Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Gardens at Atlock Farm

Things are heating up as everything comes together for Coleus Day at Atlock Farm on Saturday, September 13, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Please see Atlock’s website at for directions.

This post offers an extensive armchair tour of the gardens and other sights at Atlock. I hope to see many of you among the coleus soon!

A note to anyone who has been following this blog: while I think I’ve been quite diligent with making regular posts lately, I will be distracted over the next couple of weeks getting ready for the big day. Soon after the 13th, look for at least one big ol’ post on Coleus Day and then a more-or-less regular series of posts relating to a wide range of subjects relating to coleus.

Remember: picture first, then words.

The formal garden behind the shop contains masses of coleus planted underneath 20 Brugmansia treelets, some of which have been in fragrant bloom for a while. The green stuff among the coleus is Galinsoga (quickweed), which I’ve come to accept as an acceptable filler/groundcover. Besides, I grew tired of wading through the beds and bending over to pull that stuff, so there it is. The dwarf red barberry hedges hold everything in place.

Don’t look for any coleus here. This intimate, formally structured garden adjacent to the shop garden billows with Angelonia in five colors. At the back of the picture are mainly self-sown Eupatorium. What you can’t see on the left side of the garden are a row of Salvia leucantha for late bloom, six imposing pots making a definite statement, and a stately row of eight white ‘Natchez’ crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia).

A little strip planting near the previous garden (and across from the red/tropical border) changes dramatically every year. This year the bed showcases Cynara (artichoke), interplanted with Verbena bonariensis and underplanted with a pink Verbena and the sultry Alternanthera ‘Gail’s Choice’. Next year’s combination will be quite different, if I have any say in the matter.

Without a doubt, the red/tropical border is the most spectacular garden at Atlock this season. Big. Colorful. Exuberant. Note the recently trimmed hedges and the mass of purple plum (Prunus ‘Thundercloud’, I think), which provide a solid frame for the celebration they try to contain. The huge, backlit leaves of Alocasia ‘Calidora’ and the three spiky, purple-red-brown Cordyline baueri just might take your breath away. In the back is the peacock house under construction. Every fine garden needs a memorable structure, and this is Atlock’s centerpiece.

Here’s the red/tropical border from another angle. The colors really stand out from this vantage point, especially the chartreuse Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’. See the coleus in the lower right corner? An elongated mass of ‘Burgundy Wedding Train’ offers little green leaves with dark red centers, and the orangey pink ‘Fanatic Radish’ peeks out from behind the gray urn.

Big is sometimes very good (and often showy). The giant castor beans (Ricinus communis) came up from seed dropped by last year’s plants, which were considerably smaller than these big boys. I need to stake them before Miss Hanna (predicted to be visiting us this coming Saturday) or some other mighty wind knocks them around. Although the honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos ‘Shademaster’, is it?) and the hedge provide some protection, I’m not taking any chances with these showstoppers.

While a little shadowy in this picture, the paintbox is far from gloomy (see the next picture). These coleus were planted a while back, cut back once, and have since been allowed to do their thing. What you see is what they do: most are thick and beautiful, but a few are thin and kinda homely. But the homely ones are looking mighty fine elsewhere at Atlock.

No, they’re not this bright; the flash cast a little too much light for this picture of the paintbox. That’s ‘Jo Donna’ in the upper left with the red and yellow foliage. New to me last year, this coleus has knocked my socks off this year. It may well knock an established coleus off of my Top Ten list.

The long border this year is a celebration of color and texture. Five coleus (and Perilla ‘Magilla’, which might as well be a coleus, it seems to me) combine with three sedges, Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ (a dark red grass), Halorhagis (a brown-green groundcover) from Down Under, Cordyline ‘Red Sensation’ (“spikes”), waffle leaf (Hemigraphis), Plectranthus ciliatus, Oxalis vulcanicola, Hibiscus acetosella ‘Coppertone’, and, most prominently, golden daisy-flowered Melampodium. I hope the peacocks like their view of the garden next year.

That’s a group of ‘Yalaha’ in the lower right-hand corner, behind the fringe of Cordyline ‘Red Sensation’. They should be on fire for Coleus Day (except for the specimens that appear to have sported into a much darker-edged incarnation). The planters are constructed of highly rust-prone steel and might be filled with something complementary in the near future.

I dare you – no, I double dog dare you – to tell me that ‘Lancelot Velvet Mocha’ is not one of the most sensational, attractive, and useful coleus to come down the pike in a long time. What a color! What an adaptable plant! Here it does its thing with Melampodium and the yew hedge.

Not far from the long border, this planting of ‘Alabama Sunset’ appeared in a previous post, but now it has a large pot beautifully filling the formerly empty space at the lower right. I plan to ice the cake by plunking a big specimen coleus into the pot for Coleus Day.

What do you do with the leftovers from planting up 208 stock plants into hanging baskets? Well, I parked them next to one of the greenhouses, and there they’ve sat and grown since. I’ll award a prize to anyone who can name them all . . . and how did I miss not filling that one empty cell before taking the picture?

Count ‘em: 104 hanging baskets, each holding one of the cultivars selected for propagation and sale next year. The red and green ‘Wine Country’ in front looks great, doesn’t it? It should remain attractive if we keep it fed and watered in a roomy-enough pot. This one really goes downhill if not treated like a baby bird. After Coleus Day all of these pots will be fitted with hangers and then placed high up on the poles above.

‘Smallwood’s Driveway’ makes a stunning combination with yellow-edged Lantana ‘Samantha’ and caramel-colored Ipomoea ‘Sweet Caroline’ (I know that name isn’t quite correct; should “Bronze” appear in the name?). This started out as a much less voluminous hanging basket dropped into an urn on a pedestal, but the plants have since burgeoned and devoured their support. The camera flash certainly brought out the colors, didn’t it?

The Atlock staff includes two gorgeous cats, both of whom earn their keep by dispatching destructive four-legged plant munchers, being uniquely beautiful, and entertaining us and many customers. Even some people who aren’t too fond of cats admit that Cleo is a looker. She strolled in to Atlock eleven summers ago and has been a subject of attention and many photos since.

Cleo takes a great photo if you work with her or if you catch her in a slow moment, but this kitty knows what a camera does and constantly poses for it. Myrtle the Wondercat has held everyone under her spell since she arrived a mere couple of months ago. She leaps at insects, jumps out from hedges as I pass by, practices projectile purring, knows what a lap is for, runs like the wind, climbs to the top of the little greenhouse so that I can entice her with my fingers from below, drives Cleo crazy, and accepts the affection of everyone who cares to offer it. My thanks to Rob Cardillo, garden photographer extraordinaire, for providing this photo of Myrtle uncharacteristically at rest.

Were all getting ready to put on a show for Coleus Day!