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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Melanie's Old Country Garden

Hello World!

With a feeling similar to stepping out on a gangplank, I find myself here facing a blank page. Those of you who know me from various lists will agree that I do like to write down my thoughts. The rest of you hopefully will follow along and become new friends.

As the Title of my blog states, I am a gardener. Oh, that's not all, there's many things going on in my life but gardening is the passion that rules my heart and fills my senses with an indescribable joy. I could not ignore the other parts of my life, my husband Don, my girls Lauren and Emily, my wonderful Mom Carla and so many others. Yet, the main ingredient of this blog will always center around gardening.

It probably would have been smart of me to read a few other blogs before stepping into this endeavor but the need, the urge to write was too strong. Forgive me for any faux-paux that might be committed here.

Starting at the beginning would probably be a good idea. A quick overview wouldn't hurt either. I am a stay at home Mom who does quite a bit of garden lecturing, writing and photography as a small side business. Make that quite small, I'm happy if I earn enough money to fund this obsession of mine. With the need for hardscape in the garden, decks, wall stones and more, I hope to enlargen this business some day.

My garden is quite large for where we live. Here on the north shore of Long Island New York, we are surrounded by many typical surburban lots consisting of 1/4 to 1/3 acres. With luck, we found an area that still has some large parcels although many are being covered with new homes. Our own lot, is 1.3 acres. Roughly 130' wide and maybe 460' deep. Trees surround us, one neighbor has let her property go "natural", and the other side belongs to the town and is filled with wild Cherry Trees, Oaks, Maples and of course, the everpresent poison ivy.

It took two years of searching before we settled here in the summer of 1997. The house although quite charming, did not meet all of our "must have's" on the list but the large piece of property, plenty of full sun and inground sprinkler system was too good to pass up. Throw in the fact that there was a bathroom in the yard (called a Cabana by the real estate folks but more like a shed with a toilet) and there was no way we were going to walk away from this diamond in the rough.

The house was built in 1960, coincidently the same year as me :-) Modeled on an old Williamsburg Colonial, it has a wonderful stone facade, slate and oak floors, plaster walls and cast iron radiators. The old formica bathrooms though come nowhere near quaint or charming and I have to admit that they haven't been changed one bit. The gardens though... now there's where all the changes have happened.

1.3 acres, a paradise for a girl who grew up in Queens on a tiny postage stamp sized lot. I'm the first gardener to have moved into this house. The property most likely was a potato farm before this house was built here. Flat and not a tree around. The previous owners made the usual mistakes, foundation plantings that were not meant to stay low growing (yews and Rhododendrons), a smattering of Silver Maples that have become enormous and love to drop limbs here and there and the best feature of all, a Wisteria. Only problem was they had planted the Wisteria smack in the middle of the sunny 3/4 acre front lawn and proceded to treat it like a shrub. Continuosly cut back to a 3' height, it sent up many new shoots and was trimmed into the oddest ball shape. Luckily for me, they had moved a slip over to the side of the property and planted it at the base of a large telephone pole beside our driveway. With much judicious pruning from my husband Don, it now looks like a lovely tree and once it leafs out, people don't even realize that there is a telephone pole there.

At this point I don't know if I should continue with history or get into some real dirt. The real dirt, gardening is calling so strongly that I think the history will have to wait and get woven into this tapesty, my new blog, sometime in future posts.

Passion, Obsession, or what? I don't know if there is a word strong enough to describe the need to be in the garden. The obsession of a plant-a-holic, to have everything there is to be had growing in ones garden.

Up until recently I was a confirmed perennial plant freak. That's not to say that I'm no longer into perennials. Oh no, instead my passion has morphed and grown, kind of like the blob to encompase more, More, MORE of the plant world. Finally the realization that there is enough room here to go above and beyond perennials has sunk in. Last year shrubs were added like crazy, tropicals tried out in the many containers that are scattered about and thanks to two friends, even a tentative foray into the ornamental tree scene.

