March 2008 Issue
Life in Full Bloom
Joyce Marting's historical garden enchants all who view it.
Passersby often pause to admire the historic West Akron garden’s daylilies, which tumble over a 93-year-old roadside stone wall. They stop, in awe of the mature Norway spruce and the pastel-colored perennials thriving in its shade. Yet, for 58-year gardening veteran Joyce Marting, it’s the more subtle daily surprises that bring her the greatest joy from her garden. One morning, it was a promising bleeding heart emerging voluntarily from seeds that had fallen between the cracks of the stone path, just steps from her back door. Another morning, it was the first blooms on last year’s barren lily plant.
“It tickles me to have surprises, and I feel paid off knowing I had a role in making that happen,” says 83-year-old Marting, in her soft native Georgian drawl, as she deadheads an allium and hopefully casts the seeds over the bed.
A role indeed. Marting has maintained the cottage-style garden for 41 years, restoring what she describes as an overgrown “jungle” and working on it for six to eight hours a day during its peak years. Her artistry and hard work have not only earned the respect of her fellow gardening friends, but also gained her garden a place in the Smithsonian Archives in 1998.
Marting’s Greek Revival-style home was originally built for John and Fanny Ayres in 1834, and was surrounded by 54 acres of farmland. The home’s cobblestone masonry was likely crafted by Erie Canal stonemasons. This folk art, using palm-sized stones prevalent from glacial deposits, flourished in western New York in the mid-1800s and appeared sparingly in the Midwest as a few masons traveled west.
In 1924, Margaret and Fred Barton rescued and renovated the abandoned house and landscaped the then-two-acre property. Marting says the couple contracted Albert Good, a noted local architect at the time, to oversee the work at a time before historic restoration was in vogue.
According to John Miller, former director of the University of Akron’s archival services (which maintains an archive file on the Marting property), the Bartons’ landscaping occurred during a golden age of large-scale Akron landscaping projects led by renowned landscape architects Warren Manning and Alling DeForest.
To landscape the cobblestone home, the Bartons designed a cottage-style garden with closely planted gardens surrounding the house and enclosed by a white picket fence. Marting says Mrs. Barton was a “real horticulturalist,” a member of the Akron Garden Club and a collector of the latest plants.
After caring for the home and gardens for some 30 years, the Bartons sold the property in 1961. The home changed hands again in the early 1960s. The lot size was reduced to a half acre, and the owner died unexpectedly.
When Marting purchased the home and its overgrown property in 1965, she was a new divorcee, a mother of two grown children and a psychology graduate student. However, she was not new to gardening. For 18 years, she had cared for flower and vegetable gardens at her Frank Lloyd Wright–style home in rural Akron.
While she came to the property with plenty of hands-on experience, she says, “I thought I knew everything, but nothing knocks you down to size like taking on a new garden.”
As she strolls through the property, Marting demonstrates her respect for nature, her artistic eye and her humble but generous character. Preserving the cottage garden style, she effectively juxtaposes perennials and self-seeding annuals for a continuous sequence of color. “I never have a favorite,” she says. “Whatever is doing beautifully [at the time] I love.”
According to garden experts, this deceptively easygoing planting scheme requires significant plant knowledge to establish and hard work to maintain. Marting says the weather extremes of a Zone 5 climate provide additional gardening challenges.
Beginning in the front gardens, Marting highlights key structural elements such as the signature stone wall and an original brick path from the front door to the curb.
Barton’s hellebores, as well as lilies, liatris, sedum and daisies fill the beds beneath a crab tree. A mature Norway spruce provides shade to dianthus, columbine, peonies, alliums, Annabelle hydrangeas and oakleaf hydrangeas.
Along the front of the cobblecote, Marting enjoys tulips in the spring, followed by exotic pineapple flowers in the summer. This year, she was surprised to see an amaryllis bulb accidentally sprouting among these other tender bulbs that she had replanted from winter storage. Marting chose a shade-loving Dutchman’s pipe vine to climb the arched arbor framing the north-facing front door.
Continuing to the side of the property, Marting points out the prolific English ginger that she loves to give away, and a mature ginkgo that started as a “four-inch stick,” which she brought home from a visit to Ohio State University’s Agriculture Research and Development Center in Wooster. Gesturing to a stump filled with a potted coleus, Marting recalls cutting down the aging 200-year white pine some 20 years ago to prevent it from falling on the house.
In the back, other noble trees provide further framework and historic context for the garden. A pin oak that was a young tree when Marting arrived is now covered with ivy and towers over the back. An American beech and a dozen hemlocks along the back edge of the property complete the gardens with a graceful shaded area for ivy, hostas, and wildflowers from her garden club’s rescue digs.
While Marting has experimented with several plants, she says she finds few with the conditions right for having a permanent place in her garden. She recalls trying the summer-blooming golden-rain tree in the back yard three times before finally giving up on the Asian native. “A plant just tells you ‘no,’” she says.
Three-inch climbing hydrangea, trumpet and honeysuckle vines cover an arbor over a stone slab patio. A nearby vegetable garden has been relocated and reduced in size over the years as more shade encroaches on the property. Today, the garden contains herbs, a cucumber vine, which Marting says will probably be consumed by the resident groundhog, and newly divided, or seeded, plants she’s nursing.
A one-woman show, Marting has primarily maintained the gardens by herself (seeking help only with weekly lawn mowing and annual tree trimming services). She looked after the garden while working at the Child Guidance Center, where she retired as the acting clinical director in 1991. As some physical limits have recently restricted her gardening time to one-and-a-half hours a day, she has reduced the number of potted plants and welcomed the generous help of garden club members and a local landscaping firm.
Self–taught through books, garden club activities, volunteering at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, and trial and error, one lesson Marting has learned over the years is the importance of correctly siting a plant according to its needs, as opposed to its owner’s needs. “In my battles with nature, I’ve never won yet,” she says.
In the summer of 2005, 60 gardening friends hosted a luncheon to honor Marting. Event host and archive photographer Jane Rogers says that despite Marting’s claims to have just “preserved” the gardens, “She is the living force behind the garden for the past 40 years.”
In her closing notes for the luncheon, Rogers said, “I think I would not be exaggerating to say thousands of people know and readily recognize her home and garden, and those same strangers make conscious decisions to take a detour just to drive by — ever so slowly — to view whatever is blooming that week.”
Take a detour in Akron and drive by 2060 White Pond Dr. to catch a gratifying glimpse for yourself.