House and garden ideas to steal from Thomas Jefferson

Monticello flowerwalkBy Michael Leach


Many Americans are mixed up when it comes to their home landscapes.


Too often we put all the emphasis on an attractive border across the front and give scant (if any) attention to the patio. Little wonder the back 40 is rarely used.


Ideally, house and garden ought to be of one piece, with windows framing views and doors opening into al fresco “rooms” as appealing in their natural way as those under the roof. Our landscapes should be a part of – not walled off from – our interiors.


Thomas Jefferson can inspire us in domestic design. He was ahead of his time in creating Monticello, the elegant, hilltop mansion that invited the outside in. It’s been about 20 years since I last visited, but some impressions remain fresh.


Where others of his day and ours put all the emphasis on decorating interiors to wow visitors and make themselves feel good, Jefferson looked beyond the walls literally. Monticello diningroom


For instance, the tea room on the west side of the house probably cost a king’s ransom in the amount of glass used. Those windows were a luxury, yes, but the mountain view to the west is spectacular. No doubt sunlight pouring in during winter was almost as welcome as the scenery.


Few homes boast such vast, magnificent vistas, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have something lovely to look upon outside a window or patio doors. A variety of landscape elements, from fountains and bird baths, to specimen plants and sculpture, can be framed by a window. This is especially important for windows we frequently gaze through, such as the one over the kitchen sink.


The greenhouse that opens off his study is an early version of a three-season room. Nothing wrong with copying this, except you probably should plan on heat to make it a four-season room. Walls of glass that protect tropical plants and offer views of a pleasing natural scene beyond will tempt you out of the house year around. Sunny winter days spent in such confines make that long, difficult season much easier to bear.


This I know to be true. At my house, a tiny enclosed porch with large windows faces south. Napping there on a winter afternoon is a delight. The garden beyond was planted to become a living landscape mural with visual appeal in all seasons.Monticello westlawn_tulips


He welcomed natural light and imported the concept of skylights, a new architectural device he saw in France. The soft, diffuse natural light flatters everything it touches and cuts lighting costs, whether it be candles or electric bulbs.


An avid gardener, he apparently put most effort into the back 40, rather than a front garden. The capacious parlor opens onto a covered terrace (technically the West Portico). This glorious porch overlooks the curving, flowery walk that rings the west lawn at the rear of the house. (This is the side depicted on the nickel.)


One can imagine string quartets playing Mozart and guests in silky finery gliding from inside to outside, laughter and music mingling with the fragrance of flowers on a summer breeze.


Your backyard may never equal this, but creating appealing outdoor space will enhance your life each day your are at home.


For more, please visit Monticello’s website.




Photos included with permission and copyright of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello.




10 Villianous Plants

Purple loosestrife

Purple loosestrife

By Teresa Woodard

So, your kind neighbor calls to offer some free plants. Do you accept willingly?  Well, that depends.  Many well-intentioned gardeners like to share their plants, but often their plants can be more of a nuisance than a blessing as they proliferate and crowd out the other plants in your garden.  Pretty soon, all you have is a garden of neighbor’s lovely gift.

If a neighbor knocks at the door with an armload of any of these freebies, carefully consider the offer:

Aggressive Plants ­– Many of these plants can be planted in an area where they are contained or where an area needs filled.  For example, I grow mint in a container and plant cleome in a bed where I can easily thin the abundance of new seedlings that return each year from this self-sower.

Bachelor button (Centaurea montana): I gained my first bachelor button at a plant swap.  I love the cottage look this plant brings to the garden but get frustrated by having to pull an abundance of new plants that emerge in many unwanted spaces.

English ivy

English ivy

English Ivy (Hedera helix):  This gifted plant has taken over many of my perennials including my beloved Lady’s Mantle.  Good alternatives to this vine are sweet woodruff, wild ginger and wood aster (Eurybia divaricata).

Mint (Mentha):  Mint’s great to have on hand to add to tea and mojitos, but its roots send up unwanted shoots if not kept in a container.

Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata):  My husband was drawn to the amazing blooms on this vine, but its aggressive nature has become a bane in our garden.  Planted along our garden fences, the vine’s spreading roots send up new shoots throughout the garden, and these new vines rapidly take over if not pulled.IMG_1548

Spider Flower (Cleome):  These big spider-shaped blooms are followed by seed pods loaded with lots of seeds.  I plant them in a cutting garden but ruthlessly thin the new seedlings.

Creeping Jenny

Creeping Jenny

Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia): I innocently planted this “spiller” in a container garden and found it jumped to a nearby bed where it quickly spread.

