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Ray and Melanie – Heath and Heather

Melanie and Ray Poudrier

Gardens are planned, grow and develop over time as dependably as any single plant. Ray and Melanie Poudrier’s garden could be said to have begun when Ray’s father bought land in Hawley in 1942.

Ray’s father joined his mother and their brood of thirteen children on Hawley summer weekends to see the latest developments. The family grew a vegetable garden, had an orchard and a blueberry patch. They even rented a cow for the summer to have milk for all those children. What they did not have was electricity or running water.

They didn’t have a car during the week either, which meant when a few extra supplies were needed, Ray’s mother would leave a note for the mail carrier to give  Avery’s General Store, and the next day necessities would be delivered along with the mail and a bill. “We weren’t the only ones depending on the mail and Avery’s either,” Ray said when I visited for a tour of the gardens. “I often saw other bags of groceries in the back of the mail car.”

Happily, when Ray met Melanie and they prepared to marry, she was as up for Hawley adventures as Ray. As newly weds they began building their vacation house. “It was always exciting,” Melanie said as she recounted stories of bathing in a frigid spring fed pond after a day’s work.

Ray explained that because Melanie is so slim and petite, she is the one who could fit into tight spaces, like a well, or next to the house foundation to apply tar before the land was graded. That vacation house became their permanent home in 1981.

Heaths, heathers, stone and shed

The house was snuggled into the woods which they both loved, but when they decided to put up solar panels in the mid-1980s trees had to come down. “That opened up a whole new world,” Melanie said. Vegetable and flower gardens were shifted around and now the sunny land in front of the house is filled with extensive ornamental beds that can be admired from the house in every season.

The gardens include a whole array of perennials, but once they discovered the heaths and heathers they fell in love. Heaths and heathers both belong to the Ericaceae family, but they each have there own genus, Erica and Calluna. They are similar in that they are both evergreen shrubs, some very low, some growing to a height of three feet, some are upright, and some are very spready. The Poudrier’s sunny garden has the kind of poor acid soil that all that heaths and heathers enjoy.

“There is so much variation in the texture and color of the foliage,” Ray said. As we walked through the garden this was clear as we saw gray-green foliage, golden foliage that was bright even on that showery day, dark green and light green foliage and even foliage that was an autumnal shade of red all year long.

Calluna 'Allegro'

Heaths and heathers also produce flowers at different times of the year depending on the cultivar, but bloom begins very early in the spring and continues through the summer. Many bloom in various shades of pink and lavender, but there are also white varieties. “During its bloom season a plant can be a beautiful cloud of color,” Melanie said. Melanie added that some nurseries will tell you to shear back the plants in the fall to remove spent flowers and keep the plants neat, but she never did that. “The flowers just disappear,” she said.

 

Melanie does not mulch the plants either, because she said the voles were a worse problem than weeds. Mulch provides good nesting spaces for the voles who love to eat the heaths, although they don’t bother the heathers.

All their plants have been bought locally and they have found a good range of varieties. Many people don’t pay much attention to the color of or season of the flowers, but concentrate on the form and color of the foliage that provides interest in the winter garden. “You get a lot of bang for your buck,” Melanie said talking about the pleasure they enjoy all year long.

The Poudriers have included other plants whose foliage contrasts with the heaths and heathers. There are alliums with tall thin oniony foliage, European ginger with its low shiny leathery round leaves, and creeping savory, a perennial, which resembles the evergreens and produces white flowers.

Hawley Crowsfoot Schist

As varied as they are, the heaths and heathers are only half the beauty of the garden beds. The other half is provided by the magnificent stones that Ray has moved into place to provide a framework and structure for the plants. He is especially proud of a large slab of Hawley’s unique crow’s foot schist he has placed among the heathers.

Ray has worked with stones from the site for many years, building stone walls that mark the cultivated domestic landscape, an artistically arranged stoneworks around an ornamental pool, and a rock garden that includes not a single plant. Ray smiled when he said he wanted to build a garden for Melanie that would never need weeding.

Perhaps the best of all worlds they have found is stones with heaths and heathers.

 

Between the Rows  October 8, 2011

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