A Young Family's Garden Just Two Years In!
Where to start? Stefan Dehaseth entered his family’s garden in the Green Towson Alliance’s annual native garden contest at the literal 11th hour at the urging of his wife Marta. Well, thank you Marta because this garden is an inspiration and tells a very special story!
Stefan, Marta and Ramona moved into their Towson home two years ago. The home sits to the front of a fairly deep third of an acre lot which creates quite the opportunity for a garden in the back. The rear garden is anchored by this northern red oak tree (Quercus rubra), recently estimated by an arborist to be between 250 and 300 years old. It’s a grand beauty!
Below the tree, Stefan inherited a garden filled with ornamentals planted long ago – privets (Ligustrum vulgare), ivy (Hedera helix), Japanese pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis), cherry laurels (Prunus laurocerasis), English yews (Taxus baccata) and acuba (Acuba japonica). Stefan is quite appreciative of the organic shape of the garden he found. The softly flowing curves neck down to create the surprise of a second garden space in the very back. It is so elegantly done and while Stefan considers himself a beginner gardener, he knew right away the design was something to keep.
Right around the time they moved in, Stefan read one of Doug Tallamy’s books. He wasn’t really a gardener he said but immediately felt driven to add native plants and boy did he!
In early September the garden was producing berries like crazy! Possumhaw viburnum, winterberries, and beautyberries to name a few.
Knowing trees are a big return on your investment, habitat wise, Stefan added several dogwoods, perfect understory trees to give your garden four seasons of interest. The iconic white flowers of spring, the berries of late summer, the early fall color and the gorgeous branching structure of the trees in winter are four good reasons to plant the native dogwood. He also added a paw paw and a smaller cultivar of river birch called little king river birch (Betula nigra "Little King") which grows 10 to 15 feet tall and wide, great for smaller gardens.
One of his more unusual tree additions is dwarf big leaf magnolia (Magnolia Ashei), also known as Ashe's magnolia. This tree is thought to originate in the Florida panhandle and is closely related to the much larger big leaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla), native to the southeast. This magnolia tree combined with native hibiscus near the pond, create an almost tropical feel in this corner of the garden.
A narrow path leads to a small bridge over the pond Stefan dug. The pond is filled with purple flowers of pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) and surrounded by irises (Iris versicolor), marsh marigold (Caltha palustris), joe pye weed (Eutrochium fistulosum) and those hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos)! This pond does not have a liner. Stefan noticed a bit of ponding water and figured there must be enough clay to hold water and sure enough it does. He dug down to about a foot and half in depth and within three months frogs and salamanders arrived. Stefan added mosquito fish to ensure mosquitoes did not become an issue.
Incredibly, Stefan explained he gardens in 30 minute increments! He and his young family are very busy with all of the young family things and a spritely senior pup who loves exploring the garden. When asked for tips, Stefan says it is always helpful to have a queue of plants on the driveway ready to plant when time allows and doing as much invasive removal as possible in the winter. Invasives like ivy and periwinkle (Vinca minor) are much easier to see in winter. Great suggestions.
Stefan says he just does what he can with his half hours. Most recently, he removed a suckering privet to make space for this perennial bed filled with fall flowering perennials: asters (Symphiotrichum), goldenrods (Solidago) and tickseed (Coreopsis).
When I asked Stefan what he has enjoyed most from all of this, he started to list some of the birds he has seen since he started: red eyed vireos and a variety of warblers. Stefan let me know after I visited, he actually saw a yellow throated vireo which he tells me is quite rare. His most memorable moment: one day with the sun falling in the west, he looked up, and saw a cloud of gnats backlit by the sun and a hummingbird darting back and forth from a nearby tree branch plucking the gnats one by one. He said it was amazing. Something he never expected to see.
Ramona’s favorite spot? A birdhouse filled with a family of wrens earlier this year at just about the right eye level for a three year old – beneath the canopy of a large American holly (Ilex opaca). Stefan has created a series of narrow paths, perfect for the explorations of Ramona and her little canine pal. Marta mused about what it would be like as a child to have space like this to roam and explore. Indeed!
Next on Stefan’s to do list, the front garden which is currently 100% ornamental.
Stefan’s favorite nurseries are Sun Nurseries in Howard County, Herring Run Nursery nearby and not surprisingly, given his very busy life, on-line orders. The volume of native plants planted and the knowledge Stefan has gained in such a short time answers the question about how native gardening fits into a busy lifestyle. In half hour increments. Stefan and Marta – thank you for sharing your inspiring garden!