Gardening — whether for aesthetics, for vegetables or for medicinals — goes back thousands of years. This year, in the time of the coronavirus, gardening has seen a resurgence, offering a healthy dose of beauty, produce as well as therapy.
People have lots of time on their hands — and since spring, more than a little dusting of dirt.
Today’s Weelunk post offers a virtual tour of a few gardens around the Ohio Valley.
Every year, Anne Foreman — artist and gardener extraordinaire — buys a pair of garden gloves. But she never uses them. She loves the feel of dirt on her hands as she tends to her secret backyard garden in the Woodsdale neighborhood of Wheeling.
“You have to feel how clumpy the earth is, how much you have to offset it with sand or organic material. I can’t get the feel I want with garden gloves,” Anne said.
Gardening for her is “a time when I can meditate, be by myself. It’s a peaceful part of my day and I enjoy it.”
In the last six years, she has transformed her yard — which was just grass and a garage when the family moved in decades ago — into a special place filled with visual delights.
A peek over the fence offers a spectacular sight — a weathered bench, miniature birdhouses, a rusty rooster, wicker baskets overflowing with flowers, an apple tree surrounded by cobblestones and adorned with antique kitchen utensils, and two claw foot bathtubs full of annuals.
Her backyard is exquisite in its wash of colorful blooms and creative décor that offer proof of her artistic talents. “I like to have surprises in every corner.”
A cluster of black-eyed susans near the middle of the side yard.
A mixture of coneflowers and black-eyed susans cluster under the birch tree in the side yard.
Purple candle flowers are surrounded by artemesia beside the brick courtyard.
A rusted rooster that doubles as a fountain has a huge display of tiny blooms that are almost the same color. It sits on the hearth of the outdoor fireplace on the deck.
A purple bench holds a pot of yellow and orange blooms that overflow the container in a sunny spot near the giant dawn redwood.
A rustic, weathered bench with a miniature birdhouse on one end holds a single wicker basket of blooms, exploding in the sunny part of the brick courtyard.
FROM TUSCAN DINING TO A ZEN GARDEN TO A GNOME HOUSE
Everywhere you look at Susan and Bill Hogan’s one-acre plot of land, there is beauty.
Sculptures of peacocks, a puddle pond for two small frogs, a Koi pond with a 12-year-old golden inhabitant, a bridge reminiscent of a Monet painting, a Mickey Mouse fairy garden … it’s all magical, as far as the eye can see.
Growing up on Echo Terrace, Susan learned about gardening by helping her mom and dad in their rock gardens and with their houseplants. When she and Bill moved to their W.Va. 88 home, she had her first “empty canvas — a garden full of magnificent trees, a lot of lawn and a funky pony shed. It has become our Valhalla, our sacred space.”
The blue chair garden has a little puddle pond that two small frogs inhabit year after year. The highlight is the white althea multi-petaled rose of sharon.
The “Bill’s Forest” creation was completed in July. At night, amber lights welcome people on W.Va. 88. It is level with the sidewalk, so that Bill can easily walk in for a sit-down to read the paper, meditate and enjoy the grand pines, Susan said.
The Gnome House was built by Bill Hogan’s nephews 30 years ago, made with 1920s framed windows from a home on Howard Hill in Wheeling.
The 1-day-old Appalachian Zen garden was created in two days this summer -- one digging up years of flowers and plants that ran out of sunlight and the other building the rock river from rocks dug from that space.
Two huge limbs of the old front-yard maple tree had filled with water in the trunk, and the remnants provided a fabulous Mickey silhouette, Susan said. It turned into a Mickey Mouse fairy garden. The tree is still full of water, so Susan rarely has to water the geraniums.
The following photos are of the Koi pond and Buddha garden. The bridge answered the dilemma of the pendula tree roots pushing the slate stones to dangerous heights, so Bill couldn’t safely get to his shed, Susan noted. The pond was created 12 or so years ago, and “this ‘live aspect’ to our gardens has brought us such joy and peace, it is difficult to describe,” Susan said.
Jay Frey and Michael Hires live at the foot of Howard Hill in the Pleasanton neighborhood of Wheeling. Jay notes that they spend a great deal of time on their terrace, which overlooks the garden.
“It’s a small space, and there are a number of mature boxwoods that limit what we can plant,” Jay said. A couple of years ago, they removed some pine trees, replacing them with oak leaf ruby slipper hydrangea, with beautiful blossoms that start out white, turn cream and then pink to red from late summer to fall.