Invasive plants – Several plants are listed as “invasive” in that they threaten other native plants in natural areas.  Environmentally responsible gardeners should keep these harmful plants from their landscape.

Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicariaand its cultivars and hybrids): This popular magenta-spiked garden flower grows three to seven feet tall and has a dense bushy growth of one to 50 stems. Purple loosestrife spreads aggressively by underground stems (rhizomes) and can produce as many as a million seeds per plant. Supposedly sterile strains of L. virgatum will outcross with this plant and produce seeds.

Lesser celladine (Ranunculus ficaria): This buttercup-like plant forms a green mat and chokes out other spring wildflowers. And it leaves behind small tubers when you pull it from the soil which explains its masses of plants.

Creeping Jenny -- a great in a container but aggressive in a flower bed

Creeping Jenny — a great in a container but aggressive in a flower bed

Fairly simple steps to make your yard party worthy


By Michael Leach

For the privileged few, prepping for a backyard party simply means giving instructions to the gardener, chatting about menus with the cook and planning a sweeping entrance at party time worthy of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie.

The rest us simply assume all duties of the ever-toiling staff at Downton Abbey. While I can’t advise on canapés and cocktails, you can make it seem as if a gardener (or at least landscape service) keeps up appearances.

Before acting upon a single item on the following to-do list, however, make a rain plan. Midwest weather is notoriously changeable.

And never forget the most important thing — people are coming to have a good time, not judge a landscape contest. Granted the guest list may include a persnickety relative or in-law, whose sole purpose is to find fault. They will succeed no matter what. Don’t sweat details.

Now for those promised suggestions.

  • Limit the party area and focus efforts there. No sense grooming each inch if only a 20-foot perimeter around patio or deck will be used.IMG_3501
  • Rent or borrow a power edger a few days ahead to create an unmistakable boundary between lawn and beds. Even if weeds abound in borders and flower beds, a mown lawn and crisp edge suggest impeccable maintenance standards. (In an edging post I enthuse about the virtues of edging.)
  • Fluff up mulch to revive color. Apply fresh mulch only if you have a week or two to allow the odor to dissipate. Never have more than 2 inches on the ground.
  • Remove yellow leaves unless the plant is supposed to have yellow/golden leaves, such as some hostas and heucheras. Eyes are immediately drawn to yellow and jaundice quickly comes to mind.IMG_3504
  • Keep insect repellents handy. Whiners dodging and swatting bugs are as odious as buzzing gnats or mosquitoes.
  • Use fresh flowers in simple centerpieces. A single rose blossom floating in a clear glass cup, better yet several in a bowl, suffice. Accompany the blooms with a few floating candles if you like. Florist flowers are OK, particularly if garden blooms are sparse.
  • Add some festive, flowery containers  at your entry area, party scene and other strategic points if budget allows.
  • Say “thank you” to any kind remark about the landscape. Never point out flaws to beg a compliment. (If that fussbudget guest exclaims about the poison ivy amongst the daisies, praise those keen observation skills and change the subject.)
  • DSC_1094Create a party atmosphere by stringing white or colored Christmas lights under the patio umbrella, along the porch rafters, around the deck railing, upon shrub branches and other places time and plugs allow. Keep cords from becoming tripping hazards.

Be warned: You may  like the lights so much, they become permanent fixtures. Nothing wrong with having  romantic ambience on a week night and pretending you’re sipping a sophisticated something in a Fred and Ginger flick.


10 Must-Have Plants



A mass of the purple coneflower

By Debra Knapke

So many choices confront the beginning gardener or the new homeowner, and so many plants seem to be must-haves: must-have trees, shrubs, edibles, perennials and annuals. If I were creating my first landscape and had to limit myself to 10 plants, here are the ones I would choose.

My criteria:

  • is native to the Midwest or is a non-native that is adapted to our weather and soil
  • plays well with others; in other words, not invasive
  • offers multi-seasonal interest

Serviceberry (Amelanchier species and cultivars) – A native single or multi-trunked tree that offers four season interest and edible berries in June.

Red oak or white oak (Quercus rubra and Q. alba) – You are planting this tree for your children, but few trees surpass the majesty of an oak. The red oak grows faster than the white, but white oaks have better fall color; your choice.

Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) – A native shrub for sunny to part shade locations. Look for the cultivars ‘Diabolo’ (4-8’ tall and wide) and ‘Little Devil’ (3’ tall and wide) which have maroon leaves and white to pink flowers in June. Its exfoliating bark feature is a winter season bonus.

Daffodils (Narcissus species and hybrids) – One of the plant signals that it is indeed spring. You can have daffodils in bloom from mid-March to mid-May if you choose your cultivars wisely.

