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Wednesday, December 17, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 7/5/2003

Generous friend opens her garden, heart to others

I hope the root of ivy given to me by Florence Oberle will take to the soil and flourish at my Posey Lake, Mich., farmhouse, 80 miles north of her home in Grand Rapids, Ohio. It would be special if even a little of the 88-year-old gardener's green thumb magic could be transplanted in my yard.

The gardens that surround Mrs. Oberle's charming green bungalow, front and back, represent decades of work, planning, and learning. She knows each new bloom that opens; she laments each flower that dies, and she watches a new variety like a mother hen, and is delighted when it shows promise of living forever in her garden with veteran plants that have seen many summers.

Sharing is a big part of Florence's character. The ivy root bundled in a wet paper towel is but a small example.

She loves to arrange a mixed bouquet of flowers, friends, and food and present it - where else - but in the garden. It would be disappointing to eat indoors at Florence's house in summer.

Last Saturday, when a long table seating 20 guests stretched through the garden, several guests asked Florence why they had been invited. Was it someone's birthday, perhaps hers, or another special occasion? “There's no reason, I just wanted to have a party with my friends,” the retired Washington Township teacher said.

For several years Florence shared the garden with groups who made reservations for tea and dessert when the roses were at their peak. Last year she and her helper decided they were working too hard. Callers were told she was out of the garden tea business.

Like other seniors, Florence hung her pride on the garden fence last week and decided to hire a caterer for the first time. At a church supper she was impressed with the food prepared and served by Quinn McDougle, who is a hobbyist chef with experience in the Owens Community College hospitality program and cooking in the U.S. Army.

Florence never jumped from the table once during lunch to get something, not even when her homemade ice cream and angel food cake were served. She was content to let Quinn take over her kitchen, and let Justin Guerrero, the waiter, do all the running while she visited and was a guest at her own party.

Conversation at one of Florence's gatherings of friends is a mixed bouquet, too. The woman sitting across from me wants to be an astronaut; the guest beside me is a part-time Hawaii resident, with travel tips as well as gardening advice. A professional artist in the group sometimes abandons the canvas for whimsical artwork.

The science students of Beppie Walerius in Van Buren, Ohio, learn more about America's space program than the average student. Ms. Walerius, an aerospace educator who has been fascinated with space since she was a child, attends NASA workshops several times a year. When she teaches classes at the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, she wears an authentic navy blue astronaut-training suit. She tells her students that there will be plenty of jobs when Mars is colonized, which she believes will be in about 25 years. Mrs. Walerius laughs about her collection of space toys that she has been given through the years, but on a serious note she says, “I would go today if I had a chance to go into space.”

It's easy to buy a hostess gift for Florence: Tea and garden gifts are appropriate. Betty Jean Jacobson, a local artist who is best known for her watercolors, made something Florence doesn't have, or ever thought of having.

Ms. Jacobson attached a doorknob to a broomstick,then painted it in a contemporary design. The decorative pole is a garden accessory, designed for climbing vines.

Noke Doering, who, with her husband, an airline pilot, divides her residences between North Baltimore and Oahu, gave Florence something every gardener appreciates. She spent several hours the day before the party weeding the gardens. Mrs. Doering knows all about weeding - she has large gardens in Honolulu and North Baltimore.

When Rita McDougle gives gardening tips, others listen. Ms. McDougle, Quinn's mother, is a blue-ribbon Toledo gardener. She helps Florence in the Grand Rapids gardens and credits her fertilizer formula for the plants' healthy roots. The formula is equal parts of alfalfa meal, fishmeal, and Epsom salts that is worked into the soil in early spring and again in August. Three hundred pounds of the mixture are used in Florence's gardens each time.

Japanese beetles will be gone if oenephra are planted in the garden. The pesky beetles don't like the plant, which is also known as Arkansas buttercup. The bright yellow flower is not only pest control, but attractive enough to plant in several places.

In front of her home, Florence pointed to a hosta sprinkled with white powder. She explained that Epsom salts would deter whatever was eating the leaves, including rabbits.

She explained that the deep pink flowers overflowing from an urn are called Million Bells, and are a good replacement for petunias because the dead blooms fall off and do not have to be picked.

Florence's ivy root is not the hardy English ivy that overcame my 30-foot garden. After weeks of work, I think I have removed all of that.

Florence's ivy is Porcelain. It's lacey, delicate, and ladylike, just like Florence.



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