Wednesday, Aug 24, 2016
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Myriad color of flowers, butterflies


John Sabo in his garden.

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John Sabo’s daylilies are trumpets in every shade of orange, yellow, peach, and burgundy, and have “throats” daubed with combinations of those colors. He’s got about 100 kinds at his half-acre on a busy road in Holland where development lurks nearby. It’s only a matter of time, he knows, until the damp woods bordering his property will be drained and built upon. He doesn’t relish the prospect.

The son of a nurseryman, he’s got three favorite tools, each at least 50 years old: a long, wooden-handled trowel, a newly-repaired three-pronged cultivator, and a 4 ½-inch-wide hoe. And his sod lifter is handy for edging beds.

PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view slideshow


John Sabo's landscaped front yard.

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A plan for a pond with a waterfall was ditched because there wasn’t an easy way to get power to the pump, so he turned the area into a dry creekbed with 18 tons of river stone covering a weed barrier of black plastic.

He had two years of bad luck with impatiens: one year, a mid-summer hailstorm stripped them to bare stalks, the next, they became infected with impatiens downy mildew and within three days, every last one was defoliated and yellow.

“I try to stick with low-maintenance plants,” he says.

Garden specs: Six-tenths of an acre of black-sand loam; about half planted.

When did you start gardening? I’ve gardened here since I moved in in 1982. I did some landscaping on the side when I worked full time and even after I retired. Many years ago, I was a greenskeeper at Highland Meadows Golf Club.

I remember growing tomato plants on my sand pile at age 5. Both parents gardened and we had a small truck farm when I was little.

My father owned John’s Nursery on Monroe Street just a block from Douglas Road from 1939 to 1960. He’d drive up to the Eastern Market in Detroit and bring back plants and roses -- we had 2,400 potted roses at one time. I mixed soil, watered, and did other jobs.


Daylilies in John Sabo's garden.

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What do you grow? Perennials and about 48 flats of annuals. I quit growing veggies when I got tired of fighting woodchucks for them.

Favorite plant: Tough call; between begonias and daylilies, both bullet-proof plants.

Give us a tip: Weeding is more calming than meditation. Bricks, laid flat on their wide side and flush with the grass, make good edging for beds. I think it looks nice and the mower can go over the bricks easily.

Hours spent gardening per week: About 30-35 hours.

Annual expense: Gee, I never kept track. I’m guessing $200 - $300. I’ve gotten a lot of plants from friends and salvaged plants and bricks, too.

Challenges: There was a time when I told people ‘If you can find a weed in any of my beds I’ll give you a dollar.’ Now, I’d be bankrupt. I think the lack of rain is my biggest headache. It keeps me constantly moving my sprinkler around

I’m proud of: Beautifying the neighborhood. People passing by enjoy the view and occasionally stop to compliment me . If they aren’t in a hurry I give them the grand tour, at which time I usually give them a few starts of plants to take home. “Share the beauty “ is my motto.

What do you get out of gardening? I love to lay out new beds. And when I’m working in the yard it’s like I’m in a parallel universe! I hear no traffic noise or discordant sounds, only bird song and the rustling of wind through the ornamental grasses; I see only the myriad colors of the flowers and the butterflies fluttering about, and an occasional hummingbird.

Contact Tahree Lane at: or 419-724-6075.

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