North Huntingdon gardener enjoys getting caught between plant and hardscape

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Those with a green thumb would assume that Gary Dinsel is a pro planter after seeing the diverse gardens that span his 1-acre property in North Huntingdon.

However, Mr. Dinsel's specialty is actually stonework. He picked up gardening along the way.

"I planted flowers and bushes in among the different elements of the hardscape," he said. "I picked them out mainly based on texture and just put them in places where they seemed to fit well."

Mr. Dinsel's garden is one of eight open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. next Saturday for the Greenridge Garden Club tour. Stone paths and pavers stretch for roughly a quarter of a mile through his gardens, allowing visitors to tour the area with ease.

He describes his property as a "collage of gardens." The newest section, "Yucca Hills," features cacti, a rarity in Western Pennsylvania gardens. Four of Mr. Dinsel's specimens come from Arizona's High Desert, which has one surprising characteristic in common with Pittsburgh -- snow. As a result, these cacti are able to bear our winter weather.

His other desert plants come inside when the weather turns cold. But in the summertime, they are "planted" in hollows filled with fire stones. These multicolored rocks provide a desert effect and make it easy to move the cacti inside at the end of the season.

"It makes them look like they have been there forever," he said.

Another favorite is his English garden, a formal area that features more than 100 boxwoods in the shape of a square, enclosing a central mass of roses. His wife, Barb, cares for the roses and another small garden in the front of the house, while Mr. Dinsel tends to the larger side and back areas.

"Women gardeners tend to enjoy beauty. They like to see things blooming all year long," Mr. Dinsel said. "They are much more tuned into a flower's attractiveness and fragrance."

His efforts can be appreciated even more when you consider the 31 black walnut trees on his property. These trees, some of them 65 feet tall, release a substance known as juglone, which can kill or harm a wide range of plants.

"My focus has been on getting things to grow in the confines of the black walnut trees," he said. "I choose the plants that have the best chance of surviving. Some don't always bloom, but I can get them to live around the trees."

At least Mr. Dinsel doesn't have to worry about the juglone damaging his stonework, which includes a unique tunnel surrounded by trees and shrubs.

While Mr. Dinsel's gardens lack vegetables, there are plenty to be found at the home of Bob Lore in Hempfield. His favorites are 'Supersonic' tomatoes. Mr. Lore, a Penn State master gardener, has a number of recipes to go with the scrumptious edibles in his garden.

The rest of his garden is a feast for the eyes. The diverse group of trees and shrubs include Japanese stewartia, Nishiki willows and Alaskan weeping cedars.

"The shape of the cedar looks like something out of the 'Psycho' movie," Mr. Lore said with a laugh. "I think it is really neat."

He also had an opinion on the differences between men and women gardeners.

"Men usually take on the more physical tasks associated with gardening," he said. "We do it with more aggression, while the women use finesse for jobs such as pruning or trimming."

Both men said they maintain their gardens with the help of their wives, suggesting that the differing styles of gardening, when coalesced, make for a pretty wonderful production.

Tickets for the Greenridge Garden Club tour on July 14 are $10 in advance, $12 on tour day, available at Vargo's Hallmark Shops in Norwin Towne Square and Norwin Hills Shopping Centers and Belak's Floral Shop and Saige Jen Taylor Gift Shop, both in Irwin.

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Rob Wennemer:; 412-263-1723. First Published July 7, 2012 4:00 AM


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