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Show #15/3602
An Empty Rectangular Backyard Transformed

Summary of Show

Barbara's Gardening Background
Barbara didn't know she was interested in gardening in Washington until they bought a house. At that point she became fascinated by an ad in the back of PARADE MAGAZINE and sent away for something like 39 plants for a total of $24. She didn't know anything about gardening or plants and it was a different era then, thus didn't know what to expect. But when all 39 plants arrived in a manilla envelope she found it somewhat unusual.
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Why Write A Book
How and why did Barbara decide to WRITE A BOOK about plants that do particularly well in the coastal southeast? Barbara had been reading gardening books but felt they were written primarily for gardeners in the northeastern area, for New England. She loved that area and the books but wasn't having great success finding plants for her area.
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The Backyard Before
When they bought the house the BACKYARD was basically an empty rectangle, similar to many backyards in this country. The magnolias were there, there was a little bit of chain link fencing, there was no porch and a few camellias in the back. Behind the camellias it was kind of weedy, a no-mans land type place, it was full of brambles and other stuff
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The Process Of Transformation
Eric knows most gardeners don't approach a space thinking they will build a giant, elaborate garden. And that is what happened here, Barbara STARTED SMALL. She began with the space right outside her back door, then grew it from there. She gradually removed the turf. But had no idea it would end up like this. But she loved gardening. At the beginning she didn't have a lot of time, she had small children and there wasn't a lot of time for gardening. So started off with a small plot, maybe 6 feet by 2 feet, a little, little rectangle.
For More Information Click here

Hardscapes
Eric is interested in the HARDSCAPES. The paths are wonderful features in this garden. How have they evolved over the years? Originally they were grass, if she remembers correctly, then thought it might be good to have pavers, so for many years they had pavers with dirt in between. But that was very weed intensive and a lot of work.
For More Information Click here

Selecting Plants
PLANT SELECTIONS have evolved over the years. It's important to Barbara that plants fit the space. Accordingly Barbara has given away many plants to friends because many had gotten way too big. Certainly some plants did get bigger than she had thought they would but she kept some, like the Thread Leaf Japanese Maple and a Gold Thread False Cypress that was supposed to be a dwarf. It was supposed to grow to maybe 4 feet, it is now 30 feet tall.
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Plant Selection For Different Seasons
Eric is interested in what has done particularly well here but wants to talk about that in regards to SEASONS. Barbara opines -The coastal south is a great place to garden all year. Thus she tries to plant for every single season because she finds it fun to find things blooming all times of the year.
For More Information Click here

Maintenance
GardenSMART gets a lot of questions from viewers about intensely planted gardens. In particular, how does one keep up with all the MAINTENANCE? Eric asks about Barbara's maintenance strategy. She doesn't have a formal plan for working in the garden - a certain number of days a week, anything like that. She comes out when she wants to.
For More Information Click here

Disease Control
Eric wonders about DISEASE CONTROL. Is black spot a problem with roses? Barbara tries to use only roses that are immune, or about immune, to black spot but does spray products that are environmentally safe. Products like copper or sulfur, things like that are OK. She doesn't believe in using toxic chemicals. But importantly if she finds a plant that is really diseased and is diseased year after year she just removes it because it's obviously not happy.
For More Information Click here

Watering
What she does is the 1st year she plants anything she tries to keep it watered and pays attention to it because, as mentioned, summers here are as tough as winters in northern states, that's the time the plant needs help making it through. She does give them extra WATER during their 1st year so they can establish a good root system.
For More Information Click here

Garden Art
Before we leave Eric wants to talk about the art in this garden. He has certainly seen many examples over the years of GARDEN ART that is over done, or not done properly and other examples where art is tastefully done.
For More Information Click here

 

LINKS:

Cape Fear Garden Club
Cape Fear Garden Club, Inc.

Wilmington And Beaches CVB
Wilmington And Beaches | Cape Fear Coast | Pleasure Island | Wilmington & Island Beaches

Automobile Tour Of Wilmington
▶ Product Placement Reel - YouTube

Article Wilmington Newspaper:
Lumina News - Your Coastal Community Newspaper Since May 2002

Plant List

 

 

Show #15/3602. An Empty Rectangular Backyard Transformed

Complete Write Up

A very important element in gardening is choosing the correct plant for the correct place. In this Episode GardenSMART visits an industry expert and author in Wilmington, North Carolina who provides some great insight into plant selection.

