Archive for Sunday, June 20, 1999


June 20, 1999


Betty and Richard Farran have owned their home for several years, but only began focusing on the garden in the last five.

When it comes to gardening, some people describe themselves as novices. They explain that they've only been gardening a few years. As if to rationalize the condition of their gardens, they mention that they have no special training and have been learning as they go. And even though they know what they like, novices often confess to being unsure that what they like is what is "supposed" to be in a garden.

I have seen gardens by these so-called novices and they are wonderful. Yet, when I ask to write about them, they hesitate, fretting that their gardens are not as beautiful as the ones normally featured in the Garden Spot.

Betty Farran was like this. I had actually seen the Farrans' garden while driving around town at the end of fall last year. I phoned them to request an interview. But they put me off saying their garden was on the decline after the long summer and suggested I call back this spring. So I waited and contacted them recently. Fortunately, they were more willing to let me show off the glory of the garden.

Gardens adorn the front and back yards and extend into the narrow side yards too. At the curb, spirea, sage and yucca plants fill in circular beds on either side of the driveway. Monkey grass grows along the borders. White daisies and pale yellow daylilies add just the right amount of color. And the evening primroses open at 8:40 p.m., precisely.

Evergreen bushes grow in small neat mounds in front of the house. Along the left side, iris and daylilies blend in with the neighbor's flowerbed filled with an unusual near-black hollyhock. Bellflowers light up the north side of the Farran house.

White petunias fill in several baskets around the front door and the delicate blooms of moonbeam coreopsis with its feathery foliage fill in two open squares in the concrete entrance. A rich purple clematis with huge blooms climbs a post.

At the right side of the driveway beautiful tall lilies bloom amid purple leafed coral bells, lythrum blooming in pink spires and mums waiting their turn. Tucked into one corner a sweet potato vine offers a pleasant contrast with its deeply loved dark purple leaves. A sweet-smelling butterfly bush loaded with lavender cone-shaped blooms spreads out just before the path leading to the back yard.

Division of labor

Though the Farrans have lived in their home for 28 years, it is only in the last five years they have taken the time to garden. Richard is responsible for all the heavy things, such as moving the rocks that outline all of the flower beds, digging big holes and putting in the stone walkway in the backyard. Betty does most of the other work in the garden.

"I've learned to garden," Betty said. "It's done by trial and error. I'm still learning."

One of the things she has learned is to amend the clay soil that plagues their garden site. When they put plants in the garden, the clay is removed and replaced with topsoil, humus and manure.

"That made all the difference," she said.

It must have. The garden in the back is even more spectacular than the one in front. The back garden is alive with the bright colors of lilies, clematis and lythrum. The shady parts are filled with hostas and shade-loving ground cover.

Ornamental nature

A relatively small patch of grass is surrounded by gardens on all sides, one garden even extends beyond the fence line that separates the property from Kasold. Purple lythrum and bridal bushes make the perfect barrier to traffic beyond the chain link fence.

The first garden we came upon was one filled with a variety of ornamental grasses.

"Dick wanted a grass garden," Betty explained. Zebra grass, blood grass, pampas grass and sea oats grow and blow in the breeze. Black-eyed Susans and three rose bushes also call this garden home. Other ornamental items in this garden are an unusual rock from South Dakota that sparkles in the front and a wagon wheel that rests against a large piece of driftwood.

In a sunny garden spot next to the patio, daylilies bloom in bright colors.

"My favorite flowers are lilies," Betty admitted. Daylilies, Oriental and Asiatic lilies are all welcome in the garden. Black-eyed Susans take over a corner.

Behind the patio, a large maple tree spreads its long branches to shade a considerable area.

"This is one of the most challenging," she said, "because the tree absorbs most of the moisture from the plants." Yet, hostas, monkey grass, lily of the valley and a ground cover with tiny white flowers seem totally content here.

Another challenge the Farrans face is keeping Fred, their Great Dane, out of the garden.

"He likes to rearrange my garden," Betty said. To keep the dog out of the flowers, unset mousetraps are intermittently placed on the ground. "He's learning," she added. Whenever Fred encounters a trap, "he walks around" the garden rather than through it.

The patio itself is decked out with several containers filled with red impatiens. "Each year I do a different bloom," Betty said. Because Richard is fond of red, she used red plants this year. "My favorite was white," she said.

Most of the garden is planted with perennials.

"I very seldom plant an annual," Betty noted. The impatiens in the patio containers, petunias at the front of the house and a few zinnias sprinkled throughout the garden are the exceptions.

Past and present

Forsythia bushes and peonies grow along the right side of the back garden. "My mother brought me peonies and daffodils," she stated. She said her mother had a green thumb and was helpful in getting her garden started. Her mother also gave Betty good advice. "She told me that I kill plants with kindness." The offending kindness -- overwatering. Betty has since learned to curtail her overzealous watering. Her mother died two years ago. "She didn't get to see the yard," Betty said. "I took her pictures while she was in the hospital."

Betty also takes pictures to compare the garden from one year to the next. "I will plant something and take a picture," she said. She uses the photos to decide what she likes and what she doesn't like about the look of the previous year's garden so changes can be made.

By her own admission, Betty has a soft spot for plants. She finds it difficult to toss out any of them.

"Everything I plant, I want to make sure it grows," she stated. When the perennials such as iris and black-eyed Susans need dividing, she digs them up and gives them to one of her four daughters or friends. She also has a penchant for rescuing ill plants. "I love to nurture things," she said. "I love to take care of things."

Several plants in the garden have thrived under her care. The rose bushes in the grass garden were salvaged from the Farrans' daughter's garden. They were struggling to survive when Betty came to their rescue. She is spraying them and coaxing them back to health. Other plants in her garden are "strays" that she has found. One, an unidentified bush, had been spotted in the trash and rescued one evening when Richard and Betty went for a walk. Under her care, the plant has not only survived, but puts on a display of beautiful pink blossoms every spring.

Betty might describe herself as a novice, but the garden doesn't know any difference. It thrives and blooms as if being cared for by an expert.

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


Mashantucket Pequot Museum is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily through Labor Day. Admission is $10, $8 for adults 55 and older, $6 for children 6 to 15.

Mystic Aquarium is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Visitors can remain until 6 p.m. From July 1 through Labor Day, it will remain open until 6 p.m. and visitors can remain until 7 p.m. Admission is $13, $12 for seniors, $8 for children 3 to 12.

Mystic Seaport is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Its ships and exhibits are open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $16, $8 for children 6 to 12.

Historic Ship Nautilus and Submarine Force Museum are at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton. Through Oct. 31, hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, except 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays. During peak tourist season, the line to see Nautilus closes at 3:30 p.m. The place is closed for routine maintenance the last full week in October. No admission is charged for the sub or museum. Parking is free.

The aquarium, Indian museum and seaport plan to offer discounted combination admission tickets this summer.

The 168-page Connecticut Vacation Guide and 1999 Spring/Summer Special Events Calendar are available free by calling (800) 282-6863, ext. 88. Computer users can check the Connecticut Office of Tourism Web site at

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