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Published: Tuesday, 8/31/2010

Weed It & Reap: Susan Biddle feels gardening is ‘good for the soul'

BY TAHREE LANE

To read about gardeners featured in previous Weed It & Reap columns, go to toledoblade.com.

Name: Susan Biddle, former English teacher at Anthony Wayne schools and a retired labor relations consultant for the Ohio Education Association, living in Pemberville.

Garden specs: Flower beds on all sides of our 1960s ranch-style house, plus an herb garden. It's a mix of sun and shade, so I've moved things around to where they'll grow best. For my daughter's wedding in July, we did some major pruning of trees and as a result I got better growth of snapdragons, zinnias, and dahlias that I wanted for the wedding.

When did you start gardening? When I was in my 20s I gardened grudgingly to fill the pantry and freezer, or to enhance the landscape. I was married very young to my former husband who had lived in the country. He was determined that we'd have a huge vegetable garden — it was two acres. That meant I did a lot of canning and grew the flowers he liked, mostly marigolds and petunias.

After I was divorced, it took a while for me to realize that I did like gardening after all. As I've aged, I've come to see it as a means of self-expression, best achieved in cooperation with nature's rules.

Biddle uses a simple cold frame to protect plants in cold weather. Biddle uses a simple cold frame to protect plants in cold weather.
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What do you grow? I have more perennials and flowering bushes of all varieties, but this year I increased the crop of annuals for the wedding. I used hot-pink rose of sharon branches in wine bottles on the tables, shasta daisies, and green hydrangeas. We had 30 arrangements. We planted eight-inch pots with impatiens that like shade and another flower that likes sun, so I was moving them around a lot to keep them healthy.

Also this year, I added a 15-by-20-foot vegetable garden mostly for fresh salads: spinaches, cabbage, tomatoes, special lettuces, peas, various kinds of peppers. It didn't get enough sun, so next year we'll trim more trees. And I compost.

What do you get out of it? Life's stresses are minimized for me by getting out in my garden. Time spent with my plants is invariably good for my soul.

Hours spent gardening: In the spring, when I'm actually digging, planting, or transplanting, I may spend two or three hours per day. Later in the summer, it will take at least an hour a day to pull weeds, deadhead flowers, water, or harvest the latest flower or vegetable.

Annual cash outlay: Depending on what I need in a specific year, the annual cash outlay would be at least $150 to $200. It is usually more than I intend to spend, because there is always a bush or bedraggled flower in a store calling out, "Take me home!"

Challenges: Keeping on top of the almost daily changes in any plant during the growing season.

I'm proud of the plants that have a history. For example, the forsythia starts my husband retrieved for me on a cold spring day when he returned from the closing on our former house in southern Ohio. At my request, before we moved several of my friends gave me bulbs to bring to our new place. And both my brothers-in-law have brought me plant starts from their gardens in Chicago and Wisconsin.

Most used tool: An oversized green wagon with a dumping mechanism that hauls everything.

Word to the wise: In a class I took at the 577 Foundation last year, I built a cold frame of heavy plastic and two-by-fours. It's about 36-by-24-inches. I grew spinach and kale in it and harvested them through November. It extended the growing season by about six weeks in the fall. I'll build another one.



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