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Gardening and More: Compromises and shade bring Hamburg couple’s garden together

The centerpiece for Dave and Barb Whittemore’s garden is a combination of their personalities., much like the garden itself. Barb wanted a waterfall, Dave a train layout; the result? A waterfall circled by a train.
Barb and Dave Whittemore of 33 Sherwood Ave., Hamburg, have a shady backyard. Shade is a challenge if you want a colorful and interesting ornamental garden.

But when I visited the Whittemores during the National Garden Festival’s Open Gardens, which concluded at the end of July, I saw a fabulous display of lush plants with plenty of color.

Part of the reason for their success is that each has an affinity for plants that are staples in shady gardens.

“I collect astilbe,” Dave said, “and Barb collects hostas.”

The yard may have been more colorful this year than it usually is in July because our spring was so late and the colorful astilbe was blooming later than it usually does, he added. After the bloom is done, he leaves the brown flower heads in place. He heard that people spray paint the dried flower heads while they’re still in the garden, but he doesn’t do that.

“I’m content with them” as they are, he said.

While hostas do get flowers, they are known more for the variety of foliage they offer. Barb looks for textures to add interest in the garden.

For color, she uses annuals. Like so many Western New York gardeners, she depended on impatiens until downy mildew struck two years ago and killed her plants.

“For me, not being able to use impatiens is tough,” Barb said. “It was nothing for me to buy 18 flats of impatiens. Impatiens was my flower of choice.”

If your impatiens were affected by downy mildew, your impatiens will probably get it every year. Fungicides applied by growers may protect the plant for a couple months, but then the plant may die. There is nothing at all for a home gardener to use to treat the plant. Many local nurseries have stopped growing impatiens.

Now when she wants color, Barb uses a mixture of annuals, including coleus, which has leaves in many hues and patterns. She likes the new trailing coleus plants.

Tip: She will buy one plant, cut off the ends, and root those pieces to get more plants.

“Shade gardens can present a challenge, but they can be great fun,” Barb said. “And on a hot day, you don’t get overheated working in a shade garden.”

The Whittemores’ yard is sloped, so Barb manages the gardens at the top of the yard while Dave handles the bottom. When it came time to put in a centerpiece for the yard, Barb wanted a waterfall and Dave wanted a garden railway layout.

They compromised and created a waterfall surrounded by a railroad.

“What’s so nice is this is a hobby Barb and I can do together,” Dave said.

Connie Oswald Stofko is publisher of, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email


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2014-08-22 | 14:09:02
Whittemore's garden
Great story