For three Central Ohioans, gardening is a passion more than simply a hobby.

Our reasons for gardening are nearly endless: We do it to relax, exercise, beautify the neighborhood, spend time with family, grow food or all of the above. For three Central Ohioans, gardening is a passion more than simply a hobby. These gardeners have found ways to triumph over Ohio clay, kept trees cozy and warm through winter, learned as many plant names as a biology major and, miraculously, made Southern-soil-suited flowers bloom. And though each has various reasons for spending countless hours in the yard, one thing is certain: The hard work has paid off. Here are three gorgeous gardens worthy of a blue ribbon.

The Hosta Paradise

For Dick and Jeanne Barbee, gardening means growing hundreds of hostas. The pair grows big ones with striped green leaves, diminutive ones with wavy chartreuse leaves, several with the signature heart-shaped leaves and others with colorful names like Guacamole and Blue Angel. And, while planting, watering and weeding their 700-plant hosta collection, the Barbees have grown something more: memories, shared victories and many other cherished experiences that nurture their 54-year marriage.

Jeanne was the first to fall for hostas. In the late 1990s, their daughter introduced her to the shade-loving plants and invited her to a local hosta club meeting, where she was tempted with an impressive catalog of the plants. It's easy to understand the appeal of this perennial favorite; with 7,000 varieties, it's one of the most diverse.

Early on, Jeanne was slow to purchase many of the hostas. She considered them pricey, and Dick was busy running the family's dairy farm. She pursued hosta gardening independently and modestly at first, expanding her collection by dividing and exchanging "friendship plants" with other hosta gardeners.

In 1997, as he moved toward retirement and Jeanne started to achieve success in showing hostas, Dick began to take greater interest.

"There are so many different kinds, and I enjoy the competition of showing them," says Dick, who showed dairy cows at county and state fairs for years. Now, he says, hosta showing has given him new life.

In 2006, the couple sold their suburban home and built a new house on a 45-acre Christmas tree farm they owned in Orient, just south of Grove City. Here, they moved 500 plants to grow around their new house and in the shady beds beneath the remaining evergreens. They also added fast-growing redbud trees for more shade and continued to expand their hosta collection. Along the sunnier driveway, Jeanne planted daffodils, peonies and daylilies.

During the first year, the two wearily dragged hoses around to water plants, so Dick studied drip-irrigation systems and installed one the following season. The system's network of tubes delivers water to the base of each plant and, in turn, helps minimize water spots, conserves water and reduces slug problems.

One year, Dick surprised Jeanne with a water feature he completed while she was away at a church retreat. Jeanne says before leaving she joked, "You can dig my own pond for me," never guessing Dick would take her seriously.

"He's that kind of guy that just goes at something," she says. "There's no procrastination about it; he just gets it done."

Over the years, the two have continued to fill their garden with a variety of hostas. Dick prefers large cultivars like Victory and Elegance, while Jeanne favors mid-sized, variegated ones, including Patriot and Independence. She won Best of Show for her Independence leaf at the American Hosta Society's 2013 national convention in Milwaukee.

"That's a once-in-a-lifetime event for a hosta grower," Dick says. Jeanne attributes the perfectly marked leaf to a lot of luck, but Dick explains it also takes plenty of meticulous care and protection from leaf damage by slugs, deer, late frosts and hail storms.

The two share the workload and amenably divide the garden chores.

"Dick does a very good job at managing pests, watering and fertilizing," says Jeanne, who affectionately calls Dick her "plant manager."

"I'm more likely to weed and pull slugs," she adds.

Dick's farming background has also parlayed well into hosta gardening. After years of growing corn and soybeans, he says he understands plants' needs.

Still eager to learn more, the Barbees have become active in the Central Ohio Hosta Society, for which they serve as show judges and officers. As Dick completed a term as president in 2014, Jeanne replaced him as the society's new president.

"I helped him as president," Jeanne says. "Now, he is helping me."

Together, the two enjoy participating in the society's garden tours, hosta auctions and workshops. They also act as ambassadors for recruiting new members and graciously debunk beginners' myths. Jeanne says many think hostas are exclusively for shade gardens.

"While hostas grow best in dappled shade, they will also grow in the sun." In fact, she says, hostas all need some sun and won't thrive in heavy shade. When grown in full sun, she explains, hostas may look different-perhaps more yellow-than the typically deep-green plant grown in the shade.

