SELF STARTER

A New Jersey gar­dener re­lied on hand­fuls of seed pack­ets to trans­form her 3-acre lot into a Coun­try Gar­dens® award-winning col­or­fest.

Country Gardens - - Contents - WRIT­TEN AND PRO­DUCED BY TOVAH MARTIN PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY ROB CARDILLO

With a lit­tle plan­ning and pa­tience, this gar­dener in New Jersey coaxes seeds into color-drenched plant­ings.

Barb Stiehl’s in­sa­tiable thirst for color could be a prob­lem. Her fer­vent de­sire for a yard that goes from the first pan­sies of spring to au­tumn’s fi­nal rud­beck­ias with­out a pause in the rain­bow might have se­ri­ously drained her and hus­band Russ’s bank ac­count if it weren’t for one crit­i­cal mit­i­gat­ing fac­tor: Her need to look out the win­dow and see flow­ers ga­lore is matched by an equally strong pas­sion for nur­tur­ing seedlings. For Barb, win­ter in Hard­wick, New Jersey, is bear­able be­cause she is pre­oc­cu­pied with sow­ing more than a hun­dred pack­ets of seed in an­tic­i­pa­tion of spring warmth and sun.

While some gar­den­ers shy away from seed, the 15 years Barb spent work­ing as a buyer for her lo­cal gar­den cen­ter opened her eyes to the good­ies that could fill her gar­den. As a job perk, she could bring home stock too dam­aged to be sold at sea­son’s end and nurse it back to health. Many peren­ni­als and shrubs came to her gar­den by that route. In ad­di­tion, her job also exposed her to an­nu­als grown from seed: Al­ter­nan­thera, ama­ranth, clock vine, an­gelo­nia, Mex­i­can sun­flower, and other flow­ers be­yond most gar­den­ers’ typ­i­cal se­lec­tions.

From mid-fe­bru­ary on­ward, Barb tends seeds and seedlings in her base­ment. Even be­fore that, she dives into stacks of seed cat­a­logs

im­me­di­ately af­ter the hol­i­days. To snag rar­i­ties and new in­tro­duc­tions, she or­ders ul­tra­early. When the seeds ar­rive, she stud­ies every seed packet to dis­cover when the con­tents should be sown. “Each en­ve­lope ex­plains how many weeks prior to your last frost date the con­tents should be planted. I count back from May 15, which is our last frost date,” she says. Barb or­ga­nizes the pack­ets by sow­ing date in a wooden shoe­box-size con­tainer cus­tom-made for that pur­pose by her fa­ther. Im­pa­tiens (“They take for­ever”) and gera­ni­ums start the sow­ing cy­cle in cell plugs un­der lights. From start to fin­ish, it’s a con­tin­ual re­lay lead­ing up to a gar­den packed with piz­zazz.

Barb’s ef­forts are not con­fined to an­nual flow­ers. She dab­bles in peren­nial seeds as well. She bol­sters her in­ven­tory with lo­cally pur­chased pot­ted plants that she uses for ac­cents; these in­clude the im­mense pil­lars of man­dev­il­las and other masses of color she craves. And she grows beds burst­ing with toma­toes, wa­ter­mel­ons, win­ter squash, and other ed­i­bles for tasty meals, too.

Her ob­ses­sion with seeds means Barb not only has suf­fi­cient fod­der to fill her gar­den with all the color she could de­sire, but she also can grow ex­tras for her gar­den club to plant in their stew­arded pub­lic spa­ces.

The eco­nomic edge is not the only rea­son Barb goes the seed route. Fond of cer­tain color com­bi­na­tions (plenty of orange and pur­ple is a must), she prefers not to de­pend on the in­ven­tory avail­able in lo­cal nurs­eries. With a pile of seed cat­a­logs on hand, she can ex­per­i­ment with nov­el­ties new to the mar­ket and plan the color spec­trum of her dreams. The combo she can’t live with­out? “Orange marigolds be­side pur­ple ager­a­tums.” With seeds, she can pro­duce enough dianthus and im­pa­tiens to run long bor­ders in front of beds. And an­nu­als keep pump­ing out the color when peren­ni­als pause in mid­sum­mer.

The re­sult of her steady work and care­ful plan­ning? Con­tain­ers line the deck, hang­ing bas­kets cas­cade from the gazebo, col­or­ful vines climb trel­lises, and flow­ers to cut are com­pan­ion-planted be­tween the veg­eta­bles. Barb has so many sur­plus blos­soms that she moon­lights as a florist. Plus, her grand­chil­dren spend the sum­mer in a flower-sat­u­rated play­ground. The re­wards are well worth the work, and Barb sa­vors every step of the process, from se­lec­tion to sow­ing to the big, col­or­ful thrill in sum­mer. Says Barb, “It’s so ful­fill­ing.”

20th An­nual Gar­den Awards

TOP A young ‘Re­liance’ peach, sur­rounded by pe­onies, oregano, sun­flow­ers, and a hy­drangea, grows near a path. Clema­tis ‘Jack­manii’ climbs up to the bird­house. ABOVE Barb Stiehl wields a wa­ter­ing can in front of her green­house door­way shaded by a bower of ‘Wil­liam Baf­fin’ roses in­ter­laced with Clema­tis ‘Hul­dine’.

TOP A gazebo pro­vides a shel­tered spot from sun or rain and also of­fers a prime view of the gar­dens. ABOVE A cherry red rocking chair matches a tall pot spilling with he­liotrope, sweet potato vine (Ipo­moea), and um­brella papyrus (Cype­rus al­terni­folius).

1 4 2 ABOVE Sun-tol­er­ant an­nu­als step in to fill a bor­der of ear­lier-bloom­ing Siberian iris and pe­onies in front of the veg­etable beds. Al­though the gar­den fea­tures color ga­lore, Barb echoes hues to keep the gar­den from read­ing like a riot. She also re­peats peren­ni­als and an­nu­als. 3 6 7 8 5

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