Mary, Mary …
Campbells create garden masterpiece
By Glen Young
Photos by G. Randall Goss
John Campbell knows gardens. The long-time president and founder of Site Planning Development in Charlevoix regularly deploys his staff of landscape architects, arborists and others to create, construct and maintain some of the most impressive landscapes in the area.
So when it comes to his own home gardens, on a quiet Charlevoix residential street, it is no surprise that Campbell and his wife, Mary Lee, have a showpiece that is familiar to folks from across the country and around the world.
The Campbells purchased their home in 1971, and John says, “We’ve always had a vegetable garden.”
However, gardens, particularly vegetable gardens, draw hungry visitors, so neighborhood deer soon discovered the Campbells’ larder.
“It became apparent the deer were enjoying the vegetables,” he explains.
John says the layout and the plants chosen are now modified to discourage the deer.
“We have learned what they don’t really desire,” he says.
Mary Lee gets much, if not most, of the credit for the garden’s maintenance, John says, though she gets help. “Our grandchildren help,” he says. “They have all learned how to weed to Mary Lee’s specifications,” he adds with a laugh.
In 2000, John says the couple put together a formalized plan for the gardens, annexing an adjacent parcel that earlier was part of Mary Lee’s father’s house next door.
“We saved the chimney,” John explains, and those bricks are now a part of the couple’s garden patio.
Mary Lee says filling the gardens means planting “between 85-95 flats” of annuals each season, with each flat containing between 12 and 48 flowers. She says she also plants as many as 15 flats of perennials, “though as the garden matures, we will plant fewer,” as the larger perennials can be divided, lessening the need for more and more new plants.
“There are approximately 20-24 beds, depending on how you divide them up,” Mary Lee says of the overall size of the couple’s gardens.
In fact, the beds take up the bulk of their residential neighborhood property, as well the property they annexed from her father’s former home.
“For 20 years this kept her busy,” John says of Mary Lee, as it is her continued handiwork that keeps the gardens looking show quality ready. John says that while Mary Lee does much of the weeding and tending to keep the flowers going, she does get help from time to time, notably from Jerry Garland, greenhouse director at Site Planning.
As for the gardens’ layout, Mary Lee says, “The flowers are arranged by sun and shade,” as “some beds are planted with a mass of flowers, like all impatiens, while others are planted with a mixture of colors, size and shape.”
The effect is a color wheel of blooms and buds in every size, shape and color imaginable, capturing the attention of passersby. Borders, picket fencing and footpaths, as well as some lawn complete the impressive natural surroundings.
“There are more and more perennials,” John explains of the mixture of plants, though the combination calls every year for a healthy dose of annuals as well. John notes in particular those impatiens, which he says sometimes have reached a height of 36 inches when planted in full sun, though most gardeners believe the flowers are better suited to more shade.
The Campbells continue to put in edibles, including root vegetables such as carrots and beets.
“They seem to get sweeter as the winter goes on,” John says of how much the couple enjoys the bounty of their gardening.
John says the best part of the gardens “is the anticipation of what’s to come. Each year is little bit different.”
He says the couple also enjoys talking with folks who walk by, whether by plan or by coincidence.
Mary Lee explains, “You can tell the time of day by listening to the birds and sensing the position of the sun. You can even sense the coming of fall,” she adds, “because the birds change their activity and their songs, and, of course, the days get shorter and the flowers slow down their production of blooms.”
Simply being outside in the yard, recognizing the changes of seasons is her highlight. “I enjoy listening to the birds and getting into the natural rhythm of the outside sounds.”
Written By By Glen Young, photos by G. Randall Goss