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A Secret Garden

Audrey Austin and Rachel Manning in the secret garden
Audrey Austin and Rachel Manning in the secret garden

Did you know there was a garden in the west wing at Springmoor? It’s a surprise to many who don’t walk down this hallway on a daily basis. The Garden Room is a beautiful sunny greenhouse for residents to tend to their plants in the winter months. There is ample counter space where everyone in the community can bring their plants from their patios and porches during the coldest months of the year.

Residents Rachel Manning and Audrey Austin have been taking care of everything in the Garden Room for years. Both say they have learned their gardening skills through trial and error. Both ladies say they have always preferred to be outside, playing golf or digging in the dirt. Rachel, a former Master Gardener, can help answer questions about your plants or find someone who can if she doesn’t know. Audrey says her plant knowledge comes from years of experience.

Audrey's garden beautifully continues into her neighbor's yard
Audrey’s garden beautifully continues into her neighbor’s yard

Neighbors

When she was young her mother wanted her out of the kitchen, Audrey says. Her mom said she broke too many dishes. She sent her outside to play and it’s there that Audrey learned to garden. She has always had a flower garden and now at Springmoor she has two. In her ground floor apartment, sitting on her patio or looking out the window, she realized she sees more of her neighbor’s yard than her own. She joked with John Pearson, her neighbor, one day saying that she was going to plant flowers in his yard to brighten her view and send him the bill. He laughed and said, “Please do!” And she has ever since. The two yards are filled with rows of her favorite pansies and many other blooming species. And he continues to pay the bill!

Red pepper, she says, is the best advice she can offer for keeping the deer and the squirrels from eating the pansies. When they are first planted in the ground, she adds the pepper. For the first three weeks, until the pansies are well established, she goes out each morning to replant them from the animal’s early morning walk through her garden. After a rain or every few days, she adds more pepper. The animals soon realize this is not a good spot for grazing and move on. There is a hawk also, she says, that has helped keep things in order on the north side of the campus.

Rachel's gardening touches can be found in many places on campus
Rachel’s gardening touches can be found in many places on campus

Master Gardener

Rachel went through the Wake County Master Gardener program and has volunteered on the Springmoor Building and Grounds committee for many years. As a Master Gardener, you become part of the volunteer staff of NC State University’s Cooperative Extension Service. A member provides educational assistance and programs in horticulture and environmental issues to the gardening public. Rachel remembers going through the rigorous training program and being interviewed by former Springmoor residents, Bob and Betty Cook. Bob was the Assistant Dean for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at NC State University and Betty served as a Home Economics Extension Agent for Wake County. The three later became neighbors at Springmoor and all volunteered with the Building and Grounds Committee.

Rachel has a small flower garden now under her balcony. She, along with Kathleen and Jim Perry, have planted a beautiful garden on the path between the villas and the east wing. The azaleas, hydrangeas and dogwoods, carefully attended by Rachel along the bank, brighten everyone’s day as they walk through the woods. Rachel has a much larger zinnia garden in South Village during the summer months. She shares her flowers with those in the Stewart Health Center as well as with her neighbors. She looks forward to planting tomatoes also in her larger garden in just a few weeks.

Grounds Keeper

Thom Morgan, Springmoor’s Landscape Architect, not only manages the upkeep of our 42-acre campus but he also helps in the Garden Room and in the Resident Garden. Thom and his crew will help transport the resident’s large plants from the patios to the greenhouse for winter storage. If Rachel and Audrey spot a fungus or a bug on any of the plants, he comes to spray. In the next few weeks, he will till the soil for the thirty resident garden plots located in South Village. He helps provide answers to many questions about indoor and outdoor plants.

Take a peek into the Garden Room
Take a peek into the Garden Room

The Garden Room

Rachel and Audrey take turns each month working in the Garden Room. While they are not responsible for watering or pruning all the plants, they will call to remind a resident if theirs needs a little TLC. They watch for bugs and fungus and alert Thom when necessary. The window overlooking the room is always cheerfully decorated for the season. Rachel was quick to say that, with Audrey’s many years in the classroom, she has lots of decorative items to use for the months when it is her turn.

