Garden Diary - June 2019

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Designed for Nature Garden Tour
Saturday, 15 June 2019

I saw mention of this event in the Tohickon Garden Club newsletter. No matter that earlier in the week I had visited five Vermont gardens. Since the six gardens are all in Pennsylvania I would again be leaving New Jersey. However this would be a drive-my-car rather than a train journey. The modest charge ($10 for prior registration, $15 if I wait until the day of the event) means I can wait and see what the weather might be that day. It's good. I go.

As I am registering the day of the event I must go to the garden of Judith Fraivillig and Ben Bell to sign in and pay up. That means I'll be visiting the six gardens in reverse order of their numbering. Doesn't really matter, they are all reasonably convenient to each other. Parking is - for all except one garden - along the street. That means more parallel parking in one day than I normally do in a month. Or more.

Sponsored by The Woman's National Farm & Garden Association, Bucks County Branch in partnership with Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve, Audubon PA and Bucks County Audubon Society, today's Designed for Nature garden tour showcases local residential gardens in transition to the use of native plants and creative water management. Some of the gardens are well established, one is less than a year old. A few were designed by professionals, others by the home owner. Most are urban, on smaller lots surrounded by nearby neighbors, a couple are set on more spacious ground but hardly suburban. So there is an interesting mix of sites and situations. Interesting to see what has been created with the different options.

The Garden of Judith Fraivillig and Ben Bell, on Linden Avenue in Doylestown, PA

This garden, set on an urban corner lot, is the one that has made the heaviest use of native plants. There is one purple clematis and seasonal containers, but every other plant - from lawn to ground cover, shrubs to rain garden - is native. It was professionally designed, and Matt Benzie of Indigenous Ingenuities was there to answer questions.

Even the hell strip between sidewalk and street is planted to natives.

People standing in a No-Mow lawn, a mix of creeping and bunch growing fescues.
The tousled, ankle high, grasses can grow in sun or partial shade, need little water,
no fertilizer. Mow once in late spring, once in fall. Withstands moderate foot traffic.

If the plants you want grow thickly enough there should be no room
for weeds. It's seems to work here, with evergreen Sedum ternatum
on the right and Iris cristata on the left. Nice foliage, earlier flowers.

The rain garden is quite interesting. Formerly there was a downspout which
ran underground and exited through a curb to dispose of water into the street.
This has now been re-routed, discharging water into a rain garden. Somewhat
recessed, the site takes the water, allows it to percolate into the ground, and
has herbaceous plants that thrive with situations that are sometimes very wet.

The Garden of Nancy Mills, on Harvey Avenue in Doylestown, PA

Designed by David Hughes of Weatherwood Design, this three year old back garden set on a small urban lot is, in a way, also an even younger garden.


As can be seen in this before photograph, there was an upwardly sloped lawn.

Three years ago an attractive, gently curving retaining wall was built and
soil brought in to level the site. Woody plants were installed two years ago.
Herbaceous plants were installed this year. They will establish and fill in.

The Garden of Barbara Davies, on West Ashland Street in Doylestown, PA

This small upward sloping garden to the rear of the house is a lemons into lemonade situation. A large old tree in the backyard had to be removed. Faced with a sudden change to what was once a shady site it's difficult to think what to do.

Barbara turned to Beverly Auvril Landscape Design.
The result - a patio seating area close to the house
and a narrow winding path leading up to the rear.

Easy care native plants such as this lovely oak leaf hydrangea,
Hydrangea quercifolia, other native shrubs and perennials
came from Gino's Nursery, who also did the installation work.

The Garden of Greg and Gianina Nixon, on Scarlet Oak Drive in Doylestown, PA

This site is one of the larger properties on today's tour, and perhaps the youngest garden designed for nature, less than a year old. The issues were that there was extensive lawn, which was a nuisance to mow, and also a water run-off issue. There was a bonus for today's tour also - the wide driveway was lined with native plants for sale. Raffle tickets on sale for a custom painted rain barrel too lovely to leave out in the weather. And a fascinating display

of bird nests. Don't fret -
some birds, including robins, do not reuse nests, year to year, and those are fake eggs.

Large areas of turf were removed from around the trees between the street and the house. Leaf mulch was used to cover the ground, and both native and shade tolerant perennials were planted. In the interests of community outreach, Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve offered a plant grant to the Bucks County Branch of the Woman's National Farm & Garden Association. Volunteers from both organizations helped the homeowners plant 5 native shrubs and 80 perennials to begin developing the area for wildlife value and water management.

A small swale / ditch channels water across the property and also delineates
the remaining lawn area from the designed for nature plantings. Two simple
wooden footbridges allow easy crossing, where you don't just step across.

In one place inside the designed for nature area the water course
was widened to a little pool. Water flow should deter mosquitoes.

Behind the house there is a very attractive vegetable garden. A fence

is covered with our native red honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens.
It has an extended period of bloom, and hummingbirds adore it.

The rear of the vegetable garden has a magnificent chicken run with a little passageway to the coop. There is a large barred Plymouth rock rooster who, under his neck feathers has a collar. He eats, he drinks, but it keeps him from vociferously crowing. There are two black Australorp and two barred rock hens. The family's two daughters used a Star Wars theme to name the hens; for example one is Princess Layer.

The Garden of Jim Baldassare, on Pebble Woods Drive in Doylestown, PA

This well-established garden has been a work in progress for many years. And it would seem that designed for nature was the only option. The owner is involved with the native plant demonstration garden in Central Park, Doylestown Township. (I do wish an address had been included in the brochure that came with my ticket purchase.) Also, he is coordinator for Bird Town of Doylestown. Over the years non-native plants have been removed, replaced with native shrubs and perennials. Nature is one of the "designers" as native volunteer plants have found themselves at home in the untended woods. Jeff Schumacher's landscape design and construction company assisted in the incorporation of native plants in the planting areas closer to the house.

A stunning combination for pollinators welcomes visitors at the front walk:
vivid orange Asclepias tuberosa, and fuchsia of wine cups, Callirhoë involucrata.

Popular even with gardeners ignorant of and unimpressed by
its native antecedents, Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'.

Even better when it can partner with the ferny leaves and
spidery, airy flowers of goat's beard, Aruncus dioicus.

Nature, native. Doesn't mean unkempt and messy.
This is, after all, a garden. Something as simple as
a fernery, soft plumes of the fronds against a tree,
a low wall giving the elucidation "This is a garden."

The Garden of Jo Schuler and Harry Baum, on Aarons Avenue in New Britain, PA

Audubon's Bird Town program clearly has an impact. Jo Schuler began integrating native plants into her garden in support of the New Britain Borough chapter's "Healthy Yard' pledge. This encourages residents to use more native plants, remove invasive plants, reduce storm water runoff, eliminate the use of pesticides, and provide for and protect birds. The result is a lovely garden that accommodates the owners fondness for containers of succulents and staghorn ferns which clearly migrate indoors for the winter.

Have you ever seen such a lovely, vine covered dog pen. Clearly, their dogs,
past and present, are very much loved. Not just the engraved garden stones
in memoriam, but also that the dogs were included as garden designers. Their
winding paths through the side garden were given permanency with pavers.

Clearly popular and a good do-er, this must be the third garden
today where I've seen Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'. And

just beyond it, nestled in the ferns,
a sweet little bird house on a pedestal.

One thing I especially appreciate in this garden is a
botanical garden level of labeling plants. Well done!

Six very personal gardens, each with a different level of execution. All incorporated native plants, some more so, others less. And from each of the six gardens there was something to learn. A pleasant, informative outing.

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