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Couple’s garden is a woodland spectacle to behold

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Couple’s garden is a woodland spectacle to behold

For gardeners with a lot of shade, the Middle Grove garden of Jim and Meg Dalton is inspiring. There
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For gardeners with a lot of shade, the Middle Grove garden of Jim and Meg Dalton is inspiring.

There are more than 2,000 hostas — 1,700 different cultivars, including a few noteworthy hostas the Daltons have hybridized themselves.

And though in the shade and dominated by hostas, this garden is strikingly beautiful and surprisingly colorful. “There are many shades of green,” Meg said. True, but here there are also blues, bright and soft yellows, pinks, whites and purples.

The Daltons garden two of their five acres, most of which is under a canopy of deciduous and evergreen trees. The property undulates and the borders curve around the house so not everything is visible at once. This element of mystery is something professional designers strive to achieve.

In each bed, the Daltons also have repeated colors. Repetition of color and form is another designer tip. In one bed there were purples and greens with an accent of burgundy in a glossy ceramic sphere and in the stems of one plant. It is subtle but eye-catching.

Tiny Treasures

Tucked here and there throughout the borders are joyous surprises. Look closely or you might miss some diminutive plantings, such as the astilbe “Perkeo” with its dark green glossy leaf. Or a set of terra cotta jugs with a flowing design or a mossy log hollowed out to be a planter.

In the time they have been gardening, this retired engineer and college dean’s assistant have instinctively placed plants to their best advantage. The garden has large, rough pebbled textures next to small ruffled leaves, or a blue cast hosta with a complementary yellow leaf heuchera, or the red stems of the Red October hosta echoed in a nearby planting.

Special mixture keeps deer away from garden

The following recipe is the non-toxic home brew that hosta gardeners Jim and Meg Dalton use in their garden to discourage white-tailed deer from eating their plants. Be careful when handling, because the concentrated pepper extract can burn the skin. Wear rubber gloves.

Ingredients

- 3 eggs

- 1⁄2 teaspoon One Million Scoville concentrated pepper extract *

- 4 ounces Murphy’s oil soap

- 1 gallon water

- Sticker-spreader. This is a surfactant agent that helps the repellent stick to the plant and is available at garden centers. Follow label instructions.

1. In a bowl, beat the eggs and blend in all of the pepper extract. Be cautious when handling.

2. Slowly add the oil soap with continued stirring. It is very important that the beaten eggs be thoroughly mixed with the pepper extract before adding the oil soap. Otherwise the mixture becomes very thick, difficult to dilute and will clog a sprayer.

3. Pour one gallon of water into the sprayer.

4. Pour the remaining ingredients into the sprayer. Pressurize and spray plants until the mixture just begins to run off the leaves.

6. Once finished, clean the sprayer thoroughly using soap and water.

* This product can be purchased on the Internet.

Regardless of where you look, there’s more to see than you can take in at once. Yet the garden is serene, almost meditative. There a stillness that you might expect in a sanctuary.

The pathways are mossy, wide and meandering. Dragonflies, hummingbirds, chipmunks, toads and frogs can be heard and wildlife glimpsed. There is interesting art, including a sculpture created by the couple using wedding cake pans as a form for concrete. There are also sculptures of a dynasty horse, an urn with wonderful relief detailing that has a human figure balancing inside the handle as if on a swing.

This is a collector’s garden in the best sense of the word. The Daltons have added unusual plants to their garden for years and don’t hesitate to travel to Connecticut and Vermont for new plants. Some of their favorite nurseries are: Variegated Foliage in Eastford, Conn.; Quackin’ Grass in Brooklyn, Conn.; Seneca Hill Perennials in Oswego; and Cady’s Fall Nursery in Morrisville, Vt. The latter is known for its unusual conifers.

Through the mail, the Daltons like to shop Tony Avent’s Plant Delights in North Carolina and Bridgewood Gardens in Virginia.

Though they seek out the unusual now, it was hostas that got this garden started. Approximately 10 years ago, “We went to Helderledge Farm in Altamont and saw a Frances Williams hosta that was six feet across. That day we toured Helderledge’s display gardens and that was it,” Jim said. They were hooked on hostas.

