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Published: Tuesday, 9/21/2010

Weed It & Reap: Stephanie Berlin's garden a 'beacon' to attract guests

Name: Stephanie Berlin, psychiatric social worker, West Toledo.

Garden specifics: We have a 110-year-old farmhouse on an acre. Around three sides of the house are sunny perennial sections embellished with annuals, and a shade/woodland area. Near the rear of the house are two small plots. One serves as a “beacon” to guests; it includes a large cement dinosaur (Lilith) that looks like she's peeking out from between tall grasses. My husband gave it to me for my 40th birthday.

The other is a memorial to five pets (a lizard, a dog, and cats), with burgundy lilies, annuals, and an ornamental grass.

I prepared a vegetable/flower garden and it's ready to go for next spring. We're returning to the Victory Garden idea, partly to save money and partly to eat better.

When did you start gardening? As a child in Cleveland, I worked with my mother, a vegetable and flower gardener. The pride she took in her results was infectious, but I didn't realize till I got older what an effect that had on me. I started gardening in earnest about 20 years ago when we bought this house.

What do you grow? I'm attracted to the unusual and to historic plants such as dwarf purple iris and dwarf purple daylilies from the Jeffersonian gardens at Monticello. In February, hellebores are first to bloom. Then jack in the pulpit and trillium. I like the color of the periwinkle plumbago bush so much that I took its flower to the paint store and had them match it for my back door.

I have a red canna with a blue cast and bronze leaves that dates to the 19th century. And I grow banana plants I got from the zoo where I'm a volunteer gardener.

Switch, fountain, and carex grasses provide a vertical contribution; they're low maintenance and billow in the breeze. I bought bear's britches (spiky with a purplish bloom) from an Ohio Amish woman at her home. Sea holly is periwinkle with silver, spiky leaves; Japanese painted ferns, and four types each of sedums and coneflowers.

What do you get out of it? Peace and tranquility through hard work and creativity. Time spent in the garden provides the balance for the rest of my commitments in life.

Hours spent gardening: Approximately 20-30 hours a week in the spring, and now about 15 hours a week including cutting the grass. I make an attempt to do something almost every day, even if it's a small job. I think it's good for my head.

Annual expense: Approximately $400-500.

Challenges: “Right plant, right place.” At times I have installed a plant in the wrong place; then when it matures in about three years I'll say, ‘Oh dear! I have to thin that out.' And weed control. I lay down three inches of finely ground hardwood mulch that enriches the soil when it breaks down.

I'm proud of: the overall results — the ability to mix and match textures, heights, and colors. And my eclectic designs. I use objects and statuary for added height and interest, such as an old cast-iron hot water heater that's rusty so I planted rust-colored carex grass around it. There's a weathered metal crescent moon, a fairy, and Blaze, a painted rocking horse my son played on when he was little (he's 22 now). I planted red geraniums around Blaze to complement his red saddle. He's been out to pasture about 10 years.

Most used tool: Small pruners; they can cut flowers for a bouquet, prune, or deadhead. I don't go outside without them.

Word to the wise: I want to carry on traditions that were precious; things that meant a lot to someone in the past. I've used Old House Gardens in Ann Arbor as a resource. They have heirloom and antique plants going back to the 1500s. I think it's a way to keep people alive: some are named after people, like a Madam So-and-So bulb.



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