Until 14 years ago, Alegra Best was a successful attorney in the Baltimore area, working long days at her law practice. Then her mother died very suddenly at the age of 66. Alegra re-evaluated her priorities, quit her law practice and changed course. She decided life was too short to not spend as much time as possible with those you love, doing what you really want. She became a stay-at-home mom for her 3-year-old daughter and also started gardening.
Alegra found it wasn't easy to start gardening from scratch. "I made a lot of mistakes early on," she admits. "So I decided to go back to school." Alegra started taking some continuing education courses at a local college and eventually became a Master Gardener. This gave her the knowledge and confidence she needed to tackle her half-acre yard.
The first order of business was definitely the backyard. Partially wooded and low-lying, its defining feature was a natural spring that kept the area soggy throughout the year. Alegra knew she had to dry things out if she was going to be successful growing plants there. "I planted a willow near the spring to decrease the flow and then dug a drainage trench that would make the Army Corps of Engineers proud," she says. This allowed her to plant an array of interesting trees, shrubs and flowers. Some of her favorites include the kousa dogwood, Miss Kim lilac and weeping katsura tree.
The front yard was also wet, with nothing more than a few struggling junipers planted near the house. After removing the junipers, Alegra tried growing a number of different plants without success. Eventually she and her husband decided to hand dig a small pond. This dried out the area so she could plant flowers such as peonies, lavender and chrysanthemums. One of her favorite plants is a weeping Japanese maple that grows near the front door and hangs over the pond.
A Container Business
As Alegra's passion for gardening continued to grow, she began starting annual flowers and herbs from seed. Alegra uses the APS seedstarter and loves it. "It's compact, effective, easy to move around and easy to maintain," says Alegra. She uses a soil heating mat to help the seeds germinate faster. "I like the fact that I don't have to water and tend to the APS trays every day," she says. Alegra starts all her own annual flowers, such as morning glories, zinnias and cardinal climbers. Once the seedlings are almost ready for planting in the garden or containers, Alegra moves them into her freestanding greenhouse to harden off.
Alegra loves container gardening and she has more than 50 pots around her house. When neighbors began noticing these beautiful containers, a number of them asked Alegra to create some for them. Her container craze has become "a hobby run amok" and she now has a business designing, installing and maintaining containers for a number of local people. "It's great being outside and turning people on to the beauty of flowers," she says. Alegra loves to play with different plant combinations. She particularly likes yellow marigolds combined with the fuchsias and corals of wave petunias. Another favorite is dark red coleus grown with light green sweet potato vines.
Alegra has learned a few tricks to help with her container designs and maintenance. "I like to insert some fun, non-plant pieces into the containers, such as garden whirligigs, votive candle holders and miniature butterflies and bird houses on stakes," says Alegra. "Also, I use copper tape around the lip and container bottom to help keep the slugs out of the pot," she says. "The tape lasts for weeks, the plants look great and my customers don't have to hand-pick those slimy slugs," she says.
In the future, she plans to try self-watering containers and plant supports. "We hope to be traveling a little more in the next few years, so I need all the help I can get to maintain the gardens and containers," says Alegra. With the right products and some timely tricks, Alegra has planted a beautiful new life for herself and at the same time is enhancing the lives of her neighbors, friends and family.
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