Get growing: How to leave a garden behind

  • Anne Deggendorf in the garden she is leaving behind on Round Hill Road, Northampton. COURTESY OF RUSS RYMER

  • The back corner of Anne Deggendorf’s garden features kousa dogwood, hydrangea, roses and spirea. COURTESY OF RUSS RYMER

  • Rose and daylily flowers in Anne Deggendorf’s garden on Round Hill Road, Northampton. COURTESY OF RUSS RYMER

  • Fragrant Asiatic lily and pink echinacea in Anne Deggendorf’s garden on Round Hill Road, Northampton. COURTESY OF RUSS RYMER

For the Gazette
Published: 7/25/2019 3:39:04 PM

There comes a time in the life of almost every gardener when she must say goodbye to a beloved garden. In a couple of weeks, Anne Deggendorf will be leaving her garden in Northampton that she has been tending for the past 15 years. “I have left many gardens behind,” she said, explaining the family has moved often to accommodate the career of her husband, Buck. “This is the longest we’ve ever stayed in one place.”

The Deggendorfs live in a condominium in a 1909 clapboard house on Round Hill Road. The house was once part of Clark School for the Deaf. According to Deggendorf, the backyard had been a basketball court for the school. After the court was torn out, very little had been done to improve the space. “Basically there were some shrubs and trees when I got here, but there were lots of empty spaces that I thought could be filled nicely,” she said.

The garden is a common area for the residents of the four condos in the building. “Anyone can contribute their efforts here. But most of the condo owners work full time, so I took on the role of ‘chairman of the landscaping committee of one.’ For me this is a luxury after retirement,” Deggendorf said. She worked for many years as an IT manager for AT&T. Until last year, she gardened collaboratively with another resident, who has moved away. “When we started 14 years ago, we wanted to have a garden that would fit in with the existing bones and structures that were here. We added plants that would work and dug more beds. He loved roses, so there are quite a few rosebushes here.”

The gardens have gradually expanded to flow naturally around the edges of the property as well as in more intimate spaces close to the house. Deggendorf pointed to a lush row of apricot and yellow daylilies in front of the parking area. “This was just a scruffy patch of grass,” she recalled. “I said to myself, ‘this will not stand!’ So I started digging and brought over plants from other places in the garden.”

Like all successful gardens, this one reflects the tastes of its creator. Deggendorf has filled the beds with her favorite plants, including hydrangeas and daylilies. “I love hydrangeas because they bloom in late summer after other shrubs have finished blooming. And they’re beautiful and easy. Nothing touches them.” Her garden contains many interesting varieties of daylilies. Her most recent acquisition, called “no-name lily,” has small, fringed, pale pink flowers.

“Daylilies float when they’re in bloom,” she said.

“Lots of flowers have finished blooming,” Deggendorf said. “But there’s always more coming to replace what’s passed.” Fragrant, pale yellow Asiatic lilies are on the verge of blooming next to a patch of fluffy pink echinacea and deep-lavender balloon flowers. The sunniest spot in the garden is home to herbs, including basil, rosemary and tarragon. Residents may help themselves to these.

The backyard is partly shaded by several large trees including a white oak and a yew, both around 100 years old. Under the trees, Deggendorf has planted hostas, including mini varieties. “I love these,” she said. “They fit perfectly into nooks and crannies and they don’t spread too much.” For shady spots, she also uses Japanese painted fern, astilbe, asarum and epimedium.

Deggendorf describes herself as a “mostly self-taught” gardener. She volunteered for five years as a tour guide and receptionist at the Smith College Botanic Garden. “I learned so much when I was working there. You can get so many ideas just by walking through Smith’s gardens.” She is especially proud of her tree peonies that she grew from seed given to her by a woman at Smith. “It took a while,” she said, laughing. “I can see why they’re so expensive.”

Deggendorf tries to garden organically as much as possible. She refuses to use chemicals such as Roundup. “We have grandchildren, and I love birds,” she said. She uses vinegar to kill weeds that grow between paving stones, and neem oil to kill pests on the roses.

Like all experienced gardeners, Deggendorf knows the value of patience and flexibility. “If a plant doesn’t do well in one spot, I take it out and put it somewhere else,” she said. “As my husband, who was a marine, says: ‘Adapt, Improvise, Overcome!’”

Gardens as collectionsof memories

Deggendorf’s garden is more than simply a collection of plants, however. It’s a collection of memories. “When you move, ” she said, “you take your favorites, the ones you’re emotionally attached to, and look for a new place for them.”

