Gardening runs in the family for many of those participating in Mt. Lebanon Public Library’s annual garden tour.
“I thought gardening was just what people did,” said avid gardener Barbara Logan, Valleyview Road, who learned the craft from her mother.
On June 26, flower lovers, amateur gardeners and hawk-eyed horticulturists flocked to each stop of the sold-out garden tour, where they were blown away by a 50-year old rhododendron, dragon lady holly and many other rare finds. The 2022 tour featured five Mt. Lebanon gardens, including one that was on the first garden tour in 1991.
Reflecting on sunny summers growing up, Logan said, “What I really liked to do was lie down on the ground and eat the peas off the vines.”
In her Michigan garden, “blessed by glaciers,” Logan and her mom grew apple trees, cherry trees, raspberries, strawberries and grapes in the rich, fertile soil.
Jane Broeren, Terrace Drive, another gardener on the tour, also grew up under her mother’s guidance and love of gardening.
“My mom used to give me forget-me-not seeds,” Broeren said.
Similar to the garden Louisa May Alcott described in Little Women, where each sister cultivated her own section, Broeren had a little section of her family’s garden where she planted forget-me-nots growing up.
Her garden has moved from a little patch in her parents’ yard to a highly acclaimed space recently featured by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A master gardener with Phipps Conservatory and a member of the Garden Club of Allegheny County, she’s always thinking of ways to improve her garden.
“Even when it’s winter out here, I’m thinking, ‘Okay, what am I going to do? What’s my next phase?’” Broeren said.
She joked that these plans usually include the help of her husband, Jack, who married into the gardening legacy.
Reflecting on how Jane has trained him over the years, Jack said, “It’s basically recognizing the student and that the student has limited skills.”
“But, I taught you a lot!” Jane quipped.
Jack nodded. “She did. She did teach me a lot. But, recognize that I can likely not identify most of the things here. But, I have a go-to resource. It’s like an encyclopedia standing with you,” he said.
Jane not only encourages her husband to join in on the gardening experience, but her daughter, Kati, as well, who loves growing hydrangeas at her Greensburg residence.
This love for gardening arguably began with Broeren’s parents’ expansive garden where they grew peonies in their Midway Road home. But, it was Jane’s ingenuity that landed her a spot on the garden tour. She first joined in 2010 and was inspired by her mother’s creativity and artistic talent, which she employs in her gardening. Co-owner of The Fabric Place, her mother, Gert Farrell, had a unique creative vision when it came to fabrics, which Jane carries on through her garden.
In addition, Jane’s garden is full of sentimental flowers that connect her to beautiful family memories.
“I try to plant things that I have memories of,” she said. “So, I have peonies that remind me of Midway. The lilies are not blooming yet, but we had lilies at our wedding. When they bloom, it reminds me of our wedding.”
Similarly, Helene McQuaide, White Oak Circle, started cultivating her space of natural beauty and serenity after gardening with her grandmother.
“I started gardening when I was maybe eight years old with my grandmother,” McQuaide said.
She loved to go to her grandmother’s house on the weekends because, as the oldest of five, it offered the only opportunity to feel like an only child.
“One thing she had a passion for was gardening,” she said. “She had this huge bed with the Blessed Mary statue in the middle, and she would have all these rows of flowers and it was really just magnificent looking and then when I got my own home, I just had that sense of, ‘I can make this look good with color and texture and flowers.’ That’s how I got into gardening.”
Most of McQuaide’s memories with her grandmother revolve around their gardening together. When she bought her first home, her grandmother came to help with the gardening. While she never made it to see the on-tour garden at 805 White Oak Circle, McQuaide is certain she would have loved it.
“In fact, if she was alive, she’d be here right now, talking with everybody, explaining different flowers,” McQuaide said.
When asked about her favorite flower, she answered exactly how her grandmother would have wanted.
“Portulaca…My grandmother was Polish, and she’d said, ‘Helenka, you have to have portulacas.”’
A “kind of weird little flower,” portulaca are a spindly, almost succulent-like plant that have big, colorful flowers.
“They’re drought-proof,” she said. “You can’t kill a portulaca.”
While she takes inspiration from her grandmother’s love of flowers, McQuaide continues growing her garden because she believes it’s important to find a place of serenity for herself.
“I think it’s important to find a place in your life where you can relax and center yourself and I think being in nature, for me, and being surrounded by the beauty I’ve created…that grounds me,” said McQuaide. “Especially during these crazy times. When the media, when it gets to be too much, I feel that a garden can really ground you.”