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Bountiful blooms Color and fragrance reign in Southtowns garden -- and there is plenty to share

When you enter Mary O'Connor's back yard, you feel like you have entered a resort. A large in-ground swimming pool is surrounded by lush grass, a tented seating area and well-established flower beds.

This yard and its caretaker invite visitors to enjoy the colors, sounds and smells of a perfect summer day.

As you enter the back yard, the first thing you see is color, and you immediately are greeted by lovely fragrances coming from the circular bed at the entryway. A few steps on the slate stairs, and you are in the middle of a large flower bed. Here, color and fragrance are king.

Running the length of the property is a wide bed full of tall bloomers that sway in the warm breeze. False aurelia, foxglove, black-eyed Susans and delphinium are just a few of the varieties here. The gazebo has ferns in pots at its entry and within, and tomatoes and herbs are in the bed behind.

Creating and caring for this backyard retreat is only part of why O'Connor loves it; the other reason is sharing it with friends, neighbors and family.

A closer look:

*What's there: The beds are full of traditional and new varieties of perennials -- columbine, sweet William, peonies, poppies, bee balm, mallow, daylilies, delphinium, phlox, multicolored lupine and astilbe, to name a few.

O'Connor fills her beds for the most part with perennials that she has started from seed. She buys some plants and, like most gardeners, gets some as holiday gifts or from fellow gardeners. Her beds bloom all summer long; one bloom ends and another begins.

"You always think it's done, and then new things come up and it's prettier and prettier," O'Connor says.

*A cut above: Many of her flowers are great for cutting, and O'Connor has a steady supply of arrangements she brings inside her home and shares with friends. She loves it when people come over and leave with beautiful bouquets.

*Maintenance: This is the time of year when most of the maintenance happens. She weeds, adds compost and then mulches the beds in the spring with the help of her husband, Jim, using compost she makes herself and mulch she gets from the town for free.

O'Connor does a couple big weeding sessions during the summer but, besides that, the gardens take care of themselves. By fall, O'Connor is done with the garden and she is ready for both of them to rest a while.

*New additions: O'Connor always adds something new to her garden. This year she has added monkshood to her collection. And a new bloom this year is a plant she rescued from her son's house several years ago. The unusual peony is now a spectacular, huge flower.

*Favorite time: "In the morning, when it is not so hot," O'Connor says. "I come out with a cup of coffee and enjoy the birds and the scent and the beauty."

*Favorite tool: Her butcher knife -- she painted the handle orange to find it when it is lost in the weeds. She uses it for all manner of weeding and cutting. She likes to weed with a pitch fork for the big areas.

*Planting tip: To plant, dig a big enough hole, put the plant in and cover with compost. O'Connor has four compost bins all working at the same time. She uses yard scraps and kitchen scraps, but mostly leaves, twigs and grass.

"Grass is great; it really heats up fast," O'Connor says.

*October storm recovery: O'Connor, like many others, lost a very large tree due to the October storm. She now has a very large, very sunny area that needed to be filled.

Her answer -- plant corn!

*Passing it on: O'Connor has passed on the gardening bug to her daughters and daughter-in-law. All have lush gardens at their homes, and when they visit they never leave without a cutting or transplant. The plants are being passed down from generation to generation and from state to state.

O'Connor's grandchildren help out, too. During their visits, when they are not in the pool, they can often be found weeding and deadheading, and are the ones elected to pick off the Japanese beetles. So on sunny, summer days, three generations of O'Connors can be found in the garden.

Jackie Albarella can be reached at

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