“I find they do much better if I leave them alone,” she laughed.
Not far from Darlene’s garden is another masterful creation that is a mixture of rose, herb, vegetable, and flower garden with something in bloom all summer long. Herbs squatted in pots near an array of roses, and vegetables peeped out from under and around prospering flowers. A portion of the plants are even arranged to replicate a lily and myrtle bed found at Potter Park Zoo.
According to owner Sandy Witgen, working on her garden has been her hobby for 25 years.
“I don’t have to go to the gym,” she confided.
Her daily workout, however, doesn’t consist of a lot of weeding. She plants
ground covers throughout her garden and recommends the Sweet Woodriff plant to eradicate Creeping Charlie. Next year, Sandy plans to replace part of her shade garden with sun-loving plants due to a necessary tree removal.
The last horticultural delight I visited belonged to Debbie Foote of St. Johns. As we stood surveying her whimsical garden complete with a strapping Clematis vine and colorful hand-knitted tree wraps, Debbie spotted a house wren darting about her flowers and told of the very first origins of her love for the outdoors and gardening. When Debbie was a little girl, her grandmother gave her a book on birds. Debbie studied it until she could identify each bird within its pages. As she immersed herself in ornithology, Debbie began to cultivate a love for every critter around her whether it had wings or not. In response to her love for the outdoors and outdoor creatures, Debbie spent 19 years expanding her garden from the size of a kitchen table to around 10,000 square feet, complete with butterfly bushes and artificial pond.
Debbie has continued to show her dedication to wildlife by turning her front yard into a meadow. “Your lawn is a desert,” she said when talking about her inspiration for the meadow project started this year.
She went on to say that all immaculate yards are devoid of anything useful to wildlife, and hopes by replacing her neatly trimmed front lawn with a meadow, to generate a source of nourishment and shelter for many bugs, birds, and animals.
This year (2014) marked Andy T’s Fourth Annual Garden Tour! Gardeners from the St. Johns and Fowler area displayed their hard work and artistic talent to anyone in want of a relaxing garden stroll. Taking advantage of this once a year opportunity, I visited these unique Michigan sights.
The first garden I had the pleasure of perusing belonged to Father Dennis Howard of Fowler. Since it happened to be a Sunday morning, I was unable to see his entire garden because Father Dennis was at service. However, his side garden was still visible: over five-foot tall sunflowers elevated to grander heights in trim, wooden boxes; robust tomatoes and cucumbers contained in cages or grasping at white lattices; and potted plants covering a quarter of the driveway.
Those with limited yard space may wish to imitate the potted garden section of his garden: a living bouquet of rosemary and Gigante d’Italia overshadowed by a sarsaparilla tree
After contacting Father Dennis, I gleaned a bit more insight into the rest of his garden and experience. His current arrangement of flowers and other plants was accomplished over 7 years, but truly it started when he was growing up in Ontario with his parents who were avid gardeners. Like his dad, Father Dennis designs his garden in the English style, incorporating evergreens and an area of water. However, working among his plants is about more than just keeping a family tradition alive.
“Gardening for me is my mental health therapy – it covers everything: the physical, spiritual, emotional – I think it has also become my form of artistic expression,” he said.
Since Father Dennis’ occupation as a priest keeps him continually busy, he has discovered a way to maintain a fantastic garden with little time commitment.
“…I grow a lot of perennials,” he said, “because once you’ve done the proper soil preparation work, the plants mostly take care of themselves.”
My second stop was Darlene Sheldon‘s garden in St. Johns. On approaching her yard, my gaze was immediately drawn to a large bed frame sunk into the grass. Not far from the bed frame were a rusty washing machine, a weather-beaten birdhouse, and an old tire, among other such time worn items. Now, before you picture your Great Uncle Hughie’s backyard,
imagine lusty marigolds and colorful coneflowers bursting out of and brushing against each antique looking item.
Darlene has spent 15 years “playing around” in her garden as she puts it, and has creatively found new uses for what some would too easily deem as junk. With no landscaping experience, she has rearranged her over 80 different types of coneflowers and other beautiful plants countless times, but has concluded that her current artistic layout is best.
Andy T's Market
Photos courtesy of Father Dennis Howard, Tom Trabue