Garden Tour Gardeners

By Jan Cashman

Before last year’s Garden & Home Tour put on by the Emerson Center for the Arts, the garden owners on the tour were asked to fill out an information sheet. Their answers are interesting to fellow gardeners. We want to know how the best gardeners in our valley garden, their favorite plants, and how they solve gardening challenges. Here are the questions they were asked and a synopsis of how they answered them:

What was your gardening inspiration?

It is refreshing to hear one of the gardener’s parents provided her inspiration. Hopefully, today’s increased interest in gardening will be passed on to future generations. Eating organically grown vegetables, which are expensive to buy, inspired one of the gardeners to start a vegetable garden. Another gardener said, “Once I started planting, I didn’t know how to stop!”

Who did your design? Did you have a master plan?

Most of the gardeners on last year’s tour had no master plan. Their gardens evolved over time. If they did consult professionals, it was most often for an individual area of their garden. Only one gardener on the tour had an entire plan drawn by a professional before she started planting.

Were there any weather factors that dominated your plant choices? What was your solution?

A couple of the garden tour gardeners mentioned wind as a problem. Solutions included planting tender plants on the leeward side of the house. Hedges and windbreaks provide shelter to a yard. Most of the gardeners said they chose only hardy plants for their gardens–those rated for USDA Hardiness Zones 3 or 4.

What was the biggest challenge with your garden?

The most frequently mentioned challenge was deer eating and rubbing on trees, shrubs, and other plants, a common challenge to many gardeners in our area. One of the gardeners on the tour said, “I wish I had planted deer resistant plants…I would put up a high deer fence from the start.” Gordon Bailey, Chairman of the Board of Bailey Nurseries in Minnesota, has had success in keeping deer away from his shrub roses and other deer favorites by a weekly spray of Liquid Fence deer repellant. After a heavy rain he reapplies as soon as possible.

Heavy clay soil challenged some of these gardeners. They add gypsum and compost amendments to improve the tilth of their soils.

Weeds were another challenge they listed–weeds are a problem to most of us gardeners. The garden tour gardeners keep their weeds from getting out of control by persistent and frequent weeding. One of these gardeners mentioned the importance of keeping weeds out of hedges. Some ways to do that include mulching, using weed barrier fabric, and using pre and post emergent herbicides early in the spring before the hedge leafs out.

Rocky soils, gophers, and winter injury were other challenges these gardeners (and all of us) face.

What are your favorite perennials and why?

The best gardeners in the valley followed the national trend of preferring perennials with colorful leaves and interesting shapes and textures such as shade-loving Heucheras and sun-loving Sedum spectabile. Some listed old stand-bys like peonies as their favorites. Colorful clematis vines, one of the few flowering vines for our climate, were also a favorite.

It’s no surprise that fragrant plants like Lavender were favorites. This wonderful herb does well in dry spots; its flowers can be dried for sweet smelling potpourris.

What are your favorite annuals and why?

Happy-faced pansies were by far the most popular annual flower of these gardeners because of pansy’s many colors and patterns. Sometimes this annual is a perennial-it survived the winter under the snow at my house and was blooming in early April.

What are your favorite trees and shrubs and why?

Their favorite trees and shrubs were those with four seasons of interest. Japanese tree lilac’s fragrant, white blossoms cover the tree in late June. The tree has an interesting shape which is especially apparent in the winter when the leaves are off. The dark bark and horizontal branches show up against the snow.

Amur maple, another favorite tree listed by more than one of the gardeners, is the north country’s answer to Japanese maple. It has bright red-orange leaves in the fall and a graceful, irregular shape. Bur oak and amur bird cherry were two other trees these gardeners liked.

Glossy black chokeberry is a compact, easy-to-grow shrub with fragrant white flowers in June, clusters of large, edible, purple-black berries , and colorful red and purple fall foliage. This underused shrub deserves to be planted more in our landscapes.

Carol Mackie Daphne continues to be a big favorite among gardeners. This small shrub has fragrant pink flowers in May, and then, red berries. It is best planted in a cool, shady, well-drained spot and prefers our alkaline soils.

To mulch or not to mulch?

Natural-looking shredded cedar was used for mulch by some of these gardeners. Most avoided landscape fabric. Soil pep was a favorite with these experienced gardeners, as it is for many of us.

To fertilize or not to fertilize?

Many of the garden tour gardeners chose to use organic fertilizers such as aged manure in their gardens. Some preferred slow-release Osmocote for their flowers; others preferred Miracle Gro Bloom Booster water soluble plant food.

Any lessons you learned to pass on?

“It’s OK to move plants around.” “Start small and expand your garden to only what you can maintain.”

The gardeners waxed poetic with these wonderful quotes: “Gardening is a satisfying experience.” “Gardening is constantly changing and forever growing-that’s what makes it so exciting and challenging.”