Growing Connection

With spring and summer gardening ahead, find inspiration in this Westerville couple’s landscape — a labor of love for them and their grandchildren.

When Jeff and Linda Laine were raising their two children, they often assigned gardening chores as discipline. “Pull 10 weeds,” Linda would tell her daughter when she misbehaved. Twenty years later as grandparents, the couple finds, ironically, that their grandkids enjoy pulling weeds and deadheading flowers in their lush landscape in Westerville.

The fun begins as the grandchildren  arrive at the front door. Here, they duck beneath 5-foot cleome flowers forming a tunnel across the entry path. “It’s a little wonderland with everything growing over their heads,” says Linda.

Eleven-year-old Lindsey finds her bug box on the front bench and recalls the sphinx moth she caught on her last visit. Linda explains, “They’re very elusive and difficult to photograph, and here she is carrying one around in her hands and saying, ’Look what I found.’”

Around back, Linda shows Lindsey and her two brothers Laine, 9, and Leif, 6, the latest blooms in the new children’s garden that Lindsey helped with. The young girl delights in seeing the new marigold plants that sprouted from seeds she’d spread from deadheading faded marigold blooms.

Leif finds a giraffe pencil sharpener atop a stone in the fairy garden. It’s one of his own toys that he gave to Grandma for her birthday. Grandson Laine disappears in search of the concrete obelisk that he made with Grandpa and looks for their four handmade mushrooms also tucked throughout the back yard’s gardens.

Lindsey moves on to a second pint-sized garden to make sure all the furniture that she and Grandpa designed is still in place. She smiles as she spots a tiny handcrafted twig arbor that Grandpa has added for her.

Today, even Jeff and Linda’s adult children have grown to love the garden that their parents have fervently tended over the past two decades. “It’s pretty incredible what they’ve built this up to be,” says daughter Allison. She says her three children share her parents’ gardening passion. “The gardening genes must have skipped a generation.”

The Laines’ son Jarrett, who used to avoid mowing the lawn, now helps his dad with building projects, including the expansive deck and more recently the arbor and fence in the children’s garden. Jarrett proposed to his girlfriend Natalie with a pot of “Marry Me” dahlias from the garden’s stellar dahlia collection. Natalie subsequently requested giant white dahlias from the garden for her wedding bouquet and a bounty of more colorful ones for reception table arrangements. The couple also turned to the garden as the venue for their rehearsal dinner.

Since the days of “pull 10 weeds,” the Laines have transformed their empty suburban half-acre lot into one that blooms nonstop through the seasons. When the couple moved into their new home in 1991, their back yard was void of color. Project by project, they created inviting garden spaces, a wooden deck, pool spa, paver patio and screened gazebo to entertain family and friends. Their property has become a favorite stop on Westerville’s annual Westaflora garden tour, including this year’s tour on July 21, 1–7 p.m.

Linda says her lively backyard design has evolved through trial and error, inspirations from garden visits in the U.S. and Europe, and lessons from other gardeners.

“I love experimenting,” she says, especially when it comes to different color combinations in the garden and on the home’s exterior. Case in point: When the couple repainted the front gray shutters in periwinkle, Linda liked the color so much she repeated the hue at the back of the house.

After visiting Anne Hathaway’s cottage gardens in England, Linda says she was inspired to adopt their signature jam-packed, informal style. “I could do that,” says this self-taught gardener. “Besides, I never was a neat row person.”

Jeff says Linda has a gift for design. “She’ll return home from a garden center with a trunk load of plants and plans for a new flower bed she’s envisioned while walking the aisles of plants.”  
The Laines’ seasonal show begins with spring daffodils, tulips, alliums, bleeding hearts, spiderworts, clematis, baptisia and flowering crabapple and cherry trees. In May, Linda fills borders and containers with annuals in pinks, blues and purples — colors that complement the house’s shutters and trim. A new cast of flowers welcomes summer and a host of birds and butterflies: dome-shaped pink and white hydrangeas, purple salvia, fuschia phlox, yellow daylilies, purple coneflowers and other cottage-style perennials. The Laines’ garden closes with a showy finale — purple asters, red fountain grasses, maroon sedum, cobalt delphiniums, golden helianthus and an impressive collection of 200 richly colored dahlias.

These spectacular dahlia blooms, several as large as dinner plates, thrive on the Laines’ special care. In April, they pot the tubers to start them indoors. On Mother’s Day, the couple transfers the plants to the garden and inserts stakes (electrical conduit pipes painted green) to support their 3- to 7-foot growth later in the season. Monthly doses of liquid fertilizer help fuel their growth, and removing side buds encourages bigger blooms. After the first hard freeze, they dig the tubers, wash and dry them, label them with indelible markers and store them in pine shavings in the garage until spring.

“It’s amazing to me how much a passion and joy gardening has become for them,” says Allison.

A contagious passion, indeed.


Known as the “garden angel” in her Westerville neighborhood, Linda Laine generously shares gardening advice with others, including these tips:

Getting Started
• Assemble a list of favorite plants and gather design ideas from magazines, others’ gardens and memories of parents’ or grandparents’ gardens.
• Start with one simple project — possibly a bed in the back yard — before tackling a full-scale landscape renovation.
• Outline the bed with a gardening hose, then mark the line with spray paint. Dig up the soil, remove sod or excess mulch, mix in compost and add new top soil if necessary.
• Plant shrubs first, then fill gaps with perennials. Add annuals for instant color pop. Linda advises planting in the morning or on a cool, overcast day.
• Water new plants thoroughly, then continue watering every few days until the plants are established.

Designing Spaces
• Use your senses. For sound, add chimes and water fountains. For smell, choose fragrant bloomers such as hosta “Plantaginea Venus,” lilac and honeysuckle vine. For sight, combine eye-catching color combinations. For touch, look for contrasting textures such as velvety lamb’s ear, flowing grasses and structural seed heads.
• Create inviting habitats to welcome birds and butterflies. The Laines have added multiple birdhouses, bird baths and pollinator-loving plants such as salvia and verbena.
• Adopt themes to focus garden designs. The Laines have a rose garden, a children’s garden, a green-and-white garden, a wedding garden and a memorial garden that honors their parents.
• Personalize your space with ornaments collected from travels and arts festivals.
• Take photos of your garden to consider changes for the coming year.

Working Smart
• Begin each month by deadheading all plants, loosening the mulch at the base of the plants and fertilizing them.
• Remember to fertilize in the morning or evening to avoid burning plants in the afternoon heat.
• Invest in good tools to make the work easier. Linda’s favorites include a cultivator hoe, a small ladies shovel and hand pruners.
• Pull a wagon filled with gardening supplies such as tools, insecticidal soaps and collapsible garden waste bins.
• Save money by purchasing small plants early in the season and watching them grow.
• Continue to learn. Take classes and borrow books from the library. Visit public gardens or participate in garden tours.

Having Fun
• Try three to five new annuals or perennials each year.
• Swap plants with friends and neighbors.
• Play music and keep cool drinks nearby while gardening.