Each garden I have worked in makes a statement about its owner. My own certainly makes a statement about me! I have been fascinated by plants, farming and gardening since I was a child. Consequently, I have read about them for many years and find the enormous amount of learning possible, thrilling.
I left Nebraska after college, then lived in New York for 30 years, and I continued to read about plants, farming and gardening. When I at last had some ground (what they call available “planting places,” large and small, in Nebraska), I began my garden by removing tons of stones from the yard and saving them. I built planting beds and defined them with dinner plates obtained from anywhere I could get them free or cheap. Their uprightness keeps the soil in the beds and they are very decorative, albeit unusual. But this is part of my statement. I like to find different ways to use materials and I love other people’s cast-offs. The stones, stacked in piles, made their own statements.
The yard around the house, when we bought it, had one Japanese-type maple, one white lilac, one forsythia and one daffodil, so I had a very clean canvas. In the beginning, I bought plants from the garden centers, delighted to finally see some I had seen in books, magazines and catalogues. I had read about plants but not garden design, except from a practical point of view, so my garden became one of “onesies and twosies” (professional garden terminology!), which I liked just fine. As I now had a place to actually plant things, I began to look for sources for some of the more uncommon plants – and then I really had onsies and twosies.
I even planted a vegetable garden and, given the sandy soil here, with the addition of my own compost, had good production. My next-door neighbor and I liked to experiment so we grew things like the three sisters – beans, squash and corn together. We planted a kiwi and still lose the fruit each year to raccoons. We grew watermelons in slings on the fence. We installed our own irrigation system. We grew heirloom tomatoes and Dragon Tongue beans. My neighbor is gone now but that vigorous kiwi will be there forever!
Over the next years, I added more beds and outlined these with cobblestones someone generously gave me. However, their shortness made it necessary to back them up with plates to contain the soil! I began to remove plants I had looked at enough and replace them with new ones. (I have no problem ripping out plants.) I planted trees and shrubs again in ones and twos. I put in a pond and learned about pond culture. We have goldfish (my favorite kind of pond fish) that have been in that pond for six years. I have two lotus, one in a sunken pot of wet soil and one in its own pool, that have lived through many winters and bloom every year.
There are various sculptural items in the garden; a couple of fountains, some birdbaths, bird feeders, and quite a few other “artistic things” made from found and gleaned materials. My husband, who is a plumber, made three gates from copper pipe, two of which can be connected to a water source and will produce water through faucets that have been incorporated into the gates. The front copper gate has pieces from the streets where we lived in Soho.
As I have become busier in other people’s gardens and had less time for my own, I have replanted it to require less maintenance in the beds, and built stone paths and patios to reduce, almost eliminate, the grassy areas. Also, the deer have found my neighborhood and also my garden when I do not spray enough, so I have removed some of their snacks and replaced them with the plants they do not like.
NEEDLESS TO SAY, I do not make gardens like mine for my clients. But I like mine. It talks about me and who I am at home, and so should yours.
Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener and consultant. For gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067.