Perennial sage (Saliva nemorosa) – An attractive perennial that supports our native pollinators. As long as you remove spent flower spikes and water it during dry times, it will bloom from May until frost. And, it is not usually eaten by deer.

Creeping thyme (Thymus praecox) – A groundcover for hot, dry location that can double as lawn where there is very light foot traffic.

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) – One of our native daisies, from the prairie, that provides food to a variety of insects, butterflies, moths and birds. This summer bloomer is at home in sunny to part-sun gardens.

Butterflyweed/ milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa, A. incarnata, A. syriaca and others) – This is your chance to help a species in peril: all of the butterflyweeds/milkweeds are essential food sources for monarch butterfly caterpillars and the adults. Butterflyweed does best in a sunny, well-drained garden that is close to a bench so you can watch for this beautiful insect.

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) – A native shrub for the shade that offers early flowers, edible fruit and gold leaves in the fall, and a lovely silhouette in the winter.

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) – A tough tree that offers one of the best golden fall color shows. Make sure you plant a male clone unless you want the fruit, but be forewarned: the fruit is extremely fragrant when ripe, and not in a good way!


Tips for transforming winter death tolls into garden treasures

2011-09-14_12-31-03_773By Michael Leach

What’s the best approach for handling dead roses and other winter-killed flora? Mourn. Research. Shop.

Don’t spend much time tsk-tsking about plant replacement costs. Do you seriously count the expense of fast-food or pizza on those can’t-stand-to-cook nights? Plants last years, fast food mere minutes. Why begrudge similar outlays to replace the missing teeth in your landscape’s smile?

In some back yards there may be serious “dental” expenses considering the horrid winter KO’d Knock Out roses and other tough plants. Those of us who grow plants happier in warmer climes must make a decision. Is it worth years of waiting for them to return to pre-ice age sizes after being frozen to the ground?

Herein lies one of the basics of success with a plant: how cold a winter can it survive? The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s hardiness zone map of the country uses colorful bands to show the lowest winter temperatures likely for every region.

A Zone 5 plant, for instance, should be able to weather -20 degrees, a Zone 6 plant can handle -10 degrees. Most of Ohio is Zone 6. No fool-proof guarantee but one important factor for success.

There are others to consider, so forget flower colors and cute names for a moment. Each plant needs certain environmental factors to thrive. These include sunlight, soil and moisture. Put a fern, which relishes a shady spot with moist, loamy soil, in a gravely, sunny place and you’ll find crispy fronds the first scorching July afternoon.

Here are more points to consider when evaluating a potential plant for your yard:


  • How big will it grow. A plant that naturally spreads several feet is a poor choice for bordering a walk or driveway, unless you love pruning — frequently.
  • Will it produce messy fruit that could mar the deck, sidewalk or driveway?
  • How prone is it to breaking from too much snow or ice?
  • Will it attract pesky bugs?
  • How resistant is it to common diseases?
  • What’s the best way to plant and care for it?


In this Internet-connected age, ignorance is no excuse for buying the wrong plant. One of my go-to spots is the Plant Finder at the Missouri Botanical Garden’s website.


When it comes to low-maintenance with lots of color, the new shrub roses, such as Knock Out, Easy Elegance and Drift Roses, are hard to beat. What’s not to like about flowers from spring into fall with little work? (Check out our comments at Columbus Monthly  and Heartland-Gardening). Just plant them properly and make sure they get off to a good start this year.


Roses aren’t the only flowering plants for season-long color. Consider shrubs with burgundy, chartreuse and variegated leaves. No dead-heading needed. Many perennials offer the same bonus foliage features.


So enough whining about winter. Start making your landscape — and you — smile again.


Gardening the Rain

boggs in rainBy Teresa Woodard

Just when you’re ready to dive into a day filled with spring gardening chores, the black clouds roll in threatening to curtail your plans. But before you sing, “Rain, Rain, Go Away”, slip on your rain boots and reshuffle your chore list to take advantage of the softened earth and cooler weather.

Here are five “dos” and five “don’ts” for gardening in the rain (that is, a gentle soaker rain not a take-cover thunderstorm rain).


