Come See Our Gardens Grow

Audrey Hillman and Martie Young
Adams County Master Gardeners


Audrey Hillman

The Native Plant Garden at the Ag Center on the Old Harrisburg Road will be ready for its first spring tour on April 20 at 6 p.m. That said, the last several weeks have proven to be quite a challenge in accomplishing this task. Spring came with rainy weather one day and the sun out and shining the next. One day it was 80 degrees, and the next there was frost. The weekend we scheduled a spring tidy-up in the Native Plant Garden, we got rain and plenty of it, enough to keep the ground wet for days.

This time of year is hard on gardeners. We want to get a head start on this yearís garden, but we just have to be patient a bit longer until spring happens all at once and we canít keep up. We, as gardeners, are always hopeful that this will be the year that our gardens perform flawlessly, but it seldom happens. There are always challenges. Our gardens at the Ag Center are no different. Last year in the Native Garden some second-year perennials matured well. Others were just getting started. Every year we add more to a new section of the garden.

We have our share of insect problems, too, but we have taken a wait-and-see attitude where the native plants are concerned. One of the benefits of native plants is that they can take a certain amount of insect damage without any adverse effects; and just to be sure of that before we share that information with the public we test them. One of the asters was attacked by spittle bug last spring that affected its flowering, but not its overall survival. We also had voles set up house in the garden. We lost some plants and possibly one shrub to them. I used an organic repellant and have seen no signs of them yet, but Iím more prepared to get right to it this year should they decide to come back.

The trees and shrubs in the native garden have performed up to expectations for the most part, and some have even survived being blown over before they were fully established. These are just some of the many gardening challenges we face in the Native Plant Garden; challenges that, if you garden at all, you have probably faced too. That is why we have scheduled evening garden tours of the native garden and trial garden all summer long. We are anxious to share our gardens with you, tell you about the plants and how they are doing. We take a lot of pride in our hard work and our beautiful gardens, bugs and all. So please consider joining us for a Wednesday evening stroll and learn about some wonderful native plants. You will go home excited about at least one new plant that youíll want for your own garden.

A new garden that is being started this year by Charles Snyder and some other Master Gardeners is a Butterfly Garden that will be located in the area of the Trial Garden. It has been several years in the planning, and installation will finally begin this spring. Although it wonít be ready for touring this spring, we did want to let you know it is on its way, and we look forward to watching its progress this year.

Another garden at the Ag Center is the not-to-be-ignored Trial Garden which always announces itself with bright-colored annuals from June till frost. This year will be no exception, although at the moment we do not have an exact listing of the plant varieties we will get. Based on past experience, we will receive some petunias, probably Waves, we will get some plants that will do better in containers than in the open ground, and we may get some annuals that will do better in some shade. Since we garden in an open field, our plants have to adapt to an all-sun location and a fair amount of wind. If you drive past the Ag Center now, you should see neat, curved beds that have been rototilled and fertilized just waiting till the end of May for our annuals to arrive from Penn State. Since annuals shouldnít be planted until the middle of May, there should be little danger of frost damage.

This year, we will have an exciting addition to our Trial Garden. We have arranged rock wall planters at its entrance. These will be planted with container-type plants, something high in the middle with progressively lower plants toward the edge of the 4-foot diameter beds.

At the front of these beds we will place plants that cascade over the wall; maybe some petunias, sweet potato vines, Callibrachoa (million bells), or Bacopa. Bacopa 'Copia Golden Leaves' was not very successful in our open field beds last year but should do better in containers with potting soil and plenty of water. The Callibrachoa could have been better last year, and it should be more successful if it is contained.

Plants in the center of these circular beds will probably provide some shade for the lower plants. Choices for the center could include grasses like Pennisetum 'Rubrum' or another medium-tall grass. Pennisetum 'Purple Majesty' would be an eye-catcher in the center of the bed or even Canna Lilies or Dahlias.

The medium-size plants in between could include any plant that grows in a controlled way; Phlox 'Intensia Pink,' Dragon-Wing Begonias, Geraniums, or Argyranthemum are all possible choices. Unlike the Native Garden, plants chosen for the Trial Garden are not limited to natives; in fact most of our annuals are not native. They have been adapted from more tropical climates to do well in our temperate area.

Generally speaking our Trial Garden plants have been successful, but we have had some problems with insects and disease. Last year was not a good year for geraniums because of all the rain and clouds. Flowers on geraniums are not successful if they are constantly wet. The New Guinea Impatiens didn't do well because they did not get enough shade. Annual Vincas do better with hot, dry conditions, and it's important not to plant vincas too early. Wait till the end of May or the middle of June till the soil warms up for them. Even if there is no frost, the soil may be too cool for vincas and the roots will rot. We cover our beds with mulch to retain moisture. This is a main concern because of the red shale soil of Gettysburg and the windy conditions at our site.

When the new plants arrive, they will be labeled and described in brochures that you will find in the information boxes posted in the Trial Garden. The Trial Garden Walks start on June 15 at 6:30 p.m. and continue till October 19. Or if you see us working in any of the gardens, stop to talk. Master Gardeners love to talk about gardening.

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