Collectoritis, that says it all. If I have a plant that I like and there are more types of it available, then I just must try others. More success only means more plants until I wonder at the array of growing material here. Daylily hybrids easily claim the top of the ladder. With about 600 different varieties, I just can't say no to another one. Hosta come next with just over 100 named plants. Sedum hold firmly to third place but from there the list gets misty. Close your eyes and throw a dart, your likely to hit a Heuchera, Pulmonaria, Nepeta, Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Dicentra, or a dozen other collections.

The driveway here is shaped like an elongated letter S and runs about 270 feet long. The beginning is edged in natural boulders that came from when the house foundation was built. That area is shaded by Oaks and one cursed Maple so naturally the borders there are for shade plants that will tolerate dry conditions and roots.

Further down the driveway is full sun (or close to it) on one side and 1/2 day sun on the other side. The perennial borders there are about 120 feet long and range from 6 feet wide to 12 feet wide. That number will change as soon as the ground is ready to be rototilled!

Behind our house was a yard that was a source of embarresment for many years. With the worst landscaping plans possible, the previous owner put a huge rectangular pool smack in the middle of the 1/2 acre space. What more could he do wrong? How about an enormous cement patio around the pool, angled at the front end so it looks like a large battle ship. Still not convinced of the ugly factor? Add a brick patio on the back of the house shaped like the United States of America. Yup, it really looks just like that. There's a big round area for Texas, a jutting side for California, a lip around the Bilco basement door that makes a perfect Maine and a path to the cabana for Florida. To keep it all in perspective, the battleship concrete patio is sailing right into the Gulf of Mexico. Now use a brick that's not frost proof so it shatters and chips like crazy and surround the pool with a white chainlink fence and you might get the picture.

Last year was a huge milestone around here. With the larger part of the yard now fenced in, we finally cut the white chainlink fence out. The back half of the pool has a new huge bed that's walled with wall stone, complete with huge flat stone steps.

An old seedling bed behind the pool has been turned into an amazing semi-formal herb garden. The walkway covered with crushed shells collected from our beaches looks like fallen petals from flowering trees.

The compost heap was disguised with pier pilings that a local person was having ripped out of their new yard. They became the basis for a sweeping semi shade garden that is not dry but can actually be kept moist! The new plant material I can collect for there is mind boggling.

With hopes and dreams of adding another rock garden at the front end of the pool this spring, the urge to get out there and dig is almost unbearable. Yet, the snow is still on the ground and the ten day forecast doesn't have temperatures rising out of the 40's. So dreaming is still the only way to garden and writing here will hopefully be another.

The urge has actually become too stong, boots and a warm jacket are beckoning. Just imagine what might be waiting for me out there. Snowdrops, buds on the Hellebores, the intoxicating smell of the Witch Hazel, the call of the birds returning from South.... till later,


susana said...

You are a wonderful writer, evoking the real passion in my soul also, connecting with the dirt, the plants, the physical sensations and sensual delight,with the passing of time and seasons, our lives. Thank-you!

Carolyn allen said...

Hi Melanie, best wishes on your forays into gardening. I remember my first home with a garden and sympathize with your flat land, low bushes and challenges with soil planning, etc. I now keep a website with a growing collection of articles to explore outdoor living, nature and gardening. It's at
Best wishes with your new blog...and let's trade stories!
Carolyn Allen
Backyard Nature

Diane said...

Good luck with your garden and the new blog. As the gardener of another flat ex-potato field of 1.3 acre, I will be reading along with great interest.

Silvianne said...

I just came across a great gardening website called*. Not only does it feature articles for the gardening enthusiast, but has become a great gardening book
resource for me in my landscaping effort. The webmaster of this site has recently added a book section that seemed to expand everytime I go there.
What I like about it is that I get instant access to the book and don't have to wait for the book(s) to arrive which of course saves me shipping charges.... in some cases. Great idea. I love it. You must check it out today. Let me know what you think.