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A Two-Garden Lifestyle

October 29, 2010
Entrance to the back garden in Maine (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Container planting and small flower bed in Gettysburg (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

Recently, when I posted photos from both my Maine and Pennsylvania gardens for bloom day (see The Last Flowers of Fall), several readers left comments along the lines of “I can’t imagine how you keep up with two gardens; I can barely manage one.” This led me to reflect on why I experience my two gardens as an abundance of riches rather than an overwhelming responsibility.

A GARDEN and a garden

Because my two gardens are not equal in importance, I don’t feel torn between them. My Maine garden is very much my main garden, and my garden in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is a supplement. In truth, I think of my garden in Maine as “the garden” and my Gettysburg garden as a “garden fix” to protect me from garden withdrawal during the months when my faculty position at Gettysburg College takes me away from Maine. My garden in Gettysburg is very small; all the different garden areas combined would fit into one medium-size flower bed in my Maine garden. I keep extensive records about my Maine garden, documenting plant acquisitions, bloom times, notes for maintenance tasks and ideas for changes; I don’t have anything remotely resembling this for my garden in Gettysburg, because I’m not emotionally attached to it in the same way. In addition, I haven’t made the same kind of investment in each garden. In Maine, I created every part of the garden from scratch; and because my “soil” there is something very close to beach sand, I’ve put a lot of back-breaking labor into double-digging each flower bed in order to incorporate lots of manure and compost and turn the sand into garden soil. In Gettysburg, all the planting areas but one already existed when I moved in; only one flower bed has been created new, and even there, I simply worked some composted manure into the top few inches of the existing soil.

Gardens Divided in Time

Geranium x cantabrigiense Biokovo blooms profusely in late spring in both gardens (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Having two gardens that are separated by 600 miles would be a greater challenge if my gardens were not  divided in time as well as in space.  Garden season in my Maine garden is primarily from June through August, whereas my Gettysburg garden has a lot going on in April and May and then again in August and September. When I’m enjoying spring in southern Pennsylvania – cleaning up my little garden, enjoying the cheerful blooms of spring bulbs, planting annuals – I’m not missing an opportunity to do these things in Maine; there’s still snow on the ground there. When school ends in mid-May, I head up to Maine in time to experience spring all over again. Before I had a garden in Gettysburg, I hated leaving Maine in late August. Now, while It’s still hard to drive away from a garden that is full of blooms, my sadness is balanced by the anticipation of what awaits me in my Gettysburg garden and the realization that I still have two months of garden enjoyment ahead of me there.

Frequent Trips Home to Maine

The academic calendar includes periodic breaks when classes are not in session and I can go home to Maine and keep in touch with my garden there. I budget money for plane fare and rental car costs about four times per year. Combined with long breaks when I drive to Maine, these quick flying trips allow me to get home almost every month of the year. This is particularly important in fall, when I can use my visits in September and October to take care of chores like cutting back the Siberian irises, putting away garden hoses, and getting the screenhouse and deck furniture taken down for winter. My month-long break in Maine at Christmas does not provide much opportunity for spending time in the garden, which is usually under snow; but my March visit, when the sun is getting strong again and daytime temperatures sometimes get up above freezing, provides an opportunity to glimpse the end of winter, with the steady drip-drip-drip of snow melting off the roof, and hints of green as the snowpack recedes away from the foundation of the house. I don’t usually get up to Maine in April,despite a long weekend at Easter, because this is a time of spring glory in southern Pennsylvania.  But this year, with Easter coming at the end of April and my teaching schedule such that I could get away for a week, I’m looking forward to an early start on spring clean-up in the Maine garden.

A Low Maintenance Gardening Style

I tend toward a low-maintenance style of gardening, and this is probably critical in making my two-garden lifestyle pleasurable. I’m not someone who yearns for rare plants that are difficult to grow in my climate. Instead I  rely on a mixture of native plants and exotics that are well-suited to my conditions. If a plant I find attractive doesn’t want to grow in my garden, I forget about it and move on to something else. Coreopsis verticillata 'Golden Showers' is one of many easy-care plants that thrive in my Maine garden (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) If a plant thrives in my garden, I plant more of it (often by dividing the original plants). The only care I provide for my Gettysburg garden when I am away in summer is to pay someone to turn on the soaker hose for an hour once every week or two if the weather has been hot and dry. In Maine, I spend a lot of time and energy preparing new flower beds so that they will be hospitable homes for flowering perennials. But once that is done, my maintenance consists primarily of once-a-year weeding and mulching, picking off pests like beetles, and applications of organic fertilizer for heavy feeders like peonies and delphinium. This relaxed style of gardening means that I spend more time out enjoying each garden than out working in the garden.

