Weed It and Reap

A piece of the Caribbean

7/10/2013
BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Tammy and Greg Wheeler in their Caribbean themed backyard.
Tammy and Greg Wheeler in their Caribbean themed backyard.

Name: Tammy Wheeler, construction coordinator at Columbia Gas of Ohio, and Greg Wheeler, retired from Columbia Gas, living in South Toledo.

Garden specs: Our property is 50-by-220 feet. The area we call Wheeler’s Tiki Bar is 50-by-50-feet.

When did you start gardening? Greg: In 1974 when I bought my second house. My partner at work had a real nice house and lawn and I started asking him questions. The first year I went nuts; I grew about everything you could possibly grow. Tammy: In junior high school, my dad let me put a little garden in behind our garage. I kept it for six or seven years. I have a rose bush and clematis that was his. When we moved in 29 years ago, it was all grass and trees.

PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to take a tour the Wheelers' backyard

What do you grow? We’ve worked outside all our lives, so during the winter we like to go somewhere warm. We’ve been to the Caribbean about 20 times and have visited almost every island. We love the blue water, white sand, and laid-back way of life. We’ve tried to create a little bit of it here over the last 29 years with a pool, decks, five seating areas, a beach-style tiki bar with a corrugated steel roof, a large open area that’s laid with salvaged bricks, paths of sandstone that are chunks of old sidewalks, and an outdoor stereo system. About 75 pots and hanging baskets, pond plants (two types of cattails, mint, water lilies, water hyacinth, lots of goldfish and frogs), palms, cactus, clematis. In raised beds behind the pool are raspberries, tomatoes, and green peppers. We have a 23-year-old black and gold macaw, Harley, who comes outside with us, and two springer spaniels.

Favorite plant: We agree, it has to be our Dragon Wing begonias, red with green leaves, that fill our window boxes at the front of the house. So far this year, three people have stopped by to ask what they are.

Give us a tip: Keep up on the weeding, trimming, and deadheading to keep your plants looking great! In fall we take in Boston ferns, hibiscus, palms, cactus, geraniums, and more. In winter half the basement is filled with plants and overhead grow lights.

Hours spent gardening: Tammy: Since I work full time, I let Greg do all the gardening work, but I pick the raspberries. Greg: About one to three hours a day, including an hour to water plants. In April when the weather breaks, we start and it takes about six weeks to get everything up, power washed, cleaned, and planted. In autumn it takes about a month to get everything stored.

Annual expense: Around $400.

Challenges: Our plants are always in before the whirlybirds (maple seeds) drop, so it’s a chore to pick them out of the plants and clean up the yard. We added 4 inches of dirt over the entire area before we built. But our water table is so high that when it’s a wet spring, underground water pushes the pond liner right up and tips over plants. It also pushes the pool liner up, and is the reason why we can’t have an in-ground pool. It floods easily, so the brick, sandstone, and decks work out well.

We’re proud of: Greg: The pond and plants that we’re able grow. Tammy: How beautiful our yard looks. People do not realize what we have back here and are always surprised to see it. It is our piece of the Caribbean. And we’ve done it all ourselves.

Tell us a story: Greg: Our dog Chesney (named after Kenny Chesney — we even have a No Shoes Nation flag along with our pirate flag) loves to try and catch the frogs in the pond. She’ll spend hours just pacing around the pond and sometimes when she goes after the frogs, she ends up slipping and falling in! The look on her face is priceless.

To see a video of the Wheelers’ garden, go to toledoblade.com/gardening.