying liners to contain the half-dozen bags of pea gravel I also purchased for two separate herb-pot areas. Amazingly, I had both beds ready before purchasing this year’s trove of herbs, and – equally surprisingly – I managed to pot up the herbs before the April monsoons commenced.

At which time I retreated indoors for a few days to read my most recently-acquired book about herbs, Madalene Hill’s and Gwen Barclay’s Southern Herb Growing (1989) and to re-read my copy of the equally excellent book by Rob Proctor and David Macke, Herbs in Pots (1999).

At some point while enjoying these books and waiting for the rains to cease, I realized I could double the number of my herb plantings if I moved to this part of my garden a semi-circular metal pot rack I was storing in my garden shed. So I did that.

Here’s the ivy-infested main part of the herb area before the April 2015 renovation:

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Two views of what the two gravel-bedded portions of my garden devoted to my potted herbs it looks like now:

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And here’s the newest addition to my herbarium, perched on a metal rack beneath the trellis against one of the house walls bordering the L-shaped area:

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My next major long-put-off garden project: recycling the rafters from my old garden shed to construct raised beds on top of my paved driveway, so I can experiment with growing a few fruits or vegetables other than my already-potted tomatoes, peppers, and blueberries. Stay tuned!