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I would love to hear from others who have two gardens. Why do you live a two-garden lifestyle, and how do you make it work for you?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. sequoiagardens permalink
    October 30, 2010 1:41 am

    Hi Jean – Back in the days when I commuted to Johannesburg 400km away I had a paved terrace of some 40 sq m (or 40 sq yards) a good two stories up on a very steep site. It was like a large balcony, really, up among the tree tops, and I grew almost all my plants in pots – at least 25 of them. It was also a ‘fix’. Although I spent my time laying out gardens for other people, that was not gardening for the element of time was almost completely lacking: I would plant 100s of plants and depart, sometimes forever! Seasons were very similar and gardening conditions easy, Johannesburg having perhaps the kindest and most temperate climate in the world of any major city, unless there is severe drought. I had almost no frost (high up and protected on a sunny slope) and no excessive heat and regular summer afternoon thunderstorms. An automated irrigation system saw to the watering whether I was there or not. Someday I will post on that garden!

  2. October 30, 2010 8:26 am

    Hi Jean, I have two gardens, one in Illinois and one in Wisconsin. I invest very little time in the Wisconsin garden and watering has to come from the rain. Sometimes it amazes me with how good it looks with little care.

    I planned this garden with xeric plants, coneflowers, dianthus, sedums, nepetas, salvia, coreopsis and daylilies. I also have three Knockout Roses, which do much better in Wisconsin than at my home.

    We need to go up there soon to put away the outdoor furniture and ready the house and garden for winter.


  3. October 30, 2010 3:08 pm

    aloha jean,

    i also started a potager garden on an acre with the hopes of moving there eventually, well it got the best of me considering that there is no water…rain is sporadic in this part of hawaii and it got the best of me…hopefully the fruit trees are surviving…but the palms are hardy and i’m scared of checking it out-its been over two months since i’ve visited – i’m scared 😦

  4. October 30, 2010 3:22 pm

    I like how you’ve broken things up along the lines of the main garden and the less important one, the high maintenance versus the low. Even in my single space I have zones that receive constant attention and others–like a shared easement behind the house–that might get tidies occasionally but not slathered with the same kind of attention. Lacking indentured servants it’s the only way to keep things going…

  5. October 30, 2010 4:05 pm

    Following on from James, I guess I could say the rose garden gets daily attention. Weekly watering in summer. And the rest gets, Oh dear, needs some work. Jean your gardens seem to be efficiently, and happily, organised.

  6. gardeningasylum permalink
    October 30, 2010 5:04 pm

    Jean, I have only one home garden, but I oversee gardens at the senior housing in my town. They are planted with low maintenance spring bulbs and perennials, but even so, I’m not sure I could manage without the rota of garden club volunteers to keep up with the weeding and deadheading. Thanks for the details of how you make it work – it’s clearly a labor of love 🙂

  7. October 30, 2010 8:05 pm

    Hi jean, it seems like you have the best of both worlds! You are well organized, and I’ sure that helps, as well as your emphasis on low maintenance plants. I have only one garden, and in our climate gardening can be done almost year round. Mine is a large space, and the answer for me is definitely low maintenance!

  8. October 31, 2010 2:31 pm

    I think the biggest bonus to your two gardens, seems to be that your planting season is extended significantly by having the garden in Gettysburg. We’ve had two gardens in the past, but that’s usually when we were selling one house, and moving into another. I can honestly say I found it exhausting, especially the house for sale. Traveling back and forth, making sure everything was ‘just so’. Of course here I feel like I have multiple gardens because of how the property is arranged, but fortunately most of it wildland, and I’m very happy to leave it so!

  9. November 1, 2010 3:39 pm

    My company, Teich Garden Systems, has many customers who have installed our gardens at their weekend/vacation homes. They are not there to tend the gardens during the week. They are able to enjoy the bounty from the gardens on weekends while not worrying about watering or weeding during the week.

    It is another way to handle the 2 garden situation.

    Jared Finkelstein
    Teich Garden Systems

  10. November 3, 2010 9:17 pm

    I so admire that you have two gardens, extend the season, and have time to enjoy them both. What a great schedule. I only have one garden for the time being but in building my potager it seems more like two. The potager requires a bit more work, but you can eat it so I would think that makes up for the difference. I, too, don’t like to baby my gardens and have gravitated towards planting hardy and native varieties. Although, hopefully I may soon be the part owner of a getaway in Florida. A condo, but I am told if you plant native to Florida they will take care of your landscape! Guess I know what I’ll be reading up on this winter. So enjoy both views of your garden.

  11. November 11, 2010 5:56 am

    Jean, now I will have a two garden lifestyle. I always thought that I did, but having a few containers on my terrace in Toronto does not really count. They pretty well take care of themselves, now that I have finally figured out the best plants for my very shady terrace. Now having a garden in Barbados and still keeping Kilbourne Grove will really test me. We have hired a firm to look after the house and cut the grass, but the rest will be up to me. I have scheduled two visits home, spring and fall, so I am going to be working hard while I am there. It will just have to take care of itself all summer, lots of mulch will help with the weeds, and I have never watered anyway, it is survival of the fittest at KG.

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