Tips for dealing with a blank landscape & gardening in later years

Pat Noonan and her bird houses in Hamburg
Every one of the bird houses in her garden has a story to tell, said Pat Noonan, who shared her gardens on the Hamburg Garden Walk in July. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
garden between house and fence in Hamburg, NY
A narrow space between the house and the fence is filled with perennials. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

When Pat Noonan moved into her Hamburg home in 2011, the yard was totally bare.

Noonan, now 88, was at a point in her life when some people give up gardening. And at any point in your life, starting from scratch on a landscape can be daunting. But with help from neighbors and relatives, she now has a landscape that she enjoys.

She shared her garden on the Hamburg Garden Walk on Saturday and Sunday, July 8 and 9 this year.

Noonan offered great tips that can help if you’re facing an empty landscape. Her tips are also helpful for someone who wants to continue gardening, but feels as if it might be too much for them as they get older.

You don’t have to transform your entire landscape

While Noonan has a large front yard, the exciting stuff happens in a smaller area around the back porch.

“This is as much as I can take care of,” Noonan said.

And since she spends a lot of time on the porch, that’s the area where she decided to invest her time and energy.

“Everybody loves the back porch,” Noonan said. “I get lots of visitors.”

Takeaway: Develop the part of the landscape that is most important to you. Perhaps it’s an area around the patio or the part of the yard you see most when you’re looking out the window. Do what pleases you.

back porch with shady garden in Hamburg
Pat Noonan has invested her energy into the areas around her back porch where she spends most of her time. Hostas and astilbe predominate in the shady garden. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Don’t give up and don’t take on too much

“Gardening keeps me going,” Noonan said. “It gets me out with people. It’s been a big thing in my life.

“I do what I can get done today. If it has to wait a week, okay.”

She gets help from her grandson, Josh Smith, landscape manager for PUSH Buffalo, and also has someone mow her large front lawn for her.

Takeaway: For most of us, gardening is just a hobby, so enjoy it! If you have a busy life, squeeze in gardening when you have time– don’t wait until you’re retired to start. And if you find you can’t do as much as you used to, it’s okay to cut back. Also consider getting a company to do the tasks you can’t do or don’t want to do. (See our Gardening Directory.) Just relax and have fun!

Accept help from other gardeners

Noonan got many of her plants from her neighbor, Molly Mailey, who has a mature garden with many perennials. And they both pass plants along to friends as well.

“It makes it a nice neighborly situation,” Noonan said.

Takeaway: If a perennial grows well in a neighbor’s yard, it will probably grow well in your yard. Perennials spread, and it breaks a gardener’s heart to throw extra plants on the compost pile. Ask the people who live near you about their gardens. You can get some great advice and maybe even some plants. Plus it’s a great way to meet the neighbors.

tugboat decoration in Hamburg Garden
A tugboat is a reminder of the work done by Pat Noonan’s husband and many family members. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Change up the look with annuals

In one garden bed, Noonan has several large pots planted up with annuals. Her selections are different every year.

“That’s the fun of it,” Noonan said. “I go to a half dozen different nurseries and get ideas.”

Takeaway: Shop around. Our local garden centers vary in their selection of plants. You may find something new and different that you really like.

Express yourself in your garden

Noonan’s husband Vic, who died in 2011, had worked with the Great Lakes Towing Company, and you’ll see references to that family tradition of working with tugboats throughout her garden.

Vic’s grandfather, father, uncles and cousins worked in the business, as did the couple’s son. Vic’s grandfather received the Congressional Life Saving Medal in the late 1800s for rescuing people from flooding in their small homes at Times Beach at the foot of Ganson St. in Buffalo. That was before the breakwall was built, Noonan said.

When the St. Lawrence Seaway was built, there was less need for tugboats here, and Vic and one of his cousins were the last full-time employees.

“Everything here has a story,” Noonan said, pointing to dozens of birdhouses. They were gifts from a brother or a cousin or a neighbor or a friend. Some were made by grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Each holds a memory.

Takeaway: You don’t have to make your garden look like someone else’s garden. Let your garden be an expression of what is dear to you.

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6 Comments on “Tips for dealing with a blank landscape & gardening in later years

  1. Yes, everything has a story. I really like what she said about this. In years to come I hope to tell people about the large rocks, headstone and other rocks in my yard. Some were quarried in 1850 nea4 Albion NY while others came from my childhood home. Each one has a story and there are several different types of rocks with some native to WNY.

    Thanks for the article Connie!

  2. What a great article. Although I’m ‘only’ 69 I often wonder how I’ll take care of my gardens in later years. I try to stay healthy, work out on a regular basis, but I know how quickly circumstances can change. I’ve decided that in my retirement (7/1/17) I’d like to help other gardeners like Pat keep gardening. If anyone is interested in volunteering along with me, has any ideas as to how we can do this, please contact me. I’m thinking 1 or 2 days a week I could help out with trimming, planting, weeding, etc.

  3. Margaret, what a lovely idea. It sounds as if it would fun for everyone involved. Getting it off the ground sounds like the hard part. If you can’t find anyone who needs this help, you might contact a garden club or a community garden. Many garden clubs help to maintain public gardens, and you might find that fulfilling. Community gardens often need help, too. You could contact Grassroots Gardens for more information. Best of luck.

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