>> Friday, July 24, 2009
A year before we moved to the Triangle, we drove down to see how we would like it. When we got home, friends asked what we thought, and the best thing I could think to say was, "There are a lot of trees."
I've lived on the eastern side of the Mississippi most of my life. I'm used to trees, and if I ever had to move West, it's one of the the things I would miss the most. But I've never seen a city with so many trees - and I'm not talking Bradford Pears. These are grand old oaks, pines, and maples growing densely together as if the houses sprouted up in the middle of the woods, rather than the trees growing up around the houses. Standing in my husband's office in one of the skyscrapers in downtown Raleigh, I look out and see a great sea of green - instead of the usual urban expanse of concrete and pavement.
The trees are one of the aspects of this area that I love the most. They are beautiful but also valuable for their shade and carbon storage. But there is a downside to having so many trees - you can't have a garden without lots of sun.
One Cary resident has found a unique solution to the problem of a shady yard. Betsy Megalos has been gardening her whole life, receiving a BS in Horticulture from Pennsylvania State University and an MS in Horticultural Science from NC State. But when she and her husband bought a house in Cary over 15 years ago, they found that their backyard was too shady for a garden. So they looked to the front yard.
Over the years, Betsy removed a few trees in her front yard, creating an open sunny place for vegetables and herbs. She also added several terraced levels since her house is situated at the top of a small hill. She has tried to keep the costs of her large garden to a minimum by using recycled or borrowed materials, such as bamboo from a friend's yard to create a trellis for beans and squash.
Betsy suggests that beginning gardeners start with an herb or container garden, which can be situated close to the house. She explains that herbs are generally hardier and therefore easier for inexperienced gardeners to grow.
Betsy has also put in a children's garden with her next-door neighbor. She loves to plant sunflowers in gardens for children, although she says that she has had a problem this year with the squirrels making off with the sunflowers. "One of the problems of gardening in the suburbs," she says. "There aren't any predators to keep the squirrels in line."
Although Betsy tries to use organic methods in her garden, she focuses more on sustainable gardening and building a balance in the natural wildlife. She explains, "Some 'organic' methods that can kill your pests also end up killing your beneficial insects." Betsy mixes flowers with her vegetables, both for aesthetics and also to encourage pollination. She also loves to see lizards lurking in her terrace walls.
Betsy teaches horticulture at Wake Tech Community College but is also available for workshops and private instruction at her home. You can learn more about Betsy and her classes by visiting her website.
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- Spotlight on Raleigh: Community Gardens, Just Getting Started
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