It’s been the privilege of the Utah County Master Gardeners to run the Hidden Garden Tour for the past few years. I must confess that I love a good garden tour and I like one with a lot of variety – prissy gardens, man gardens, collector gardens, homestead gardens, chicken gardens, xeriscaped gardens, on and on. Please join me now as I tour The Master Gardener’s Garden.
A Master Gardener Near You
This year, I get to be a volunteer garden supervisor through a service opportunity afforded me by my status as a master gardener; the title sounds snooty but everyone should be a master gardener! (Look up the horticultural/university extension near you to find your local master gardener classes – they truly are for everyone.) In fact, master gardeners like Laura Bakker will be the first to tell you that there’s nothing snooty about the program that takes you from an interested gardener to a more experience gardener who can help answer neighbor’s questions and foster a love of gardening in the community. It’s Laura’s garden that I get to watch over this year and in order to prepare myself and to provide a little extra information for those who will be attending the tour and particularly Laura’s garden, I went to interview her and take a quick tour of her yard. The evening was rainy and cold (ah, the unpredictable nature of spring in Utah) but we had a great time and I learned a lot!
What does a Master Gardener Plant?
When I arrived, Laura was weeding – ha! We all have to do it; I told her as I shot the picture of her in her grubbies that most of my readers were homesteaders and wouldn’t take her seriously if she were TOO clean so not to worry about dusting off! (Laura is primarily a perennial gardener, not a homesteader, but us practical farm people need to take a break every now and then and visit with ornamental gardeners to recharge our batteries!) As we began walking around I noticed that one thing that characterized her plant selections was uniqueness; she said she loves to search out things that no one else has. As gardeners, we agreed that that penchant really wasn’t one-ups-manship but a desire for wonderful variety and creativity – as Laura points out, a garden is quite often a creative outlet, especially for busy moms like us!
Sometimes that creativity works as planned; Laura designed the garden herself and, aside from the hardscape, she and her husband have planted and tended every bed. Sometimes the creativity of the plants takes over, though! We passed by a beautiful purple Clematis trailing along the ground of one of her front beds; Laura explained that the nearby tree had a perfectly low branch that she planned to trellis that clematis onto but the vine just wasn’t growing. She eventually pruned off the low branch and, wouldn’t ya’ know, this year the Clematis took off! The effect, I thought, was deliberate in it’s uniqueness – it looks lovely on the ground!
Laura is blessed with a husband who enjoys the garden, too – although, he’s the designated tree man while she does the other “stuff”. She says he’s always coming home with some tree he couldn’t live without and she, appreciating his enthusiasm, keeps making room for them. One in particular, the Tri Color Beech, is a great specimen that is stunning – very worthy of pushing back a perennial or two! In her husband’s research he discovered that the actual Tri Color Beech is probably extinct, but this is the one currently marketed as such. (We garden nerds love tidbits like that!) My camera isn’t stellar and it was raining but make sure to look for this one in person, if you’re able to attend the Tour.
Trees were a touchy subject at their last home, apparently. Laura was very happy in their previous home of twenty years and had planted many things she loved, especially the trees. Her husband came home one day and told her he’d bought a house – as in, a new house! Laura said that was fine, but she wasn’t moving – she couldn’t leave her trees! It took awhile (that’s a pretty gutsy move on her husband’s part, I think) but she finally moved into this property and began redesigning the yard. Up front was mostly grass and there was nothing in back – now it’s an oasis.
The Master Garden is a Reflection of You!
Anyone can do this – take a boring space and make it an expression of yourself. This garden reminds me of Laura – classy, comfortable, graceful, peaceful. She’s not a professional or an expert, just a master gardener who learned how to learn about the garden and what it needs. We all can do that!
Other interesting (to me anyway) specimens were her Hops vine (a monster that grabs you as you walk by but such a lovely, lovely vine!), the Smoke Bush, the Bi-color Willow, the Fringe tree and the Miss Kim Lilac. The Smoke Bush she trims back vigorously because she doesn’t care for it’s rangy looking natural shape; she doesn’t get the “smoke” because it blooms on year old wood, but the color of the bush is so beautiful that it hardly matters.
Willow is another one that needs to be heavily pruned to control it but if you need an interesting bush to add variety to the palette of your yard, you might consider it. The Miss Kim, Laura admits, is not the most interesting color of lilac available but it performs well, doesn’t get too large and is pretty hardy (it was one of the only lilacs I could grow in North Carolina because of how much mildew we battle there but Miss Kim was healthy and happy!)
A note here for my fellow homesteaders: sometimes we have a tendency to be too utilitarian. You know what I mean – if it doesn’t produce food or medicine, we’re not growing it! I have to remind myself to plant flowers and other ornamentals but it’s worth the brain power it takes for me to remember because these things add depth to the yard and forage for the pollinators – they gladden the eye and the heart and that is it’s own kind of useful. Laura and I agreed that perennials are the way to go; most annuals (unless they reseed) aren’t worth the effort and the pollinators really aren’t interested in them anyway. The exception for me, living with my mother and grandmother, is Petunias – they love them and so I plant them. That’s important, too.
Speaking of pollinators, Laura and her husband are bee keepers who use top bar hives – so many people I’ve run into lately are using these and I can see why! They’re compact, easy to clean, easy to harvest from, easy to move. Laura’s hubbie has a tricky back and the lighter frames and hive body are a great boon. She says they get plenty of honey from them and enjoy the benefits of having bees in their own yard. If you’ve balked at the standard boxes and frames but still want to keep bees, consider these top bar hives. I think I may try one in a year or two because I really need another project, I’m just so bored (I hope you can hear the sarcasm). You can see the bees bearding on this hive (not the pretty hive, according to Laura – the other one is painted nicely but I think any beehive is a work of art), if you look hard, as they get ready to swarm. We were blessed to be able to catch one of our swarms this year and I’ll be posting about that soon – it’s something every bee keeper needs to plan to deal with in the spring.
If you’re on the Tour and you’re able to see the Irises you’ll be impressed – these are gorgeous! I asked where her favorite source is for Iris (this is a good question to ask any gardener about anything you see in their garden – take notes, investigate) and she told me that her mother had an Iris breeding neighbor who tested out new varieties in Laura’s mother’s yard and left the extras for them to enjoy. How do I get a neighbor like that – score!! Laura sent me home with a few extra of these lovely Iris tubers. Incidentally, that’s another benefit of hanging out with gardeners – they share! Although, Laura does caution the newbie gardener on taking anything given to you by your neighbor unless you know what it is and how it performs – you don’t want to end up with something taking over your yard.
Laura’s vegetable garden space is small but she still manages to cram in veggies, two nectarine trees, a grape vine and an espaliered apple tree. Overall, I left her garden feeling like, if I can imagine, I can do it; I think that’s really the point of the Garden Tour and of the Master Gardener program itself – wherever you live. Grow and share in every way that’s meaningful to you and you, too, will have a master gardener’s garden!
For any questions about the Garden Tour or the Master Gardener program in Utah, just click here or leave a message and I’ll get back to you.