When Jim and Mary Beth Crawford moved into their tidy ranch-style home in 1974, their diminutive front yard near the top of a steep hillside in Banksville was populated with 10 large blue spruce trees. In time they became so overgrown that trimming them to keep them in bounds became impossible, so, one by one, they removed them and turned the new-found space into garden beds.
These days, there is nary a blue spruce to be found, and their garden is filled with creative elements such as dry-stacked stone walls, hand-built fences, trellises, a pond and a pergola that the couple installed over the years to create their own little haven. They are the spring winners of the Great Gardens Contest, small garden category. The contest is co-sponsored by the Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Botanic Garden.
Clearly, all of the bulbs, wisteria and other spring-blossoming plants featured in their contest entry are long gone, but the couple have created more than one season of interest. This year, with some plants blooming a full month early, the Crawfords are trimming back plants that normally are not finished until August. Mr. Crawford has already cut back his shasta daisies, roses and other blooming perennials. The daylilies are done, and he says most everything is petering out. He's already focusing on next season.
Mr. Crawford, who finished the Phipps Master Gardener course this spring, got his love of gardening from his mother and grandfather. He is responsible for the design and plant selection, but his wife is also fully involved. She does a good deal of the pruning and other maintenance.
"He thinks I get a little overzealous and threatens to take my pruners," she laughs.
The small front yard now has a "white" bed filled with shasta daisies, caladium, lamium and impatiens and petunias. Shrubs like mahonia and azaleas, a dogwood tree and a selection of well-tended roses complete the picture. There is also a hemlock tree and a grouping of thimbleberries, a member of the raspberry family native to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Mr. Crawford brought those back from a trip because he thought the foliage was interesting. Though they flower, he's never gotten any berries. Climbing roses grow up one side of the home, supported by a trellis Mr. Crawford constructed.
Along both sides of the property is a unique wooden fence constructed of pressure-treated lumber. Mr. Crawford designed and built it to look the same from both sides. Roses break up the long horizontal fence runs and grapes trained on a trellis add to their privacy.
The backyard, where the couple spend most of their time, has been fashioned into a tranquil escape. A pergola, bordered on several sides by a dry-stacked stone wall, was erected in 2001. Vigorous wisteria covers the structure and dogwood, hydrangea and two types of ginger are planted around it. The walls were built by the couple from stones they collected. The yard also includes a native woodland bed with trillium, Jack-in-the-pulpit and wood geranium and a tiny water feature with potted water dock, micro cat tails and rain lilies. Randomly inserted in the plantings are a few bonsai-type conifers that Mr. Crawford is experimenting with by wiring them into different shapes.
The couple point out that much of the construction material used has been recycled and that they limit chemical use on the property. A compost pile is tucked on one side of the house, surrounded and partially hidden by climbing roses.
It's obvious to visitors that their love of gardening has rubbed off on the neighborhood. Mr. Crawford designed the landscape for one neighbor, and the couple have given lots of "extra" plants to another. They also host a small "plant sale" in the spring in which Mr. Crawford sells the plants he propagates and can't use.
In his entry form he wrote: "The thing we are most proud of is the fact that all the work was done by me and my wife, Mary Beth. ... We've worked on the garden 30-some years now, and it is still evolving."
Their garden gives them great satisfaction and "the feeling of accomplishment when things turn out as planned," Mr. Crawford says. It's also a great example of how a small space can be transformed into a wonderful garden without spending wads of money.
Post-Gazette garden editor Susan Banks: email@example.com or 412-263-1516.