THIS IS FULL FRONTAL GAR­DEN­ING

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - ROB HOWARD

Call it “full-frontal” gar­den­ing — when a gar­dener de­cides to re­move a front lawn and re­place it with flower beds.

I’ve al­ways liked the con­cept. But it needs to be done well — and with sen­si­tiv­ity to neigh­bours. I’ve seen “full-frontal” gar­dens that look over­grown and aban­doned: a mess of plants with no dis­cernible de­sign.

Then there is the lawn-free gar­den of Nancy and Doug Gor­don on a lit­tle cul-de-sac near the Red Hill Val­ley. The front (and side) gar­den suit the house and neigh­bour­hood, look wel­com­ing and well-tended, and blend or­na­men­tal and ed­i­ble plants into an at­trac­tive whole.

Their Bet­tina Av­enue gar­den is part of the Open Gar­den Week of­fer­ings that con­tinue through next Mon­day; theirs is open to­day (Wed­nes­day), Fri­day and Mon­day to any and all vis­i­tors. Dozens more gar­dens are also open be­fore Open Gar­den Week con­cludes July 10.

Nancy has been in this house since she was 20. It’s now a four­gen­er­a­tion house­hold: she shares it with her hus­band, Doug, her mother, a daugh­ter and son-in-law and a grand­daugh­ter. Her grand­daugh­ter is an avid gar­den helper and com­peti­tor on the tic-tac-toe ta­ble that’s part of their front gar­den.

The story of their gar­den be­gins with a semi-lawn of “des­per­ate grass,” she says. It had lit­tle chance un­der a big old lit­tle-leaf lin­den tree. They can be messy trees, but have their charms, too and this par­tic­u­lar tree has lovely, spread­ing branches and is a won­der­ful an­chor for the gar­den.

Hav­ing weep­ing tile re­placed left the front with mounds of dirt. She and Doug — who mar­ried in 2010 — even­tu­ally hired some­one with earth­mov­ing equip­ment to scrape away the mounds and grade the front. A fam­ily friend pro­vided a de­sign and the cou­ple went to work.

The re­sults are spec­tac­u­lar. The gar­den is de­signed around a flag­stone “pa­tio” that pro­vides a home for an invit­ing gar­den bench, that tic-tac-toe ta­ble, and dozens of con­tain­ers. More on those in a mo­ment.

The flag­stones are sur­rounded by flower bor­ders that com­bine peren­ni­als, some an­nu­als, and a kind of back­bone of small trees and shrubs — box­wood, dog­wood, yew, a lovely Ja­panese red­bud tree. There’s a nice va­ri­ety of hostas, a Ja­panese maple that’s strug­gling now, Nancy says, a pink po­ten­tilla, and bar­berry.

But back to those con­tain­ers: Nancy has planted broc­coli, red, yel­low and or­ange pep­pers, beets, onions, dill and six con­tain­ers of pota­toes. There are plant­ing boxes of herbs — “pars­ley, sage, rose­mary and thyme like the song, and chives” — Swiss chard, kale and let­tuce. Oh, and straw­ber­ries are fruit­ing now, too.

Rab­bits are a ma­jor gar­den pest there, so Nancy uses net­ting to pro­tect the berries and found cloche cov­ers — trans­par­ent plastic “lids” with large holes on top for her pots — at a lo­cal dol­lar store. They’re pro­tect­ing most of the Gor­dons’ “crop” — ex­cept for the let­tuces, of which Peter Rab­bit and Co. seem to be par­tic­u­larly fond.

Their kitchen gar­den pots and con­tain­ers blend into the gar­den de­sign and the veg­etable plants are

care­fully tended.

The gar­den down the side of the house is de­signed for eat­ing, too. But not by them. This is a pol­li­na­tor gar­den, planted to at­tract and nour­ish but­ter­flies, moths, bees and other ben­e­fi­cial in­sects. There is a “bee house” on the wall, five but­ter­fly bushes, columbine, Ohio spi­der­wort (a plant I’d never seen be­fore), lilies and other flow­er­ing plants.

There’s a peony plant, near where the front and side gar­dens meet, with a story to it. It had been a gift from Nancy’s grand­fa­ther to her mother. When they moved to the house on Bet­tina, the peony was left be­hind. But her mother didn’t forget about it, and men­tioned it a few times to Nancy. So Nancy went back to the old house, peeked over the fence, started talk­ing to the cur­rent own­ers and, yes, was able to re­trieve some of the old plant to bring “back” to her mother.

“I never knew I’d get the gar­den­ing bug,” she says. “I’m out here all the time now.”

Nancy had prac­tised a form of in­ten­sive veg­etable gar­den­ing called square-foot gar­den­ing when her chil­dren were small. But af­ter her first hus­band died and she was rais­ing the kids, there was lit­tle time for that. It seemed friv­o­lous.

She got back into the gar­den, so to speak, shortly be­fore she met Doug. Now, it’s im­por­tant. It’s a part of her in­ter­est in en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues.

“It doesn’t feel friv­o­lous any­more,” she says. “It feels com­pul­sive.”

For more in­for­ma­tion on vis­it­ing the Gor­dons’ gar­den or other gar­dens open through July 10, see The Spec­ta­tor of June 29 or go to www.thes­pec.com.

Clock­wise from top: The Gor­dons’ “full frontal” gar­den; Nancy made this game to teach chil­dren about pol­li­na­tion; a home for bees and but­ter­flies; Stella d’oro lilies, one of many va­ri­eties of peren­ni­als in the Gor­dons’ gar­dens.

PHOTOS BY BARRY GRAY, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

PHOTOS BY BARRY GRAY, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Nancy and Doug Gor­don cud­dle in their gar­den.

Seedlings that Nancy Gor­don will give out to Open Gar­den Week vis­i­tors.

Straw­ber­ries on the vine.

Open Gar­den Week: For more in­for­ma­tion on vis­it­ing the Gor­dons’ gar­den or other gar­dens open through July 10, see The Spec­ta­tor of June 29 or go to www.thes­pec.com.

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