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Hunter: Rescuing A Flower Garden

08/09/10 5:55PM By Edith Hunter
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(HOST)  This summer, commentator Edith Hunter is busy rescuing a flower garden - an exercise in both history and horticulture.

(HUNTER)  Now that I have become more mobile with my new hip, and Charles has taken over the vegetable garden, I decided to attack Aunt Mary's long-neglected flower garden.  Aunt Mary always had a hired man to help with the vegetable garden, and a high school boy to help with the flower garden. I had neither, and after her death in 1975 I chose to cultivate the life-sustaining vegetable garden and let the soul-sustaining flower garden take care of itself.

Ten years later, l985, a friend came to visit. I took her out to see the wilderness that had once been Aunt Mary's garden, and she exclaimed: "This garden was influenced by Gertrude Jekyll!" Gertrude Jekyll was an early twentieth century English horticulturist. When I went to the shelves of the wonderful library in this house, I discovered several of her books.

My friend explained: "The stone walls and rectangular beds provide the basic structure, but the informality of plantings (a mix of shrubs, perennials and bulbs) that entices the visitor to wander into the interior indicates Jekyll's influence. The type of garden that she designed complemented the architecture and lifestyle of the English Arts & Craft movement which I know influenced Aunt Mary."

My friend drew a map of the garden which is rather like an inverted pair of Us with a low stonewall bordering the edges. After preliminary weeding she uncovered spotted leaf pulmonaria that loves the shade afforded by the lilacs.. There were bearded iris and Siberians iris blooming in spite of my neglect. She discovered a patch of primroses and a pretty little white and green hosta. There was bleeding heart, foxglove, daffodils and narcissus; there were peonies, sweet ciciley, mallow, and both Queen of the Prairie, and Queen of the Meadow. There were roses everywhere, far to the rear day lilies, and to one side, globe thistles. All these she entered on the garden chart. But I was too busy with the vegetable garden and the historical society.  

Fifteen more years passed. In 2000, my daughter, up from North Carolina, looked at the chart of the garden and freed up the peonies.  But for another ten years I let it grow up in vetch, wild raspberries, and wild asters. But this spring I decided to make a real restoration effort. Going by the chart, my limited knowledge, and help from my visiting daughter, we recovered almost all of the plants my friend had entered on the map. The bleeding heart was gone, but we found a lovely patch of sundrops not on the chart.

I await a visit from my friend to show off our handiwork.
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