July 6, 2009


Garden tour to inspire green thumbs

GardenJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
Bess Koval’s garden in her backyard with repurposed building materials and sculptures.

Living and Leisure Editor

Charlotte Farris of Cortlandville said gardeners don’t keep track of how much time they spend out in their plots every week.
“You go out to do one thing and you just keep going,” said the retired curriculum developer, who is organizing the 2009 American Red Cross Secret Garden Tour.
“And it seems as though your whole summer is spent gardening,” said Bess Koval, a Cortland resident who will also show off her garden. “When winter comes, you have all this time. Where did it come from?” she laughed.
Farris and Koval are two of 11 residents, and one business owner, who will be opening up their gardens for the tour. The event will take place 1 to 5 p.m. July 11 with a rain date of July 12. A fee will benefit the American Red Cross of Cortland County. The tour will include local gardens in southwest Cortland off of Tompkins Street. Some of the gardeners will offer refreshments at their sites.
People can get tickets and a map at the 111 Port Watson St., Cortland, chapter beforehand or they can purchase a map and tickets the day of the tour at 28 Delaware Avenue or 11 Levydale Park in Cortland.
The locations of the gardens will remain secret because gardeners don’t want people parading through their homes beforehand, Farris said, during an interview at her garden.
“Most of these plants are what people have given me,” said Farris of her garden, which is situated on a four-tiered hill in back of her home. Graveled paths wend through flowers and vegetables, bird houses and a little pond, which sports a solar-powered fountain.
Farris and her late husband, Dan, bought their home five years ago in December and have been developing the garden the last four years. She pointed to a clumpful of seedum, a groundcover she brought from her former home, which has mushroomed to fill a whole pathway on one part of her garden.
“I love to see a seed, take that sunflower there. You take this little seed and you get this big plant.”
“My grandmother told me when I started gardening at 10, ‘Now Charlotte, if you want your plants to prosper, you have to share them.’” “Do you have any citrus geranium? That keeps the mosquitoes away,” she said, offering the plant to this reporter.
“You hear the bluebirds, hear the babies?” she said of a blue bird house, a small little box on a high pole. Little babies were chirping away as a mother bird flew off. “Dan would have been thrilled to have a bluebird,” she said of her husband, who recently passed away.
Alan MacDonald, a neighbor of Farris’ is also on the tour. The retired Smith Corona employee is showing off his flower garden and little ponds off his front deck.
“It’s only been four years for gardening,” he said. “One day I was sitting on the deck. I like fountains and water and things like that. I happened to be at Aldi’s. They had a (pond) kit for $49.95. I got it. I didn’t realize how much work there was. There are so many rocks in the ground.”
Now he has three little ponds he installed and seven fountains shooting water into them among perennial plants. “I thought it would be neat. I thought it would be something to do,” MacDonald said. “I am not perfect. I do it so I can sit out on the deck and listen to the water and add a little color.”
Koval has been working on her garden, which comprises her entire back yard, for many, many years. She bought her Cortlandville home in 1964. When her children got older, she started gardening.
“Gardening is therapy absolutely, without a doubt,” Koval said.
Koval has a gutter which drains off her home into two huge drums, a tub, and a wheelbarrow, to capture water for the plants. Trellises frame her deck and parts of her yard. Stone paths wend among pine trees, plants, flowers and statues. She has a memorial bronze ice hockey player sculpture for her son, Chris, who lived from 1964 to 1984. “Hockey was his passion. Lacrosse made him an All-American,” she said. Surrounding the statue, which is on a pedestal, are several tiers of plants and rocks. “I dearly love it.”
Koval had four or five pallets of stone trucked in, and they form paths as well as borders among the plants. A swing chair sits under a huge pine tree. An old-fashioned bath tub holds water plants. Off of a trellis hangs two window frames, dangling by chains. Hens and chickens are amassed among the path. She has bird houses, asparagus, bird bathes, wheel barrows among the flowers. Her pink and white estilbe lines one path. “I think they are going to pop within a week.”
“I love whimsy,” Koval said, pointing to five little kid statues, each playing, among one side of her garden, with an old miniature wheelbarrow with a plant inside.
“I also grow soccer balls and lacrosse balls,” she said, alluding to the soccer field next door, where kids were practicing.
“It just keeps changing, constantly,” she said. “Gardeners are never done,” Farris agreed.


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