  • Edge beds. The ground is much softer for cutting a clean edge with an edging tool.
  • Pull weeds. Weeds, especially those with long tap roots, are much easier to pull after a good soaking.
  • Fertilize plants. Sprinkle a dry fertilizer around trees, plants and lawns, and a nice, soft rain will help wash it into the soil and make it available to plants. Of course, avoid fertilizing in heavy rains that could wash it away. Also, try spreading a weed preventer before a good soaking rain.
  • Turn the compost pile. Grab a pitch fork to turn over layers in a compost pile. The rain water and oxygen will aid in breaking down the compost.
  • Go shopping.  Head to you local garden center to stock up on plants and supplies to be ready for gardening projects when the weather breaks.Cannal leaf in the rain


  • Till soil. When the ground is wet, avoid working in the soil to prevent compacting it and squeezing out valuable spaces for air, water storage and root growth.
  • Plant. Wait until the soil has dried out before planting annuals, vegetables, perennials, shrubs or trees. The plants’ roots will thank you for not squeezing them into wet, compacted soil.
  • Trim large trees. Rainy weather can make tools and ladders slippery and potentially hazardous.
  • Use heavy equipment. While it may be tempting to finish up a deck or patio project in the rain, rethink driving heavy equipment across a lawn or patio bed to avoid compacting the soil.
  • Spray chemical treatments. Rain will dilute the potency of chemical treatments for pest and disease control, so save the task for a rain-free day


Good eats: Strawberries

strawberry quart

By Teresa Woodard

Can you smell the super-sweet, extra-juicy strawberries ripening in backyards and fields across the Midwest? With names like ‘Jewel’ and ‘Earliglow’, these berries will be in season for the next few weeks, so be sure to enjoy them while they last. You’ll find them at local farmers’ markets, u-pick fields and specialty grocers. Personally, my favorite ways to savor these fresh-picked fruits are in preserves, a fresh strawberry pie (see recipe below) and strawberry shortcake (using the biscuit recipe on the back of the Bisquick box and topping it with a premium vanilla ice cream and sliced berries).

To learn more about picking, storing and even growing your own berries, check out this First Fruit story I recently wrote for Edible Columbus.  As a teen, I worked at a berry farm in western Ohio for a couple of seasons, so I was delighted to talk with central Ohio growers about new growing techniques, harvesting tips and their experiences with customers who take extremes to make the most of the fleeting berry season.

Fresh Berry Pie (from American Discovers Columbus cookbook)

  • Baked 9” pie shell
  • 2 quarts berries minus 1 cup, chopped
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 Tbsp., cornstarch (more for very ripe fruit)61I3Wf0eURL
  • ¾ cup water
  • Red food coloring (optional)
  • Whipped cream

Bake pie shell. Fill with clean hulled sliced berries, minus 1 cup. Heat 1 cup chopped berries and 1/3 cup water to a slow boil, about 3 minutes. Mix sugar and cornstarch with 3/4 cup water and add to warm berries.  Add red food coloring if desired. Heat for an additional 3-4 minutes. Cool, then pour this thick syrup over the fresh berries. Top cooled pie with whipped cream.



Garden to Drive For: Inniswood

Heartland Gardening was delighted to have high school senior Abby Fullen assist with our blog this spring.  Thanks to her writing, photography, copy editing, layout and researching help, we were able to offer the Spring Countdown and several additional posts.  We congratulate Abby on her upcoming graduation from Hilliard Davidson High School and wish her the best as she continues the next chapter of her life (hopefully filled with plenty of her writing).

Enjoy this final post by Abby.  She spent an afternoon at Inniswood Metro Gardens in Westerville, Ohio.  This 123-acre park once was the estate of sisters Grace and Mary Innis and today is cared for by a dedicated team of volunteers.  Inniswood boasts more than 2,000 species of plants, specialty collections and several theme gardens including a herb garden, rose garden, woodland rock garden and delightful children’s garden. In fact, the garden will be one of the featured excursions for the 22nd annual National Children & Youth Gardening Symposium in Columbus, Ohio, July 17-19.  Plus, our own blogger Debra Knapke is one of its biggest fans as a past curator of the herb garden, former president of the Inniswood Garden Society and a member of the Design Committee for the Sisters Garden, 10 years ago.

Click here for Abby’s pictorial essay.

Plant A Row

Plant a row

By Abby Fullen

My dear sister, Emma, is as sweet as pie, but her eating habits can often drive me to insanity. A friend and I even came up with a song to describe her wasteful ways:

Sheeee’s get a lotta, eat a little, get a lotta, eat a little, get a lotta, eat a little Em-ma/ (repeat)/

She gets a lot of food, but only eats a little/ she gets a lot of food, but only eats a bit.

It’s truly a catchy tune, and it’s unfortunate that you’ll never hear the melodic strains, unless you’re lucky, but it really does summarize the extent to which my sister bothers me with ALL the food she gets, and how it ALL goes into the trash. The positive out of this, though, is my desire to help those who can’t have the experience of getting so much food they can throw it away, or even have enough to eat in the first place.

