by Connie Oswald Stofko
The yard of Carrie Brooks, 773 Crescent Ave., Buffalo, is filled with plants, and many of them have a story.
The forsythia came from a bouquet her daughter gave her. The branches stayed in the vase of water too long and rooted, so she planted them. After the bush has finished flowering, she allows a sweet pea vine to climb up and cover it with its own flowers.
Japanese lanterns were used as the table decorations at her daughter’s wedding four years ago, and she saved some in a shoe box. The dried lanterns had seeds in them and, not knowing if they would take, she planted them this year. They’re thriving and have white flowers that will turn into Japanese lanterns.
The raspberries bushes came from her aunt, who had to give her canes about five times before they took.
“Every time I have raspberries, I think of her,” Brooks said.
You can visit Brooks’s garden during the Parkside Garden Tour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 28. This is the second garden walk of the season for Garden Walk Buffalo Niagara (formerly the National Garden Festival).
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.
Guided walking tours highlighting Parkside’s diverse architecture, history, and folklore will begin at noon and 2 p.m. at Garden Central. The cost is $10.
At the Darwin Martin House, there will be free admission to the conservatory and gardens only, along with garden-related talks throughout the day by a Master Gardener. There will be a sale of ARS garden tools as well as divisions of native ferns, rugosa roses and lemon thyme from the Martin House landscape.
The Buffalo-style Garden Art Sale will take place from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Parkside Lodge, 84 Parkside Ave. Buffalo.
Brooks has many plants in her garden, and one of her favorites is feverfew. It can grow anywhere, filling in where even annuals won’t grow. It reseeds itself and has marvelous color.
“I over-plant knowing that not everything will take,” she said. “Then I have the luxury of picking and choosing.” Things are packed in tightly and there aren’t empty spaces. She doesn’t plant new things as much as she selects and weeds out extraneous plants.
Yet she recently planted two new apple trees in the middle of what is already a full yard. Why?
She had one apple tree there, but it had to be taken out because it was killed by rabbits. (They gnaw at the bark and eat it all the way around the trunk. That’s called girdling, and can kill a tree.) She wanted to replace that tree, and it’s best to plant two trees so they can pollinate. The varieties she chose are conical and grow upright without spreading their branches much, so they won’t produce a lot of shade.
The other reason she chose to plant more trees in an already full yard is to prepare for the future. The huge pine, whose trunk you can glimpse in the first photo, is already 50 years old and won’t last forever. When that is ready to come down, the apple trees will be larger and ready to be dominant features in the yard.
With influence from her husband Larry Brooks, who used to be with Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper and is now with the Western New York Land Conservancy, they have an organic garden and many native plants. She got milkweed from a neighbor and now has three large patches; she may have to pull some out next year. Brooks said it attracts yellow swallowtails as well as monarch butterflies.
Other native plants include Joe-pye weed and Maximillian sunflower, which is like a black-eyed Susan.
She and her husband have lived in their house almost 40 years. The yard used to be occupied by an inground pool and sports areas for the kids.
“Then they were gone, and now it’s all mine,” Brooks said. She started with a four-by-four-foot patch of sunflowers and expanded a few feet every year.
Brooks, who was a teacher, is now a “granny nanny,” babysitting a few times a week. She said she actually has less time to garden now because she used to have summers off. She has let go of some tasks, such as cutting back her lily of the valley, a spring-flowering plant, and replacing the patch with annuals. Now she leaves the plain foliage in place.
She still grows vegetables in a raised bed– a raised bed is easier on the knees. This year she’s growing popcorn plants.
Gardeners will envy her greenhouse, which the the couple built from a kit. Brooks notes that there are different kinds of cedar, but they got soft cedar that doesn’t weather well. She recommends choosing a harder cedar that will take our weather.
For the first couple of years, they used the greenhouse all year. They heated it during the winter, but found that it was difficult to keep the temperature from fluctuating. It was costly to heat all winter. And they had to shovel a path through their backyard to get to the greenhouse.
Now they use it to extend the growing season into November. They close the greenhouse down for the winter and open it back up in March.
Finally, a tip for gardeners who have trouble with groundhogs or rabbits: Get a fence. Brooks installed a chain-link fence, which has helped a lot– except for the baby bunnies, which can squeeze through the holes in the fence.