by Connie Oswald Stofko
“This is my sanctuary,” said Kathleen Pratt of Amherst. “The waterfall, the fish, the birds — it all brings me such peace.”
I visited the home she shares with her husband John during last year’s Town of Amherst Garden Walk.
Even though her yard is beautiful from the street, people are amazed at how much there is to see once they walk in.
“My neighbors call it my secret garden,” Pratt said.
As you can see from the first picture, the Pratts have a lot of trees. Kathleen wanted to get rid of some, but her husband said, “Don’t touch the trees.”
Shade can be a challenge for gardeners, but as I entered the yard during the Amherst Garden Walk, I heard another visitor exclaim, “You have so much shade, but so much color!” Here’s how Pratt does it.
Pratt uses perennials for shade, such as astilbe, ligularia and hostas, that add some color with flowers. Solomon’s seal blooms earlier in spring.
More colorful plants for shade are coming onto the market, she noted, so look for new varieties.
And look for plants with interesting foliage. Hostas come in many shades of green and white and yellow, so their leaves as well as their flowers can add color. She has Japanese fleece flower, which starts out with bright pink leaves. Later in the summer the leaves are green with splashes of white.
She also uses annual flowers to add color. And in deep shade, she uses tchotchkes such as her pink flamingos and glass flowers. The colorful paint on the shed helps, too.
Years in the making
Kathleen now does landscaping work during the summer, but she made a lot of mistakes when she began to garden.
“I didn’t realize those plastic tags that come with plants really meant something,” she said.
The Pratts started on their landscape 15 years ago with the pond. They put a deck on the back of the house, and as soon as that was finished, Kathleen insisted they also have a seating area in the yard.
“I said ‘trust me.’ He said, ‘You were right.'”
A small glass table and chairs is where they enjoy coffee in the morning and dinner in the evening.
“When we moved here, this is exactly what I had in my head,” Kathleen said.
No such thing as perfection
Having a landscape as large as this is “a lot of work, but you do what you can, and do the rest later,” she said. “Nobody is going to say, ‘Oh, there’s a weed.”
I didn’t even notice several small trees that were dead until she pointed them out to me! She keeps the trees there for birds to perch on.
“I gave up on perfection,” she said. “I’m probably the only one who sees the flaws.”
Enjoying the garden
“Gardening is my therapy,” Kathleen said. “I can pick weeds for hours. It’s mindless. I don’t have to think.”
She enjoys the chickadees that make their homes in some of the bird houses in the yard. And flying squirrels also made use of their bird houses! Kathleen said she is sure they were flying squirrels because a baby fell to the ground and she could see it was indeed a flying squirrel.
Her son suggested she get ear buds so she can listen to music while she gardens, but “I have my waterfall and birds and wind chimes. I don’t need artificial sound.
“I don’t need to travel or go anywhere in the summer. This is what I look forward to all year.
“I’d rather be in nature. This is my passion.”