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Merle Peoples and Jonathan Parsons were known for the area around their West Toledo home that they stunningly transformed and dubbed the St. B’ Norbrooke Community Garden at the intersection of St. Bernard Drive, Sherbrooke Road, and Northwood Avenue. They and other neighbors planted more than 10,000 flowers and trees, laid curvelinear stone and brick paths, and installed scores of art and giant driftwood pieces on a city-owned lot and abutting the I-475 north noise wall.
In 2011, construction to widen I-475 met with heavy spring rain for a disastrous result. The ground shifting in part of the garden that was located on Ohio DOT right-of-way land. A nearby roadbed sunk eight inches and their driveway was damaged.
As the project and remedy dragged on, they became increasingly disgruntled. Late in 2012, they moved to a renovated 1905 home in the country; no small feat, they note, for two people in their mid-seventies. “City hustle and bustle has grown threadbare of charm, so we’re presently pleasantly down on the farm,” Jonathan wrote. “It’s afforded us a whole new page.”
Living in their West Toledo home and maintaining the beautiful plantings is a gardening friend.
PHOTO GALLERY: Peoples and Parsons
Garden specs: About a half-acre.
When did you start gardening? Merle: Growing up in a rural area, Mother was big on flower and vegetable gardens. Jonathan: As a young child, my grandmother was instrumental. She was very much involved in flower gardening and had me work in her friends’ gardens. I was a garden slave. I continued gardening through adolescence and when I was married. I worked informally in landscape design and also did bonsai gardening with evergreens. When Merle and I met 17 years ago, I moved an awful lot of my plants to his property and it rekindled his love of gardening. As we built the community garden, Barb and Jeff Rhodes of Rhodes’ Garden Fresh market were our mentors.
What do you grow? Any kind of specialty plant, perennials, bushes, trees; right across the spectrum. Thousands of spring bulbs planted in clumps of at least 25 to 40 per color. We like species tulips [petite, early tulips that multiply and are more closely related to the original tulips from the Mediterranean area than are hybridized tulips]. And Darwin tulips [tall, late blooming, with big flowers]. In raised circular beds that have hundreds of tulips, we’ll plant lime and burgundy oriental lilies for a second show. We’re starting a new star-shaped petunia from seed and planting two yellow cherry trees which birds aren’t supposed to eat as much as red or purple cherries.
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We have Midnight Marvel hibiscus with five-inch red flowers and dark bronze foliage. Briotti chestnut tree with its rose-colored flowers and winterberry [a native, deciduous form of holly]. Red raspberries and goji berries. One bed will be a mass of red and white zinnias from seed. And near the base of two lilac bushes, I plant Blue Dawn morning glory that’s intensely blue; it only grows from rooted cuttings I get from Cindy Bench, and by July, the bushes are covered with a mass of deep blue flowers.
Favorite plant: Jonathan: the Tricolor beech tree with its pink, white, and green leaves. It’s so pretty and there’s few problems with them. Merle: The four o’clock flower.
Give us a tip: Consider mixing in interesting foliage colors, which tend to last all season whereas flowers come and go. For example: deep red leaves of Bull’s Blood beets, the blue-gray of dinosaur kale, red cabbage, and dark leaves of Redbor kale. Another tip: a soaker hose at the base of a zinnia bed works wonders and forestalls mildew. Finally, love the one you’re with -- if it dies, get rid of it and move on.
Hours spent gardening per week: 15 to 30 hours in spring, then it tapers off. Two mowings a week take four hours all season.
Annual expense: At least $1,000. We’re still in start-up mode.
Challenges: Merle: We took down two maples and four walnuts after we bought this place. [All parts of the black walnut including the roots, emit juglone, a compound that kills many plants.] As a result, we built raised beds for some plants, used fresh soil, and lots of tomato compost. Jonathan: I don’t like the parts of gardening that become repetitive or a massive amount of any chore to perform.
I’m proud of: Merle: What we’ve done in 18 months. Jonathan: We’ve created something that uplifts the neighborhood. Everybody in town enjoys it which makes us feel like part of the community. We joined a church we can walk to, and we bring flowers for the altar, funerals, and shut-ins.
What do you get out of gardening? Merle: There’s a degree of satisfaction you get. I may not like doing the work but the garden’s floor plan is pretty well set and we’ve created a different kind of space. I also enjoy making pies from our rhubarb and fruit trees.
Jonathan: The garden is my inspiration. And I love the surprise of it, how things come out.
Contact Tahree Lane at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6075.
●The Black Swamp Hosta and Daylily Society will hold its annual plant sale Saturday, rain or shine, beginning at 8 a.m. and continuing until it's sold out, usually about noon. Selection is first-come, first-served. It will be in Walt Churchill's Market parking lot, 26625 N. Dixie Highway (St. Rt. 25), in Perrysburg. Club members dig from their gardens and sell hostas, daylilies, ferns, wildflowers, perennials, and more, and the money they generate supports public gardens such as Toledo Botanical Garden, 577 Foundation, Simpson Garden Park and libraries.
●Youngsters aged 3 to 16 can plant a container garden to take home from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Toledo Grows, 900 Oneida St. The session (fee: $10) will be in the Robert J. Anderson Urban Agriculture Center. Information: 419-720-8714 and toledogarden.org.
●Also Saturday is the Northwest Ohio Woodland & Wildlife Family Festival, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Wood County Historical Center and Museum, 13660 County Home Rd., Bowling Green. Free workshops will be on topics such as rope making, worm composting, wildlife, mushroom hunting, tree identification, bees, raptors, and more. Information: 419-352-0967 and woodcountyhistory.org.