The room is beginning to empty now as the temperatures outside are rising. The porches are filling up with plants again. The lemon tree that has been filled with dozens of lemons has found its way home again. The orchids, however, seem to stay throughout the year as the sun and warmth of the room make it a much better environment for the tropical plants. Audrey has kept hers in the Garden Room for years. Still in its original tiny pot, new shoots continue to grow with only a few sprinkles of water each week. Continue reading →

 

How Does Your Garden Grow?

a little laughter in the garden

Most mornings you will find the Springmoor Garden Club, a group of almost thirty gardeners: pulling weeds, watering plants or picking their vegetables. They are early risers and up and out before it is too hot each day. The season starts in April and will run through October. While the deer and the bunnies have had a healthy feast this year so have the residents at Springmoor. It’s an added benefit to live next door to one of the garden club members!

This week we asked them to write our garden story.

the garden in the early spring

In preparation for planting, what did you do to prepare your section of the garden?

Everyone is extremely thankful for Thom Morgan, Springmoor’s Ground Manager, as he and his crew till the soil for each garden plot. After this step, everyone varies in their garden preparations. Because of the heavy mulch from years past, everyone has ample weeding to do. Some start in the late winter pulling weeds. Some use a weed-block. And others keep the weeds away, without using chemicals, by adding wood-chip mulch and newspaper (in abundance) to cover the ground. Lots of hoes and pole diggers were used to prepare the soil and plant.

the corn towers above the other plants

What are you growing in your garden this year?

  • The most popular plants this season were: tomatoes and peppers (sweet peppers and Tabasco peppers).
  • Others vegetables included: cucumbers, squash, zucchini, okra, eggplant, and corn.
  • Herbs on the list: basil, cilantro, mint, parsley, thyme, and rosemary.
  • There were a few fruits: cantaloupe (hopefully writes the gardener) and watermelon (to cover the ground, decrease weed growth and keep the bunnies away).
  • Flowers included: zinnias, snapdragons and marigolds. One gardener planted a pokeberry for the birds to enjoy!

Before you moved to Springmoor, did you have a garden? How long have you been gardening?

The answers for this questions range from “this is my first year” to “in my youth, my gardening was with my mother and dad.” She then added, “I can dig any problems, griefs, or hard feelings right into the soil.”

all in a row

What’s different here than in your previous gardens?

These answers will make you smile. All of them were written with explanation marks (so be sure to read them that way too!)

  • “Someone else tills the soil!”
  • “There is loads of sunshine in the garden!”
  • “I can’t shoot the bunnies here!”
  • “Down East the soil is sand!”

Is there one vegetable, herb, flower or fruit that is more successful than another?

Most everyone agrees it’s the tomatoes. One gardener says, “The tomatoes make it all worthwhile.” From another gardener, “The cucumbers have done great. I harvest at least three a day. They put the tomatoes to shame!”

the bunnies have had a feast this season

What have you done to keep the bunnies and deer from eating your crops?

A few helpful hints from our garden group: sprinkle cayenne pepper, plant marigolds, rosemary and hot peppers, add hair from your hairbrush, add a fence and/or pray! “Next year, I’ll plant melons too.” One gardener says that he’s had a bunny stretch out on the grass beside his plot as he worked and just waited for him to leave. “They are quite at home in this big garden!” And some write that they just “like to share. Well, the bunnies aren’t too good with sharing the parsley. They like to keep it all to themselves.”

vegetables and flowers too

What helpful hint can you pass along to new gardeners?

  • Get a good helper!
  • Don’t plant anything that won’t be used. Remember we don’t cook at Springmoor.
  • Layer your plot with newspapers for control of weeds. It also helps hold the moisture in the soil. Cover with cypress mulch.
  • Place a half bag of rich topsoil around each plant when you first plant it.
  • Use an arbor to keep cucumbers off the ground.
  • Keep flowers cut to keep them coming!
  • Give tomatoes one inch of water per week.
  • Plant early!!! You can always replant, but the early jump seemed to work well for others.
  • Don’t give up! It’s fun and if things don’t pan out – there’s always next year!
  • Be optimistic, water often, and ask advice from other gardeners.
  • Don’t over fertilize and try to turn soil as deep as possible before planting.
  • This one is the best: with a wink in her eye and a sly smile, she writes, “Get a BB gun, set up a tent by your plot, get comfortable and shoot the rabbits! Also, preparing the soil helps too.”
  • How often do you work in your garden? What time of day?

