Friday, May 25, 2018
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Weed It & Reap: West Toledoans create whimsical oasis


The Toledo backyard of Susan Sharkey and her father John Sharkey.

The Blade/Lori King
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John Sharkey, (father) retired building engineer for Toledo Public Schools, and Susan Sharkey, (daughter), assistant attorney general for Ohio, living in West Toledo.

Garden specs: Our backyard is 50-by-120 feet.

When did you start gardening? John: My parents immigrated from Glasgow, Scotland, shortly before I was born, and settled in North Toledo near Riverside Park [now Jamie Farr Park]. My mother liked flowers but couldn’t afford them. Two blocks away was the Maumee River, our playground. Back then you could see your feet in the river. There were all kinds of flowers down there so I’d pick bouquets for her and dig up things and plant them around our home. When I was a young married man, I had 27 rose bushes, mostly tea roses.

Susan: I started when I moved here about 20 years ago, but more seriously 10 years ago, about the time John moved in. We enjoy sitting outside and it was just boring with a yard full of grass.

PHOTO GALLERY: Click here for more photos of the Sharkey garden

What do you grow? Susan is in charge of in-ground perennials: daisies, hollyhocks, black-eyed susans, zinnias, hostas, and other pretty little unknowns: “I’m more of a guerilla gardener; I don’t read gardening books but when I see something pretty I stick it in the ground.” John, who uses a scooter for mobility, is in charge of 50 containers brimming with annuals. This year, he built an 8-by-3-foot vegetable bed that’s 24 inches high. “I couldn’t get down on the ground anymore. I put landscape fabric and chicken wire at the bottom, added about five inches of wood chips, and then about 30 bags of topsoil. It was fun building because I had to work from my scooter; once you make up your mind, you can find a way. But when it came to planting veggies, I didn’t know what I was doing and I planted things way too close together. We have a bunch of cherry tomatoes, a tiny cabbage, first-year-asparagus, and broccoli plants that seemed to skip the vegetable stage and go straight to seed.

Favorite plant: So many to choose from. Our red crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is beautiful as is our blue hydrangea.

Give us a gardening tip: Don’t be shy. Pick something you like and stick it in the ground. If it doesn’t survive, plant something else! “That’s sort of the way my life has gone,” says Susan.

Hours spent gardening per week: John: I water the pots twice a day, which takes two to three hours. Susan: I’m out there as needed and cut the grass.

Annual expense: A couple hundred dollars for annuals, more this year for the raised bed. Money flows like the water in our four water features, so it’s difficult to say. Perennials take the cost down, and annuals bring the cost right back up.

Challenges: John: I bought a couple of flats of impatiens which died quickly [because of downy mildew]. Then I purchased more, which have survived so far.

Susan: Weeds. Cutting the grass, because it’s my least favorite part. Morning glories, which grow all over, but they’re useful because they cover up a couple of arches.

We’re proud of: The whimsical style of our garden. One of our water features is called ‘road kill,’ featuring a flattened frog spitting out water. Overseeing another is Homer Simpson complete with hot dog and a Duff beer. Susan dug and built the rock waterfall with multicolored lights and a small pond it spills into. And we’ve got a few hideaways including a “blue room,” a “tiki hut,” and a shaded “hammock room.” To eliminate mowing around furniture, the tiki hut has artificial turf that was originally in Michigan State University’s Spartan Stadium. The hammock area has outdoor-indoor carpet, and we laid a floor of rectangular pavers in a room with blue furniture. This year we added several glass fish on stakes which we made at Copper Moon Studio. John drilled holes in the bottom of a large fire pit that’s now overflowing with impatiens. Perhaps the whimsical style is responsible for gnomes showing up unannounced. “My brother, Charlie, and his dog, Bear, sneak in and put them around,” says John.

What we’ve learned: Our garden experience began several years ago with a two-seat swing and a tiny plastic pond surrounded by plastic leaves. What we have learned is that anyone can be a gardener, all you have to do is stick with it, keep trying, and if something doesn’t grow, replace it with something that does. We sit out here a lot and people come by and ask to see the yard; we’ve made friends that way. Our soil has the consistency of a toxic waste dump, yet we have been able to make a pleasing, relaxing place to enjoy our “garden of weedin’ ” If we can do it, anyone can.

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