Archive for Sunday, September 20, 1998

GARDENING GIFTS

September 20, 1998

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Friends and family help supply a garden with the plants they love.

Gardens, just like children, require nurturing from many sources to grow healthy and strong. Mothers, fathers, relatives, friends and neighbors all have a pivotal role in its success.

Tom and Sonja Wood know the beauty a garden takes on when joint effort creates it. Their garden spot is flourishing with donations made by family and friends. A miniature rose bush, sitting at the far end of the garden where it can bathe in sunlight, was a birthday gift to Tom from their daughter Monique. It joins other roses donated by Brenda and Mark. A forsythia bush was the contribution made by their friend Mark who lives in East Lawrence. The lilac bush came from neighbors Jackie and Randall.

The secluded and peaceful back garden is filled with hostas, hibiscus and bleeding hearts, contributions of Lauree and John of Old West Lawrence. The ivy that climbs over much of the fencing and railroad ties was a gift from Bob in Oklahoma.

Many of the ground covers that dominate the garden were contributions from friends as well. Dee offered the lily of the valley, Barbara and Don brought the hens and chicks and Gretchen and Walter donated the sedum and iris. Even the potted plants scattered around the garden were gifts. I soon realized that almost every plant has a person's name associated with it.

Not to be upstaged, Mother Nature donated a fair number of plants. ``Then we have our natural contributions like the cedar trees that started growing on their own,'' Sonja noted. ``We transplanted them to where we wanted them to be.'' A native grapevine camouflages a chain link fence.

Erosion control

Most of the garden is plunged into deep shade in back and lined with trim flower beds in front. The garden space slopes severely downhill across its entire width from west to east. The Woods began their garden project in earnest in 1990 as a method to keep rainwater from washing away everything in its path as it traveled along the slope of their garden. ``It was self-defense primarily,'' Sonja admitted. ``Tom began the five-year project of shoring up the yard, strategically placing railroad ties to prevent washing, erosion and the spreading of topsoil.''

Knowing that so many people donated plants and that Tom and Sonja conquered an awkward garden site, I appreciated the landscape even more than I might otherwise have as we began our tour.

``The front yard is actually the last project that Tom did,'' Sonja told me. ``We put 4 o'clocks all along the driveway so that we could get that honey smell late in the evening. It's absolutely wonderful.''

A great wall

We turned the corner to walk along a broad path. It led to a pleasant side garden bordered on one edge by tall rose of Sharon plants. ``This is an area that we have nicknamed the Great Wall of China,'' she explained. The sturdy walkway has a few steps to accommodate the change in grade and is built of stones that have been set in cement. The names of their daughter and a pet dog etched into the mortar are a nice touch that softens this Great Wall. ``We just put all of our names along here,'' Sonja said The entire path is outlined with railroad ties.

``Tom was trying to stop the wash (out) so he created the beds here,'' she continued pointing to a small flower bed nearby that contains more gifts of iris, bread and butter pickles, shasta daisies and naked ladies. ``It's kind of a little of everything,'' she said.

To contend with the ever-present problem of rainwater runoff in the back, Tom built a series of tiers throughout the garden, edging each area with railroad ties and filling the space in with topsoil. ``He did all the heavy stuff,'' Sonja said. ``Then I came in and did all the plants. ... The final count of railroad ties for the yard is 300 and 22 dump truck loads of topsoil,'' she said.

Just before the entrance to the backyard an enclosed structure houses a composting area. ``This is our dog run that a dog has never darkened the doorway of,'' she said laughing. ``So we use it for our compost pile. What is really neat about these compost piles is that our neighbors, along with us, will put leaves in here.'' Other neighbors contribute horse manure to expedite the composting process. ``So we have some of the best compost in town,'' Sonja said. ``This is absolutely wonderful.''

Thorny situation

We entered the back garden. Tall yellow locust trees and hedge apple trees shade the area. Sonja has hated the thorns for the 12 years the Woods have lived with these native trees. She knows their painful punctures first hand. ``I have had a bajillion tetanus shots from those darn thorns,'' she exaggerated. Yet, she finally came to appreciate the trees last spring when her mother-in-law pointed out a small wren delicately making its way through the sharp thorns. ``I thought, OK, maybe there is a reason why these are here,'' she conceded.

``We also have hedge apple trees,'' she said. ``We used to send bags of hedge apples to the landfill.'' One time she counted 21 bags of the large green fruits at the curbside. ``They were horrible.'' Now the hedge apples are tossed into a corner of the back garden. ``The squirrels eat them all winter long,'' she said.

Someone to remember

More than 50 percent of the back garden is thickly covered in perennial vinca. Large hostas gather under a tree to the right. Impatiens brighten the entrance to a walkway that leads visitors through the garden. Visible only when the stems of the tall impatiens are pushed aside are small iris plants, the rhizomes of which are much smaller than a person's little finger. The iris originally grew at the grave of Sonja's Uncle Frank.

``I think my grandmother must have planted those before she died 50 years ago,'' she said. ``I reworked all of those iris around the gravesite. There were hundreds of them. So I brought them back here and planted some throughout the yard.'' This is the third year for the plants in their new home and each year they have produced more flowers than they did the previous year. ``This year I had 5 or 6 blooms, `` Sonja said. ``I was ecstatic. It's just amazing how resilient they are.''

Wildlife orchard

The two of us walked along to the back portion of the garden that sits in a bit more sun since the power company trimmed out some trees a few years ago. Roses, daylilies and peonies each have their own little section of the garden. An area of fruit trees, filled with cherry, peach and apple trees, is fondly called Hazel's orchard in honor of Tom's mother. ``We planted this for her,'' Sonja said. ``She's a plant person.'' No one worries about harvesting any of the fruit. ``It's more of an animal habitat,'' she explained. ``That's the point.''

Like most of us, the Woods have seen the usual assortment of wildlife -- squirrels, lots of birds and plenty of locusts. But they have also seen two peacocks in their garden. ``We have no idea where they came from,'' she said. ``We're sure they are someone's pets.''

Stone paths make traveling easy from one garden area to another and serve as a platform under a park bench near Hazel's orchard. ``The rocks are my favorite part of this,'' Sonja admitted. ``These are all hand-cut and were used in a southeast Missouri home foundation that was built prior to Missouri becoming a state in 1820.'' She and Tom collected the beautifully colored stones after her brother bought the property.

Just as we were about done with our tour Sonja mentioned something about kindred spirits and the gifts they give each other. ``Gardeners kind of hang out that way. It's just great fun. Of course it encourages us to do more,'' she said. ``Now that we've done the standard stuff, we're kind of thinking maybe we need to get more exotic here.''

They have already had two contributions to that expanded aspect of their garden. Katherine from Missouri gave them an unusual Cyprus plant and an ornamental miniature potato vine.

-- Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. You can send e-mail to her at gardenspot@ljworld.com.

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