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It's Garden Thyme! with Gail Garber of Ches. City

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CHESAPEAKE CITY — This month I had the pleasure of visiting the home garden of Gail Garber of Chesapeake City. Gail has been an avid gardener since her retirement over 17 years ago. With the help of her husband, Larry, this spirited grandmother of five has created an enchanting garden retreat and wildlife haven nestled in her own backyard.

Gail and I spoke a little about what inspired her to plant her “memory garden,” what she has growing in her gardens throughout the seasons and how she keeps her garden notes organized. Additionally, she shared a few tips to help you in your home garden. I hope you enjoy Gail’s garden story!

Tell us a little about what inspired you to begin gardening.

My true love of gardening started when I retired and realized I needed a hobby. Because I have always loved birds and plants, I subscribed to Birds & Blooms magazine. I came across an article in that magazine one day back in 1999 featuring a beautiful garden surrounded by a picket fence with a center garden. I fell in love with that garden and with the help of my husband, we set out to recreate it in our backyard.

We started the project using an existing laurel tree as the base of the garden and worked around it by building a wooden picket fence that we painted “sage bush” green. My husband helped make the garden beds and moved all the EP Henry stone in to create the borders and the center bed. The idea of a “memory garden” came soon after the fence and beds were complete. I liked the idea of adding a special plant in memory of a loved one who has passed away. Over the last 18 years we’ve added an arbor — hand built by my husband — stone paths, whimsical accents, a couple of themed gardens such as the golf garden and sunflower garden, bird feeders and stepping stones for each of our grandchildren. It took a while, but we found the perfect fountain and boxwood shrubs to showcase the center garden.

Now that the memory garden is complete, I’ve been creating new beds beyond the fence because I love to have beautiful views of my gardens and birds from every room inside our home. With my eye for structure and order and my husband’s whimsical touch, we’ve created a garden paradise that is inviting to friends, family and wildlife; especially birds – we have birds galore!

What would we find growing in your gardens throughout the seasons?

My memory garden features a very pretty orange-colored honeysuckle vine named Blanch, planted in memory of my husband’s grandmother. My other favorite perennials are black-eyed Susan, balloon flower, butterfly bush, lilacs, St. John’s wart, hydrangea, daisies, Dutch iris, coneflower, forget-me-nots, feverfew, sweet-autumn clematis, vinca, pachysandra, hosta, lambs ears, mums and ever-blooming roses. I enjoy planting annuals both in the ground and in pots. The plants that I favor are lantana, single-wave petunia, purple vinca, wishbone flower, new guinea impatiens, angelonia, popcorn plant, geranium, sweet potato vine and ivy. We have many beautiful and stately trees and shrubs on our property including magnolia, pine, red bud, pink dogwood, cherry, crape myrtle, holly, laurel, chaste, azalea, viburnum, abelia and boxwood.

How do you stay organized and keep track of what works in your gardens year after year?

I write everything down! I have a scrapbook for every gardening season since we started the memory garden. I keep detailed notes and photos of everything I plant in the garden. It’s very handy to go back and research what has worked well and what hasn’t. I also keep scrapbooks of all the projects we’ve done, along with a book that keeps track of prices at the garden nurseries. My friends and family sometimes lovingly tease me about those books, but when they have plant problems and come to me for help and I’m able to find the solution in one of my books, they don’t tease me so much afterwards.

Would you like to pass along any tips to help other gardeners succeed in their home gardens?

It’s helpful to know what type of soil you have so you will know what will grow best in your garden. Keep pots well watered, but don’t overwater because you will end up drowning out the roots, which makes it very difficult for the plant to recover. Deadhead (remove spent blooms) your plants to keep them blooming. Keep mums cut back until July to encourage them to bloom in the fall. Try using Efferdent tablets to clean bird baths — just be mindful if the bird bath is painted. To avoid lugging a heavy hose around, place gallon-sized water jugs filled with water throughout your garden for easy watering. It’s helpful to keep small tools and garden gloves within easy reach while working in the garden. I keep mine in a pretty hand-painted mailbox on a post along a walking path within my garden. It’s convenient and makes a fun focal point and conversation piece.

A note from Dee: I’ve had so much fun sharing garden stories with you this garden season. I hope you’ve enjoyed each home gardener’s inspiring story and their fun and helpful hints as much as I have. I look forward to sharing more garden stories and tips with you again next spring when It’s Garden Thyme! returns.

Dee Marotta travels the Cecil area in search of gardeners to feature for It’s Garden Thyme! She asks about their methods and shares what she learns here. If you’d like your garden featured, Dee would love to hear from you. You can reach her at: or 410-287-5816. You can also find her on Facebook: It’s Garden Thyme.

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