For the second time, Frank and Joan Travers, of Bristol Champion Townline Road in Champion Township, have won first place in the Tribune Chronicle and Trumbull County Master Gardeners Amateur Garden contest. The Travers also won the contest in 2006. Fay Young of Brookfield was the second place winner with her English country garden.
The contest, which is in its fifth year, has showcased several of Trumbull County's best backyard gardens.
Each spring, Trumbull County amateur gardeners have the opportunity to enter the contest, provided they have not completed the Master Gardener program through a state extension program or are not affiliated with the Tribune Chronicle.
Gardens are judged by Trumbull County Ohio State University Extension Master Gardeners. Judging is based on a system of points based on the criteria used by professional flower judges. The criteria includes garden design, choice of plant material, use of structures and ease of maintenance.
This year, four judges, certified Master Gardeners Nancy Kovach, Betty Bailes, Patricia Gojdics and Carol Caronite, spent three days traveling all over Trumbull County and several communities in between to judge the 17 gardens entered in the contest.
TWO GARDENS IN ONE
Frank and Joan Travers have a unique style of gardening that is not often seen in the home setting. Joan Travers, a fan of annuals, flowers that live their entire life cycle in one season, plants the front yard garden with her favorites each spring. Even the tulips, which are an attraction for passers-by each spring, are lifted from the ground and tossed on the compost heap.
"We buy new bulbs every year," said Frank, who sometimes helps his wife with her plantings, even though his gardens are at the back of the house.
"It would be too difficult to plant other things around the tulip bulbs, so it's easier this way," Frank said.
Although Joan admits that a few perennials have made their way into the foundation border along the front and side of the house, and not counting the English ivy, pachysandra and hosta beneath some of the larger trees, she claims that she will never fully warm up to perennials.
Joan admits to gardening the low-maintenance way, with new plants every year and soft, loamy soil that her husband provides by composting piles of leaves and grass clippings.
"I'm careful about what I buy to avoid deadheading," Joan said.
She still spends about four hours a day in the gardens, scratching up the soil to break down any potential weeds before they have a chance to take hold.
While the hostas that circle the largest tree in the front yard are mulched heavily with shredded bark, Joan doesn't use mulch on any of her annual garden beds.
"It isn't needed," she said, "as long as you keep the weeds from growing in the first place."
Frank, on the other hand, loves to work his garden hard, which is why he plants mostly perennials in several backyard garden beds. Each spring, he begins by edging the beds with a sharp garden spade.
Once the beds have been edged, he brings several wagons of composted leaves and grass clippings from piles at the back of the property and mixes the organic matter into the soil.
Frank, who said he has been composting his gardens for 15 years, admits that he was a frustrated gardener for several years prior to finally getting serious about it.
"The soil here isn't good, but since I saw what composting can do, I was able to do more," he said.
Frank uses no fertilizers in his many beds, several of which consist of island gardens filled with his favorite plants, as well as curved borders that meander the edges of the property. For plants that prefer drier soil, Frank adds a little sand to the beds.
But he doesn't coddle his plants. If something doesn't do well after a couple years, it is taken out of the garden and composted, making room for something else that may do better.
The second-place winner in the amateur garden contest, Fay Young of Brookfield Township, is an admitted Anglophile. Having taken several trips to England, Young decided she wanted her garden to reflect the look of an English countryside. And she succeeded in her efforts, doing much of the work herself since starting her gardens in 1986.
"I put down all the patio stones except two that my husband and grandson put in for me because they were just too heavy," Young said.
Young also dug the small pond herself and installed the waterfall, the surrounding rocks and all of the plantings.
With a sloping yard from the side of the house around to the back upper patio, Young installed a lower patio after her husband built the wooden frame for the stonework. Young then hauled in several tons of slag needed to support the heavy stone floor. To step down from the patio to the backyard, Young said she built a large stone step by mixing cement and peat moss and poured the mixture into a box that her husband also built. The mixture hardened into a hypertufa stone-like block that looks as though it had been created by nature.
Young said she decided to connect the lower and upper patios by building stone steps that curve around the side of the house. From the upper patio, French doors open up into a large garden room, also designed by Young with the English country theme in mind.
The back yard itself, bathed in shade from tall oak and maple trees, is a series of garden beds surrounded by a large border of hosta and other plants that mingle with English ivy.
In the center of the yard is a rustic vegetable garden that includes hanging upside-down tomato plants and twig tepees that support vining pole beans.
"The vegetable garden has to be changed soon, I suspect," Young said. "The trees are making too much shade and the vegetables don't get enough sunlight. Before the trees got so large, there was a lot more sun back here," she said.
Young, who admits to spending a lot of time in her garden, enjoys the extra work it entails.
"To me, it's not work. It's fun," she said.