You choose, we deliver
If you are interested in this story, you might be interested in others from The Journal Gazette. Go to www.journalgazette.net/newsletter and pick the subjects you care most about. We'll deliver your customized daily news report at 3 a.m. Fort Wayne time, right to your email.

Home & Garden

  • Neighbors join as investors
    When a group of neighbors heard a neglected house at 261 E. Fleming Ave. was about to be auctioned off last year, they embarked on a strategy for neighborhood revitalization.
  • Built to last on North Anthony
    This is a time of year that Fort Wayne homeowner Beth Didier loves. “The garden is so pretty,” she says.
  • (No heading)
    Looking to put in a new fence?Top-rated fencing pros tell our team that, based on a typical fence length of 200 linear feet and average prices for types of materials, here’s what you could spend ...
Advertisement
information
•More information about the sustainable gardens and neighborhoods program can be had by emailing kemeryr@purdue.edu or calling 481-5826, Option 3.
Photos by Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Ed and Cynthia Powers’ garden was recently certified as sustainable by the Allen County Purdue Extension office.

Couple creates sustainable garden over the years

A deck surrounding a large tree provides a walkway to the backyard at Ed and Cynthia Powers’ home.
The hallway to the bedrooms begins with bookshelves full of hundreds of books on birds that Ed Powers owns. Powers and his wife, Cynthia are avid bird watchers.
Ed Powers built the home in which he and his wife, Cynthia, live. The home features rustic wood throughout and has an open floor plan that uses passive solar heating in addition to a wood-burning stove.
Photos by Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Carefully placed windows light up the living room of Ed and Cynthia Powers’ home that Ed built himself. Powers placed the windows and calculated the roof line to take advantage of solar heating properties of the windows for added winter heat.

In Ed and Cynthia Powers’ tree-filled front yard outside Roanoke stands a rustic wooden sign reading “Wildlife Habitat.”

It could be seen as a joke about the retired couple’s relaxed gardening style – “benign neglect,” Ed calls it.

But it’s also a reflection of the couple’s serious and lifelong approach to the environment – it was earned as an official designation from the National Wildlife Federation decades ago.

Ed, 76, and Cynthia, 75, were “green” long before most folks even knew what it meant. When they were young in the 1970s, they – well, mostly Ed – built their house themselves. They say they were inspired by articles in the Whole Earth Catalog, a counterculture magazine of the time.

So, when the two heard of a new program of the Purdue Extension’s Allen County office to certify sustainable gardens, they were soon on board.

“We enjoy wildlife and birds, and we wanted to promote sustainable living,” says Cynthia, a master gardener and master naturalist who continues to teach about wildlife at Fox Island County Park.

The couple say they were a bit intimidated when they received a nearly 50-item checklist of sustainable practices. But they easily accumulated 61 points – the three-star, or next-to-highest, level – without having to do much of anything different or additional, Cynthia says.

Use compost as mulch or fertilizer in gardens or lawns? Check. Remove or replace a problem tree? Check. Interplant flowers and vegetables? Check. Have raised-bed gardens? Check.

Include native plants in landscaping? Check – and immediately apparent from the bright-orange cluster of flowering butterfly milkweed in a bed at the end of the driveway.

Master gardener Pam Snyder of Fort Wayne, a coordinator of the certification program, says best gardening practices relative to the environment have been changing rapidly. She says members of the local extension committee that drew up the certification checklist wanted to promote their wider use.

“We wanted to go beyond things like just recycling,” she says. “We wanted to see more people getting into other things, like encouraging people to compost, grow native plants, use low-phosphate fertilizers, rain barrels and things like that.”

She and the committee began two years ago to research sustainable practices with the certification program rolled out this year.

With minimal publicity, eight homes and businesses in Fort Wayne and Allen County have been certified, says Ricky Kemery, horticulture educator for the extension and program adviser.

The “modest goal,” he says, is certifying 10 properties in the first year and aiming for additional homes and businesses and neighborhood organizations in upcoming years.

“What we’re seeing is that a lot of people are interested in being sustainable,” he says. “And we find that people are a lot more sustainable than they think they are.”

People qualify for certification by gathering points in three checklist categories: Vegetable and Flower Gardens, Lawn and Landscapes and General.

In the latter category, points can be garnered for patronizing a farm market or Community Supported Agriculture grower, buying organic produce, joining a local environmental organization or using the Extension services.

The former two categories include more land-specific practices.

They include not using cypress or dyed mulch, leaving grass clippings on the lawn, mulching leaves into the lawn or garden plots, planting drought-tolerant species, using low-phosphorous and/or corn gluten lawn and garden fertilizer and removing invasive plants.

Homeowners are sometimes asked to provide documentation of their practices in the form of photos, bills or receipts. And an evaluation team from the Extension visits the property before certification is issued.

The certification form comes with a sheet of definitions and resources for homeowners to use in making changes.

So far, the main reward for participation is bragging rights, Kemery says – and a nice plaque. But certification also offers other incentives – free or discounted perennials at Riverview Nursery in Spencerville, a guide to ACRES Land Trust preserves and a map of Eagle Marsh Trails.

“We’re encouraged by our visits,” Kemery says. “People are very proud that someone is recognizing that they’re trying to be sustainable. We’re hoping that more folks see that and get on board with the program.”

Cynthia Powers says she can’t imagine a reason not to be on board. As she leads a visitor around her yard, she points out a busy hummingbird feeder and a bee box on a pole – a home for small native pollinators.

“Look,” she says as a couple of tiny bees buzz around her head. “There’s one. They’re definitely using it.”

She shows off the native Virginia creeper she uses as ground cover between her hosta plants and the wild ginger that grows without a lot of encouragement. A native prairie mix she sowed in one of her raised beds is growing tall.

Then there’s the native redbud that was recently planted. And there’s where invasive honeysuckle used to grow – before Ed, a retired engineering company draftsman, pulled it out.

In the couple’s 40 years on the property, she says, the two, both avid birdwatchers, have documented more than 120 species of birds on or over the land.

“I think it’s very important to get children interested in nature,” Cynthia says. “I think if people’s backyards are managed in ways that to favor nature and attract wildlife, people will get more interested in it and want to take care of it more.”

Ed Powers – who, 40 years ago, recycled maple wood out of Portland Forge and Foundry for his kitchen cabinets and incorporated passive solar principles into his family’s house – decides to add his two cents’ worth.

“Why do this? Stuff isn’t infinite,” he says. “And it’s an interdependent web we live in.”

rsalter@jg.net

Advertisement