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Published: Wednesday, 7/3/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Ruth O'Brien: ‘Gardening is like being in love'

Ruth O'Brien in her Sylvania Township garden. Ruth O'Brien in her Sylvania Township garden.
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Name: Ruth O'Brien; volunteer, including coordinator for funeral luncheons at St. Joseph Church, Sylvania; living in Sylvania Township.

Garden specs: Small-to-medium back and front yards, including the tree lawn between the sidewalk and the street.

When did you start gardening? Thirty years ago when we moved here. It was all lawn. I just took a shovel to it. I thought, how bad of a mistake could you make that you couldn't rectify? Now there's no lawn in back (paths are gravel) and so little lawn in front that it takes me only 12 minutes to mow and edge it. I always loved flowers. Growing up in Helmstedt, Germany, I knew where there were vacant lots that I could ride my bike to and pick bouquets of flowers. Lawns are scarce in Germany because people live very close together.

What do you grow? Ornamental trees: tricolor beech, variegated Japanese willow, mini and standard crab apples, a red-leafed Forest Pansy redbud tree, Cherokee dogwood, boxwood clipped in various shapes, and small evergreens for winter interest. Spring and summer bulbs, perennials, many hostas (I often plant three of a kind together), annuals, tropicals, and native plants. I like a lot of white because at night it seems to glow.

Favorite plant: I love them all. Well, perhaps foxglove is a favorite because the hummingbirds love them.

Give us a tip: Take a risk! So what if it does not work? Every year we would get a living Christmas tree and then plant it outside. I structured the garden around them but they got to be about 15- to 20-feet tall and somewhat spindly. A few years ago, I wanted more sun and had several cut down. Also, don't buy the cheapest topsoil. I did and it was as hard as cement.

Hours spent gardening per week: In May, about 12 to 15 hours a week; less in summer.

Annual expense: About $200-plus. It varies, depending on the severity of the winter and how many plants have to be replaced. I buy perennials at the end of the season, half-off from the reject-shelf at the big-box stores. It's rewarding to nurse them back to health. I've had very good luck with hostas.

Challenges: Dirty fingernails. And ending up with too many left-handed gardening gloves; my right-handed gloves get worn out. [Anybody need left-handed gloves?]

I'm proud of: I am pleased and grateful that I'm healthy enough to work in my garden. I love my neighbors who through the years have been so tolerant of my exploits. I have been known to plant into their gardens. By accident, of course, and with their permission.

What I've learned gardening: I am still learning, always will be. To me, gardening is like being in love, when you can't wait to see the object of your love each day. I have learned patience, quitting for the day when I'm tired, and respect for nature. I realize I'm not always in control and that I can live with organized chaos, with bunnies and chipmunks, with too much rain, not enough rain, etc. Touring gardens in England and Ireland, I picked up a lot of ideas, and my dream is to attend the Chelsea Flower Show in England.

I've also learned to laugh at mistakes, I once needed help with spring clean up and hired a man who assured me he indeed knew plants. After a few hours, he proudly showed me a big pile of greens. He had pulled up every one of my spring bulbs with these words, "Here are your onions, Miss." At the time I was not amused, but of course I paid him anyway. It retrospect, it was pretty funny and I've gotten much mileage out of retelling the story.



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