South Buffalo gardener fills many gardens with plants that spread

South Buffalo garden walk 2012 front yard

Catherine Hetzler chooses plants that spread in order to keep her gardens full and to supply plants for the gardens at the Sisters of Mercy Convent and Mt. Mercy Academy.

Hetzler, of Lorraine Avenue, shared her gardens during the South Buffalo Alive Annual Tour of Gardens on July 15.

After becoming a Master Gardener, Hetzler began volunteering at the Sisters of Mercy Convent. Over the course of 11 years, she has developed 11 foundation beds. For two years she has also been doing the front landscaping at Mt. Mercy Academy.side garden in South Buffalo NY

Hetzler relies on perennials to keep all of these gardens full of plants. After Easter, she rescues azalea and hydrangea plants that were used to decorate the chapel at the convent. Sometimes people give her their half-dead plants that they don’t know what to do with, and she is able to nurture them and transplant them to a garden.  Sometimes she gets donated plants, and friends share their plants.

And Hetzler divides the plants in her own garden.

Some plants, such as a juniper, can be propagated by cutting off a piece and sticking the piece in the ground. In the photo above left, the small rounded juniper in the left foreground was started from the tall juniper on the right side of the path. The rose of Sharon on the left can be started from cuttings, but there’s no need– Hetzler has plenty of seedlings. This view is the side garden heading toward the backyard.lacecap hydrangea in Buffalo NY

She starts lacecap hydrangeas from cuttings, but her bush didn’t do well this year.

“It froze, then thawed again, then froze, then thawed again,” she said, which is a pattern many of us are familiar with after the 80-degree temperatures we had in March. While the bush is small, it did get more buds, and you can see the beautiful flower at right.

She has had 30 or 40 spirea bushes that started from seed.

“The seed has to fall on the earth, not on top of three inches of mulch,” Hetzler explained. “That’s why I don’t use mulch.”

Having bare earth around your plants makes it easier for all kinds of seeds to sprout, not just the ones you want to grow, she noted.

“It means a lot of weeding,” she said.

Her backyard, which you can see below, is grassless. In the center garden, a ground cover called mazus reptans, creates a spongy surface that you can walk on. It grows over everything, she said, and gets little purple flowers.backyard in South Buffalo NY 2012

To camouflage the garage wall at the back of the photo, she planted red twig dogwood seedlings that she bought at the sale held early each spring by the Erie County Soil & Water Conservation District.

For winter interest in the bed at the right of the photo, she has planted boxwoods and a dwarf blue spruce.

The purplish-pink flowers are cleomes, which Hetzler refers to as “thugs” because they can take over your garden. (Get  closeup view here.)

“I must have pulled out a hundred,” she said.

Another flower that spreads is the Japanese anenome, seen at right, which sends out runners.  Japanese anenome in Buffalo NY

“It’s one of my favorite flowers,” she said. It blooms in the fall with daisy-like flowers and looks great alongside mums.

Some people might regard cleomes and Japanese anenomes and similar plants as invasive, so they steer clear of those plants.

“I look for these invasive things,” Hetzler said, because they help her cover large areas and block out weeds since she has no mulch. When she gets too many plants, she just pulls out the ones she doesn’t want.

“Even if you pull out every bit, they still come back,” she said. While she sees that as beneficial for what she’s trying to do in her own gardens, “Don’t put them in the middle of a formal bed,” she cautioned.

One plant she depends on as a ground cover is vinca minor, also known as periwinkle or myrtle. It works in sunny, shady, wet and dry areas.

“I use it like other people use mulch,” she said.

Another plant she likes can be seen in the first photo. It’s the green bushy perennial to the left of the garden walk sign. It’s called a Montauk daisy or Hampton daisy, but it’s not a daisy at all. It’s actually a Japanese chrysanthemum that blooms almost exactly on October 1. The flowers are daisy-shaped rather than pom poms.

As you may be able to tell from the photos, it was raining when I visited Hetzler’s garden. You know we’ve had a dry summer when it rains during a garden walk and the gardener isn’t particularly disappointed.

“Isn’t this wonderful weather?” Hetzler said.

Don’t miss these other stories of garden walks from this past weekend:

Gardens surround hand-built log home in Grand Island

Too shady for grass, Hamburg yard is filled with gardens, paths & curios

Broken pipe prompts Buffalo gardeners to create grassless yards

Garden walks coming up this weekend:

Amherst Garden Walk

10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 21

Get a map of the gardens here.


Ken-Ton Garden Tour, 10th anniversary

10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, July 21 and 22, with night tour on Saturday from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m.

This self-guided tour will take place in the Village of Kenmore and the Town of Tonawanda. The night tour, called Saturday Night Lights, will be held 8:30 to 10:30 pm. Saturday, July 21.  Look for a guide to the gardens here.

Lancaster Garden Walk

10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, July 21 and 22

The 9th annual Lancaster Garden Walk is a free self-guided tour of gardens. Programs are available at Two Chicks and a Rooster, 720 Aurora Street in the Town of Lancaster, and at Petals to Please,  corner of Central Avenue and Pleasant Avenue in the Village of Lancaster. For more information visit or visit them on Facebook. See the list of gardens on the 2012 Lancaster Garden Walk and a map of the walk.

West Seneca Garden Walk

10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, July 21 and 22

The West Seneca Garden Walk will take place for the first time this year. Pick up maps at Ebenezer Greenhouse, 1347 Union Rd., West Seneca. Get maps right here. Maps will also be available on the Burchfield Nature & Art Center website.

Photos by Connie Oswald Stofko

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