How Does Your Garden Grow?
By Cathy Baldwin
Photography by K. Wilkins Photography –
Sand, sand spurs, salt, northeast winds, brazen deer, hot summers, hurricanes… it takes more than a green thumb to overcome—or work with—the natural obstacles of our little barrier island. We visited a number of Outer Banks gardens and talked to those who tended them.
Some had flower gardens, some herb gardens and some vegetable gardens. There were container gardens raised up from the ground, greenhouses and backyard gardens, from a backyard in Southern Shores to nearly oceanfront in Nags Head. And what they grew varied—strawberries here, broccoli there. But grow they did, and that in itself is a true accomplishment under our unique Outer Banks conditions.
A Garden for All to Enjoy
Chris Campbell’s eclectic front yard garden is on Bay Drive in Kill Devil Hills; you’ll see a bowling ball here, a fish skeleton as decoration there—he’s apt to use whatever he has to make the garden more inviting. “I just hate to throw anything away,” says Chris. “If you have it, use it.”
The flowers and veggies he grows in his garden are as much for others’ enjoyment as they are his. “I probably gave away 200 of my roses last Mother’s Day,” says Chris.
Although he spends about four hours in his garden a day, he insists that much of his yard is a result of Mother Nature. “If it comes up and wants to live, I just encourage it,” says Chris.
The yard was underwater during Hurricane Isabel. Much of the garden washed away or was ruined by saltwater, and Chris had to start over. The goldfish pond in the middle of his yard was full of shrimp, bullfrogs and snakes. It’s back to just goldfish now, and they’ve grown almost as big as koi. “Kids come by and like to look at the fish,” he says. “That’s really why I do it. It’s nice to see others enjoy it.”
Barren to Fruitful
Plenty of people get to enjoy Will Morgan’s garden. He tends the garden behind Seagreen Gallery in Nags Head. “When I first started, this was a sand pit,” says Will.
“All of the fence is stuff found on the side of the road or the beach and cuttings from projects,” says Will. He dug underneath the fence all the way around the yard and laid down black plastic to keep the crab grass out. The cable company building directly to the north of the Gallery provides shelter from the damaging northeast wind. “We get full sun, but we’re blocked from the wind. It’s our own little ecosystem here,” says Will.
With the help of his uncle’s 3,000-acre farm in Gates County, Will was able to bring in soil that was composted from their cotton gin. “Sand’s not a bad base,” says Will. “It drains really well. Add compost to it and you’re in better shape.”
The Morgan family eats or juices much of what is grown in the garden, which includes kale, Swiss chard, lettuce, spinach, blueberries, collards, purple cabbage, blueberries, broccoli and peas. But any leftovers they like to give away to friends and customers of the Gallery. “We try not to let any of it go to waste,” says Will.
Backyard to Dinner Plate
Nathan Gerwig’s garden in Nags Head is relatively new. He looks youthful, more like a guy you might see on a skateboard than in a garden, but his green thumb is apparent. Nathan started his garden last year and gave Kill Devil Grill—the restaurant where he works—most of his basil and habaneros.
This year he’s gotten more ambitious, adding Roma tomatoes, onions, jalapenos and green peppers. And he knows now to keep a close eye on it—last year his dogs got into the garden and ruined much of his hard work.
He admits he’s a beginner, but the care he puts into it is obvious. It’s meticulously weeded and he’s gotten smarter about the dogs, adding wire around the most desirable plants.
Finding Peace and Comfort
Jo Ann Lassiter and Dave Rohde have an enviable backyard vegetable garden that they’ve tended for several years now, but the hidden gem at their house is the flower garden. Tucked away in a semi-private side yard is a blooming paradise filled with rose bushes, peonies, hydrangea, ferns, succulents, lavender and more.
Jo Ann planted the garden last year in honor of her son Al, who passed away from cancer in 2013. Two of Al’s painted surfboards with the fins removed hang on the fence as artwork.
“It was really Renee Landry’s idea,” says Jo Ann of the garden. Renee spread the word before Al’s memorial for people to bring flowers for planting rather than in vases or bouquets.
“I really think more people should do that,” she says of Al’s garden. “I’m out there a lot, every day.”
“Getting your hands in the dirt,” says Chris, “it just grounds you.”
[box] I expected to hear a lot of gardening tips when I interviewed these folks who turned sand into flowers, but what I found instead was these gardeners all had something in common. They enjoyed the beauty of their gardens, they enjoyed giving away the fruits of their labor, and they found peace in spending time working the earth.[/box]