Who: Lisa McShane
Question: How did you become a great gardener?
Answer: When I was little we lived in Biloxi, Miss., where we had a big vegetable garden. My mother dressed me in brown because I'd sit in the middle of the rows and eat onions and tomatoes.
When my husband and I moved to Bellingham in 1989 I was thrilled to have garden space and spent a lot of time reading big, beautiful gardening books, studying the nuances among various cultivars and experimenting with a lot of different plants.
At some point I moved from disliking roses to becoming passionate about all roses, except the grandiflora and hybrid teas roses. I have over 50 shrub and climbing roses in my garden today, and they are all mixed in with trees, shrubs, grasses and perennials.
I like to try out a lot of roses and my yard is only 4,000 square feet, so I've also planted dozens and dozens of roses around town at the Roeder Home, at the Fragrance Garden and in friends' and neighbors' gardens.
Q: If your garden has a theme, how did you develop it and carry it out?
A: Our garden is designed to be a really pleasant outdoor space for our family and friends. My husband put in two flagstone patios that work well for dinner parties, and our ornamental and edible beds are formed around those patios.
I designed the front yard first, spent a year working the soil and designing the beds, and then once planted, I've barely touched it. It's been in place about 16 years. The back yard has been more experimental, and other than the trees and bigger roses, plants have been moved around a lot. Lately my husband has been trying to expand his space for tomatoes and corn.
Q: Tell us about one plant in your garden that is special.
A: We have two golden beech trees framing our front path that are formed into an arch. They were a gift we gave each other for our 15th wedding anniversary, 15 years ago. One of them almost died, which we took as a bad sign, so I bought fertilizer and nurtured the weak one along. Both are thriving now, and we take that as a good sign.
Q: Tell us how we can grow three plants from your garden.
A: I'll tell you about roses, because I think people struggle to grow them well. The first step is to find the right rose for our climate. Using poisons in your garden is not healthy for anyone, so if you can't grow roses without chemicals, then you need to buy different rose plants and fix your soil problems. I order roses online from places like Vintage Gardens and Heirloom Roses, because they sell really healthy older roses on their own roots, not grafted. That's a better way to go.
The second step is soil preparation. In my garden, roses do well in fairly heavy clay soils with a lot of organic matter (like manure) added in. I dig a big hole, make sure they have decent drainage and receive about a half day or more of sun.
I don't use any chemicals on my roses, so if they get too many aphids I spray them off with a hose, but that's it. I leave it to the birds to eat the bugs.
I try to mulch every few years with compost or manure, and in the spring I amend the soil around their roots with a mix of things like bone meal and cottonseed meal. Depending on the variety, I'll prune just after Presidents Day weekend.
Three terrific roses for Bellingham are Rosa Moyesii, Marie Pavie and Ritausma. As a group, the Hybrid Musk roses do well in Bellingham - Prosperity, Kathleen, Buff Beauty - all are healthy, arching shrubs with lovely and fragrant flowers.
Q: What animal or plant is your garden nemesis and how do you cope with it?
A: Snails. For some reason I have a lot of brown snails in my garden, and they drive me crazy. Generally I pull them off the plant and step on them, which upsets my family. I also sprinkle a non-toxic product called Sluggo - it's iron phosphate - around my hostas and daylillies. It's no kinder, but it looks better.
Q: How many hours a week do you spend working in your garden in each season?
A: About two or three hours a week on average. When we planted various beds I took about a season to prepare the soil with manure and green cover crops. I also drew the plans out so that plants were fairly well-spaced, with thought given to color, texture and shape. As the garden has matured, it takes a lot less work.
Q: What tool could you not do without, and why?
A: My Dutch hoe. I really don't like weeds and it's really fast to use a Dutch hoe to cut them off. The downside is that annuals rarely reseed, but I mostly have shrubs and perennials anyway.
Q: What's the best garden advice you ever got?
A: "Think like a plant." If you think about what each plant wants in terms of sun, water, soil and neighbors, then you'll have a lot more success and fewer dead plants.
Q: What's your favorite way to share your garden?
A: Small dinner parties in the back yard. The patio is surrounded by a giant Rosa Moyesii, a Japanese hornbeam, a paperbark maple, and we have a view of the sun setting over downtown. It's a great place for dinner, wine and conversation.
Q: What's your favorite garden, other than your own?
A: For about a decade my best friend and I made an annual pilgrimage to Heronswood Nursery in Kingston. It's no longer open to the public, but while it was it was a treasure and I learned a lot from their borders.