Sunday, May 19, 2024
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Excerpts by Henry Lane Hull

Last Saturday the Northern Neck Master Gardeners presented for the 30th year the Gardening in the Northern Neck seminar. For the second year in a row the program was coordinated and directed by the “triumfeminate,” to modify and update the Latin to describe a government by three, of Gail Cooper, Cindy Dullea and Fran Westbrook.

Barbara W. Ellis was one of the presenters, her topic being “Fun with Plants: Creating Successful Container & Small Space Gardens for the South.” Barbara is a native of Ohio, who holds a degree in horticulture from Ohio State University and a bachelor’s in fine arts from Kenyon College. She now lives on Worton Creek in Kent County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, near my Good Wife’s hometown of Chestertown.

Her professional career began as publications director of the American Horticulture Society and editor of The American Horticulturist, now The American Gardener. For many years she was the managing editor of Gardening Books at Rodale Press, the source of much of the nation’s garden news and information.

For gardeners in the Mid-Atlantic region, Barbara’s seminal treatise, Chesapeake Gardening and Landscaping, The Essential Green Guide, is a wonderful compendium of how to relate to plants in our locality. In the book, she emphasizes six basic principles that every gardener should know and follow. They all are interrelated.

Barbara’s first principle is to reduce lawn in favor of instituting gardens and meadows, which are more interesting to plant and to maintain. By so-doing, the gardener will establish a more environmentally friendly habitat, which leads to her second principle, that the gardener should build plant diversity. In that endeavor, she is a strong advocate for growing native plants, her third dictum, which effort becomes the cornerstone of a truly viable garden.

The fourth point goes back to the first, namely, to manage water runoff, a responsibility particularly important in the Northern Neck, as runoff contributes to water pollution and erosion. Her fifth point urges that all gardens be welcoming to wildlife. Wildlife in one’s garden enriches the gardener’s experience and contributes to promoting diversity.

Barbara’s sixth point, the one that I personally tend to overlook, to my garden’s detriment, is that we should garden wisely. Far too often in the past, I have bought more plants than I can accommodate, thereby placing them in crowded conditions that inhibit their full growing potential.

Fifty years ago, when my father was gardening avidly, little attention was paid to what species were invasive, a term that has taken on significant meaning in recent years. As a result, he ordered plants that were ill-suited for our environment. With respect to gardening wisely, I boycott any nursery that offers invasive plants for sale. Invasives do great harm to native species, upset the ecosystem and afford no benefit.

In her talk, Barbara noted that she designs her gardens by using containers, which are helpful in reducing water consumption, as the water stays in the pot or in the saucer beneath it, until absorbed by the plant. Using containers also makes weed control less burdensome, as weeds can be removed before they become established with long root systems.

Barbara’s containers constitute a delightfully mixed lot, coordinated in color and shape with the plants she puts in them. She has a masterful ability to mix colors on her garden palette, leading the eye from one color and texture to another. Her gardens are beautiful for people to behold, as well as for her dogs. She has adopted or fostered many dogs, three of which accompanied her and her husband, Peter, to the Northern Neck in their camper.

Barbara did not specifically speak about herb gardening, but throughout her talk, she offered much “sage” advice.

Rappahannock Record Staff
Rappahannock Record Staff
From the Rappahannock Record news team

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