Chesterton Tribune

June: Gardening brings people together

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June is for ..... meeting the nicest people through gardening.

This year is the tenth anniversary of the Duneland Garden Club and we recently celebrated with a dinner. I cannot tell you how glad I am I saw the small notice in this newspaper a decade ago and attended the organizational meeting.

I have met the most wonderful friends by being a club member. And to think I could have passed these people in WiseWay and never even knew how much they shared my passion for plants. But that’s not all we’ve shared; we’ve traded recipes, decorating tips, fashion advice and child-raising suggestions.

We’ve also been a part of each other’s family weddings, divorces, medical problems and, sadly, the deaths that have touched our small circle.

Gardening is the common thread that weaves the interests of otherwise seemingly disparate people. It also is an automatic icebreaker that jump-starts a conversation and new friendships.

Last month I had the opportunity to join the Chesterton Methodist Church’s Gardeners of Eden social group for a day of visiting plant nurseries. Our first stop was the hosta farm of Luke Goetz at the corner of Indiana 2 and Rigg Road one mile east of Indiana 49.

Luke’s enthusiasm is contagious. “I have plans for this place. I just need the time,” he explains. Around his farmhouse he’s developed a large hosta display garden that’s dotted with worthy companion plants and ornamental grasses, most thankfully labeled so we can list our favorites.

Luke said he always thought his mother Christine was a bit obsessive about her hostas but once Luke and his wife bought their own farm, he was bitten by the hosta bug, too. Luke is offering 50 varieties now and will add more as his mother, who supplies his stock, divides clumps in her own unbelievable collection.

A short trip from Luke’s took us to Christine’s farm and her jaw-dropping hosta garden of hundreds of mature specimens. The first thing you notice is they are HUGE. She and Luke credit the rich mulch they both use --- decomposing corn cobs that have spent a season in the manure-rich animal pens.

My Solomon seal, arching semi-shade plants with offset leaves on single stems bearing small white flowers in spring, is about 30 inches tall. Christine’s is five feet tall. Another secret is deep watering, she explained, adding that she maps her garden in case labels get lost.

Christine combines hostas with several dwarf conifers and young trees to assure continued shade. Being tied to the farm more than most jobs, “My garden is my vacation,” she said. “I like all the different hosta shapes, sizes and colors. Most hold up pretty well. Some have more problems than others, but new ones just keep coming out.”

Like most gardeners, Christine apologized for a large blank spot she currently is reworking. Why do we feel the need to apologize if everything isn’t just perfect? I apologize for every weed I haven’t pulled. A garden is a living thing --- growing, changing, dying. If we want predictability, collect stamps.

I pressed Christine to name her favorite hosta, a task akin to choosing your favorite child for a gardener. The first cultivar she mentioned, the lovely ‘June,’ is a star in my garden as well.

Miniature hostas are Christine’s new passion, and for a reason. “I only thought there were a few hundred hostas. I didn’t know there were thousands. I’m running out of space. I tell myself I’ve got to slow down.”

Back at Luke’s, his sales area is near a picturesque collapsed barn he wants to renovate some day; the stone foundation is still solid. I bought ‘Grand Prize,’ its leaves having a wide yellow/cream border with jagged green center and later, dark purple flowers. I also purchased ‘Sea Fire’ whose bright gold leaves in spring, eventually maturing to chartreuse, will make the garden pop.

Many years of happy gardening and retail sales to Christine and Luke.

Recently while working on a border I was expanding (100 years ago a barn covered the site) I saw a flash of bright orange in the dirt about 15 inches below ground. I gingerly pulled something out, thinking it was part of a rug. It turned out to be a wool stocking cap, perfectly intact (albiet dirty) including the pompon on the top.

The next discovery a few inches away wasn’t as much fun.

I dug up a rusty metal circle from which links of three chains were suspended with parts of what appeared to be leather straps at the end. Someone said it may have been for suspending livestock for slaughter. Not something I want to use for garden art, to be sure.