According to the U.S Department of Agriculture, 1 in 8 households in the United States experiences hunger or the risk of hunger. Approximately 33 million people, including 13 million children, have substandard diets. Food insecurity exists in every county in America: in 2011, 17.9 million households were insecure. More than 50 million Americans struggle to put food on the table.

Despite the need for food, millions of people are turned away from food banks because of a lack of resources. Here’s how one man decided to make an easy, significant change in this crisis, and thus inspired me to contribute in the same, easy way.20100711_117

In 1995, Anchorage, AK garden columnist and former Garden Writers Association president Jeff Lowenfels asked readers to plant a row of vegetables for Bean’s Cafe, an Anchorage Soup Kitchen. Over 84 million households in the US support a yard or garden. If each household fulfilled their potential for a garden and planted just one additional row of vegetables, a HUGE impact would be made. Being a great success, Lowenfels introduced the Plant a Row initiative (PAR) to the Garden Writers Association, and thus was launched a national program.logo_par_1

It took 5 years to reach the first million pounds donated. The next million was reached in only 2 years, and in the next ten, more than a million pounds of food was donated each year. Since 2011, nearly 2 million pounds of food has been donated each year to various soup kitchens, local food banks, and service organizations to feed America’s hungry. Considering each pound of produce supplements 4 meals, this is a very significant contribution since the start of the program. Since 1995, over 20 million pounds of produce providing over 80 million meals have been donated by American gardeners. And the contributions can only continue as hunger is still, and increasingly, prevalent; the demand for hunger assistance has increased bPoo's seedless (1)y 70% in recent years.

PAR provides focus, direction and support to volunteer committees that promote herb, vegetable, and community gardening at a local level. They provide training and direction to enable committees to reach out into the community, and they assist in coordinating local food collection systems and monitor the volume of donations being conveyed to food agencies. Now a 501(c)(3) organization, The Garden Writers Association Foundation was founded to administer and expand PAR. Contributors and volunteers don’t have to worry about government subsidy or bureaucratic red tape; this is simply “people helping people.”

PAR encourages anyone and everyone to be a part of the easy steps toward helping eliminate hunger in America. Spread the word, share personal experiences, join the GWA Foundation, and of course, Plant a Row!

PAR Hotline: 1-877-492-2727

Abby Fullen is a Senior at Hilliard Davidson High School. She tends a square-foot vegetable garden with her mother. This piece was written to serve in conjunction with her Career Mentorship class at the Dale McVey Innovative Learning Center.



Are Gardeners Allowed to Take a Break?


Discover how you can build Adirondack chairs like these by visiting This Old House

By Michael Leach

Putting the white Adirondack chairs on the cozy, brick-paved patio symbolizes spring for me, almost as much as sunny daffodils and fluttering kites in blue skies.

 While a thorough cleaning remains to be done, these chairs already do nicely for breaks from the lengthy, early spring chore list. In recent years I’ve found that getting out of those chairs becomes harder and harder. Age isn’t the only factor.

 I suppose Auntie Mame, the zany subject of a novel, movie and Broadway plays sums it up best, “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” For us green thumbs, substitute “The garden” for “life”. The suckers spend all their time nurturing their gardens rather than allowing the garden to nurture them.

 Unlike some gardeners, who claim they can’t sit in their backyard Edens because they always see something to do, I learned to turn a blind eye. Only the area around the patio is regularly groomed. This allows me to use the space (weather permitting) whenever company comes, a break is needed, or I want to enhance morning coffee or something cool to sip in the evening. Patio time brings peace and pleasure, not a guilt trip.

 This is why it’s important to consider garden furnishings as much more than decorative focal points or accents. Besides the patio, the maple-shaded picnic table and an aluminum reproduction of a cast iron Victorian bench beside the sycamore tree are frequently used in clement weather.

 Granted, we gardeners are blessed. What many consider drudgery, we delight in. Letting go of weeds, watering cans, trowels, pruning shears and shovels isn’t easy because we derive intense pleasure from working among plants, tending the soil and keeping things tidy.

 Too often, however, we obsess over details no one sees — unless we stupidly point them out. Those gorilla in the picture studies show it would take a thistle the size of King Kong before most guests will notice anything amiss in the perennial borders or vegetable beds. If yours is a reputation of plant nerd, they might compliment you on this towering horticultural achievement.

 Dormancy is natural, going all the time isn’t. Not that I’m giving you permission to plop down for the rest of the season. Not hardly. A friend, who died last fall at 102 and gardened until well into her 90s, always advised, “Never let the rocking chair get you.”

 She also recognized that rest is not a dirty, four-letter word.

Garden Topics


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 163 other followers

%d bloggers like this: