2009 Garden Showcase

Five years ago, Donna Snyder downsized from her nine-room house in Franklin Park to a one-story ranch in Bellevue. At the same time, she traded nearly an acre of land for fairly small front and back yards, with a narrow patch of lawn that runs the length of one side of her property.

But while she greatly reduced the area that she has to tend, she has not downsized her love of gardening.

“The people who lived here before me were renters who just did not give the yard the care it needed.There were lots of what I would call ‘trash trees,’ huge and never trimmed. You couldn’t see the house, they were so large. And in the back, there was a 60-foot black locust that was so hard to get out. Shoots kept coming back, long after it was cut down and the stump ground out.”

Shortly after she arrived, though, the property began to look different. “I think the neighbors were grateful.”

Just as many gardeners, when she moved, she took more than the furniture from her previous address. Lots of the plants changed addresses along with her.

She also brought along her gardening expertise. “I had gardened at my previous home. I re-shrubbed the lawn twice, and I had a large vegetable garden,” Donna said.

Among the many perennials transplanted: Russian sage, Maximilian sunflowers (which usually feature multiple head blooms) and heucheras, a green-and-red leaved ground cover often used for borders. She also has room for monardia, a plant that many often mistake for bee balm.

Creeping thyme and mini thyme grow among rocks and onto pathways that Donna constructed on own. It’s a very smooth, decorative cover, not unlike mosses that grow almost as a veneer to the land, with no height.

Some of the more prominently placed rocks also are transplants from her previous garden. “They were just too beautiful to leave behind,” Donna said.

The vegetable garden includes tomatoes, peppers, green onions. Donna quotes some famous lyrics to describe her herb garden of “‘…parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.’ Oh, -- and I also have teragon, dill and chives. I collect the dill seeds to plant from year to year.”

Donna limits her annuals mainly to containers of impatiens and marigolds, which she uses for borders. “I mix up the colors and I plant them where they get the most direct heat, since they seem to love the heat.”

In a shaded area to the front of the house, she has planted rhododendron, ferns, dwarf spruce and hosta, with a few taller plantings that include pink dogwood and Korean dogwood, which is not so susceptible to disease. Also found there: holly, birds nest, juniper and spyrea.

Donna’s backyard plantings are a bit more manageable. She plants nothing as tall as what had previously been there, a mimosa and a paper bark birch recently added.

Now that her property has been cleared and replanted, Donna is working on a project of cultivating wildflowers. “Previously, I had a flat yard, but now, well, I call it a hill back there. I’m working on transforming the embankments into a habitat for Pennsylvania wildflowers.”

She consults the manual, “Wildflowers of Pennsylvania” by Haywood and Monk, to determine what she wants to grow. She already has had some success, having gathered seeds from a plant she spotted last fall, and she now has goat’s beard growing in her back yard.

“Often we don’t know what’s growing in our backyards because we mow the wildflowers down when we cut the grass.”

With the keen eye that most gardeners have, Donna has noticed subtle changes in the growth seasons of Western Pennsylvania. “Things are ‘crisping’ in July. Leaves that used to turn in August are turning in July. I’ve had my deep blue iris re-bloom in October. That’s not normal.”

She believes that if people gave more attention to the ordinary surroundings in nature, that they would see these changes. She stops short of calling the changes global warming, but she knows what she sees, and she knows that not all is right. “We do not realize it all at once, but if you observe, you’ll see it.”

The appeal of her garden echoes every gardener’s view. “I like watching things grow. I like to grub around in the dirt! And if you’re stressful, get out there. Every morning, you’ll see something that wasn’t there the day before.”