by Connie Oswald Stofko
You can see a huge decorative ruler topped with a snowflake, which, in the winter, marks how much snow is on the ground in the backyard of Linda Washut and Kathleen Kelkenberg, 175 Highland Ave., Hamburg. It measures all the way up to four feet.
“We got it at a garage sale,” Washut said. “We thought it was hilarious.”
But during the Snowvember Storm of 2014 the ruler was buried.
“We got seven feet of snow,” Washut said. They couldn’t get across the street to have dinner at their neighbor’s house. At one point, they couldn’t even open their door. “It was kind of frightening, actually.”
“Now,” Kelkenberg said, looking around at the plants and flowers that are flourishing in their yard, “I’m like, really?”
“It’s hard to imagine,” Washut agreed.
Since Hamburg was one of the areas hit hard by the storm, you’ll probably be hearing a lot about the Snowvember Storm from gardeners during Buzz Around Hamburg, an event that includes a garden walk and vendor fair. It will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, July 11 and 12. Maps for the free self-guided tour will be available at the bandstand at Memorial Park, corner of Lake St. and Union St., Hamburg.
You can see Kelkenberg and Washut’s garden during Buzz Around Hamburg as well as on Open Gardens. During Open Gardens, clusters of private gardens are open to the public during certain hours on Thursdays and Friday. Check the hours carefully.
The damage that Washut and Kelkenberg’s garden sustained during the Snowvember storm wasn’t as much as some landscapes sustained, they noted. Forsythia bushes in front that had been eight feet tall were squashed by the snow and had to be cut back, a large tree limb cracked and had to be cut down by professionals, and a few other shrubs that weren’t doing well before the storm met their demise.
Actually, you wouldn’t know there had been damage if they didn’t point it out. There are so many plants that weren’t damaged that the garden looks full and unscathed.
They filled in a couple of spaces with castor plants, which are large, impressive plants. Castor oil is made from the seeds. However, while castor is commonly used as an ornamental plant, Cornell University recommends that gardeners not allow the plants to flower and produce seeds because those seeds or castor beans are highly toxic.
I visited Washut and Kelkenberg’s garden three weeks before the Buzz Around Hamburg will take place. The nice thing about visiting so far ahead of time is that I got to see some things that won’t be in bloom during the walk.
One plant that won’t look as spectacular in July is goat’s beard, a large plant for shade with large, fluffy white flowers. It’s planted directly beneath a large maple tree near the shed along with Solomon’s seal, which was already done blooming. Solomon’s seal gets flowers that are almost like a lily of the valley, but this mature specimen is waste high.
Tip: As you tour gardens on garden walks, ask the owners about the plants that aren’t flowering. They may be ones you would enjoying having in your garden during spring or fall, but go unnoticed in mid-summer.
Most of Washut and Kelkenberg’s yard is in shade or part shade. They have hostas that were given to them by friends and hostas that people put out to the curb.
“We don’t believe in killing plants,” Kelkenberg said. “We try to save them all.”
Other shade plants in their garden include astilbe, spider wort, ligularia, bear’s breeches, black snake root and heuchera or coral bells. They also use a lot of annuals.
“We have a lot of fun with pots,” Washut said.
When you design a container pot, one rule is to use a thriller, which is an tall, upright plant; a filler, to fill in the middle, and a spiller, to cascade over the side. They have a pot in a shady area, but wanted to use millet, a tall sun plant, as the thriller element. They cheated by planting the millet in its own pot. They set the millet in the sun to keep it healthy, but when they have visitors, they set the pot behind the pot with the shade plants. It looks like it’s part of the shade container.
In one sunny area, vegetable plants are interspersed with flowers in pots on the top of a small picnic table. On the bench of the picnic table are pots with lettuce, which like it a bit cooler. The row of pots on the table helps to shade the lettuce plants on the bench.
Washut and Kelkenberg have been in the house for 13 years. They enclosed the patio, which changed the look of the yard. They added a wooden fence, a stone patio and the waterfall, and each of those projects changed the yard dramatically.
They had professionals install the waterfall and patio, and the professionals had design insights that helped tremendously. When the patio was installed, the builders suggested leaving spots unpaved to be used as garden beds. That adds interest to the yard.
Washut and Kelkenberg had initially thought the waterfall should go against the fence, but the designer told them it should be placed in the center of the yard near the patio, creating an outdoor room.
“He said, “You’ll be amazed,’ Washut said. “He was right.”
Parkside Garden Tour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 28. Get maps at Garden Central, which is located at the Church of the Good Shepherd, 96 Jewett Parkway, (corner of Jewett Parkway and Summit Avenue, across from the Darwin Martin House), Buffalo. A full-scale garden map and directory is available for $8, or after 3 p.m., $4. All proceeds fund children’s programming and senior services by the Parkside Community Association, a not-for-profit community service organization. Raffle tickets and memorabilia will be for sale all day.
Buffalo-style Garden Art Sale from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, June 28 at the Parkside Lodge, 84 Parkside Ave. Buffalo.