Niskayuna, Scotia yards offer glimpses at different tastes, techniques

Left: Kathy and Dave Wood, of Niskayuna; Top right: Margie Miller, of Scotia; Bottom right: Ann Singer's home in Niskayuna
Left: Kathy and Dave Wood, of Niskayuna; Top right: Margie Miller, of Scotia; Bottom right: Ann Singer's home in Niskayuna

Categories: Life & Arts, Saratoga County, Schenectady County

With so much time on people’s hands, many are discovering the joys of gardening. But for those who have always gardened, these are halcyon days.

“I’d done a lot of research and once I got into it, I really got into it,” said Ann Singer. “I love gardening.”

Singer also became a master gardener and joined the Garden Explorers garden club.

She put in her garden in Niskayuna almost 25 years ago when she and her husband built their house. The five acre lot, which was fairly wooded, was sloped with a stream that occasionally showed up when there was extensive run off. Singer took all that into account when she designed her garden.

“We love our trees and we didn’t want to take any down so we have less than three quarters of an acre that was cleared,” she said. “I also wanted the garden as a transition: lawn, garden, woods.”

Her now sculpted garden does just that: it borders not only the edges of her lawn, but also nestles along the side of the garage, the corners of her house and her deck. With so much shade, Singer had to consider what plants would work.

“I’ve gone through many iterations. It’s been trial and error,” she said.

She also has many animal visitors and does some spraying, which is not an insecticide but smells bad. This helps with the deer, but anything that would harm the native plants that benefit pollinators, such as the swamp milkweed, she won’t use.

“I recently saw my first Monarch butterfly,” she said, as she removed a Japanese beetle (an invasive bug) from a plant.

Because she has clay soil, she adds compost annually.  Among the plants that thrive are peony, iris, primrose, astilbe, stokes aster, cleome, daisy, and goatsbeard. Singer gets her plants from several sources, including local plant sales, nurseries, mail order and friends. She’s also put in a red maple, forsythia, smoke bush, and various tall plants that she can see when she’s sitting on her deck. Ground covers, such as dragon’s blood sedum, are like a tapestry in one garden and large displays of foliage from the velvety leaves of lamb’s ear to the huge leaves of Japanese butterbur attract the eye. Watering is done by hose or rain, and, she said, she occasionally tries to save the rain water.

Kathy and Dave Wood’s garden in Niskayuna is very different.

“We made a conscious decision to not have a lot of lawn,” Dave said.

With about only one-third of an acre to work with that included the front and back of the house, they started with the front near the road.

“We put down old carpets to kill the weeds, trucked in two loads of garden soil, and planted,” he said.

As the carpets deteriorated, the plants’ roots found their way through, he explained. With the garden now 12-years-old, the large displays of phlox, peony, astible, gooseneck loosestrife, iris, milkweed, and lamb’s ear greet visitors. Boxwood, holly, Rose of Sharon and firebush edge the front of the house and line the fence along with daisy, black-eyed Susan, hosta, periwinkle and azalea. A peek around back on the driveway side reveals massive numbers of sunflowers standing tall.

“The garden is an evolution,” Kathy said.

When they first moved in, there were tall pines in the neighbor’s yard and in the back lots behind their house. That created shade but when the trees were all cut down they got a lot of sun. So she and her husband got creative. Joining Garden Explorers and going to some of the talks provided inspiration. Without spending much money for plants, many of which came from friends, they made the backyard into sections like rooms.

Two water features were put in that attracted frogs and toads – much to Dave’s delight when he saw hundreds of tadpoles. They built a slight hill in one spot which became a place for a deck with benches and an umbrella; a still shady spot in the back of the yard that became a place for a twilight cocktail hour, where with a hemlock tree providing shade, they set up two chairs and a small table facing west to watch the sunset. For atmosphere, Dave put 12-volt bulbs into empty glass bottles and placed them around the area – all connected to wiring in the garage. He also built a cat walk with dead tree limbs above ground level for their two cats around their back fence line. And because both are “big on pollinators,” Dave said, flowers were planted everywhere including more daisy, cone flowers, bee balm, primrose, dusty millers, and Jack in the pulpit.

Margie Miller never thought about gardening until 2000, when she and her husband moved into their house in Scotia. A carpenter by trade, Miller said she was good “making things, observing, and copying.” But researching how to garden wasn’t on her list until she met a woman who did garden who told her “it was not that hard.”

Miller’s property didn’t have too much frontage, but the back was more than 200 feet long with an almost oblong shape. She decided to start a garden near her back patio near the fence line using an organic technique her gardening friend had told her of.

“I put down some pavers, then lay some of the Gazette’s paper down (Miller has been a long-time subscriber), lay some grass cuttings on that, wet it to make it stay down, and then poked some holes in for the plants,” she said.

In no time, Miller had a garden.

“It was so easy,” she said.

Every year since, she’s added another 10 to 15 feet using the same method. Today, the garden stretches the length of her western fence line; the pine trees she planted years ago tower overhead; the eastern side of her property is mostly devoted to berry bushes with occasional flowers and a veggie garden. Miller built the utility shed and the raised bed for the tomatoes and basil herself.

Among the plants that have thrived are phlox, lilies, hosta, yarrow, foxglove, gooseneck loosestrife, coreopsis, and black-eyed Susan, along with lots of various groundcovers. In her shady first garden are geranium, Japanese fern and numerous rocks that she’s found in her travels and thought “interesting,” which serve as borders.

Miller also branched out to her front yard, where several years ago, she planted a Rose of Sharon bush, obedient plant, blue hydrangea, a dogwood, forsythia and a mock orange – all of which are thriving. She waters with a long hose.

“I like spending time looking at my garden when I water,” she said. “I can see it from my kitchen window when I breakfast. It’s a wonderful way to start my day… to see the changes from week to week and year to year. It’s a delight.”

With almost 20 years of gardening under her belt, she’s discovered that no matter where she plants something, it will spread to where it really wants to grow. She offers some advice to first timers.

“Do it to please yourself and not worry about it being perfect,” Miller said.

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