Life on the Beach
By Marion Manley, Peterborough, Ontario
Gardening and the beach. To me, there's never been a better combination.
I like to think of myself as a seasoned gardener beach bum. I love the beach and I love gardening, so the two naturally go hand-in-hand.
I grew up on Lake Huron in Sarnia, Ontario, and the Great Lakes are in my blood. My husband and I can't really move to the lake, so I try to bring as much of the beach as I can to our backyard.
I don't have a lot of room to work with ever since we became empty nesters and downsized our home. We have a small lot that is 41 feet wide and narrows in the backyard. It doesn't stop me from packing as much beach and garden into the space as possible, though.
Get It Under Control
Since our home faces east, we quickly discovered grass wouldn't grow on one side of our house. No problem! Instead of grass, we now have a lush area filled with hostas, spirea, Solomon's seal, columbine and lily-of-the-valley.
Lily-of-the-valley can often be aggressive, so I didn't take any chances. I planted it in a large plastic flowerpot and then buried it in the ground. Every spring, I have a perfectly round bunch of lily-of-the-valley with no fear of them spreading and taking over the garden. I've been doing it this way for about 10 years now, and it works perfectly.
As soon as you walk through our wooden gates, you immediately get the sense of the Great Lakes. We have a lighthouse cutout on the gate, and a flagstone path meanders through the garden.
We had a low-lying area in our backyard that was difficult to maintain, so we turned it into a Great Lakes beach area instead. We put landscape fabric down and filled the space with several inches of beach stone, which we got from Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, Lake Superior and Lake Huron.
I love stone. When we built our home, the excavator offered to load up a huge boulder in the neighborhood and deliver it to our backyard. I jumped at the chance! Now we have a beautiful, huge rock in our yard, which our grandchildren love to climb.
A Natural Fit
At the same time of the boulder delivery, the excavator also dumped several buckets of topsoil in our backyard. We amended it with manure and peat moss, which I believe is the key to my thriving garden.
As you look around our garden, you'll see more natural treasures from the Great Lakes. I have large, weathered tree roots that washed up on the shores of Lake Superior. I use them for decoration, along with driftwood signs and beach ornaments that I picked up from Lake Ontario and Lake Erie shores.
One of my favorite pieces is a precast gull I bought near Lake Superior. When I first purchased it, I used concrete paint, and in 7 years, I've never had to redo it.
I'm lucky to have lots of help with my garden from my family. My talented son, Michael, built a lighthouse and English-cottage style shed for us. He's always willing to help improve our garden area. He's working on plans for a small pergola right now.
As far as flowers go, my garden is filled with various lilies, sedum, clematis, peonies, coneflowers and many more perennials. I even have a prickly pear cactus planted under the overhang of my upper deck. Here, it's somewhat protected from our harsh winters, and it has lovely, bright yellow flowers in early July.
Several years ago, we installed a 6-foot wooden fence, along which we now grow holly, calla lilies, Virginia creeper, climbing roses and Russian sage-my favorite bloom.
Another one of my favorite plants is rose of Sharon. My shrubs have both single and double blooms in many different colors including white, light pink and purple. They grow 5 feet and bloom from August through October. I was afraid these beauties wouldn't bloom well in my area, but all it took was a little mulch and they've done just fine.
Bringing It All Home
Since our yard is too small for a compost pile, my biggest challenge is to keep the flower beds edged and to dispose of excess sod.
I top most of my beds with 4 inches of pine mulch to help keep out weeds. One of our biggest challenges is to find evergreen shrubs that will survive in large containers throughout winter. We get several feet of snow each year, so I'm always looking for ways to add greenery to my garden during those cold months.
I have wonderful memories of Lake Huron with my mom and dad, and I'm glad I can re-create some of that today. I often take time to sit back in our Adirondack chairs and count my many blessings. After all, I have the beach and gardening all at my fingertips. What more could you want?