Two plants recently caught my eye at local garden centers.

Lysimachia atropurpurea ‘Beaujolais’ sounds like it’s worth a try, although one Internet source lists it Zone 6 and another down to the colder Zone 3 (we’re Zone 5). From a clump of low grey-green foliage rise tall spikes of wine-red flowers that are supposed to bloom from May to September attracting hummingbirds and butterflies.

‘Beaujolais’ must be a distant cousin of lysimachia punctata ‘Alexander,’ although they look nothing alike. The latter grows well for me, a dense 24-inch by 24-inch clump of white-edged green leaves that now are displaying bright yellow flowers along each stem. Although in the loosestrife family, it so far does not spread with abandon like its gooseneck relative. Would ‘Beaujolais’?

The second new plant, although it was in a one-gallon pot, is really a tree, betula ‘Filigree Lace,’ a dwarf white birch only six feet tall and five feet wide at maturity. The leaves are lacy and fern-like, giving the impression of a Japanese maple. Better yet, ‘Filigree Lace’ is supposed to be very cold-hardy and takes full sun.

Some of you may remember the struggling copper beech tree I rescued last year dirt cheap from a nursery. It survived the winter, but its main leader or vertical branch died. Below it gorgeous black-purple leaves are abundant and new pinkish shoots are sprouting. I don’t know what this will look like when the tree is older, but it should be interesting.

I also ended up owing Curtis Remus $12.50 this spring and have paid up; his black mondo grass I planted here, often listed as Zone 6, survived the winter, but the acorus gramineus did not. That’s the second time I’ve lost the grass-like acorus, so no more. Tony Avent likes to say he doesn’t give up on a plant until he’s killed it at least three times.

This is such a rewarding time in the garden. The roses are in full first flush and the daylilies are coming into bloom. I recently had a bad experience ordering daylilies.

I faxed an order in April to a nursery from which I’ve ordered before. I heard nothing. A few weeks later I called and they said their computer crashed and their orders were lost. I gave them my order again and thought all was well. They left voice mails twice over the next several weeks assuring me the plants would be coming.

When they did, I was shocked. Instead of the three cultivars I ordered, there were eight of nothing I ordered although I was only charged for three. One plant had someone else’s name on it. Another was listed by one name on the order form and by something else on the plant tag. And the condition of the plants was poor, just thrown in a box bareroot and shipped.

Checking the catalog, as it turns out I was given substitute and bonus plants valued at about $190. But I would rather have the ones I ordered for $30, carefully chosen to fill color, bloom time and variety gaps in the borders. I emailed my disappointment to the company and in about 10 days I received an unexpected check for $15.

My mistake was threefold: not asking when I ordered the second time by phone if my chosen plants were available and in stock; not stating I did not want substitutes; and not selecting second-day air for shipment. I’ll probably order from the company, which had to be in turmoil when their computer crashed, again. But I’ll be a much more informed customer.

Meanwhile, the daylilies (soaked in a bucket overnight when they arrived) are planted and bouncing back with several throwing bud scapes. After I see what they look like, I may need to move things around.

Enough garden talk. If you want to get away from it all and take a daytrip, you might try the Cushing Manor Inn in South Bend. The 1872 French Victorian mansion at 508 Washington St. is restored as an afternoon tea room by reservation, a bed-and-breakfast inn and a unique site for small, catered parties like the baby shower I attended there.

The house is gorgeously furnished with unusual butternut woodwork, antiques, silver and china. The gardens were to be renovated this summer with topiary and English cottage elements. For more information, contact 574-288-1990 or

South Bend has a lot to offer. My first visit to the Morris Civic Auditorium in May was impressive, both for the beauty of the building and the great music of Harry Connick Jr. and his orchestra. What a Mother’s Day present! And a stop at the South Bend Chocolate Co. made it even sweeter.

Thank goodness I could head out into the garden the next day and sweat off the mocha latte and a slice of Bailey’s Irish Cream cheesecake.


Posted 6/30/2004