Prepare for Open Gardens & get tips from Hidden Gardens of Eden

garden beds in center of yard
You don’t have to wedge your garden beds up against the edges of your property. This large garden in the middle of the yard looks great from many different angles. You can get inspiration from this garden of Marcia and David Sully on Open Gardens. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
Hostas come in many sizes, textures and colors. The large yellow hosta at right is ‘Key West’. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Open Gardens will be held on Thursdays and Fridays starting next week, so get your booklet now. The booklet lists the locations of the gardens as well as the times and dates that each garden is open. The organizers even included suggested routes to help you see all the gardens.

The booklet is available for a $10 donation at many local garden centers– see the list here

The Open Gardens are like garden walks, but they take place on Thursdays and Fridays instead of on weekends, and they happen only during July: from July 5 to July 26.

There will be about 70 exceptional gardens to visit in 12 areas: Southtowns Bouquet; Delaware District; Elmwood Village & Allentown; Parkside; Northtowns East; Northtowns West; Lancaster; South Buffalo, West Seneca & Lackawanna; Niagara Trail; East Aurora & Holland; Cottage & Kleinhans, and Lakeshore.

What’s especially nice about Open Gardens is that they aren’t as crowded as some of the gardens can be during garden walks. You have a better chance of taking photos without other visitors getting in your way. And you can chat with the gardener to find out how they make their landscapes look so good.

We’ll give you a few tips now from Hidden Gardens of Eden, the landscape of Marcia and David Sully, who will be on Open Gardens.

raised bed on Open Gardens
Raised beds add interest. The Sulleys call their landscape “the Hidden Gardens of Eden” because a large portion of the gardens are out of sight as you drive by or even pull into the driveway. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Keep deer away

“We’re on the edge of a woods, and the number one question I get from visitors is what we do about deer,” said Marcia Sully of the Hidden Gardens of Eden.

Sully said her secret to keeping deer away is to use Milorganite, a fertilizer. The company doesn’t make any claims that it repels deer, but Sully says it works for her.

“There are deer a quarter mile above us and a half mile below us, but they don’t cut through our yard,” she said.

Milorganite is composed of microbes that have eaten organic material found in wastewater (human sewage). When the microbes have nothing left to eat, they die and are heat-dried, according to the company’s site.

Sully said she thinks there is some human scent or component to Milorganite that keeps deer away. When she uses it, she can’t detect any scent after two or three minutes, but she thinks deer still find the smell unpleasant.

water feature in garden with hydrangeas
Water features are a wonderful addition to a landscape. The Sulleys surrounded theirs with hydrangeas and hostas. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

She starts using the Milorganite in April when the deer are cutting their trails for finding food and shelter for their fawns. Using her gloved hand, she lightly broadcasts (scatters) the Milorganite.

“I free broadcast it everywhere since nothing is sprouting up yet—on the lawn and all flower beds, in the woods line and on English ivy growing on the bank of a ravine,” Sully said, “I want an even coverage of scent everywhere. Even a late snow will not deter me.”

She reapplies every four weeks.

Tip: Avoid getting Milorganite on hard surfaces, Sully said. It contains iron, which will leave tiny black dots on cement driveways, sidewalks and wooden decks.

As the plants begin to grow, Sully is more careful about where she broadcasts the Milorganite. She’s not sure whether it damages her plants, but she doesn’t want to risk it.

“My hostas are precious to me,” said Sully, who is the president of the Great Lakes Region Hosta Society and recording secretary of the American Hosta Society and of the WNY Hosta Society.

garden beds and arbor
Notice the curves on the garden beds at the Hidden Gardens of Eden. Think about including hardscapes (permanent features) such as arbors and patios in your landscape. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

More tidbits


The number two question Sully gets from visitors is what she does about slugs, which munch on hostas as well as other plants. Since she doesn’t have small children or pets, she uses conventional slug bait. See more on slugs here.

They do it themselves

The number three question Sully gets asked is whether she has a gardener.

“No,” she said, “but my husband helps me. He does the digging, heavy lifting and builds garden beds.”

Hostas for sun

If you have shade, your choice of ornamental plants is limited. Hostas can tolerate shade, so gardeners often turn to hostas for color and texture in their shady garden.

But Sully has them in sunnier spots of her landscape, too.

“People are surprised to see that hostas can tolerate sun,” she said. “You just have to know the cultivar.”

Hostas are the Friendship Plant

People often share share hostas with other gardeners. Fans of hostas form groups to meet locally, regionally and nationally. Hostas bring people together.

“It’s the friendship plant,” Sully said.

How the rain is affecting the gardens

“The plants are wild and crazy with all the rain!” Sully said. “They’re being blown up so huge with all the moisture.”

For many gardeners, that’s a good thing. However, Sully designs her garden beds so the plants are spaced well, and they have gotten so big this year she worries that it looks like she overplanted. (The photos in this article were taken a couple years ago; visit the Sullys on Open Gardens this year to see how the gardens might be different.)

7 Comments on “Prepare for Open Gardens & get tips from Hidden Gardens of Eden

  1. Your garden looks beautiful!! I would love to visit your garden (and others in the book) but am also in Open Gardens!! I wish there was a way to contact the gardeners and ask to come on a different day.

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