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Garden of Front & Backyard Wildlife Habitat


There is no doubt which house belongs to Marty Oostveen on this suburban street in Hillsborough, New Jersey. The front “yard” is composed of gardens under ornamental fruit trees, and the town’s right-of-way-turned-perennial-gardens are a billboard for this Certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat. Between street and sidewalk beneficial attractors, including five-foot asters and sprawling grasses, buddleia, Echinacea, coreopsis and sedum, spout seed as they await visitors.

“I’m no fan of grass,” says Oostveen, professional garden designer and president of Gardeners of Somerset Valley Garden Club. “When I first moved in they reseeded this out front. I thought, ‘That’s not going to work for me,’” as she points to a tiny patch of lawn as concession to traditional suburbanization. Needless to say, the property says “gardener.” Oostveen quickly got to work in those early days in 1997 with a blank slate – or should I say “Brunswick Shale.” She brought in plants and made a garden front, sides and back.

Now, most of the perennials out front re-seed themselves and Oostveen and the birds like that: asters, Autumn Joy, flax that reblooms and reseeds endlessly, columbine, alyssum, Echinacea that goldfinches love, bearded iris… “I leave the seeds for the birds. It’s more fun to watch your garden that way,” she says. Oostveen’s entire garden is made for pleasure – hers and critters'.

Under an upright Japanese cherry, peonies grow with coreopsis, Oriental and Orienpet lilies, Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick and castor bean. A raised bed contains a small hedge of Miss Kim lilac that defines the curved walk to the front door. “It’s a nice little hedge and when it blooms, it stops traffic,” she says.

Near the house a white ash towers over peonies, lots of columbine, heuchera, snow drops, viburnum, tall anemones, hosta and a horizontally-growing Harry Lauder Walking Stick.

Around the side and through the drapes of weeping Blue Atlas Cedar, in the shade of a clematis arbor, Oostveen’s collection of give-aways resides. As garden club president, she grows babies from her garden to bring to meetings.

Japanese maples and small willows are Oostveen’s pawns of privacy. Dense rosemary, variegated, contorted and Dwarf Blue Arctic willows line the fence, most atop a four-foot trunk where they are cut back every year. Others are shrubby from the ground up.

A one-fifth acre does not deter Oostveen from having her fill. Every inch is covered. A path, sometimes dirt with slate and moss, other times pavers, winds through the lushness to a cabana retreat, past waterfall and pond with frogs, goldfish and celestials, through collections planted for butterflies and larvae, to a hideaway under the willows and yellow memorial garden for her mother, then back through a work area and a patio built for comfort.

Collections of tropical begonias and carnivorous plants are front and back. Some areas are experimental, for instance scattered spots with blue mouse ears hosta to see where it lives best.

Among Oostveen’s crafty creations are painted florals on found windows, old shutters turned into vertical gardens, and hens & chicks in her husband’s size 9 shoes complete with drainage holes. A large mirror on the wall extends the view and size of her garden.

“When I started it was just space with tons of sun and now, 16 years later, I have a shaded woodland garden.” She pruned up a large specimen of Harry Lauder (another one) and made a garden under it for double the pleasure. “Now I can see the structure of the tree.”

Under the cut back willow trees, Oostveen lounges on a chaise at the end of the day and enjoys the show. “When you’re done working, this is the perfect spot.” Hummingbirds come every day at 9 and 4 like clockwork for the nearby buddleia and false dragonhead and goldfinches come for liatris and double orange day lily seed. Meanwhile, larvae feed on curly parsley planted in small sunny spots, like at the entrance to her back garden

It wasn’t always so, she says. “For the first ten years I barely sat down. That’s when I went to Rutgers and started taking classes. I started my own little business and I get paid for what I love to do. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

On the last side of the house, the espaliered pyracantha covers an industrial trellis she bought online from Switzerland’s Jacob & Company. “I saw it. I knew I gotta have it.”

The question is: Can Oostveen fit her one last wish with into her garden? “I’ve always wanted a stumpery. I need a bigger garden with more stumps to do a real stumpery.”

She also wants to learn grafting…

Marty Oostveen’s garden: www.martysgarden.us
** Photos by Mary Jasch

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