Sunday, November 27, 2011
Revisiting My 1994 Gardening "Roots"
Herbal landscape, backyard culinary garden runners-up
An herbal landscape overlooking the Mahantango Mountains and a neatly trimmed backyard culinary garden in the middle of Harrisburg won second and third place in this year's Patriot-News "How Does Your Garden Grow?" contest. Jill Wiest of Lykens Township won the $50 second prize for the landscaping job she did on her two-year-old home deep in the countryside of northern Dauphin County. While Wiest's 1-acre landscaping shows that herbs can be just as ornamental as the flowers and shrubs that most homeowners plant, Hanyok's garden shows that it doesn't take a lot of space in which to grow a great garden. The Patriot News eighth annual gardening contest this year focused on herb gardening, which has been flourishing like an upnotted mint plant these past two years. Out of 51 entries received, screening judges.... narrowed the field to six finalists. Those finalists gardens were visited in Mid-July. What the judges especially liked about Wiest's garden was how she followed the natural contour of the land in designing the beds. Rather than digging a rectangle at the base of bank, for example, Wiest wrapped one large kidney-shaped bed along the bank, added a stone bench at the bottom center of the bed, and lined the whole thing in brick. "She's blended her beds beautifully in the surrounding landscape", the judges said. It didn't hurt that Wiest's back yard also overlooks the Mahantango Mountains and valley, offering a spectacular backdrop to the gardens. (There's also a vegetable garden, a "fragrance garden" of scented herbs off the patio, and a rose/herb/flower garden in addition to the main kidney-shaped herb garden.) The judges also were impressed that Wiest did all of her landscaping in less than two years. She and her husband moved to the site and built a Victorian-style house on 7 acres that was carved out of her father's 70-acre farm. "I've grown marigolds before, but these are my first gardens." says Wiest. "I've always loved antique roses, and that's originally what I wanted to put in. But when I was reading about roses, I kept reading about how herbs make such good companions for them" That got Wiest interested in herbs, and before she knew it, she was reading herb books and making weekly trips to Fisher's Greenhouse in nearby Gratz to buy every kind of herb in the place. Besides the main herb bed and the fragrance garden, about three quarters of the rest of the property's landscaping is done in herbs. "I didn't want the traditional evergreens and flowers that everybody has", says Wiest. "I wanted something different." Instead of boxwoods and junipers, for example, the front of her house features foot-tall compact plants of germander (blooming purple) flanked by furry lamb's ears, several groups of lavender, a bank of sedum and several antique roses (which tecnically are considered herbs). In all, Wiest is using 35 different herbs in her foundation plants. The kidney-shaped bed has 42 herb varieties, including two banks of grey santolina ( a bushy gray herb with fern like foliage that can be clipped in a low hedge), several russian sage plants (tall, frilly foliage with bluish-purple flower spikes), and a bank of thyme. "She was careful to plant low plants in the front and taller ones in the back", said the judges. "She very obviously gave this a lot of thought and has a eye for design". Wiest's fragrance garden is planted in a circular bed off the brick patio, which was entered through a white wooden arbor planted with climbing roses. In the fragrance garden are scented geraniums, lemon thyme, and lavender. "I like herbs because they're mostly perennials, in most cases they're care-free and there are so many of them, Wiest says. "And they are not that expensive either."
And that my friends, started my journey to Master Gardening and the obsession I have today for growing and preserving things. The remainder of the article was about the third place winner and runners-up. Needless to say, 18 years later, few of these plants remain and the design is long gone, overtaken by other priorities and life in general. Retirement is giving me the opportunity to get it back again and it feels pretty darn good.