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Cathy Urbanski inspects Cathy Urbanski inspects her porcupine grass.
Cathy Urbanski inspects her porcupine grass.
Published: Saturday, 7/28/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Cathy Urbanski: Still getting out there


Name: Cathy Urbanski, of Elmore, Ohio.

Garden specs: Just over a quarter-acre on the edge of town: 800-square-feet of flower beds plus a 10-by-8-foot triangle with vegetables. Plenty of sun.

When did you start gardening? Before I even got the keys to our house after buying it 23 years ago, I went there and put in a vegetable garden. We had a little boy and a baby on the way. I grew up in the country near Elliston where my mother always had a big garden and put up food. I didn't really watch what she was doing so I didn't learn as much as I could have. And I was fascinated by a woman around the corner from us who was in her 80s and in the spring, pushed a hand plow through her big plot. She was about 5-foot-tall and 80 pounds dripping wet, sweet as pie. I always thought "That's the girl I want to be." I'm working at it. I think about her when I'm gardening. She inspires me; it could not have been easy for her but she managed to do it.

Photo gallery: Weed it & Reap: Cathy Urbanski

What do you grow? Tomatoes (Early Girl, Better Boy, and a pink and a yellow heirloom); cucumbers, several kinds of peppers, lettuce, herbs, bulbs, annuals, perennials, roses, daylilies, and ornamental grasses. We have a little apple tree, no more than 15 feet tall, it's got to be 80 years old and has the best apples ever; small, firm, very tart, red with a little green like a Jonathan. For years we never sprayed it but we sprayed it a couple of times last year and this year.

Cone flowers in Cathy Urbanski's flower garden in Elmore, Ohio. Cone flowers in Cathy Urbanski's flower garden in Elmore, Ohio.

Favorite plant: Tough question! Today I'd say dinner-plate hibiscus; I have pink and red ones and they're big and showy.

Give us a tip: Most people don't know how magical five-gallon buckets are. I keep at least 12 in circulation. I carry tools and plants in them, turn them upside down and sit on them when weeding, mix soils or water and fertilizer, store plants in them when replanting beds, use them for watering. The bucket is kind of like my egg timer in the garden: I know it's time to quit for the day when I fill one up with weeds.

And, there's no 100 percent method of preventing rabbits from eating your plants, but they do love to eat johnny jump ups, which I plant away from the veggies to encourage rabbits to go to a different part of the garden. They mostly eat the flowers and some leaves. Also, I mix composted cow manure and sphagnum moss and spread it on the beds.

Hours spent gardening: In spring, 20 grueling hours a week. Now, I water and weed a little bit at a time, about 10 hours a week.

Annual expense: $200 for annuals, vegetables, mulch, the occasional landscape timber or tool, soil mixes, bird food. I live way too close to Bench's Greenhouse.

Challenges: Ten years ago I went from feeling like I was 35 years old one day, to 85 the next. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I was like a little hummingbird, then became an albatross. I had constant migraines and lost my energy. It could be fibromyalgia or MS, it's undiagnosed. Everybody has limits, it's how we get around those limits that make the difference in our lives.

I'm proud of still getting out there and digging. I've learned a lot about tools and techniques that make gardening possible for people like me who are not as able as we once were, and to do it on a limited budget. I try to get to the garden before I've worn myself out doing other things. My favorite tool ever is my Scott's garden cart. It was only $25, weighs very little, you can put all your tools in it, and it tips for easy dumping.

Also, I buy better tools because they save your hands. Fiskers makes good clippers and light-weight rakes, including an eight-inch one that's good for getting between plants.

What I've learned gardening: If you like a plant, keep it. If you don't like it, call it a weed. I wish I would have asked the old timers for five things I should not plant. Here are a few things I've learned to be careful with: Wild garlic/onions; we've been digging them out of every nook and cranny, and you can't kill them with Roundup. Mint: I love it but it spreads everywhere, so buy a tame variety or keep it in a pot. We had an invasive honeysuckle that was like the little shop of horrors, it even crept under the shingles. And be careful with two thorny plants: prickly pear (the thorns spread everywhere) and barberry bushes (their nasty thorns give me an infection).

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