Kathy Van Mullekom
May 20, 2010
Aparna and Gautam Shah moved into their home in the Hilton area of Newport News eight years ago. At first, they spent all their time making changes inside.
Two years ago, they started making improvements outdoors and they haven't stopped since. They've created beds that now encompass more than 500 plants along their residential corner at Post Street and River Road. Chunks of concrete are recycled into an attractive retaining wall that showcases their multi-level design.
Dreams for a garden of their own started with a honeymoon in Paris, when they visited a park lush with varied plants and tall shade trees.
"It turned out to be a beautiful day for both of us to cherish lifelong," says Aparna, 41. She and Gautam, 44, have a daughter, Anya, 7.
"It was such an encouragement toward having a little garden of our own."
The couple shares their passion for plants during Hilton's Pink Flamingo Garden Tour 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 22. Admission is $5 a person; tickets will be sold at 96 Main St. The event includes a floral-arranging demonstration and raffle at 10 a.m., plus live music and light refreshments. The neighborhood's miles of sidewalks take you past interesting front yards while you walk to the private gardens open for tours. Aparna and Gautam will be at their home to answer questions about why they love to garden and why they've used certain plants.
"Gardening comes from a deep sense of nurturing and one's love for nature," says Aparna.
"We all have the nurturing quality in us, in greater or lesser quantities. It's just a matter of recognizing it and allowing enough time and energy for that element to grow.
"Gardening is a good way to use your creative energy, which keeps you healthier and inspired all the time. It's a wonderful way to utilize your senses in the most positive way – the sense of touch/feel, smell, sight, sound and sometimes even taste can come through gardening, which can make you feel grounded, peaceful and calm."
In their casual garden, peace and calm is seen in the many variegated plants that lighten the darkness of the shade. Perennials add seasonal interest.
"We wanted a free-flowing design that gives you a good view from all sides," says Aparna.
Aralia, a plant I discovered in the 1980s, is also Aparna's favorite. Aralia, often called Japanese fatsia or fatsia japonica is tropical looking with large, lobed green leaves that can be six to 14 inches wide. The plant needs shelter from sun, but is otherwise tough because it tolerates salt spray and air pollution. During a frigid winter, the plant droops to the ground but quickly regains its upright stance when temperatures rise. Late summer or early fall, the plant produces spikes of white flowers shaped and sized like golf balls. Fleshy black fruit ripens in winter. The plant prefers moist, acidic, organic soil but tolerates many soil conditions. It grows four to six feet wide and six to 10 feet tall but is easily pruned to control size. Fatsia will also grow in a large pot, and looks nice in built-in planters, especially against a wall or fence.
In addition to fatsia, the couple has used Encore azaleas, rhodendrons, gardenias, hydrangeas, hostas, viburnums, euonymus, nandinas, sweetspires and inkberries.
"It's been a great learning experience for us to understand natural materials, various plant types, their textures, colors and maintenance," says Aparna. "While selecting our plants, we also made sure that the ratio of perennials to evergreens was appropriate as we wanted the yard to look equally good during winter time."
Wanted: mole stories
Have you chased a mole with a baseball bat, only to swing at something you wanted to miss? If so, you may have the makings of a winning tale. Sweeney's, the maker of mole repellents, launches its annual nationwide contest for the best Mole Woe stories, or the "I hate moles because …" contest. One lucky winner gets a $500 Lowe's gift card. Submit a written or video entry and see last year's winners at http://www.wrsweeney.com or mail to Sweeney's "I Hate Moles Because …. Contest, 2244 Dunroyal Drive, St. Louis, MO 63131 by Aug. 31.
Get daily gardening tips at http://www.dailypress.com/digginblog and at http://www.HRHomeandGarden.com. Home and garden events appear in the Good Life section of the Sunday Daily Press. E-mail Kathy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
•Learn about "sooty mold" and see what big bird landed at Kathy Van Mullekom's house at http://www.dailypress.com/digginblog.
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