It is the week before Linda and Jeff Laine have scheduled a garden card party for 12 and they're touring their lawn, just a few blocks from the shore of Hoover Reservoir. Rain begins to lightly fall so they lead their guest to a nearby gazebo, which provides a bird's-eye view of their surrounding colorful garden.
Several times during the conversation, Linda says she gets chills talking about fortuitous moments in her gardening life. This is a woman who seems to have found her destiny in nurturing a glorious garden that provides spectacular colors from springtime into the fall.
The Laines are Long Island transplants who arrived in Columbus years ago when Jeff's job with American Electric Power brought him here. After a few years on one side of Westerville, the two designed and built a unique and spacious home in what was then a new development. The Laines remember their first year here-once the building was finished, all they could afford were a few basic landscape plants at the front of the house.
Today, though, cars slow down and passengers gawk as they cruise by. Linda gives frequent impromptu tours when neighborhood walkers stop by with out-of-town guests. Both she and Jeff field inquiries from neighborhood teens who want their prom and senior pictures done on their lawn. Frequently, small groups of gardening aficionados call, asking if it would be OK to get a tour-and perhaps schedule a meeting-in their backyard.
On Tuesday of this particular week, the Men's Garden Club of Central Ohio will tour and meet on the premises. Linda has branded herself the "Garden Angel" and spends most of the spring consulting with others-mainly in her own neighborhood-to choose and plant a flowering garden.
Outside of this home, neither of the Laines admit to having a particularly enriching landscape history. Jeff says he grew up in a home void of flowers; Linda remembers her mother having only a few in the yard. Linda also recalls moving "weeds" around the yards of their early homes, because they were flowering plants that at least had a bloom. At their first home, Linda planted sunflowers leading up the front walk, recalling the memories of the sunflower tunnel that was created. Later, she chuckles about planting corn along the same front walkway.
Now, she explains that nearly all the plants in their garden have started as the smallest plants she found at nurseries, as they were those that fit into her budget. On this particular day, the whirlwind tour that she gives in her lush environs involves dozens of hydrangeas, dahlias and other favored plants.
The dahlias, alone, have a fun story, according to Linda. A dahlia-loving gardening friend who was downscaling her home and lawn showed up with 17 plants and spent a few hours showing the Laines exactly how to dig their holes and plant them. This is one time that Linda says she gets chills just thinking of the experience. The friend permitted the Laines to add a smidgeon of Miracle-Gro-Linda's job-and pound in the 8-foot stakes that the dahlias required-Jeff's job. The stakes, Linda says, took them a while to get used to. They weren't that serious about gardening-these were the first stakes put into their garden.
Visitors to the Laine's front door are awed by the lush landscaping and it is a challenge to get past the plants. Linda is not a believer that plants need to be severely trimmed before the end of the season. She lets them go, deadheading her dahlias, not as she was taught by her dahlia society friends, but more sparingly, allowing the plants to grow to eight feet tall and beyond. A birdbath and a bubbling fountain also are in this area.
She and Jeff now joke about a few summers ago, when, after having a towering evergreen cut down, Jeff pierced a gas line while digging out remaining roots, nearly ruining the newly planted area. He remembers a call to the gas company and the response: "Evacuate the neighborhood."
Nonetheless, the incident ended without the neighborhood being evacuated. Jeff created a trellis that has replaced the tree. Plants now thrive around and over it. Today, the Laines are surprised that some prized dahlias involved in the gas line incident are taller than most of the others on their lawn. This part of the garden also features some Black-eyed Susans, August Moon hostas and dahlias: Vickie, Spartacus, Minerva Sunrise and Kidd's Climax.
"I do mainly succession-type gardening," explains Linda. That means she ensures that her mix of plants provide vivid, ongoing color throughout the entire warm season. "I love surprises in the garden every year," she adds.
Surprises occur when nature takes its course and the birds and the bees-and even sometimes the wind-spread pollen far and wide, encouraging flowers to grow where they have not been planned. This year, that means a few towering sunflowers are scattered across the garden farthest from the home-an area called the wedding garden, where her son was married a few years ago before 150 guests.
This garden, at first, went into place to obscure the view of a neighboring property. Blue Spruce trees provide the backdrop, while a purple leaf sandcherry adds deep color in late summer and ornamental grasses add texture throughout the year. Jeff created an obelisk for the space, similar to one that they had seen in the garden of Henry VIII in England. Linda leaves the wild-growing Queen Anne's Lace in place because the butterflies are drawn to it. Near the end of this garden are a couple of tomato plants. The Laines claim the tomatoes, parsley and dill (located near the kitchen), and a blueberry bush (elsewhere) as their only produce.
Linda tells a special story about her PeeGee hydrangea, too. This isn't the perfect specimen, she confesses. But, while working with a neighbor's garden, she purchased the perfect one for that lawn. Here, she's making do with second best.
Along the side of the house, in an alcove near an expansive new deck, she points out the various dahlias thriving in the late summer sun. This is an area perfectly located to watch plants from the indoors-when the Laines are not entertaining and enjoying their gardens outdoors, they're happily viewing them from inside the home. Linda has taken care to have well-landscaped areas situated near her favorite windows. And, when she's cooking, she delights in a mural on the backsplash behind the stove-an artist's rendering that reflects the garden at the front of the house.
The Laines have worked together to add varied sculptures to the garden surrounding their deck, which accommodates a newly purchased swim spa. Together, with the help of a Knox County artisan and his studio, they created a tall dragonfly sculpture made from iron. Nearby is a tower that Jeff created with their three grandchildren featuring shells and stones embedded in cement. Various plants fill this area, and Linda is happy to have the Dick Westfall dahlia growing nearby-officially named for the noted Marysville gardener. A garden memorial to their deceased parents, put into place with their children and grandchildren present, was given a special spot here, too.
Three various garden plots at the rear of the yard were eventually connected with arbors, built and erected by Jeff, who says he does not like to dig in dirt. Gardening areas here are outlined with stones given to them by a friend who lives along one of Dublin's golf courses. In an area under a pine tree, where few things will grow, Linda has added a fairy garden, complete with a miniature house.
All of this is easily viewed from the gazebo, which the couple has had for years and now adjoins the newer deck and private patio. Summer mornings are especially wonderful here, when nearby morning glories bare their color. As plants mature and reproduce, Linda still digs them up and positions them elsewhere on the lawn.
The surprises continue-Linda found some long-sought-after Little Lamb hydrangea while at an Inniswood plant sale. Although it's infrequent that she still purchases plants, she could not resist. Several times the Laine garden has been a part of the WesterFlora tour in mid-summer. Jeff smiles as he recalls overhearing a visitor during the 2009 tour say that she'd been in Monet's Garden in France but that she liked this one much better.
Still, though, there are many moments spent treasuring the gardens-whether it's in the quiet of the morning or at another time. During one Friday evening euchre game with neighbors, the Laines' backyard provided the perfect setting for the card game and dinner-Linda and Jeff served up London Broil and others brought along complementary dishes. One thing that the Laines have learned is that among the greatest joys of their lush garden is being able to share it with others.
Sherry Beck Paprocki is editor of Columbus Monthly Homes.