Wilmington was settled by Europeans in the early 1700's and has been an important port city dating back to the Civil War. Today this coastal city has been named one of a dozen distinctive destinations by the National Trust For Historic Preservation. Its vibrant River Walk District is home to restaurants, arts, music and unique shops. Just a few blocks from the water is the home of Barbara who is an avid gardener, as well as a well-known author of the book "Garden Perennials for the Coastal South." Originally from New Jersey Barbara returned to her husbands family home in Wilmington and soon thereafter began transforming their backyard into a coastal paradise. Years of searching for the perfect plant for the area resulted in researching, then writing her book, which has been recognized as a definitive reference manual on coastal gardening. In this Episode we discuss with Barbara how to find plants that will provide the best results regardless of where our garden happens to be.
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Eric meets Barbara at her home and thanks her for joining GardenSMART. Eric wants to know more about Barbara. She explains - She and her husband were both working as attorneys in Washington, D.C. Barbara didn't know she was interested in gardening in Washington until they bought a house. At that point she became fascinated by an ad in the back of PARADE MAGAZINE and sent away for something like 39 plants for a total of $24. She didn't know anything about gardening or plants and it was a different era then, thus didn't know what to expect. But when all 39 plants arrived in a manilla envelope she found it somewhat unusual. Basically the instruction was to plant immediately so Barbara enlisted her mother and father in law, they got out soup spoons or serving spoons, whatever they had handy and stuck the plants in the ground any which way. It did not occur to her that she might have to decide where to plant a plant. She really didn't know anything, she didn't own any gardening tools, so that is what they did, stuck them all around. Then the plants started coming up. She had corn that was tall, as well as raspberries and various other plants that she didn't even know their names at that time. But, most likely contained daisies and carnations as well as a little, teeny weenie, pink dogwood. But, it was fun and fun to see, and certainly fun to see them come up.
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Her husband was from Wilmington and several years later they decided to return to Wilmington and join his father's law firm. By the time they moved to Wilmington Barbara had been experimenting with different plants. Eric is interested in her next steps. How and why did Barbara decide to WRITE A BOOK about plants that do particularly well in the coastal southeast? Barbara had been reading gardening books but felt they were written primarily for gardeners in the northeastern area, for New England. She loved that area and the books but wasn't having great success finding plants for her area. So she went to a symposium in Charleston, South Carolina which has a climate similar to Wilmington. Writers, designers and famous people from the gardening world were there from Ireland, England, Colorado and other interesting locations but not from climates similar to theirs. The audience would get involved but frequently noted that the plants mentioned did not do really well here. And the books out didn't address this area - some might address the south, even the mountains, even some mentioned the coastal areas but nothing really provided in depth information. So, she came to the conclusion that there really was no book dedicated to plants in this area, thus decided to write that book. She wasn't really sure why or how, she just started. Barbara did a lot of research, went south to Jacksonville, Florida, then all along the Gulf Coast in her car, with her camera and met with experts, visited nurseries and gardens. As the book came together, her knowledge of plants ideal for her climate grew. And today her garden is a collection of some of the most successful plants for the area plus others she has tried just to see if they will make it here.
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Her home looks like it has a lot of history and Eric would like to know more. It was built in 1872 by William French, a shoe merchant in Wilmington. Barbara and her husband bought it about 32 years ago. When they bought the house the BACKYARD was basically an empty rectangle, similar to many backyards in this country. The magnolias were there, there was a little bit of chain link fencing, there was no porch and a few camellias in the back. Behind the camellias it was kind of weedy, a no-mans land type place, it was full of brambles and other stuff.
Top