Many of the plants in Deggendorf’s garden evoke the spirits of beloved people and places. Deggendorf said that when her mother died in 2000, she took some special plants from her mother’s garden in Burton, Ohio. These included Japanese anemones, tiger lilies and several kinds of daylilies. “These are at least 20 years old,” she says, pointing to a patch of bright yellow daylilies from her mother’s garden. “They always remind me of what a nice garden she had.”

When Deggendorf moved the plants from Ohio, she didn’t have a place for them, so she planted them in her daughter’s garden in Conway. When her daughter and son-in-law moved to the Bahamas for five years, she brought the plants to her then-newly established garden on Round Hill Road. Now many of the plants will move again, this time to Millbrook, New York, where the couple has recently relocated to take teaching positions in two local schools. Anne and Buck plan to live part of the year in Millbrook and the rest of the time at their house in Bonita Springs, Florida.

Other plants with storied pasts include a couple of dwarf Japanese maples that are planted in a garden that surrounds a firepit where condo residents often gather in the evenings. A weeping red Japanese maple had originally been given as a wedding present to a couple who lived on the third floor. “It had been an indoor tree, but it wasn’t doing well,” Deggendorf said. “So we put it in the garden and it’s been very happy.” On the other side of the firepit is a green Japanese maple that her daughter brought in a pot from California in a U-Haul truck.

Birds are a major presence in the garden. Two birdbaths provide water on hot, dry days. Deggendorf said she recently saw a crow dipping a dry bread crust into the water. There are also a resident catbird and plenty of cardinals and blue jays. Deggendorf said that the firepit garden was originally planned as a bird sanctuary. The recently-added firepit does not dissuade birds from flocking there, attracted by several fruit-bearing shrubs, including doublefile viburnums, now decked with clusters of tiny, bright red berries. Tucked in among the shrubs are more daylilies, with small, deep orange flowers. Bending down to inspect the blooms more closely, she said, “there are little hidden treasures everywhere.”

On the other side of the house is a patio garden that Deggendorf said is the perfect spot for morning coffee and afternoon reading. The area is shaded by several trees including a curly willow tree that started out as a twig in a vase many years ago. “When I had my appendix out, a friend brought me an orchid and a willow twig in a vase,” Deggendorf said. “We were living in Philadelphia at the time, before we moved to Northampton. I saw there were roots growing on the willow twig so I planted it. It grew into a huge tree. I cut a skinny branch from that tree and stuck it in the ground here. Now look at it!”

Passing the baton

“While leaving gardens at any house is indeed difficult to imagine,” said Deggendorf, she knows this garden “will be in good hands.” She added, “I knew I wouldn’t be here forever. My goal is to create lovely gardens that can be enjoyed today and by future generations of residents.” She is thrilled that Russ Rymer, a writer and professor at Smith, will take over the garden when she leaves: “I think Russ will do a wonderful job.” She has been instructing him over the summer about the different plants and what keeps them happy. “Russ has taken the No-Round-up pledge!” she said, laughing. “Russ watches what I’m doing. I think he knows a lot more about gardening than he lets on,” she said. She has given him her garden portfolio, which includes all her notes and her landscape reports that she gives to the condo board twice a year.

Rymer joined us in the garden as we finished our tour. He is eager, though perhaps a bit daunted, to step into the shoes of such a gifted gardener as Deggendorf. He is planning to plant a redbud tree behind the house. Deggendorf is obviously pleased by this gesture of commitment to the garden’s continuing legacy.

As we chatted, they discussed where the new tree might be planted. It was clear that they were on the same wavelength, as friends and fellow gardeners dedicated to carrying on the labor of love that is a garden.

Mickey Rathbun, an Amherst-based lawyer turned journalist, has written the Get Growing column since 2016.Upcoming garden events

Farmers and the Land Dinner

It’s not too late to sign up to attend the farm-to-table harvest dinner being held at Red Fire Farm in Granby on Aug. 1. The event, sponsored by Kestrel Land Trust, will begin at 5:30 p.m. with drinks and appetizers, followed by a dinner prepared by Wheelhouse Catering. Hosts Ryan and Sarah Voiland will share the story of their farm, and representatives from Kestrel Trust and CISA will discuss their efforts to support local farms and preserve farmland. $75 per ticket. For more information and to RSVP, go to kestreltrust.org


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