Special recognition: Shirley and Jim Lustek, Woodberry

2011 Garden Contest Winner

  • Shirley Lustek is a winner in the Garden Contest for her unique common-land garden, which she has to scale an 8-foot wall to maintain.
Shirley Lustek is a winner in the Garden Contest for her unique… (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
July 13, 2011|By Liz Atwood, Special to The Baltimore Sun

A true gardener cannot stand to see a barren piece of ground — even if it doesn't belong to her and even if the only way to reach it is to climb an 8-foot retaining wall.

When Shirley and Jim Lustek moved from the Cleveland suburbs to an end-of-group townhouse in Woodberry in 2006, Shirley knew she would have to make some changes to the view outside her windows.

A black metal fence, a few tufts of Queen Anne's lace and some tough grasses were all that she could see next to her house in the swath of ground belonging to the homeowners association. Even after the association added a few small dogwood trees and a pin oak, she wasn't satisfied.

"I decided I had to do something about this," she says.

In May 2008, she went to work, tearing up the grasses and improving the soil. "I went to Kmart brought back 40-50 bags of top soil," she says.

She and her husband hoisted the 40-pound bags up to the garden by standing on a six-foot step ladder. Once the bag was on the wall, the other would begin spreading it.

Shirley volunteered for the property owners' committee and told them she was instigating a "beautification project." No one opposed.

"I was enhancing my world," she says.

At first she wanted to plant native species and perennials, but as friends gave her plants, the garden grew. She brought back plants from Cleveland, including wood violets and brunnera. She added dwarf crape myrtles. She planted 100 daffodil bulbs and 100 grape hyacinths and added anemones.

"I wanted to be able from early spring to have something coming up all the time in the garden," she said.

Her passion surprised even herself. She thought she had left gardening behind when she left a half-acre lot in Cleveland.

"When I came here was it was kind of a relief. Getting away from the grass cutting was a sad thing but a good thing at the same time," she says.

What she learned, though, was that she could not give up gardening even though she had given up the garden.

Now outside her window she sees yellow daisies, purple loosestrife, lavender, tickseed, sages, butterfly weed, false indigo, herbs, dianthus, yarrow, ironweed, joe-pye weed, chrysanthemums, five different kinds of columbine, hydrangea, money plants and phlox. Leyland cypresses and honeysuckle will eventually help screen her view from the back of nearby row houses.

Her goal is to increase the density of the plantings so she will have to weed less.

"I enjoy looking at birds, flowers, bees, squirrels. I didn't have that until I created that environment," she says.

Favorite plants: delphiniums, false indigo, yellow daisies

Tips: "Evaluate the size of the undertaking. It wasn't more than I thought it was, but it was a lot of work. But the payoff is what you enjoy," Lustek says.

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