Gardens are teeming with sights, sounds and tactile experiences. They’re meant to be used and enjoyed, not merely gazed at from a distance, says University of Delaware Master Gardener J.W. Wistermayer.
So, even though Wistermayer spends 5 to 10 hours a week tending to the New Castle County Master Gardener Native Plant Teaching Garden, he just chuckles when he sees that the garden’s plant identification tags have been rearranged.
“When tags are out of place, I know it means that kids are getting in here and discovering the garden,” says Wistermayer. “Our garden is next to the university’s Laboratory Preschool and Early Learning Center. At drop-off and pick-up times, kids and parents come look for new blooms, check to see if birds are in the bird boxes, and listen to the wind chimes. There is one particular path through three-foot-high plants that little kids love because they’re surrounded and hidden by all the foliage.”
The Native Plant Teaching Garden gets kids excited about plants and nature but its primary purpose is to promote the use of native plants in home landscapes, whether that landscape is several containers on a city apartment deck or an acre-plus in suburbia.
If you’re stumped about what to do with a spot where nothing grows, or how to jazz up a boring landscape bed, the Native Plant Teaching Garden is the place to go. Located on the grounds of the New Castle County Cooperative office in Newark, the garden features several distinct areas, including a butterfly garden, a rain garden, a meadow, a perennial border, and a foundation landscape planting.
The Master Gardeners also maintain a fruit and vegetable teaching garden, and a compost demonstration site, both of which are located behind the county office.
If you had to sum up the Native Plant Teaching Garden in one word, it would have to be “unexpected.” The garden features a fresh, exciting design that proves without a doubt that “native plant” isn’t synonymous with dull.
The foundation landscape bed, running the length of the county office, is a perfect example of this unexpected nature. While many of us select the same-old pink azaleas or red-blossomed dwarf cherries to line our homes, the Native Plant Teaching Garden’s foundation planting is full of unexpected textures, colors and plant choices. Such as the feathery foliage and steel blue flowers of threadleaf bluestar. Or the brushy blooms of fothergilla, which will sport fiery foliage in fall. There’s nothing formal or structured about either of these native species, yet they work well in this foundation planting.
Another unexpected touch is the green roof on top of the garden arbor. Covered with vegetation, this green roof absorbs water and creates habitat for wildlife. If it was used on a home or business, its insulating effects could lower cooling and heating costs, too.
One of Wistermayer’s favorite spots in the garden is a wooden bench positioned under a river birch. From there, he can hear wind chimes that hang in a nearby maple. Wistermayer often stops by the garden on Sunday to water the plants and ends his work session with a bit of quiet time relaxing on the bench.
The Master Gardeners will be hosting an Open House at the Native Plant Teaching Garden on June 11 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. They’ll be joined by Brian Kunkel, an entomologist with UD Cooperative Extension, and Carrie Murphy, horticulture agent for New Castle County Extension. The Open House is free but pre-registration is necessary. Email Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article by Margo McDonough
Photo by Danielle Quigley