Name: Mary Visco, former bank auditor and business owner, now a part-time seasonal horticulturist at Toledo Botanical Garden and working toward an "encore" degree in landscape and turfgrass management at Owens Community College. I'm gardening at the northeast corner of Angola and McCord roads in Springfield Township.
Garden specs: I've put 800 plants on 6,000 square feet of a 13,900 square-foot wedge-shaped lot near this busy commercial corner. It has full sun, no water source, no mature trees, no buildings. The soil is compacted, clay loam with a moderately high pH of 7.2.
When did you start gardening? I've been a passionate gardener since the early 1980s. My dad inspired me; he could root a broomstick. This project began in Spring, 2010. We purchased the land for investment reasons. I had to really research to find plants that could grow in clay, alkaline soil, full sun, and have drought resistance. My husband, Vern Salyer, is not a gardener but he helped from the beginning; marking out the biggest bed, killing the weeds and grass (it took two rounds of Roundup), turning over the soil with a rented rototiller. I put 400 plants in the ground that May, followed by an application of weed preventer (Preen), and mulch (double-ground hardwood).
In their first essential year, plants need an inch of water per week to become established, so we hauled water weekly from home in 30-gallon barrels and watered every plant. Last spring I added four smaller beds, watering them for their first growing season. The garden is maturing and plants are filling in. I'll dot some flowering shrubs here and there but it's mostly done.
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What do you grow? Trees, shrubs, perennials, and bulbs that are drought tolerant and require minimal care. Various plants bloom spring, summer, and fall. I chose some non-flowering plants for their foliage colors, texture, and structure, such as tiger-eye sumac with its beautiful deep-golden, finely cut leaves, and grasses such as native little bluestem and Karl Foerster. It's a "who's who" list of really tough but attractive plants. There are seventeen native species and forty-two hybrid cultivars (a genetic cross between different parent plants) and varieties.
Favorite plant: For sheer tenacity and long-season bloom I love the perennial gold and yellow Rudbeckia hirta 'Prairie Sun;' it has self-sown itself throughout a large area between clumps of tall, purple Liatris and together, they put on quite a show. And for sheer size, the 20-foot-tall Arundo donax-Giant Reed Grass, catches everybody's eye, but it can be invasive so has to be monitored.
Give us a gardening tip: Two things: First, know your soil. Even if you've been gardening for years, get a university lab soil test done. Call the Ohio State Univeristy Extension, Lucas County (419-578-6783) for information about how to collect soil samples and where to send them. The cost is minimal and it could save you hundreds of dollars in "wrong plant-wrong place" mishaps. Find out that all-important pH, and nutrient-holding capacity. Don't guess what fertilizer(s) you should use or whether your soil is acid, neutral, or alkaline and don't assume that if your neighbor grows it you can too. You never know what soil might have been added to your landscape over the years by previous owners or the builder during original construction.
Second, lack of water during the first year is the number one killer of newly planted trees, shrubs, and perennials. The first year plants grow a deep-root system so the plant can sustain itself in future years. Water them with an inch of water every week for the first growing season right up to early November. Don't just wave the hose over the ground: soak it slowly so those roots get wet.
Hours spent gardening: Three to five hours a day, seven days a week.
Annual expense: The cost of plants the first two years was pretty steep. Now, $1,000 a year for mulching, mowing, and rake outs in spring and fall. I do most of the weeding but this year I hired a nonprofit group to help.
Challenges: Working the soil is dreadful. It bakes rock hard when dry and took three hours with a pick-axe to dig a hole for one tree. The pH is a little too high for some plants. But worst of all was the buried rubble. It had been a private residence from 1926 to 1999 and the occupants burned and buried their refuse instead of paying to have it hauled. I've never put a spade anywhere in this ground anywhere without digging up something: gravel, stone, carpeting, glass, broken bricks and concrete, shoes, part of a telephone pole, crockery, scrap metal, a section of railroad track, and enough car parts to build one.
I'm proud of: The research I did about what plants to grow, and the resulting success: I've had less than a dozen losses. I'm also proud of my spouse. He claims he's not a gardening enthusiast but I see his hand in everything. He's dug plenty of holes and watered countless times. And he planted one Salvia nemorosa 'Sensation Rose' just so he could say he planted something. He loves me a lot.
What I've learned gardening: Many things, but here are four: Gardeners make the very best friends and are exceedingly generous; plant enthusiasts will stop at nothing to squeeze in a new acquisition; gardening means never-ending learning, and patience!