2013-08-16 / Home & Garden

Two sisters—two approaches to gardening

Stopping to smell the flowers
By Arlene Marturano

My sister and I have shared a love for plants and gardening since childhood. Today, we garden a continent apart. Lynn gardens in USDA zone 9a in the Pacific northwest against a backdrop of douglas firs. Her Oregon garden adjoins a state park, and she diligently works to keep the forest from overtaking her land.

Years of experience as owner and manager of nurseries and landscape companies in California prepared her to design and manage the landscape of her homeowner’s association. She can spend days pruning plants in her yard and oversees the pruning of common space in the association. She likes the look of a welltended yard and neighborhood, and the association board expects a manicured public appearance on all properties.

Plants in the foundation beds surrounding her home are neatly spaced and thoughtfully placed in anticipation of how large they will become at maturity. The association restrains pets as they do plants. Dogs are leashed so they won’t disturb plants, neighbors’ yards, or chase wildlife. Association rules do not permit fences or composting. (No composting? What a waste!)


Two sisters still grow plants from their childhood gardens. Two sisters still grow plants from their childhood gardens. Chemical fertilizers and biocides are used on all properties.

Lynn’s deck is a container garden of specimen plants out of the pages of White Flower Farm with clivia, orchids, abutilon, corokia, agave, and Cecil Brunner rose. She grows food in deck containers too—strawberries, tomatoes, eggplant, and potatoes.

While she may see Allen’s, Anna’s, blackchinned, calliope, or rufous hummingbirds at her flowers and feeders, the rufous is the most commonly viewed.

Although our gardens share many of the same bulbs, perennials, and woody ornamentals— azaleas, dogwoods, lilacs —we are miles apart in practice.


Lynn’s Seaside Garden in Oregon Lynn’s Seaside Garden in Oregon My USDA hardiness zone 8a property is a certified wildlife habitat under a pine canopy. As an organic gardener, I compost with worms daily and do not use pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. I say bring on the bugs—let beneficials, birds, and bats work for you.

While neighbors and developers have clear-cut the trees, I’ve added scores to create a forest oasis. I love to watch twigs become towering trees. My plants touch, hug, squeeze, and intertwine. Lynn says I overplant. (How can one overplant?) The birds and squirrels don’t seem to mind since they nest and feed in great abundance. Pruning is not my forte (as colleagues at the Carolina Children’s Garden bird garden can attest to).

My deck serves many purposes: plant propagation, potted herb garden, bird feeding station, toad abode, roof over a hognose snake hideout, garden spider website, overwintering spot for cocoons, chrysalides and green tree frogs, and lookout for wildlife. From April to October, ruby-throated hummingbirds seek nectar from plants and feeders around the deck.


Lynn’s plants have space between them and room to grow. Lynn’s plants have space between them and room to grow. My yard is fenced so my dog can have a large safe area to chase squirrels, nose her way through beds and to the brush pile, and create her own paths and tunnels. She energetically digs deep holes in the soil to lie in and keep cool. Under the shade of a camellia is her favorite lookout.

Lynn and I share our seeds, bulbs, and garden happenings across the miles. She sends me gift certificates to Park Seed, and I gift her with cards to Forest Farm and Nichol’s.

Comparing personal planting practices whether between siblings, colleagues, friends, or neighbors in similar or disparate USDA zones encourages finding common ground for plants and people.



Being originally from the land of lilacs we both grow Syringa in our zone 8 and 9 gardens. Being originally from the land of lilacs we both grow Syringa in our zone 8 and 9 gardens.

Azaleas are spring bloomers in Oregon too. Azaleas are spring bloomers in Oregon too.

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