Jennifer Christie, Atlanta, Georgia: A heavenly habitat

Today’s Backyards of the World feature comes all the way from the US. Jennifer Christie’s garden is a haven for local wildlife, thanks to her dedication to creating a harmonious environment away from the hustle and bustle. Consisting of solid clay and resting on granite, Jennifer’s garden is 1.25 acres in size.

Backyards of the world: Jennifer Christie
Who are you calling “Thief”. This birdseed is mine, all mine.

1. Please tell us who you are, where you live and what you do for a living.

I am Jennifer Christie. Originally British,  I now live in a suburban/rural community north of Atlanta, Georgia, USA.  I was CFO of a Medical Device Corporation and am now retired.

2. Please give some brief details about your garden, e.g. size, aspect, general soil type.

I garden on 1.25 acres of solid clay which rests on a massive lump of granite, stretching down from the mountains in the north of the State.  The garden is certified as a Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation and I do not use herbicides, pesticides or chemical fertilizers.

3. Why is it important for you to create a nice garden?

I am horrified by the attacks of mankind on the flora and fauna of the world. I feel totally inadequate to effect global change so I determined to create an attractive refuge for living things in my own small way.

4. How many hours a week do you spend working on your garden? 

I will only confess to 42 hours, but I always underestimate the time I spend on any project so it could be a little more……..

5. How much leisure time do you spend in your garden and what do you do?

Very little.  As soon as I settle down with a long G&T I see something I meant to do and off I go again.  A drink with melted ice is not so good.

6. What is your most prized plant and why?

A Daphne odora Aureomarginata.  It was given to me by my son and daughter-in-law as a garden-warming present 16 years ago.  The plant is now 4 feet tall and 5 feet wide and the perfume early every Spring is amazing.  It provides snacks for pollinators out for an early forage.

7. Which plant do you feel gives the best value in your garden?

I favor plants that are evergreen for shelter, flowering for pollen/nectar and fruit for food.  I love the much-hated Eleagnus ebbingei.  It flowers very late in the year so provides supplies for late foragers; birds adore the fruit, it fixes nitrogen, always has nests on the go and smells so amazing in October it brightens a walk around the garden.

8. What is/has been your biggest challenge in this garden?

Solid clay soil.  The land was a blank field that had never been cultivated when I moved in.  When it rains a lot, the earth has the look and feel of orange slime which is virtually impossible to dig.  When there is no rain, the earth seizes up like concrete which is equally impossible to dig.

9. What has been your biggest gardening disaster?

Bamboo.  There was the site of an old road running across the property and a nurseryman advised me to plant bamboo as it would break up the old footing of the road.  By the time the culms were shooting up, bigger than my arm around I realised I had a problem.  That was years ago and I still spend too many hours cutting down sprouts that return.  I am told that as soon as you make a cut in the bamboo, paint or spray with glyphosate.  I won’t do that so it continues as an almost daily labour of hate.

10. What is your favourite gardening shortcut or tip, and who taught you it?

“Planning for the seasons and coming years in a garden makes you live longer”.
I have arthritis which slows me down somewhat but the guy who installed my metal knees said that gardeners live a long while.  They are always planning for the future and can’t miss what is going to happen next season. Based on that, providing my knees don’t rust, I am in this for the long-haul.

11. Which plant do you wish you could grow, but cannot?

Fruit trees.  I am not up for the spraying regimen to ensure sound produce.  It has got to the stage where not even the creatures will eat the miserable, shriveled peaches.

12. What is your oldest plant, and how old is it?

Nothing is older than the 16 years I have gardened here but there are quite a number, like the Daphne, from that time.  There are many rules about movement of plants across State borders here in the US so I have never tried to keep plants as I have moved.

13. Where do you find information on which plants to grow and how to care for them?

I am lucky enough to have a large library of great books from UK and different States across US but now I find the Internet is a wonderful, up-to-the-minute resource.  I love Botanical Garden and University sites especially.

14. Do you grow anything to eat, and which have you had the most success with?

I do try.  I have some huge blueberry plants but never yet managed to steal a blueberry.  The minute they show any signs of ripening a feathery invasion begins.  I try to grow broccoli and kale but it seems a pity to take it away from the caterpillars.  I attempt to grow big, fancy tomatoes but they make really good houses for slugs.  I’m successful with the really tiny tomatoes like Tiny Tim; I suppose because no one else wants them.  On the other hand, I did grow some nice Bell Peppers, but only because I don’t like them.  I sometimes get a passionfruit or a pineapple guava but only because the chipmunks have missed them. I am successful at growing mint in many varieties, parsley, oregano, chives, garlic and lemon thyme.

15. Do you admire any famous gardeners or gardens?

I do admire Alan Titchmarsh.  He has done a great deal to take a lot of the mystique out of gardening and make people see that even a tiny space can be special and rewarding.

16. What have you learnt from your own garden?

It is possible to have an attractive, plant-filled space that is also home to hundreds of creatures such as opossums, chipmunks, bats, birds of every size from Great Blue Herons to Ruby-throated Humming Birds, fish, snakes, lizards, frogs, tree frogs, toads, spiders and insects of all shapes and sizes.  It may be messy to human eyes but none of the foregoing care about that.  The Garden has taught my now 9 year old granddaughter more about living things than she could ever learn by any other means.

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