Glimpse Of The Garden: Staying In Step With Nature

Photo: Nancy K. Crevier

Tiny wild tulips are among the first flowers to bloom in Dr Cramer’s gardens, and seem to be less desirable to deer than are traditional tulips.

"A Glimpse Of The Garden" is a miniseries focusing on the heart of a gardener's work — a special spot, an extraordinary plant, a place of respite, or a place that evokes a heartfelt memory.

What is down the garden path of your friends and neighbors? What is down your garden path?

The growing season is still young, but Dr Marjorie Cramer is already excited about this year's garden. When snowdrops and crocuses first cover the yard with their white and lavender blossoms, "I know that there will be spring," she said. She is particularly excited by the advent of daffodils, a favorite from her years as a young girl in London. They are not exotic, but neither is much else in her gardens, she admitted.

A member of The Horticulture Club of Newtown and the town's Conservation Commission, Dr Cramer has strived since moving to Newtown seven years ago to incorporate mostly native and climatically adapted plantings into the gardens that wrap around her house, using a mainly organic approach.

Neatly mulched gardens border her long driveway, and by mid-April, they were already bright with yellow daffodils and the hot pinks of bleeding heart bushes. A bank of forsythia lends a golden backdrop along the eastern border, dropping down to a grassy area that Dr Cramer has purposely left untended.

"I am really an intellectual gardener," Dr Cramer laughed. "I read everything about plants and gardening, but I leave most of the actual hard work to my gardener, Doug Bennet, who has an amazing eye and sense of what goes where."

One of the things she learned in her reading is that woodchucks, which were beginning to plague her gardens, love grass more than anything. Thus, the grassy hollow beyond her driveway. "So far, it works. The groundhogs stay mostly in that area, happily," she declared.

With the assistance of Mr Bennet, Dr Cramer has developed the hill beside her front steps into a garden that delights her, inside or out.

"I can see it from my kitchen window," she said.

A slender Japanese maple tree with gently gnarled branches is the focal point of that garden, surrounded in spring by clusters of daffodils, evergreen shrubs, and the promise of flowers yet to come.

Giving structure to the garden during winter months is something that she is working on, said Dr Cramer, but one plant that provides interest year around is the Harry Lauder walking stick tree, poking up from a clump of daffodils, its knobby narrow branches pleasing to the eye even before the fat buds burst into leaf.

Dr Cramer enjoys walking her property and discovering spring's surprises, like a clump of tiny Persian Pearl wild tulips, dozens of primrose poking through the mulch, or new green leaves of the clematis that clambers over her backyard arbor.

Beyond a picket fence, a small garden framed by rhododendrens, mountain laurel, and other greenery is planted with strawberry plants, "One for each grandchild," said Dr Cramer. This garden can be viewed from large windows at the rear of the house, and was designed for the pleasure of her late mother, said Dr Cramer, who lived with her when she first moved to Newtown.

She is purposeful, as well, in providing habitats for creatures great and small. A variety of thick evergreen and deciduous shrubs provide shelter for birds. At various spots around the yard, tall poles fashioned from the trunks of hemlocks harvested on her property are topped with birdhouses that are as beautiful as they are practical. A bat house atop one pole welcomes brown bats to the property, a population that Dr Cramer said is sadly declining. Other birdhouses fashioned from dried gourds dangle from branches. A smorgasbord of birdseed can be found by her feathered friends at one of several feeders.

Dozens of butterflies visit the buddleia bushes and other deep-throated flowers that bloom in summer, she said.

Even smaller creatures are not ignored in Dr Cramer's gardens.

"Wasps are very beneficial insects," she said, explaining the reason for a wasp house hanging from one tree branch. Looking downward, following one of many stepping stone paths, the visitor to her garden may spot a shallow stone basin or two. "There are good insects and bad, and this provides a water source for many good bugs," she explained.

Toad houses — domed ceramic and pottery havens — welcome the amphibious garden guests that help keep down the unwanted insect population.

Feeding larger wildlife is less purposeful, said Dr Cramer.

"When I first moved here, I had azaleas that never bloomed. Then one spring I sprayed with deer repellent and I got flowers. I really try now to live compatibly with the deer, and just not plant the things they want to eat," she said.

Thanks to the insight Mr Bennet lends her, Dr Cramer said, little by little they are excising the bad from the good in the gardens.

"Gardening is," reflected the retired plastic surgeon, "a little like surgery. You try to take out what isn't working and leave behind what is good."

Spring flowers will soon give way to early summer flowers, painting a new picture of her property. It is, as with every season, said Dr Cramer, something to eagerly anticipate.

That is what is down the garden path at Dr Marjorie Cramer's.

Photo: Nancy K. Crevier

A dried gourd provides housing for small birds, and suspended from the branch just beyond it, a special wasp house gives shelter to the stinging insects that are actually beneficial to gardens. Offering habitats and shelter to creatures of all kinds is part of Dr Cramer’s garden philosophy.

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