Eric knows most gardeners don't approach a space thinking they will build a giant, elaborate garden. And that is what happened here, Barbara STARTED SMALL. She began with the space right outside her back door, then grew it from there. She gradually removed the turf. But had no idea it would end up like this. But she loved gardening. At the beginning she didn't have a lot of time, she had small children and there wasn't a lot of time for gardening. So started off with a small plot, maybe 6 feet by 2 feet, a little, little rectangle. And she put everything in there, it was her 1st garden. From her initial 6 by 2 foot plot, her garden now encompasses the entirety of her backyard. Was there a plan in place or how did she conceive of this? There wasn't really a plan. Basically she took the 6 foot garden then made it 10 feet. She put some railroad ties in and it was a raised bed for awhile and that was as far as it went mostly because her husband wasn't sure he wanted her digging things up, he wasn't sure about the whole gardening idea. But they visited a lot of really beautiful gardens and at one point he said he didn't think their yard looked like the others. Barbara said that was because they needed to do more, they needed to branch out. She suggested putting a little rim around the edge of the property. He agreed but didn't want it very deep so Barbara made a narrow, little garden that was actually deeper than they had agreed. So for a long time there was a border around the edge which was very nice, then a big green lawn in the middle that was good for the children to play, to have birthday parties, things like that. But to Barbara it felt a little static because one would come out to the backyard and there it was, the whole thing was visible. At some point they built a porch and that was the view from the porch. Barbara was on vacation and read a book called "The Romantic Garden" and she became completely inspired or carried away, she's not sure which. She told her husband she was going to do something pretty wild and he was OK with that. She let him know she meant - really wild - and he still said OK. That was when the idea for this garden came about and that was the beginning of what one sees today. She decided to put the garden and its paths on an axis because that seemed like it would provide more energy than a straight crisscross. She then needed to bring in a lot of soil to build the mounded beds so got 2 ten ton truckloads of dirt delivered out front. She hired some nice college guys who wheel borrowed the dirt. They broke 2 wheelbarrows, they were on their 3rd when it was over. She then just laid out the spaces with garden hoses, then threw herself on the dirt and crafted, if you will, the mounds. It does sound a little crazy but that's what she did.
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Eric is interested in the HARDSCAPES. The paths are wonderful features in this garden. How have they evolved over the years? Originally they were grass, if she remembers correctly, then thought it might be good to have pavers, so for many years they had pavers with dirt in between. But that was very weed intensive and a lot of work. The current set up of stones and mortar is new, probably last fall. She loves this set up because the paths don't need weeded. Eric likes the scale of this garden and especially likes the fact that, as Barbara said, one can't see everything from one spot.
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PLANT SELECTIONS have evolved over the years. It's important to Barbara that plants fit the space. Accordingly Barbara has given away many plants to friends because many had gotten way too big. Certainly some plants did get bigger than she had thought they would but she kept some, like the Thread Leaf Japanese Maple and a Gold Thread False Cypress that was supposed to be a dwarf. It was supposed to grow to maybe 4 feet, it is now 30 feet tall. She does try to mix broad leaves and structural architectural plants like the palm and some of the subtropical smaller plants. And, she likes perennials when they are tucked in among other things. They all give a garden structure.
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Since Barbara has done lot of research on what plants do well in this climate, Eric is interested in what has done particularly well here but wants to talk about that in regards to SEASONS. Barbara opines -The coastal south is a great place to garden all year. Thus she tries to plant for every single season because she finds it fun to find things blooming all times of the year. Springtime has wonderful plants. They have an azalea festival in Wilmington so there are a lot of azaleas in this area. Camellias do beautifully as well. The starflower, a teeny little bulb is a favorite. If you plant a few of them they will multiply but not in a bad way. They will make a blanket, a carpet that's beautiful. And they look fantastic with pansies and anemone coronaria and dwarf narcissus. And the leaves when they yellow don't take a lot of visual space. In summer she likes beautiful foliage. Foliage makes the garden interesting year round but especially in summer. Combining dark and chartreuse foliage creates contrast in the garden. Chartreuse livens what can be the otherwise dull green and makes the garden vibrant. She used to plant a lot of perennials but then realized she couldn't get through summer with just perennials because perennials, although wonderful, will bloom for 10 -14 days, then just not look outstanding. So, now in the summer Barbara uses more subtropicals. The structure of subtropicals like colocasias and curcumas provide a lot of pop. Plus here in the summer it can be very hot and often hazy so bright colors stand out. Subtropicals provide a lushness, even a coolness to the garden. Barbara likes to have the big foliage subtropical plants interspersed with perennials. Fall is a tricky time of year. In the south they're coming out of the dog days of August and it can be one of the most difficult seasons in many ways to select plants. Barbara likes vines that time of year. Clemitis and Thunbergia grandiflora, which is blue sky vine, are great. In this area the foliage from Japanese maples isn't as big a deal as in New England, for example. But taller plants like Joe Pye Weed and asters, swamp sunflower and goldenrod all are great for that time of year. Some perennials like roses can be at their peak in the fall. Further north gardens go pretty much dormant in winter, as does the gardener oftentimes. But, again, in the south she gardens year round so Barbara recommends Sasanqua Camellias. One can often stretch their bloom from the fall all the way through to late spring depending on the varieties one chooses. Barbara has a little winter area where she has white quince and helleborus and corkscrew hazel which looses its leaves at that point. But one can still see the wonderful corkscrew branches which make a beautiful design. It's always wise to consider the architecture of your garden in winter. What will the trees look like when defoliated, it's a wonderful time to look at exfoliating bark. She likes coral bark maples, because their bright red stalks are exposed in wintertime. If one looks, there are some plants that are beautiful, almost statuesque in winter.