Another myth? Hostas will spread. Jeanne assures beginners hostas don't spread but grow into larger clumps that can be divided after three years and transplanted as needed. She notes gardeners should remember to clean shovel blades with bleach to prevent spreading diseases when splitting the plants.

So, is it always Eden in this couple's hosta garden? The pair agrees the only disagreement comes when it's hosta-buying time.

"He picks his, and I pick mine, then we eliminate some," Jeanne says with a smile. "Sometimes, we have to hold each other back. But that doesn't always work, since we both love hostas so much." –Teresa Woodard

The Educational Oasis

If you get the chance, you should stop by Joe Stewart's Groveport garden. In fact, he encourages visitors.

"My philosophy is this," says Stewart, who shares gardening duties with wife Mariann. "It's an educational garden. There are no gates, no locks. Anyone's welcome to stop in and check it out."

The only place guests can't roam, he says, is near the fence if the neighbor's dogs are outside. "I come home often, and people will be just looking around. I love it!"

If he's home, Stewart is happy to give tours. He channels at once a historian and a botanist as he meanders through his labyrinth of a backyard, sharing stories about where he found a tree or who gifted him a seedling. There's the weeping redbud he found for $40, a Parrotia persica he was hoping would survive last year's winter but is no longer healthy ("It hurts losing this one," he says), a Myrtle Beach crape myrtle gifted by his son, a magnolia tree still holding onto pink late-summer blooms.

He also shares, proudly, how he cares for each tree, shrub and flower. Take the crape myrtle: In the winter, he coddles this tree inside the garage, potted in soil surrounded by C9 Christmas lights. "I've never lost a crape myrtle to winter," he says with pride. "I baby these guys, but it's not work, really. I love it."

Then, of course, there are Stewart's conifers.

"I fell in love with conifers in 2000," he says. "When I lived in my home in Upper Arlington, I had a beautiful summer garden. But in the wintertime, there was just nothing there. So, I added the conifers to have some year-round interest. Right now, I have some that are green, and they'll be bronze in the wintertime and then a really beautiful yellow."

Stewart, who finds most of his plants during sales at Seeley's Landscape Nursery and Oakland Nursery, has more than 100 conifers. "Some of these (plants) may seem ugly to people, but I'm into plants that are unique," he says. There's little rhyme or reason to his garden's layout, but that's part of its charm.

To encourage education, each plant is labeled with a small card noting its common and scientific name, as well as the date and location of its purchase. "Take my bleeding heart," Stewart says. "I have four different plants in the garden with the common name 'bleeding heart.' So, if you want to see one, you have to get more specific."

Stewart named his garden Southernville Arboretum, a nod to the nickname the onetime Upper Arlington and Hilliard resident gave Groveport when he and Mariann began dating.

"I knew she had to at least have an acceptance of this stuff," Stewart jokes about his hobby. "But she has a passion for it, too. It's just incredible."

Other than the maples, which have been rooted here for years, the two planted everything together. Thanks to their lawn's past life as a cornfield, the soil is more forgiving than most gardens in Central Ohio.

Though they both work in the garden-nearly year-round-it's Stewart's eclectic influence that's most striking: varied heights, colors, textures; a winding maze of step stones encouraging getting lost among the flora; carved garden art scattered here and there; conch shells filled with emerald green hens and chicks; a "Joe Stewart Boulevard" sign hidden amongst the plants; a recycled barrel overflowing with colorful begonias. On a breezy day, you'll hear little more than the tinker of wind chimes scattered throughout the yard.

"I was a med tech at Ohio State for years, and everything was very strict," Stewart says. "This variety allows for the creative part of me to run wild. I just sort of walk around and decide to put plants wherever.

"I'm running out of space at this point," he continues. "If I find something better, something else is just going to have to go."

Stewart's active in the local gardening community-he works in six gardens in addition to his own-and benefits from the network. His pavers, for example, came from Nine Trees Landscaping, which contacted the Dublin Gardening Club about leftover materials. "All I had to do was drive out to Hilliard to pick them up," Stewart says. "They don't all match, but I think that works here.

"Working in these gardens basically pays for my plant acquisitions and my water bill-and a couple vacations," continues Stewart, who belongs to Dublin and Groveport's gardening clubs as well as the Gardeners Club of Central Ohio. "This fall will be the first time I haven't been the president of a group in 12 years."

Speaking of water, Stewart's never invested in a sprinkler system. "I'd have to restrict myself by keeping plants with certain water needs together," he says. "I don't want to do that. So I water by hand."

