30 Sep 2014
September 30, 2014

September 2014 Garden of the Month

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Colington Harbour Homeowners Association
By Beth Knight Brown

A garage sale in September brought us to the home of Debbie and Ron Mills on 344 Eagle Drive. This time of year is great for garage sales, but hard on gardens. It’s between seasons and anyone that works with plants knows that our summer garden flowers are struggling and the weather is still too hot for the fall flowers to be at their best. Leaving the driveway to the treasure hunters, we were drawn up their slate walkway toward their beautiful garden.

Ron and Debbie Mills

Ron and Debbie Mills – Photo: Sue Colter

Lining the walks were cascading Crepe Myrtles and Jacaranda trees which lent ready shade to varieties of begonias, hydrangeas, coreopsis, and columbines. Debbie was telling us that this one hydrangea, a pink Powhite, which stood at least 5 feet high and wide, had started as a four inch potted plant from the Fresh Market.

Their secret? “Adding manure, every year, and lots of it to enrich the soil,” she said “and, of course, every plant gets a second chance to find a spot. I moved that plant about two years ago to a less sunny spot and that did the trick!”

Crinum lilies were also in bloom with their dark variegated foliage and blossoms of pink and white. The Crinum, a hallmark of southern gardens, have 3-5 foot stalks, and is a favorite at their home.

We walked on newly mulched pine needles which lined the walk through the front garden. Filling in the gaps, purple amaranths were mixed in, which gave a royal touch of unified color everywhere. Beside them stood flowering ginger and bright orange Cannas with variegated leaves. Down low was a carpet of sweet potato vine in dark purple and one in light green. Turk’s Caps appeared like green bastions with ornamental lights of salmon and red. “The hummingbirds love them,” she said.

That’s when we noticed the spiders everywhere. “This is a spider-friendly garden!” she said. “Look at that Ryder spider… can you see it?” Boy could we! He was huge and very actively crawling across an extensive web. “He eats the grasshoppers and keeps them from destroying things around here. Spiders are very helpful in the garden to keep insects in check.”

The side of the yard was reserved for fruits and vegetables. Among the raspberries and black berries, Debbie pointed lovingly to a blueberry bush that came from her grandfather’s farm in Cameron, NC. She comes from three generations of farmers there.

Some strawberries that looked new to the garden, she said were volunteers. “Isn’t it amazing how things can come from everywhere?” She added that the garden was literally destroyed like others were during Irene. Many plants had been displaced.

The vegetable garden was next and rolled around to the backyard past a beautiful iron gate complete with a trellis of Moon-flowers. Many varieties of peppers were bearing their sturdy fruit: Serranos, Japapenos, Italian, Anaheim and others. “Ron made chili with them yesterday.” Next to the peppers stood okra and eggplant, some beans and, my favorite, tomatoes.

“My husband tends to the garden most of the time. It’s his thing,” she said. He studied horticulture in California. Local residents know him as Ron Mills, the Turf Manager for Dare County. Unfortunately for us, he had just left to go surfing when we came to do the interview. Even though he wasn’t there, you sure could tell he had been there, putting his knowledge to work on everything in the yard. Walking across the lawn out back was a pleasure. I sank deeply into the lush grass.

“We try to compost, recycle, and re-purpose as much as we can. We are definitely environmentally friendly around here”, Debbie explained. Against the house a cold frame stood that Ron had built out of an old storm door and salt treated timbers. “During the winter, he uses it to start seedlings like lettuce and carrots.” In another spot stood an old recycled rolling trash can that they use as a compost bin. He even built a 20 inch high fence out of old storm windows perpendicular to the water, that helped protect the vegetable garden from winds.

As we went to leave, she plucked a bloom for me to smell and pointed to a Lavender plant that her husband had bet her wouldn’t grow there . “It’s so much to have someone who, also, loves to garden. “It’s all about soil,” she said. “Dirt. Why I don’t know what I would do, if someone stuck me in a condominium somewhere. I just have to work in the soil.”

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