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GardenSMART gets a lot of questions from viewers about intensely planted gardens. In particular, how does one keep up with all the MAINTENANCE? Eric asks about Barbara's maintenance strategy. She doesn't have a formal plan for working in the garden - a certain number of days a week, anything like that. She comes out when she wants to. Of course she loves it in the spring and the fall when it's cool and she actually likes puttering around the garden in the winter, that's a pleasure. She takes one segment of the garden at a time and gets it fixed up. In the summer when it's really hot she comes out infrequently. Weed control is a constant battle for gardeners. It's a battle between plants that are exerting their will. And she has plenty of those. In theory if every square inch is planted with something then other plants won't come up. But that doesn't really work. Barbara does pull weeds. She has plenty of pennywort and all sorts of other wonderful weeds like violets. At least some consider violets to be weeds. Jewels of Opar will spread itself through the garden and Barbara has decided to let it stay. She has introduced a weed, primrose, she brought it from a vacant lot and put it everywhere because she thinks it has a beautiful flower. So sometimes she encourages weeds if they are attractive and will fight the bare spots.
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Eric wonders about DISEASE CONTROL. Is black spot a problem with roses? Barbara tries to use only roses that are immune, or about immune, to black spot but does spray products that are environmentally safe. Products like copper or sulfur, things like that are OK. She doesn't believe in using toxic chemicals. But importantly if she finds a plant that is really diseased and is diseased year after year she just removes it because it's obviously not happy. And part of combating disease is to get the right plant to begin with, which is why she wrote the book to begin with - to make sure that one gets plants that like it in your environment. If you do that they tend to resist disease much better. Also, plant your plants in the correct location. Importantly, if you amend the soil, give your plants a really good growing medium, they will have a much better chance of resisting disease. Also it's acceptable to let a little disease co-exist, that's fine as long as it isn't going to completely decimate your garden. These ideas are all part of disease management.
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Eric wants to know In the heat of the summer when plants need a lot of water what does Barbara do for irrigation? Well they do have an irrigation system but it has been broken for many years. Since it doesn't work they don't count on it. What she does is the 1st year she plants anything she tries to keep it watered and pays attention to it because, as mentioned, summers here are as tough as winters in northern states, that's the time the plant needs help making it through. She does give them extra WATER during their 1st year so they can establish a good root system. And she uses a root stimulator and that is very important for a plants root system and definitely helps later on with the need for watering and such. As well the soil berms she has built go a long way towards helping with water conservation. If a plant develops a deep root system it won't need watered as often and won't require as much water. So the berms are not only aesthetically pleasing but provide a water saving functionality as well.
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Before we leave Eric wants to talk about the art in this garden. He has certainly seen many examples over the years of GARDEN ART that is over done, or not done properly and other examples where art is tastefully done. This garden is an excellent example of art done tastefully. Barbara thanks Eric for those kind words. She likes art that is fun, something that brings a bit of whimsy to the garden. Both of the large sculptures, the giraffe and the lizard, are done by local artists and friends. She likes to have something that is man made that sort of contrasts and offsets the natural plant material. Importantly they provide focal points. And Barbara thinks it's important for gardens to have focal points so that people have some way of making sense of what they are seeing. Eric notices that as they're walking down a long pathway there is a chartreuse bench kind of shifted over to one side, it seems to be inviting one to walk around the corner but additionally draws the eye through the garden. The sculptures create points where our eyes can rest. It all really works, this garden is beautiful.

Eric wonders if Barbara has any sage words of advice. Since she's becoming an ancient person she thinks it important to be patient with your gardening. Some of the fun of gardening is having plants come up that you had forgotten were planted. When they come up and bloom it's wonderful, it's like a surprise at Christmas and it comes all year round. But sometimes you must be patient for 3 or 4 years for perennials or certain vines to bloom. But she thinks it worth it. She likes the fact that the garden is a process over time.

Eric thanks Barbara. She has a different, yet very refreshing perspective on gardening. We picked up some useful advice on how to keep our garden looking good year round. It truly was enjoyable and educational to visit a garden that is the product of decades of hard work. This garden is beautiful, Barbara has done a wonderful job. Eric says that Barbara reminds him of an old saying - As the garden grows, so does the gardener.


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LINKS:

Cape Fear Garden Club
Cape Fear Garden Club, Inc.

Wilmington And Beaches CVB
Wilmington And Beaches | Cape Fear Coast | Pleasure Island | Wilmington & Island Beaches

Automobile Tour Of Wilmington
▶ Product Placement Reel - YouTube

Article Wilmington Newspaper:
Lumina News - Your Coastal Community Newspaper Since May 2002

Plant List

 

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