An impressive collection of succulents is nestled into gravel along the side of the house, not far from cherry and plum trees, as well as a monkey puzzle tree with spiky little leaves. Vegetables are planted in the very back of the yard-thanks to his two plots at the local community garden, Stewart has "tomatoes for days"-while tall Ravenna grasses sway in the breeze near a back corner of the garden. A seven son flower, with lush white blooms, is a major hummingbird and bee attractor. To attract bluebirds, mealworms sit atop a post near the Ravenna grass.

"I haven't seen any yet," he says, "but having this open grass … I keep hoping." –Jenny Rogers

The Country Garden

All winter, Diana Daily sits bundled indoors while she sews beautiful quilts. Come spring, this talented quilter is busy working in the gardens around her 200-year-old farmhouse, where she's stitched together a glorious garden tapestry of blooms and vintage finds. This year, golden daffodils and globe-shaped alliums will bloom under flowering crabapple trees. Later, a tapestry of daylilies, daisies, coneflowers and phlox will unfold in the bucolic landscape.

While Daily has lived at this home near Sunbury since 1959-her late husband, Bernard, was born here-she began gardening here only in the last two decades. Earlier years, she says, were spent raising three children, working at their school, running a home-based craft business and supporting her husband's dairy business. As a child, Daily appreciated beautiful gardens like her grandmother's deep perennial gardens in Bexley or her mother's blowsy peony rows in Upper Arlington. But as a young woman, this city-girl-gone-country had only dutifully tended a vegetable garden while her mother-in-law farmed next door.

Daily's gardening interest was spurred in 1995, when a neighbor asked her husband for help with farm work in exchange for landscaping. The neighbor created the family's first bed-located around their bell post-and filled it with perennials. New to gardening, Daily asked, "What is a perennial?" and earnestly began her venture into gardening.

She began by filling beds around the house and later expanded plantings around the farm buildings. Bernard offered to build a water feature inspired by one they admired in a magazine; he dug out a pond alongside the chicken house, trimmed it with stone salvaged from the basement floor and added a waterfall of original stone slabs from his mother's home. Today, water lilies, elephant ears, papyrus and frogs thrive in the oasis. Daily has since filled surrounding beds with swaths of perennials including phlox, salvia and monarda, as well as self-sowing annuals like cleome, black-eyed Susan and queen-of-the-prairie. Mirrored windows cleverly installed on the side of the chicken house reflect and magnify the garden splendor.

Bernard passed away in 2005, and Daily continues to care for the gardens with the help of family and garden-club friends. Her son Jeff, who lives on the farm with his family, helped her create a sculpture of rusted wheel rims to pay tribute to her husband. "He liked putting farm things in the garden," she says.

Other antique finds include an old pump, a pot that's been transformed into a fountain and a trough converted to a planter filled with calla lilies, petunias and hostas.

For Daily, every season brings a new undertaking. One spring, it was a whimsy garden along the driveway to display a recycled wine-bottle tree sculpture, an old chair with a planted seat and a cement bust with hair-like sedum trailing from the top. Another season, she created a miniature garden along the side of the home. She now has a "Jamestown" village of 10 homes intermixed with pint-sized plants of thyme, blue star creeper, dwarf conifers and miniatures.

Next on the to-do list was a dilapidating corn crib.

"Years ago, I planted bittersweet and wisteria vines-bad idea," Daily says. The aggressive vines climbed the sides of the granary and started to weaken the structure. When Jeff threatened to bulldoze the building, Daily proposed removing the vines and recruited her family's help with the task. Today, the renovated corn crib-turned-gazebo is a garden standout planted with dahlias, sunflowers and hanging baskets of petunias and mandevilla. Nearby, she playfully sows larger annuals like sunflowers and castor beans near a 6-foot metal tree sculpture and its 10 bird houses and feeders.

"I garden by the seat of my pants," Daily says. "I just try things, and if a plant doesn't work in one place, it gets moved to another."

In addition to her experiment, she says she's learned a lot from her work with at Harlem Township Garden Club. "You learn so much from a good garden club," she says, noting the club's many garden tours, workshops and opportunities to exchange tips and plants.

In mid-2013, Daily's family gathered to install a large quilt pattern on the side of her barn. A Christmas gift from her family, the large metal panel is painted with the Alternate Ohio Star.

"It's a longtime favorite quilt pattern and perfect for an Ohio barn," she says. Perfect, too, for the backdrop of this quilter's lovely garden. –Teresa Woodard