by Jan Cashman
The 2010 Garden Tour this July 9 and 10 went on after the terrible hailstorm on June 30 and the gardens looked beautiful despite the hail. The gardeners who open up their homes and gardens for all to visit are generous to do so. This year’s gardens were well-thought-out displays of what can be done in our landscapes, each one a little different. Here are some ideas I took from some of the gardens:
- Plant natives: The growing trend towards hardy, drought-tolerant native plants was evident in the Jennings’ garden on Boylan Road. They have planted their boulevard and a portion of their lawn into sheep fescue, a native, drought-tolerant grass. This fine, low-growing grass has a soft, graceful, arching look to it, and needs little mowing and watering. Under aspens in the native area of their yard, the Jennings have transplanted a Ceanothus velutinus (Buckbrush) from the wild. This interesting low shrub, 4 to 5 feet across, has glossy, dark green leaves and lovely white flowers in the spring that resemble lilacs. Another native shrub found in more than one of the gardens, Lewis Mockorange (Philadelphus lewisii) was in full bloom– 2 weeks later than average. (All Bozeman’s flowering trees, shrubs, and perennials are late in blooming this year because of the cold, wet spring.) Lewis Mockorange was discovered by Meriwether Lewis in Western Montana and Idaho on his journey west in 1803. Its bright white flowers that smell like orange blossoms make this shrub a real attention getter when in bloom.
- Good soil preparation. One of the biggest challenges the Jennings listed in creating their lawn and garden was lack of good topsoil, which had been covered by the builders and compacted during the building process. If you’re building a new house or remodeling, have your contractor strip and set aside the good topsoil for later use, and, as much as possible, keep heavy equipment off the soil surrounding the house.
Lori Newman, another one of the gardeners on the tour, has completed the Master Gardener’s class, a great way to learn more about gardening. This class is offered by MSU Extension every winter. Lori attributes her gardening success in part to careful soil preparation. Judy Ritter, a volunteer helper from the Empire Garden Club, commented on Lori’s method of planting flowers and shrubs on mounds. Creating gentle mounds on which to plant your shrubs, trees, perennials, and annuals allows good drainage and control over the soil composition. Compost, peat moss, and other organic matter can be mixed into the soil you use for your mounds. Even though she’s used good soil, whenever Lori adds a new plant to her garden, she digs a “$50 hole for a $10 plant”, and then amends her soil with compost and peat most.
- Use Focal points. Lori Newman has a rhubarb planted on the top of a berm, one of the biggest rhubarb plants I have ever seen. Its huge size and large leaves provide an unusual focal point—and it’s an edible plant! A mature Ohio buckeye tree in Terry and Dale Kennedy’s garden shades a big part of both their and their neighbor’s yard, definitely the center of their back yard landscape! Becky Gibson’s favorite tree, a Japanese tree lilac, is the prime focus of her front yard. On July 10 this tree was covered with fragrant white blooms. Other gardeners made use of garden art pieces and water features. The Gibsons used a round stock tank for a country-looking water feature near their fire pit in their cozy backyard sitting area.
- Shade gardens. Almost every gardener on the tour had nicely planted shady areas; some have large areas of heavy shade. Hostas and ferns were favorite perennials of these gardeners, along with some unusual shade plants. Terry Kennedy has many varieties of hosta growing under their Ohio buckeye; her favorite, Hosta undulata, has variegated green and white twisted leaves.
Everyone was asking the Jennings about the plant just getting ready to bloom against the north wall of their house. It is shade-loving Aruncus dioicus (Goat’s Beard), a tall, woodsy perennial with creamy-white, astilbe-like flowers which, on a normal year, will bloom in June.
- Share your garden. One of the nicest parts of gardening can be sharing plants with relatives, friends, and neighbors. Many of the plants in the Jennings yard were given to them by his mother, an avid gardener. Some, like their Ponderosa pine and bur oak, she had started from seed she collected. Some of the other gardeners had prized plants and perennials which were given to them by friends and loved ones. One person commented, “I remember the person who gave me this plant every time I look at it.”
From planting natives and perennials to soil preparation and garden design, each year we learn more about gardening from some of the Valley’s best gardeners who share their yards with us during the garden tour.