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How a Garden Grew a Gardener

Norma Follstaedt
"I don't like using chemicals in my garden so I don't grow plants that require pampering, such as hybrid roses," says Norma Follstaedt, who gardens in western Pennsylvania.
Though she didn't plan it that way, Norma Follstaedt's yard has turned into a collector's garden. It all started innocently enough with a few perennials and flowering shrubs. But the problem was that she just couldn't stop. Now her gardens cover over a half acre of her 2-acre lot in western Pennsylvania.

Norma started gardening when she bought her house about 14 years ago. "I really hadn't gardened before even though I grew up on a farm and had gardens around me," she says. Once she started gardening, Norma needed sound horticultural information, so she enrolled in the Pennsylvania State University's Master Gardener Course. "My garden started out small but the more I learned through the course and by volunteering with other gardeners, the more I expanded it," she says. Norma slowly began learning which plants she liked and which ones she didn't. One constant in this gardening adventure has been her adherence to organic gardening practices. "I don't like using chemicals in my garden so I don't grow plants that require pampering, such as hybrid roses," says Norma.

Norma has learned a garden needs healthy soil to thrive. She uses organic fertilizer and cocoa bean mulch to amend her rocky, clay soil. "The cocoa bean mulch doesn't rob nitrogen from the soil as it breaks down. It's much better for the plants than using shredded bark mulch," she says. By starting with healthy soil and growing a diversity of plants, Norma has few pest problems, except for slugs. "One organic product I do use is Sluggo," says Norma. "In areas that are shady and damp I sprinkle Sluggo around plants such as hosta and it keeps them away," she says. I only need to reapply it once a month," says Norma. She's convinced others of the efficacy of Sluggo as well. As a Master Gardener, Norma volunteers time answering gardening questions. "I once had a school teacher call and ask if Sluggo really worked. He didn't believe me so he set up an experiment placing Sluggo in a glass jar filled with slugs. He was amazed when all the slugs died in one day," she exclaims.

Norma Follstaedt's Garden
Norma's gardens cover more than a half acre of her 2-acre lot.
What flowers does a collector grow in her garden? Well, a little bit of everything. "I'm really into the Heuchera (coral bells), Tiarella (foamflower), and Heucherella (foamy bells) right now," says Norma. "I particularly like the colorful leaves of the 'Amber Waves' and 'Monet' varieties," she says. Plants with colorful foliage are high on her list. Norma grows variegated hosta, black-leafed elderberry, and tri-color beech to name a few. She also loves coleus. She grows more than 35 coleus varieties and overwinters them in her basement under grow lights. "I take cuttings in fall and don't fertilize the coleus much in winter. They grow slowly in my cool basement so they stay a manageable size," says Norma.

Each spring Norma starts 500 seedlings in her basement as well. "I love the APS seedstarter," she says. "It's perfect for starting seeds in a small-scale operation," says Norma.

Though perennials dominate her gardens, Norma also grows annuals and many tender exotics that get treated as annuals. "I like tropical annuals, such as cannas, elephant ears, and brugmansia," says Norma. These tropical plants can be overwintered indoors if you have the room. Norma brings the brugmansia indoors every year, though the plant is getting so large that it's hard to fit in the basement. Another large plant she overwinters is rosemary. "The key to overwintering rosemary is keeping the temperature around 60 degrees F, growing it under lights, and keeping the humidity high. I've overwintered rosemary for 10 years in my basement without any problems," she says.

Although Norma doesn't grow vegetables because of the deer, woodchucks, and raccoons in her area, she does have an herb garden. Norma used Stackable Corner Joints to create her raised bed herb garden. "I like the corner joints because I can rearrange the shape of the herb garden as needed. Plus, the stackable joints make it easy to create beds with plenty of soil depth," says Norma.

Norma needs the right tools to keep all her plants growing well. "My Felco #2 Pruners are with me all the time," she says. "I particularly like their replaceable blades since I use my pruners so much." The Muck Boots are indispensable since she's in the garden rain or shine. Norma uses a trellis to keep her sweet peas and annual vines growing vertical, while the Support Rings keep perennials such as delphiniums from flopping over.

While many of the products Norma uses in her garden are utilitarian, she loves fun accessories too. "The solar globes (Pixie Lights) are floating in my water garden. I love the way the light reflects off the water at night as they float around," she says.

There's no sign that Norma's fascination with plants is slowing down, which means her collection will probably continue to grow. Good thing she still has an acre and a half to play in!

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