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Archive for Sunday, June 27, 1999

PICTURE PERFECT

June 27, 1999

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Fitting gardens help a home seem more open.

You can tell what a garden will be like by the adjectives used to describe it. The general sense and character of the garden is likely to be revealed in its verbal portrait. A peaceful garden conjures up an image of a lush green space where the noise and pace of the world is shut out. A garden might be said to be magnificent when it evokes a mental picture of a garden filled with glorious plants in bloom and mature trees growing in a gently rolling expanse.

Of all the words commonly used to describe gardens -- grand, breathtaking, spectacular or inspiring, none is an exact match for the garden of Shari Head. Her garden is " well, mmm. Let me think. Yes, her garden is just right. It is fitting. It is delightful. In fact, I can't imagine that it should be any other way.

The garden is at once simple and exciting, fresh and familiar. It looks right at home with the house it surrounds. Head's garden has the appearance of being a part of the tiny 100-year-old house on Connecticut Street, like the two belong together.

Perennials are planted all along the perimeter of the property and in flowerbeds off stone walkways. The small front yard has small flowerbeds with small patches of grass surrounding them. A stone path leads visitors past a narrow side garden through a gate to the back garden. Annuals are tucked into unique containers. Old-fashioned curios are found throughout the garden. I discovered something new with each step I took during my visit.

Head was only too happy to walk me around her garden. The tour started streetside. Hostas, daylilies and spirea grow in a tidy flowerbed and surround a tree at the right. Twin flowerbeds on either side of the center walkway are alive with the dainty blooms of yellow coreopsis and white daisies. Bordering the front of the house, loosestrife grows en masse in the narrow bed. The long white necks of the flowers stretch out.

"I like it," Head said of the fast-growing plant. When it gets too aggressive, "I just pull it out once in a while," she said.

Small-sized evergreens guard the corners of the house and mounded ones mark the center path.

The neatly groomed side garden is plunged in shade and privacy by tall shrubs. At the far end, a quaint bird sanctuary occupies the corner. "I have a lot of birds," Head said. She keeps three birdbaths filled. A bird feeder is placed against a tree. Below it, a tumble of rocks prevents spilled seed from taking hold. A planting of hostas, astilbe, lamium and begonias gives depth and substance to the space.

We passed through an ivy-laden gate to the backyard. An inviting patio area with a table, chairs and a chiminea are placed just inside the gate. Ajuga softens its edges of the paving bricks.

Head led the way to several small gardens beyond the patio. Hostas along with begonias and other annuals brighten the right side. Soon we reached a wrought iron arbor at the back corner. The garden widens out at this point where more hostas, impatiens and a huge foxglove plant grow. Roses and morning glory vines climb on the sides of an arbor that protects a garden bench decorated with cushions. Behind the bench a metal sculpture of a hummingbird, a gift from Head's son, is placed by a hibiscus plant ready to bloom.

"It looks like it's trying to get nectar," she said. If visitors stop long enough to read the two stone plaques placed nearby, the inscriptions -- "The earth laughs in flowers" and "One who plants a garden, plants happiness" -- will inspire them.

A wire fence encloses the back area. In an attempt to make the back garden more private from the alley, Head planted three honeysuckle vines along the fence.

"They've taken over," she acknowledged. "I cut it back a little bit and it keeps blooming."

Bright yellow lilies, lantana and several annuals thrive atop what once had been a concrete drive that led from the alley. Most of it has been covered with topsoil. A bit of the space is scattered with gravel on which sits a decorative wheelbarrow that has been turned into a planter.

Helping hands

As most gardeners know, hauling dirt and gravel is heavy and hard work. But Head found a little help from "her boys." As housemother for the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, she finagled help in exchange for sewing on a few buttons. "I would hire some of my boys with big trucks," she admitted. "They helped. They did some hauling for me."

A garden filled with a variety of flowers grows at the center of the backyard where the walkways converge.

"I put in a lot of lantana because it fills in so well," Head stated. "(It) is my favorite flower because the insects don't bother it, you don't have to deadhead, it spreads and it takes the hot sun." Also in this garden space is a small barrel filled with aquatic plants.

"It's fun just doing it in a small space," Head said. To the right of the water garden is a little circular grass garden. "I like it because in the winter time, it's the one thing that looks alive out here," she said.

Exterior decorating

Many old-fashioned objects adorn the garden. A mole catcher trap, saws and odds and ends from plows hang on the wooden fence or are mixed in among flowers. Milk cans, large ice tongs, a rocking chair and part of an old tricycle send visitors back in time. The rusted elements add to the aura of being in another time, another place -- just as the house does. Head has collected some of the items; her father-in-law gave many to her. At one time, they belonged to his grandfather.

The artifacts are not just for show either. Head uses some of them as planters. A metal scoop overflows with portulaca. A vintage sprinkling can sprouts petunias and geraniums. An old washtub bubbles over with a sprawling grayish annual with tiny white flowers. A gypsy pot, once used for cooking, brews up some lantana and coleus.

Head claimed to be a novice gardener who started her little garden from scratch just five years ago.

"There wasn't a bush or flower anywhere," she noted. "I just started cutting places back, mostly to get some dimension to the garden." Even though she had no plan in mind, she did have a look that she was after. "I wanted it to look like what I thought an English garden looks like."

Her recently awakened gardening side receives inspiration from her twin sister who was a gardener herself. When her sister died about five years ago, Head took up the pastime.

"It was almost like she was out here with me encouraging me," she said.

The garden serves other purposes. "I was trying to make another room with the garden," Head explained. Because her house is small, she wanted to expand the look and feel of it with her garden.

She achieved the illusion by placing especially inviting garden vistas in strategic areas easily viewed from inside her house. I was invited inside Head's home to see for myself. She ushered me to the dining room. The tiny room expands with the view of the shade garden that is visible from the large picture window.

Then, I was instructed to look toward the back door, past the covered porch. My eyes noticed the rooms between the open door and me, but quickly were following the small sidewalk out into the garden. Standing in the center hall, I was visually pulled out into the garden. Incredibly, the narrow rooms enlarged as the summer blooms became visible.

The two of us then walked through the house to the front porch. Potted plants are neatly placed on the floor and small tables. Once again, the area grew in size as the garden pulled me to it.

"It gives me more space," Head asserted about the garden views from within her house.

Head is philosophical about gardening. "You don't want to be a slave to it," she said. She also realized that the best way to get into gardening is to just do it. "You just start," she said.

In the end, "Either the grubs are eating your grass or the slugs are eating your hostas," she said. "Nothing is ever perfect at one time" Wait, that's the word I was looking for -- perfect. This garden is perfect. This house and this garden are perfect for each other.

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

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