“We wanted color; we got it,” he said. “The year we moved into our place, we planted forever summer hydrangea, which were pink. In spite of my fertilizing them with lime in early spring, we get blossoms that range from pink to blue and purple. Michael calls them ‘Franken-drangea,’” Jay said.
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They also have some David Austin English roses, a climber called Woolerton Old Hall and a shrub named for Gertrude Jekyll, the famous English horticulturalist and garden designer. “Their colors — pale apricot and pink — complement our magenta-colored buddleja (butterfly bush),” Jay noted. They’ve also placed a granite urn topped by an armillary to provide some sculptural visual interest to their boxwood hedge.
Gertrude Jekyll rose
Forever summer and ruby slipper hydrangea
Zebra swallow tail on buddleja (butterfly bush)
Hydrangea with armillary and boxwood hedge
HOW DOES MARY’S GARDEN GROW?
Mary and Steve Suhler relocated to Wheeling’s Edgewood/Woodsdale neighborhood from the west coast to be close to her daughter’s family — and “two wonderful granddaughters,” Mary said.
“Since I am retired, have the time to spend with them, and pursue my interests in gardening, getting to know the community, biking and volunteer activities. We moved into a 110-year-old home so, needless to say, there is plenty of work to be done refurbishing this old house.”
A hedge and chain-link fence surrounded the yard when they moved in, and the “landscaping” consisted of overgrown bushes, she said. Once all that was removed, “the next step was to plant cardboard, as some neighbors remarked. To discourage the weeds, I placed some moving boxes where the future flowerbeds would be, and covered the cardboard with mushroom manure. By spring, the cardboard had composted, the beds where ready to plant.”
Mary’s garden is a mixture of annuals and perennials. “I enjoy watching the bees and butterflies feast on the flowers, and I am pleased that neighbors also enjoy the flowers.”
“I also enjoy growing vegetables, although the rabbits and deer make that challenging. My husband erected a fence around the raised bed garden. That helped but it had to be fortified as new access points were discovered. The tomatoes, corn and beans are remarkable this year,” she said.
A pink flamingo keeps watch over some fruit trees.
A row of colorful flowers replaced hedges that were at the Suhler home when they moved in two years ago.
A pop of color adds to the beauty of Mary’s garden.
A vintage find makes for a lovely accent to the front garden.
Mary grew corn and other vegetables in her backyard this summer.
A NICE BLEND
Brianna and Eric Blend of the Blended Homestead have a nice mix of squash, cucumbers, peppers, onions, garlic scapes, tomatoes, basil and adorable Minnosota Midget Melons. And sunflowers — lots and lots of sunflowers.
The couple started growing for farmers’ markets in 2017. Eric has attended as many gardening classes as he can, such as the West Virginia University Master Gardeners classes and other beneficial classes that are offered in the area.
“The vast majority of our produce was grown from seed that we nurtured from day one,” he said.
Eric and Brianna raise layer chickens, pasture-raised chickens, pasture-raised pigs, a variety of produce and honey bees. They sell at three local farmers markets — The Highlands Farmers’ Market, the Wheeling Farmers’ Market and the Brooke County Farmers’ Market. Brianna’s sweet breads are popular item at the markets around the area, too. They also sell their farm products at the Public Market in Wheeling.
Burr gherkins look and taste very similar to cucumbers.
Basil loves tomatoes. “We plant basil in between our tomato plants. Basil and tomatoes are companion plants, which mean they benefit by being grown close together. … Many gardeners swear growing basil near tomatoes [is] supposed to make your tomatoes sweeter. It is proven that planting basil near tomatoes repels many pests that can eat them,” Eric said.
The Blends grow two varieties of cherry tomatoes -- super sweet 100s and sungolds. It makes for a nice variety in a salad, Eric said.
Eric Blend shows their first harvest of Minnesota Midget Melons.
“We planted a row of sunflowers this year for many reasons. We farm beside a housing development, so it creates a natural barrier in between our farm and our neighbors’ backyards. They enjoy the sunflowers and having a nice background, and our honeybees enjoy having more pollination and food for their hives,” Eric said, noting that their sunflowers are “a win-win-win for farmers, customers and neighbors.”
Brianna Blend offers yellow squash, zucchini, cucumbers, hot peppers, onions and garlic scapes at the Wheeling Farmers’ Market.
• Phyllis Sigal spent nearly 38 years as reporter, bureau chief, lifestyles editor and managing editor at The Times Leader, and as design editor at The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register. After a little over two and a half years, today, Sept. 2, 2020, is her last day as Weelunk’s managing editor. She lives in Wheeling with her husband Bruce Wheeler. Along with their two children, son-in-law and two grandchildren, food, wine, travel, theater and music are close to their hearts.