In what seems to be a continuation on the theme of difficult garden spaces done well, David Hairhoger's lovely plot in Morningside, constructed on a narrow, pie-shaped lot, is the winner of the medium-size category of the Great Gardens Contest, summer edition.
It follows on the heels of Ed McHugh's small garden in Reserve, which was another example of great use of a daunting space.
Mr. Hairhoger's lot has been transformed into a lovely cottage-style garden that blends perfectly with the Tudor-style architecture of his house. The widest part of the lot, on which the house stands, is in heavy shade, and the sharp pie-end is in full sun, but every plantable space has been used to fine effect, including walls, accented by a jewel-green lawn.
The retired pharmacist bought his home 26 years ago but didn't get serious about gardening until six years later.
"I didn't have a plan. Along the way I'd get some advice from folks and try something. If it didn't work in one spot, I'd move it to another," he said.
"It didn't occur to me that my lot [was difficult]. It was just the way things are, so I worked with that."
The plantings are cheerful and bright and filled with both flowering and nonflowering perennials, trees, and a smattering of annuals. The lush flower boxes are planted with begonias, caladiums and coleus. Each year, Mr. Hairhoger tries something different.
"I go and see what's there [at the nurseries] and start pulling things together," he said.
If it doesn't work, he pulls it out and tries something else. Again, no plan.
The shady area by his front door is especially lovely, full of many types of hosta, ferns, heuchera, hydrangeas and brunnera.
"The shade garden is my favorite part of the garden. There is just such a variety of shapes and colors there. It gives you a nice, cool feeling on a warm summer day to walk outside and see it."
Sun lovers are not neglected. He's also interested in dahlias, which he grows along one long sunny side of the property bordering an alley. At this time of year, they are lush and colorful. He thinks he has about 55 types.
"I got involved [with dahlias] about 10 years ago. I was in Seattle. We had a mutual friend who said, 'Let's go to a dahlia farm,'
"They are terrific bloomers. I never get into nomenclature, or knowing the style or the type, or the name. I just grow them because they are pretty."
It also makes him a popular guest because he usually arrives with a bouquet of his cut flowers when they are in bloom.
"In the fall, I cut them off, shake the dirt off and squirt them, then put them in a big planting container with peat moss in the coal cellar. Around March I take a look at the containers, and they are starting to sprout. I go in and trim them up and put them directly in the soil. I dig a hole, put a tuber in and they just take off," he said.
Extras are given to lucky friends. He has bought them from a multitude of mail-order sources, but he recently found Alpha Dahlias in Bell Acres (www.alphadahlias.com).
Although the garden is in the city, deer are a problem for Mr. Hairhoger. He has solved the problem by rigging up a "deer squirter" to his hose. It furnishes a stream of water when it detects movement. While it works on the deer, it also works on the neighbors, he said with a laugh. Most of them know about it, and even if they forget, their dogs remember and want to cross the street before coming to his yard.
"I think my neighbors and the people that know about my garden, they get a big kick out of that. They walk in my direction to look in my garden," he said.
The squirter gets a multi-season workout, as he has about 700 bulbs planted on the property and adds to his spring display every year.
Like most passionate gardeners, his creation is not finished.
"I've always got changes in the back of my mind," he said. "It's a sense of enjoyment for me. And I know that other people are enjoying it also."
Post-Gazette garden editor Susan Banks: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1516. First Published September 28, 2013 4:00 AM