Name: Ken Pauken, retired firefighter, living in Swan Creek Retirement Village in South Toledo.
Garden specs: About two dozen pots in full sun on our 31-by-10-foot deck. I also tend a wooded area down the small hill behind our house that's a floodplain for Swan Creek. When we moved here six years ago from Maumee it was thick with brambles, wild grapes, poison ivy, and box elder saplings. I rented a tool and with my son, we carved out trails leading through the woods and to the creek. The village gave us mulch to lay for the trails. I trim the plants along the paths by graduating height so it looks natural. This is my little lab: I walk and sit here, I study what grows, I study what moves. There's some huge cottonwood and buckeye trees, and the native wingstem that will bear a yellow flower. What grows here aren't weeds, they're natural wildflowers.
I've planted a few Austrian pine seedlings I brought from our home, and when the deer ate them I wrapped them with wire cages. I've naturalized lots of bulbs that we can see in the spring, especially daffodils in a wide variety of colors. I salvaged three redbud trees from an overgrown lot and planted them and some red bee balm at the edge of the woods. I've gotten a lot of pleasure out of these woods.
When did you start gardening? My mother and her father gardened, so we grew up with an idea of gardening. In 1958, I learned as I went at our first home on Oak Grove Place in West Toledo.
What do you grow? Tomatoes, peppers, six different lettuces, Japanese long eggplants, beans, basil, cilantro, Italian parsley, and annual flowers.
Favorite plant: Scarlet runner bean. Hummingbirds love them and the beans are delicious when two to three-inches long. We let some of the beanpods grow into the fall, put them in a mesh bag, and store them in the attached garage over the winter for spring planting.
Give us a tip: I didn't want to bend over when gardening, so when a huge cottonwood lodged in the stream below us, I took my chain saw and cut it into 24-inch-tall timber rounds. They were too big to carry so I rolled them up the hill like Sisyphus. I cadged big, heavy-duty containers from landscapers and set them on the timber rounds. Inside the pots near the drain holes, I put used coffee filters to keep soil from washing out. The soil mix is half floodplain earth and half leaf mold for good tilth. And to prevent standing water in the trays under pots (which could result in soggy roots as well as a breeding pool for mosquitoes), tuck a small rag (narrow, about 6-inches-long) into the tray and hang it over the side. It will slowly wick excess water out of the tray. With pots we've extended the growing season by a few weeks on each end; we've been eating our own lettuce since early April. I also use plant-specific food for tomatoes, veggies, flowers. One more tip: keep a shallow bowl of water near tomato plants so birds won't peck at ripe tomatoes when they're thirsty.
Hours spent gardening per week: Ten hours, once established. This year I cut the number of pots back by half.
Annual expense: $25 for seeds and seedlings.
Challenges: Squirrels who plant walnuts in the pots, raccoons, and deer, who have climbed five steps to dine on the patio. Let's face it, if you live in the woods, you'll have animals.
I'm proud of: Creating a beautiful, restful, food-producing garden despite all the animals.
What I've gotten out of gardening: I'm 82 and see this garden as a gift from God. It keeps me active, engaged, and happy! And Rose Marie (my wife, an avid bird watcher) and I are out here everyday at lunchtime, cutting lettuce for our sandwiches.