“We thought it was a small garden,” said Jeannette Riley of the grounds of the home she shares with her mother, Alma Riley in Albion.
Their property is probably five times as large as a typical suburban yard, though it’s small compared to nearby farms. The Rileys have developed the gardens in stages, and it hasn’t grown too big for them to maintain.
You can see Jeannette and Alma’s lovely gardens this Saturday during the Garden Path Tour 2011 of Orleans County. It’s the Master Gardener Garden Tour Fundraiser, organized by Master Gardeners/Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orleans County. Tickets are $10. Call (585) 798-4265 for tickets and a map will be mailed to you. If there’s not enough time for the map to get to you by mail, you can get the address of one of the gardens and pick up a map at the first garden directing you to the other gardens.
There are seven gardens in all on the tour, and all the gardens are very different from each other, said Richard Monica, co-chair of the event. This year, all of the gardens are in the Albion area, and next year the event will be centered in the Medina area.
It’s difficult to capture the Rileys’ large expanse of gardens. The photo at the beginning of this article gives you a glimpse of several paths leading to different garden rooms.
The property has a greenhouse and several small bungalow or shed-type buildings, including the one above right. Alma’s son Willie built it, incorporating a tree trunk into the back wall.
There are so many garden rooms that Jeannette finds it useful to name them:
- The Grape Arbor, which can be seen in the photo above, is a shady spot with a padded bench under a grape vine. Hostas ring the sitting area.
- The White Garden, which can be seen beyond the Grape Arbor, is tiled with light-colored stone and outfitted with white iron furniture.
- The Shovel Garden is named because of the large amount of shoveling it required.
- The Kitchen Garden can be seen from the kitchen.
- The Children’s Garden provides a cool place for Alma’s grandchildren to play.
- The Bar Area features a clear Plexiglass bar and lovely seating. The photo at right shows the view from the bar. Notice the lovely door, complete with wreath, that you can open to continue down the path. (Or you can just walk around the door.) The lights on the door illuminate the seating area. Also notice the mulch that forms the flooring. “Mulch is an easy way to make a garden room,” Jeannette said. It’s quicker than doing brickwork and helps keep the bugs down, she said.
- The Beach is an area where not even grass grows. “That area’s in progress,” Alma said. Some trees have been removed, letting in more sunlight. Until then, there’s bare sandy soil, and the Rileys have outfitted the area with furniture you might find at a lake-front cottage, such as a hammock and a table with an umbrella. A tip from Jeannette: To keep the umbrella from tipping over, dig a hole and insert a PVC pipe. Leave about a foot of the pipe above the ground. Insert the umbrella into the pipe.
These are just the named areas. There are other sitting areas as well, and beyond the Beach is a wooded area. Many trees provide shade throughout the gardens, too.
“We’ve been very, very, fortunate to have a lot of mature trees that were just nature’s gift to us,” Jeannette said.
At left, Alma and Jeannette show off a trellis that features bird houses for the whole family. The white church birdhouse on the left represents Alma’s late husband, and the house on the far right represents Alma. The small houses in between represent each of their 10 children.
While the Rileys’ gardens are now amazing, their first attempt at gardening fell flat. They didn’t add mulch or manure or anything to their soil, but went ahead and planted 200 bulbs. The soil compacted and the flowers struggled to come up.
“It looked like Death Valley Days in our yard,” Jeannette said, referring to a TV show about the old west.
“We’re learning as we go. We make a lot of mistakes and do a lot of do-overs.”
They don’t claim expert knowledge in gardening, and say they get their ideas from looking at other gardens.
They do put a lot of energy into their landscape. Alma alone works probably five hours per day in the garden.
“We’re just people who like gardening,” Jeannette said.