Most of our gardeners are early risers and in the garden every two or three days. Before it’s hot they are out pulling on the weeds and watering. A few prefer the evening hours when there is more shade.

a great day’s harvest

What happens to all of the items in your garden? Do you share with neighbors, cook them, can them, donate to the food bank or just eat them everyday?

Best advice from the blog writer – make friends with a gardener. They love to share their harvest.

the garden in July

What’s your favorite way to prepare you vegetables?

  • Wash and eat!
  • Fajitas
  • Stir-fry
  • BLT
  • Tomato aspic
  • Gazpacho – tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers (Vidalia onions and celery too)
  • Cucumbers and vinegar
  • Caprese salad with tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and balsamic vinegar
  • But the all time favorite is the tomato sandwich – white bread and mayo!

Continue reading →

 

How does your garden grow?

The soil was tilled, the fertilizer added, the seeds planted (some in paper cups), the stakes put in and the watering began. Much to the gardener’s delight Raleigh has had 9.5” of rain since March! Today, the gardeners are beginning to pick their cucumbers, zucchini and peppers.

When the garden idea first began, Springmoor had thirty truckloads of dirt brought in. Twenty-six plots were created for individual resident’s gardens. Today, you will find twenty-two residents working early in the morning or late in the afternoon pulling weeds, watering or harvesting their fresh vegetables. Some share a space with a friend. Some share a space with a spouse. And one resident enjoys his time in the garden with his dog, Beau. A happy pair the two of them make when the sun is shining and the humidity is low.

In the gardens you will find a large variety of vegetables. This year you will see everything from tomatoes, peppers, squash, and zucchini, to corn, okra, watermelon, peas and cucumbers. There are a few herbs such as dill, cilantro and basil that will add a little flavor to the resident’s summer menu. The flowers are abundant too! It’s not hard to see the colorful sunflowers, marigolds, gladiolas, daylilies and impatiens. Each week, when the zinnias are blooming, the residents will bring a vase filled with these bright flowers to the business office. What a lovely display they make for our administrative offices! Asked what gardening tips they can share for a successful season, one resident replied, “having a partner is my secret but don’t tell anyone because I might have to share her!” Her garden expert’s name will remain a mystery to all of us. Another couple, still on our waiting-list, has started a garden this year too. They come three or four days a week to take an exercise class and then head out to their garden to tend to their vegetables.

Thom Morgan, our Landscape Director is responsible for getting thing started each season. This year he had several tall pines removed to provide more sunshine for everyone. With a good base of soil, he now only needs to till the garden plots, test for acid and the alkaline pH. For the gardens that are left open, he sews in a red top clover to provide nitrogen to the soil when it is tilled. He tells us this is called “laying fallow and it allows the soil to rest, so to speak.” The bluebird boxes are full which means the gardens are getting help with insect removal from the bluebird parents that are feeding their young. Continue reading →

 

Be Careful Out There! Safety in the Garden

By Thom Morgan, Springmoor Landscape Manager

Right now the weather doesn’t seem conducive to enjoying our outdoor hobbies such as hiking, bird watching or gardening. I’m writing this blog just after the February 16/17 “Event.”

The hot weather will come soon enough though, and in our rush to get back outside we might forget about some of the dangerous aspects of our outdoor hobbies.

I like to divide the dangers into two parts Man-made and Environmental. Continue reading →

 

Going Gray is a Good Thing – in the Garden!

By Thom Morgan, Springmoor landscape manager

As we get older, some of us consider the color gray a bad thing, but in the landscape, Gray is Great!

Gray goes well with any color, so you can’t go wrong using it in any color scheme. If used with the warm colored plants, gray plants seem to make the red, orange, and yellow plants really pop. If used with cool colors such as green, blue, and purple gray adds to the softer, more relaxing color scheme. Continue reading →

 

Visiting an Arboretum or Botanical Garden

By Thom Morgan, Springmoor Landscape Manager

If you are planning to travel this summer and have an interest in horticulture, you might want to go online and get a list of botanical gardens and arboretums along your route.

In Raleigh, we are fortunate to have the J.C. Raulston Arboretum, which is located on Beryl Road, just west of the NC State campus. It is managed by the Horticultural Sciences Department at NC State, and serves as a model for what an arboretum or botanical garden should do:  provide access and information about the widest possible variety of plants to the public.

Continue reading →