October 23, 2011

Maine Gardener: Gorgeous and hardy: The garden of the future?

By Tom Atwell

The Yardscaping demonstration garden has been completed, after 10 years of planning and a bit more than four years after the first plants went in.

click image to enlarge

The Yardscaping demonstration garden, which covers about 2.5 acres and has been 10 years in the making, is now an award winner.

Tom Atwell photo

The garden covers about 2.5 acres between Interstate 295 and Back Cove, just east of the athletic fields that are closer to the parking lot on Preble Street Extension, and it already has won an award.

Gary Fish of the Maine Board of Pesticide Control, who coordinated construction of the garden, said the garden's purpose is to show homeowners that they can have an attractive grounds using mostly native, drought-tolerant plants that require little or no fertilizer or irrigation.

The garden serves that purpose no matter what kind of house and garden situation a person has. There is an urban garden, an urban/suburban garden, a suburban/rural garden and a rural garden.

"We've got an area closer to the soccer field that is a finer, urban garden, with more non-native materials" Fish said. "As you move east toward the other end of the project, you are going into almost all native plants."

The demarcation line is a trail that goes through the garden from the orginal Back Cove trail to the new one the Yardscaping group installed. East of there it is all native plants or cultivars of native plants if the natives were not available, Fish said.

When plans for the garden were first announced in December 2004, one of the items that intrigued me was the use of no-mow grass that grows no more than 6 inches a year in part of the garden as well as low-mow and Yardscaping mix grasses in other parts. When I walked through the gardens, though, I couldn't see the no-mow grass.

"The no-mow is there, but I haven't been able to get them not to mow it," Fish said. "It's been hard enough to get them not to mow the wildflower area. I've been seeding that area every fall or early winter for the past three years."

A series of signs throughout the garden explains the purpose of the demonstration garden, and shows a few pictures and descriptions of plants that are used extensively -- some that tolerate drought, salt, insects and disease; some that are Maine natives and others that work as ground cover.

One sign is basically a map showing the five different kind of grasses that have been planted and what their benefits are.

At yardscaping.org/demo/portland.htm there is a list of all the plants installed in the garden, set up according to the year they were planted.

Next summer there are plans to create a tool that will make it easier for people to incorporate the ideas in these gardens to their homes.

"The plan," Fish said, "is to use YouTube for this particular site and have an actual video tour, describing the plant and explaining why we chose that plant for this particular site."

Fish said that 85 percent to 90 percent of the garden was installed as originally planned. They had to give up one area of rain-garden plants, because it turned out that area got hit by extra-high tides and did not work.

The award the garden has won actually was given to Fish: the Gold Leaf Award for Outstanding Landscape Beautification Activities, to be presented by the New England Council of the International Society of Arboriculture. It will be presented at the group's annual conference Monday in Bath. Fish said that the award really belongs to all of the volunteers who worked on the project.

The garden has been popular with the public as well as the judges, Fish believes. Whenever he has been working on the garden, people walking by tell him how much they love it -- and a few have even volunteered to help.

The Yardscaping garden is just one of two demonstration projects in the area. On the other side of the Back Cove parking lot is a rain garden, owned by the City of Portland but designed and paid for by the engineering firm Stantec. Fish said the two projects are a good mix, and that the Yardscaping group had considered a rain garden, but found it would be too expensive.

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at: tatwell@pressherald.com

 

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