Tonawanda News

June 9, 2013

Beautiful gardens don't just grow on their own

By Anne Calos
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Summer is almost here, and all kinds of wonderful things are popping out of the ground.

That has a lot of folks looking forward to the annual garden walks that have become so popular in the area. But as visitors stroll through the picture-perfect gardens, they might not realize all the hard work that goes into them.

In Lockport, Marti Schrichte has entered her 8 Wilson Parkway home in Lockport in Bloom for all but two of the last eight years.

But the walk isn’t why she gardens — not even close.

“I’ve always been a gardener. When I’m planting, I’m not even really thinking about the garden walk. That’s not the point,” Schrichte said.

Like most home gardeners, Schrichte tries to have something in bloom throughout the season, but she admits it doesn’t always work out that way.

In early spring, her double lot on the quiet city street was abloom with more than 15 varieties of daffodils and dozens of tulips. An apricot tree was starting to bloom, and some hostas were beginning to point out of the ground. Schrichte also has a bed for vegetables, and plants a few annuals here and there for color.

The plant she gets asked about the most is a crocosmia — a somewhat uncommon plant that grows about four-feet tall and has sprays of red flowers that attract hummingbirds.

“I first saw it in Scotland, and it’s just beautiful when it’s in bloom,” Schrichte said.

Her favorite plant? “The one that’s in front of me.” Her least favorite? Petunias. “They’re sticky and messy.”

Schrichte begins looking over seed catalogs in December, looking for ideas and new kinds of plants to add to her landscape.

She admits that her gardens are “a work in progress” and she never stops adding to them and changing their composition.

Unlike many home gardeners, Schrichte says she doesn’t fertilize much.

“Sometimes I fertilize the vegetables, but I don’t fertilize regularly. It just makes more work for you,” Schrichte said.

And Schrichte doesn’t sweat the small stuff. Even though she expects more than 150 people to look at her yard during Lockport in Bloom, she doesn’t worry that it will be too dry, too wet or too hot for some of her plants.

“It isn’t a competition. There’s always something to look at. No two years are ever the same,” Schrichte said.

• • •

Gardening was a matter of geography for Artie Vanderpool. Growing up in hot, dry Texas, Vanderpool couldn’t believe how well things grew when he moved to Niagara Falls six years ago. So he started planting, and he hasn’t stopped since.

“My friends inspired me. They took me to my first nursery, and I was hooked,” Vanderpool said.

Since that time, Vanderpool and his partner, Scott Akdogan, have transformed the formerly barren narrow yard behind their home into three distinct “rooms,” each with its own special character.

About two years ago, Vanderpool added a water feature to the area immediately behind the home, and last year, he added a circular pea gravel path around the large urn fountain, making it the centerpiece of the yard.

The middle “room” of the yard is a collection of colorful plants in carefully mulched beds; and in the back of the yard, the area is totally transformed into an outdoor dining area, complete with wisteria vines creeping up a trellis over a large wooden table.

Although Vanderpool enjoys having unique items in his garden — from an orb made by a friend from metal straps from old wine barrels, to terra cotta chimney liners that now serve as planters — he is kind of a “hit or miss“ gardener when it comes to plants.

“I like a lot of color, but when I go to nursery, I just look at whether the plant does well in shade or sun, and if I like it, I bring it home and just plop it down,” Vanderpool said.

If the plant doesn’t do well or just doesn’t look right, he isn’t shy about replacing it with something else.

“My garden is constantly changing. The regulars on the garden walk always say they want to see what’s different this year,” Vanderpool said.

In the beginning, his Orchard Parkway home was part of a neighborhood garden walk, but for the past few years, it’s been part of the much-larger Historical Niagara Falls Walk.

“I’m out here every weekend until the garden walk. About half of the people who come ask questions, and the other half are gardeners themselves who offer advice, but no one is negative. This is fun for me,” Vanderpool said.

• • •

One of the newer garden walks is in the City of Tonwawanda.

Heading up the walk are Susan and Bob Gregg.

Bob, who does a lot of the work, said that his wife is really the driving force behind the walk.

“You know the old saying, ‘behind every successful woman, there’s a man?’ That’s how it worked,” Bob said.

Bob is an artist, so he said the color and design of the garden is most important to him.

“We’ve owned our house for about 35 years, but we got serious about (gardening) not that long ago. We started out simple, and soon we realized the potential,” Bob said.

Like most gardeners, Bob said that it’s a process, and he’s constantly experimenting with new and different plants.

“The idea is that you have a constant wash of colors going all the time. I look for more exotic plants and for specific colors.”

Most recently, that has included tiger lilies and hollyhocks. Bob is also interested in trying out a variety of ornamental grasses, and he’s planted King Tut grass to see how it works out.

“Basically, I move my gardens around. I bring some new plants in, but I like to try different things,” Bob said.

The Greggs only feature the front and side yard of their home in the garden walk, with the backyard reserved for a herb and vegetable garden.

Interestingly, the biggest failure in the Gregg garden wasn’t exotic at all — it was corn. Although it wasn’t that the corn didn’t grow, it was just that the squirrels got to it first.

Bob said he’s also had problems with roses over the years, but he thinks that most plants do well as long as you follow the directions.

His favorite plant is sunflowers. “I like them because that look spectacular, and they come in different colors. They provide an easy way to fill a yard with color. They’re really ‘Plants for Dummies,’ “ Bob joked.

• • •

This will be the second year City of Tonawanda resident Paula Voell has participated in the garden walk, and she looks forward to greeting people and sharing her garden.

Voell even hands out seeds she harvests herself to visitors.

“I give out seeds for a plant called ‘Love in the Mist.’ It’s a pretty bluish purple plant with a nice seed pod. I just throw them in the garden where I want them to grow,” Voell said.

But Voell’s gardening advice isn’t just about the plants, it’s about the soil.

“I have heavy, clay soil, and unless you enrich the soil, you won’t get good results. You have to pay as much attention to the soil as to the plants,” Voell said.

Voell also likes to incorporate other materials into her garden, as well as plants. The most recent addition is a couple of painted metal chairs, and other “artwork” dots the landscape.

Although she does move things around in her garden every year, Voell adapts to whatever nature has in mind.

“My garden is absolutely not formal, it’s happily chaotic, although I try to keep things in a little bit of order. I think gardens change themselves. A garden takes on a life of its own,” Voell said.

GARDEN WALK SCHEDULE • Lewiston Gardenfest 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 22 • Grand Island Garden Tour: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. July 6 and 7 • Historic Niagara Falls Garden Walk: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 13. • City of Tonwanda 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 13 • Lockport in Bloom: 10 am. to 4 p.m. July 13 and 14. • Ken-Ton Garden Tour 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 20 and 21. • For more information on area garden walks, go to