A Garden Tour of the Callaway Estate in LaGrange, Georgia. Part one of several

Let me tell you a secret.
There is a magnificent garden to visit in LaGrange, Georgia.

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A map of the garden started in 1841 by Sarah Coleman Ferrell as she expanded a garden started by her mother in 1832

My wife and I made plans to go to LaGrange for a Saturday visit with some friends. Dekie and I like to visit small towns and see the sights, the architecture, and to just get a feel for the places that we visit. I have driven through LaGrange many times on my way to and from my hometown of Columbus, Georgia. I had never stopped to look around until this past weekend. Our friends mentioned the Callaway Estate (not to be confused with Ida Cason Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain) that had some “interesting grounds.”

And the grounds were, indeed, interesting. I took pictures as we walked through the beautiful gardens and I will share these in several articles. I knew it was going to be good when we drove up and I saw the pruning job on the plants around this sign:

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carefully pruned shrubbery by an entrance sign.

I looked around after we parked and saw that the natural areas were inviting and interesting.

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Natural areas and pathways welcome us from the parking lot

The well-tended loropetalum plant against the welcome center wall was a great blend of color and texture.

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I love that shaped loropetalum

The entrance plantings were delightful. I wanted to shrink myself down and get lost in the maze.

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A boxwood parterre on each side of the entrance to the visitor center carries a sort of magic feeling

We were about a week late for the azalea bloom but I could tell that they had been magnificent. The garden, however, is able to stand on its own without depending on the azalea blooms and I’m sure that our visit was a lot less crowded than it would have been.

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There are lots of isolated visual treats

Another view of the entry garden shows that the background is also very important and well-done.

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I love the way the background merges with the total picture.

When we walked out on the rear landing, right away, I was taken by the pathway meandering through the vista. The trees were all manicured and precisely placed.

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I wonder what’s at the end of this pathway?

I love planters as accents. This arborvitae topiary was matched on other corners.

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topiary plantings in flower pots make a statement

There were a lot of Chinese fringe trees (Chionanthus retusus). We were just in time to catch the flowers. I could tell that the trees had been totally full of blooms a week before.

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Chinese fringe trees make a statement

All of today’s pictures were taken before I even got to the actual gardens. I will post more in another post in a few days. Stay tuned.

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The garden tour begins from this point. Tune in for the next article, or subscribe.


Front Door Plants—Starting a Topiary Project

I’ve been working with plants professionally for 35 years or so. During that time, one of the most requested tasks has been to “find me something distinctive to go on the front porch (or by the door).”  Usually it takes a lot of time and searching to find just the right plant for the job. It dawned on me several years ago that someone should be growing specially shaped plants for the front porch. It also dawned on me a shorter while back that that “someone” should be me; after all, I’ve been working on the concept for years.

Topiaries in containers are wonderful accents for entry ways.

Topiaries in containers are wonderful accents for entry ways.

I have access to a small and private piece of land in the country that can be used to grow the plants. While I was working on preparing the site I decided to go looking at plant material for the project. I ended up purchasing a hundred plants to start with. The grower agreed to keep the plants until I had the site ready for them and I brought two of the plants home with me to show to my wife, Dekie, and to play with. One of the varieties is cryptomeria ‘Black Prince’. It looked like this:

Cryptomeria 'Black Prince' ready to be started as a topiary

Cryptomeria ‘Black Prince’ ready to be started as a topiary

The objective is to grow specimen plants that will finish out somewhere between three and five feet in height.  I am thinking that we will grow them in matched pairs because—well, because a door has a right side and a left side. At any rate, we’ll experiment with that as we go.

Dekie and I spent a fun afternoon studying one of the plants and figuring out just how we would approach the shaping. To start with, I isolated three main stems (or trunks).

Selecting the main stems or trunks for the topiary project.

Selecting the main stems or trunks for the topiary project.

The “apical bud” is the growth bud at the very end of each of the tips. I’m not going to touch this right now. If this apical bud is allowed to grow, it will give me the height that I need. I will watch as this bud develops and elongates, protecting it until I feel that it is at the proper height for cutting.

The apical bud on the cryptomeria will be allowed to grow taller

The apical bud on the cryptomeria will be allowed to grow taller

I carefully trim the sides of the three trunks that I selected. I will cut the “lateral buds” (or sideways growth) to encourage the bottom growth on these trunks to branch out and become lush and full. This means that I will be shaping the bottom sections of the plants while they grow in height. When the two selected sideways trunks grow out to where I want them to be I will cut the tips and begin the shaping process.

Trimming the side or lateral growth on cryptomeria to induce branching.

Trimming the side or lateral growth on cryptomeria to induce branching.

Over the years I have developed a potting mix using compost, finely ground bark, peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite. I add a bit of lime to adjust the pH and I lace it with just the right dusting of a time-release fertilizer. I think that as the topiary project proceeds I will finish the plants off in five and/or seven gallon containers. For the trial plant, I just planted it in a three-gallon pot to see what happens.

re potting the tree into a three gallon pot for growing on.

re potting the tree into a three gallon pot for growing on.

Here’s a picture of the very first plant for the “Front Door Plants” project. I guess I need to get a bit more professional on my photographic backgrounds—or, I could tell you that I really wanted to show the other side of the fence.  At any rate, the plant is two feet high from the top of the root ball and the side growth has been carefully trimmed. I’m going to set up a special file on the blog and update it periodically. Let’s watch the project develop. I think it will take two to three years to reach the picture I have in my mind. After that, who knows?

Cryptomeria 'Black Prince' topiary started 7/24/13. Approximate height from top of root ball 2 feet.

Cryptomeria ‘Black Prince’ topiary started 7/24/13. Approximate height from top of root ball 2 feet.


You may wish to check out my article on The Basics of Pruning.

An article on pruning an overgrown topiary

And another article on Foundation Planting With Containers

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

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