Editor’s note: “Welcome to My Garden” is a monthly column of news and advice for gardeners and would-be gardeners in the Danville area.
Last month is predicted to be the hottest July on record. In Danville and surrounding areas we have been fortunate to receive some rainfall to help our gardens and landscapes, but crops are another concern. The early, warm spring was a warning to experienced gardeners to spend extra time getting plants and trees in good condition for the coming heat. Healthy plants in good soil have a better chance of survival than stressed plants when the weather doesn’t cooperate.
I know I’m not the only person looking forward to cooler days. Right now I’m spending time deadheading and trimming sun-burnt leaves to uncover the green that lies beneath. Don’t give up on your garden! You will be rewarded this fall for your trimming and watering. Proof of this is demonstrated in our featured garden this month.
Floann and Morris Strevels have a cottage garden with a lot of whimsy. I call it a family affair. Floann tells how she started this garden 20 or more years ago. As her granddaughter Griffin turned 6 years old, Floann noticed that she had a buddy constantly watching from a nearby swing and later climbing trees to supervise her Grams. Over the years, grandmother and granddaughter have continued tending the flowers, sometimes switching tasks as Grams’ knees or hands might need a rest. Griffin is right there to do what needs to be done. One of the many benefits of being a gardener is sharing the love of gardening with the next generation.
Splashes of color everywhere build up a sense of anticipation even before you enter the Strevels’ garden. The brick wall at the end of the drive acts as a backdrop for Floann’s iron fire surrounds, collected over years of estate sales and such. Even the home’s exterior seems to let you know that fun is ahead for all who venture in.
Approaching the entrance, you see an old iron fence purchased at one of the Cincinnati Flower Shows and planted with rows of marigolds. Floann tells about buying the fence without knowing the length she needed, only to find she was short when she got it home. She finally found enough to finish it several years later.
Crepe myrtle blossoms of red, pink and white sway against a background of tall hedges and huge hibiscus flowers, demanding the attention of visitors. Just to the right of the fencing hangs a sign that bears the name “G & G Garden.” The garden of Grams and Griffin Leigh is correctly named, since both have shared the vision of how this garden would be seen. Little by little, the two gardeners started their “joy” garden.
Standing at attention ahead is a sun face mounted on a post covered with vinca. The vine is trimmed to look like hair surrounding the sun’s face. Floann laughs when she remembers her daughter, Stephanie Blevins, bringing the sun face and other whimsical sculptures as gifts, knowing Floann would find just the right spot to fit them in among all the plants.
Passing into the garden, a covered archway beckons visitors to walk through to the bench waiting at the end of the path, inviting them to sit and rest. Pieces of tiles with clever or inspiring inscriptions frame the rear area. Here, the shade of trees and the nodding Asiatic lilies make me want stay and absorb the beauty of the scene.
This spot gives a different view of what lies ahead. In the middle of the yard, just off a large patio, is a fish pond covered in beautiful, yellow water lilies. A small waterfall splashes gently with the sound of running water. I also find another special bench with tiles giving advice such as “Come Grow Old with Me, the Best is Yet to Be.” Another says, “Dance Like No One’s Watching.” Between the tiles in the back and seat of the bench are pieces of ivy patterned china that was a wedding present when Morris and Floann began their life together. These broken pieces hold many memories of table talk with their two small children, now grown.
On the way into the house as our tour ended, I couldn’t help noticing the pots full of rocks of all shapes and colors, from all the Morris family’s summer trips to national parks. In another bucket, nestled in the center of rocks, were two stepping stones, each with its own hand prints of the two grandchildren, Griffin, and her brother Grant — Christmas gifts in years past.
All visitors enjoy discovering things tucked almost in plain sight, but somehow it’s up to you to notice. Before leaving, I saw the swing still hanging where Griffin used to sit as a small child watching her Grams plant all the beautiful flowers in the window boxes. I couldn’t resist taking one more picture of them both at the swing. As I drive away from this wonderful “joy” garden, I know that life lessons shared by Grams with Griffin will someday be passed on to Griffin’s own grandchild.
With a cottage garden like this one, the plantings are closer together and may seem to the viewer to be unplanned, but it takes skill to get that look. On closer inspection you see the ins and outs, the high and low plants, all playing together nicely even with differing shapes and colors. In the children’s classic “Tales of Beatrix Potter,” the author’s garden in England served as a model and inspiration for the backdrop of her naughty animals. Studying the illustrations for these stories you will discover another of Miss Potter’s pastimes — plants and gardening.
Helpful tips from local gardeners
This time of year it seems like everyone is overrun with tomatoes.
If you don’t grow your own, a neighbor is eager to share, or there’s always the Farmers Market.
A local gardener sent in this simple recipe for turning those excess tomatoes into rich sauce to freeze and use all winter long, using a slow-cooker. This method keeps you and your kitchen cool.
Core the tomatoes and cut away any blemishes. (This is a good way to use up less than perfect tomatoes.) Plum or Roma tomatoes don’t need to be cored.
Pile tomatoes in a slow cooker turned on high. Keep piling until the last tomato rolls off the top, then cover. When they boil, reduce the heat to low, and leave them to simmer for 12 to 24 hours, until it looks thick and smells irresistible. Different varieties of tomatoes have different sugar and water content, so will require varying cooking times; it’s up to you to decide when it’s done.
If it looks like there’s too much liquid take the lid off for several hours to reduce. When cool pour into blender or run through a food mill.
A blender blends in all the seeds and peel, but they almost disappear. A food mill removes seeds and peel. Freeze in various size containers and use as a plain, unseasoned base for chili, spaghetti sauce, pot roast, or any recipe that calls for tomato sauce or paste.
If you or someone you know has a garden that I might feature, please let me know. I invite your questions and comments, including gardening tips you have found helpful. Send your comments, questions, or tips to email@example.com.
Sarah Wiltsee is the president of The Garden Club of Danville.