Elise Schlaijker’s extensive gardens will be a part of the Greenfield Garden Club’s annual garden tour which will be held on Saturday, June 25 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Schlaijker is one of those gardeners who loves food gardens and flower gardens equally, although she admits that the big 30 x 30 foot vegetable and fruit garden was her first priority when she moved to Greenfield eight years ago. I wrote about Schlaijker when her gardens were new in 2010. Now that she is 82 and has come through a back surgery, she has made some adjustments in her routines. The chicken house is empty. Handling water and feed during the winter became too difficult so the hens were given away.
While she showed me around the side garden which she can view from her large deck, two young men were buzzing around the lawns and the labyrinth. “I no longer mow the lawns myself,” she said with a smile.
The deck itself is decorated with houseplants brought out for the summer, and is ringed with Gold Heart bleeding heart and a variety of hostas. The side garden’s large lawn is ornamented with shrub and perennial beds. These contain familiar and beloved plants like rugosa roses in red and white, other shrub roses, lilacs, herbaceous peonies and an exuberant climbing hydrangea in one corner.
However, a gardener is always finding new enthusiasms. In addition to the beautiful and familiar herbaceous peonies, Schlaijker has added Itoh, or intersectional, peonies, to her plantings. Itoh peonies are a hybrid created by crossing herbaceous peonies with tree peonies. Like herbaceous peonies Itoh’s are cut back in the fall, but the advantage is that they hold their blossoms high, even in the rain, and have a longer bloom period because they have primary and secondary buds. When Itoh peonies were first made available they were very expensive, but they are now more reasonable in price. In any event, Schlaikjer says, “I indulge myself in the plants I love.”
On the other side of the house is a wild looking bog garden, which includes a buttonbush, a dappled willow and a handsome crane. There is also a sweeping quarter moon bed that includes two dappled willows, a redbud and two more Itoh peonies. I was particularly looking at all the graceful curves in her garden which are so elegant and pleasing.
A gently curving path edged with wide flower borders leads to the stone labyrinth. When she built labyrinth I was one of the people who brought a stone to help build it. Schlaijker meditatively walks the labyrinth almost every day, but the building of the labyrinth included the connections to, and love of, a whole community. In the center of the labyrinth is a tiny gazebo. Inside the tiny gazebo is an extraordinary, throne-like chair. This was carved from a maple tree trunk by a friend in Michigan where she had lived for so many years. This throne, with its carvings of a bear, turtle, squirrel and other creatures, is comfortable and magical. If you hum or sing while sitting on the throne you can feel and hear the reverberations of sound.
The flower borders leading to the labyrinth are filled with more Itoh and herbaceous peonies, nepeta, foxgloves, irises, and sedums. The borders include flowers as exotic as the Itoh peonies, but also as humble as the local native yellow foxgloves.
Of course, the fenced and netted vegetable garden is a very important part of Schlaijker’s garden. There are raised beds for vegetables, but it turns out that nets do not deter burrowing creatures like voles, moles – and rats. “Nowadays I can’t grow root crops, carrots, potatoes, beets . . . critters eat every one,” she said. Still she is able to grow lots of greens: collards, kale, broccoli, chard as well as garlic, tomatoes, lettuce, squash, and cucumbers as well as parsley and basil.
One section of the fenced vegetable garden is given over to highbush blueberries and a black currant bush. That section is netted over the top when the berries begin to ripen.
Beauty is to be found even when she walks towards the vegetable garden provided by a bed including Japanese primroses, goatsbeard, clematis, and European ginger which she insists spreads itself generously. Here and there are bowls of water on the ground to satisfy the thirst of birds, or perhaps even a toad or two.
Elderberries and different raspberry varieties that give her a long season grow beyond the fenced garden. Schlaijker also has several apple trees, but her peach tree is no more.
Elise Schlaijker’s garden is just one of the nine unique gardens on the tour, each with its own special attractions.
Tickets to the Greenfield Garden Club Garden Tour can be purchased ahead of time at the World Eye Bookstore for $15. Or call Jean Wall at 773-9069. On the day of the tour tickets will be $18 and can be purchased at 40 High Street. Those who have bought tickets at the World Eye must also go to 40 High Street to pick up a map for this self-guided tour. There will be curb-side service.
Between the Rows June 18, 2016