Post Office Retiree Now Delivers Beauty

Posted: September 22, 1991

Ken Chapman's little Germantown garden is one of the neatest I've ever seen - every leaf in order, every stake in place. When he bought the house 14 years ago, just after he retired as a supervisor at the Main Post Office, 30th and Market Streets, the back yard was a mess, with a tangle of weeds and vines and a nice stone bench upended in the back.

Bit by bit, Chapman cleared the back yard and put up a wooden fence at the bottom of the property to screen out the neighbors. Now there's a lawn with colorful flower beds on the sides leading to the fence. To balance the bright flowers, he has planted a bed of pachysandra in front of the fence.

"Every garden needs a green area to balance the color of the flowers," says Chapman.

The dahlias on one side are six feet tall. He has others, dwarf varieties, in a stone pot by the back stoop. When frost comes, he'll cut them all back and bring the tubers indoors to winter in the coolest section of his cellar, nestled in dry peat moss in a plastic bag. His other flowers - cannas and fragrant gladioluses with white blossoms - will receive the same treatment. (Fragrant gladiolus, or Acidanthera, are available from Park Seed Co., Cokesbury Rd., Greenwood, S.C. 29647-0001.)

Summer is Chapman's favorite garden season, and there's always something in bloom in his garden borders from May to October. "I could plant bulbs for spring color," he says, "but their blooms come and go so quickly and then you're left to deal with the foliage. Bulbs don't work too well in a garden as small as mine."

Houseplants do work well for Chapman - a little terrace at the back of the house is covered with pots. Abutilon, hibiscus, dwarf pomegranate and several cactuses share the space with a Madagascar palm. At the end of the season, he hauls them all up to the well-lit windowsills on his second and third floors.

Chapman always likes to try something new, and this year he's experimenting with variegated-leaf cannas. Over the winter, he spends hours poring over every gardening catalogue that comes and makes a few orders. He also makes a couple of trips each spring to the Reading Terminal Market to buy annuals and perennials. Many of his houseplants come from exchanges with other members of the Germantown Horticultural Society, and he has won several prizes.

Chapman is also a prize-winner in the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's City Gardens Contest. The first year, 1985, he won third prize, which spurred him on to become first-prize winner in the medium-size individual garden in 1990.

Here is other gardening information:

TREE SEMINAR PLANNED. Alex L. Shigo, one of the nation's leading authorities on tree care, will present a day-long seminar, "Promoting Tree Health: A Practical Approach to Tree Care" at the Scott Arboretum, Swarthmore

College, on Oct. 26 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The seminar is sponsored by the Scott Arboretum in cooperation with Bryn Mawr College, Chanticleer Foundation, International Society of Arboriculture and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society/Philadelphia Green.

It will cover site selection, tree physiology, pruning techniques, pest management and diseases, tree planting, fertilization and tree hazards. The topics are designed for professionals and home gardeners. The registration fee (which includes lunch and a tour of the arboretum) is $40. For a brochure and registration, please call the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society at 625-8250 or write Tree Seminar, PHS, 325 Walnut St., Philadelphia 19106.

FALL PLANTING AND TRANSPLANTING. It's an excellent time to make some changes in your landscape as it gets colder. If you're working with deciduous plants, those that lose their leaves in winter, water them heavily a couple of times several days apart, and then transplant them shortly after the leaves fall. The sooner you move them after leaf-drop, the more time the roots have to develop before the ground freezes. Most root growth on woody plants occurs between 40 and 90 degrees, with the most active root development at the lower end of the scale.

Narrow-leaf evergreens, such as hemlocks, pines and junipers - can also be moved in fall, but you'll do better with large-leaf evergreens - hollies, rhododendrons and laurel - if you wait until spring (right after they bloom) or next August.

According to a recent article by Edward F. Gilman in the Pennsylvania Nurserymen's Association newsletter, "root balls lose up to 85 percent of available water to the surrounding soil within a few hours after planting from small containers. If this water is not replaced, water stress causes root damage and top growth reduction and dieback."

Gilman goes on to say that since water will not move from the surrounding soil into the rootball, only water applied directly to the rootball will make any difference to the plantings.

TREE DIEBACK. Weed whackers, those miracle work horses that save hours of trimming, may be doing as yet undetected damage to your trees. Although tree bark appears tough and durable, the outer tissues, the vascular cambium, which transport much of the water and nutrients trees need to prosper, are highly sensitive to injury - especially when injured on a regular basis. Save your weed whackers for fences and the base of buildings.

WHAT TO DO THIS WEEK

Plant spring bulbs, such as daffodils, tulips, grape hyacinths and crocuses, as soon as you buy them; the longer the roots have to grow this fall, the better your blooms for next spring. Planting depth should be three times the diameter of each bulb.

For late-summer frosts, have old blankets and other covers handy to throw over the tomatoes, peppers and other crops. Often we'll have a glorious Indian summer, and you'll reap additional bounty by taking precautions on those few cold nights.

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