The Daltons are passionate about plants. When they moved to Middle Grove 10 years ago, they planned the move and packed up 400 plants — mostly hostas — that they couldn’t bear to leave behind. Almost immediately they began transforming their new woodlands into hosta gardens.

In the years since, “we have diversified and now look mostly for unusual things,” Jim said.

One of the more unusual plants they have is Saruma Henryii, which flowers in abundant yellow in the spring and spreads easily. Other unusual plants include a pink bloodroot, a double white trillium, anemonopsis macrophyla and peltoboykina. The latter is bush in habit and has a palmate leave that adds interest to the beds.

Hybridizing hosta

Another offshoot of their gardening is developing new hostas through hybridizing.

Their hope is to create new hostas with something special to offer.

In selecting which plants to cross, the couple choose parent hostas with characteristics they like — such as good leaf shape, arching habit, prolonged and consistent color. They have several unnamed successes, including a graceful blue cast, ruffled edged hosta with a mounded habit, a long leaf, upright habit hosta that seems to twist as it reaches for the sky, and another with a crimped edge and bluish leaf color. One new plant they have named is “Saratoga Sunrise.” It has an appealing texture and a yellow color “that brightens as the season goes on. By the end of the summer it is a bright yellow,” Meg said.

They recently acquired an Uncle Albert hosta and were delighted because this plant, though not extraordinary in appearance, for “whatever reason gives great seedlings,” Meg said. It is one of the parents of Miss American Pie, which is Meg’s favorite hosta. Jim’s favorite is a 30-inch-tall sculptural hosta called Ebb Tide.

Though they don’t sell their hostas, they do donate hostas each year to the Upstate New York Hosta Society, where Jim is treasurer. Each August, the society organizes a public sale at Faddegon’s Nursery on Route 7 in Latham. This year’s date is Aug. 8 starting at 9 a.m.

Though hostas dominate the landscape, there are many other treasures here. Several different trilliums, Jack in the pulpits, lady’s slippers, Japanese wood poppy and ferns including the Dryopteris cristata “The King,” a handsome specimen whose fronds have a frilly crown at the tips and maidenhair ferns, ghost ferns, Japanese painted ferns, Lady in Red ferns. There are also many native plants such as clintonia, lady’s slippers and Mayapples.

The garden isn’t bothered by the resident chipmunks, but deer are a challenge that requires the consistent use of repellents. The Daltons switch between Liquid Fence, a commercial brand, and their own home-brewed repellent which is made of eggs, Murphy’s Oil Soap, hot pepper oil, water and a spreader sticker. (See recipe in accompanying box.)

Other jewels in the garden are specimens such as a white-tipped Hemlock called “Moonfrost” purchased at Faddegon’s Nursery, a Japanese woodland peony purchased at Seneca Hill Perennials and Japanese hydrangeas they found at Toadflax in Glens Falls. Some of the Japanese hydrangeas bloom in soft, subdued shades of blue, refreshing and unexpected in the woodland setting.

The Daltons also grow many of the newer Heucheras such as “Peach flambe” which has an apricot to burnt orange color, and a variegated coral bells called “Snow Angel.” You also find hellebores, a variety of Jack in the pulpits with chevron markings on its leaves, and a delicate iris bookeri.

Providing care

Meg said she spends about six hours a day tending to the needs of the plants and Jim spends his mornings out in the garden. While both like to be outside at the same time, Jim said they like to garden in different locations.

On a rotating basis, the beds are top dressed with compost and watered by the rain unless a particular plant is showing signs of stress. “Then we pull the hoses out. But we are on a well, so we rely on the rain,” Jim said.

Plants fend for themselves, but in certain cases, the wisdom of the gardener enables them to withstand our harsh winters. For example, there are two Pieris Japonicas — one growing near a stone wall and the other is a ground hugging form. These plants need protection to survive our cold winters. In one case, the wall offers protection and by selecting a low branching form, the snow blankets and protects the second shrub all winter, Jim said. You may not be able to outsmart Mother Nature but you can work with her to your advantage.

The Daltons have certainly worked their property to its full potential. It’s a dream garden that you can bring to mind as you are falling asleep at night and drift off happy.

The couple doesn’t mind visitors but you need to call ahead and let them know you’re interested. Their number is 584-2653.

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