Starting From Scratch

Denise Dornbush
Adam's County Master Gardener Program

Flash back to July of 2002. The air was hot and dry. The rock hard red clay of our new home was unworkable. We had just moved from Western New York, a zone 6 area, five miles from the Niagara River and twelve miles from Lake Ontario. This unique spot was shielded from much of the brutal weather of Western New York. The soil was rich and the rain plentiful. We moved into our four-year-old Hanover home on a warm July 5th. Grass burnt and 2 Bradford pear trees gasping for water, the only other landscaping was a small potted arborvitae and the dreaded Star of Bethlehem, a bulb which I tried for 20 years to get rid of in my New York garden.

The watering bans and rock hard soil made thoughts of gardening a distant dream. How I missed my lush N.Y. gardens that I worked in for 20 years. The huge maples in our yard had provided shade in the summer and in the fall piles of leaves to rake and jump in. Then, slowly the rains came to Hanover and the ground softened. My spirits lifted and thoughts of brand new gardens made my head spin. I started looking through gardening magazines and seed catalogs. A whole new area to explore. Garden centers and nurseries to be found!

Borage, pictured here, is one of the many
 colorful plants Denise Dornbush planted in
her new circular garden

Where to start? First came the foundation plantings and a row of arborvitae to create a natural fence between houses. We hired a landscaper to do the heavy work and it was his practice to use landscape fabric to keep down the weeds. I was not in favor of using the fabric, but my husband and the landscaper out-voted me. The landscape fabric covered the soil, and then the fabric had to be cut to plant the shrubs. This was then covered by mulch.

Next, what to do with the backyard area that had once housed a swing set. Rather than fill in the area with grass, we decided to create a circular garden with four sections around a center circle. The paths between the 4 sections and the center would be filled with crushed stone. First, we rototilled the soil, next we added topsoil. The only landscaping fabric I allowed was in the pathways under the stone. In this circular garden we planted rue (a great plant for cutting), feverfew, pennyroyal, moonbeam coreopsis, bee balm, hyssop, borage, ladys mantle, dill, lavender, several different kinds of thyme and marsh mallow. A great many of these plants I had brought from New York and it was great to see my old friends again!

In the years that have followed, we have started 5 more flowerbeds. We start with a shape in mind, lay out an old garden hose in the shape we want, and then we spray paint the outline of the garden. We remove the hose and Roundup the area to kill the grass then add soil and compost. If you would rather not use chemicals, you can dig up the sod or cover the grass with newspapers then cover the papers with soil.

Im happy to report that we no longer use landscape fabric and that all the fabric has been removed from the original gardens. I know a lot of people use landscaping fabric, but I found it just too difficult to work with. I like the ease of moving a plant from one spot to another without having to cut fabric.

We have also planted 3 maple trees to provide the house with shade (not in our lifetime!). Weve added lilacs, a flowering plum, a Leyland cypress, Heritage raspberries that have fruit in the summer and fall, and viburnum. These trees and shrubs create a sanctuary for the birds and for us. When we moved back in 2002, there were very few birds around our yard. Now we have to fill our bird feeder every other day, and we have a pair of cardinals!

Its been almost 5 years since we left our established gardens in New York, and Im happy to report that our soil is workable, the privacy screen is growing (the potted arborvitae is part of that screen now standing six feet tall), and our herb garden buzzes with bees, attracts butterflies and sun-loving flowers brighten our yard. Who knows, many someday soon well be able to unpack the rakes and the leaf blower.

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