Bath Twp: In Pat and B.G. Labbe’s garden, it’s a constant battle between plants and pests.
The plants are winning.
In the seven years since the Labbes turned their suburban yard into a series of gardens, they’ve tried any number of tactics to keep deer, hawks and other wildlife at bay. They’ve installed motion-activated pods that emit deterrent odors. They’ve applied Plantskydd, a product made from animal blood. They’ve stretched monofilament fishing line between trees at the deer’s knee and chest levels to block them from reaching plants, and positioned bamboo stakes poking up from a couple of Japanese maples to keep a hawk from perching there and damaging the bark when it wipes its beak.
Their latest hope lies in a pair of foxes that have moved into the yard and seem to have frightened away at least the deer.
The struggle is never-ending, but to the Labbes, it’s worth the effort. Their once-nondescript 2½ acres are now lush with hostas and other plants that thrive in the shade of mature oaks and maples.
The property will be open to ticket holders next Saturday during the Summit County Master Gardeners’ annual Tour of Gardens. It will also be the site of the tour’s Posie Shoppe, where tour guests can buy plants grown and donated by the master gardeners as well as container gardens and gently used garden-related items.
The Labbes started creating the foundation for their gardens 17 years ago, taking out about 50 trees over 10 years and removing lower branches of many of the remaining trees to let in air and sunlight. Then seven years ago, they started creating the beds that border their lot and undulate through the property.
The project has largely been the dream of Pat Labbe, a master gardener volunteer and a nurse practitioner at Akron General Medical Center. But she gets help from her husband, a therapist who specializes in working with troubled youth,
“He never wanted to be a gardener,” she said with a laugh, “but he kind of got pulled in.”
The property is laid out in a series of theme gardens, including a white garden in a sunny spot where white roses and clematis bloom amid a carpet of hostas, a rock garden where chipmunks scamper, and a meditation garden with a hammock as its centerpiece. “You can go there and sleep, if you get time to stop gardening,” she said.
A large swath of the backyard is occupied by a hosta garden surrounding a fountain that was a gift from Labbe’s staff. Shade-loving plants such as ferns, astilbes and compact hakone grass are interspersed with the hostas, along with garden art including an angel statue for each of the Labbes’ six grandsons.
Nearby is a butterfly garden full of bee balm, butterfly bush, clematis and roses that edge a brick patio, Pat Labbe’s first attempt at bricklaying. She’s not happy with its uneven surface and has long wanted to remove it, “but my husband says, ‘No, this is how you remember how you learned,’ ” she said.
Necessity is going to force the issue, though. The Labbes will have to remove the garden in August to make way for septic work, and Pat Labbe is still considering how she’ll care for the plants while the work is in progress and where she’ll put them when the job is finished.
There’s also a circular herb garden that Pat Labbe created recently using a design she found on Pinterest, a children’s garden with a miniature cottage where her younger grandchildren like to watch for fairies, and a garden in the front yard dedicated to her late mother, Pauline Meeker. The latter garden is filled with peonies, hydrangeas, cleome and other plants her mother liked best, as well as a river birch chosen because her mother once lived in Canada, and an Appalachian Red redbud that was a gift from Pat Labbe’s brother and sister-in-law, Dave and Anita Meeker.
The Labbes prize a number of specimen trees, including a Korean fir with frosty white tips, a kousa dogwood near their front door and a tricolor beech they hope will grow tall to fill in an area once occupied by white pines that fell in a microburst a couple of years ago. Three Serbian spruces form a backdrop for magnolias from Wooster Township’s Secrest Arboretum, which Pat Labbe said are beautiful when they bloom in early spring.
Maintaining the garden, she said, requires little other than weeding once the annual chore of spreading mulch is done. But that’s still a big job. It takes her about a week to weed the entire property, a task she considers meditative.
And then she starts all over again.
Like chasing away pests, the challenge never ends.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or email@example.com. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/mbbreck, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckABJ and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.