How would you describe your approach to gardening?
I'm a practical gardener. I manage 100-plus acres. When I choose a plant, I choose a plant that I know is going to work in the area, that I don't have to fuss over, but will perform well. But I'm always looking for new plants on the horizon -- I don't stick to the tried-and-trues.
How would you recommend novices get their feet wet with gardening?
Oh, we have so many wonderful resources here in Richmond. The first thing I would say is, if you have time, volunteer. There's nothing like hands-on experience. We've got garden clubs and societies, if you're so inclined. The master gardener program, which is offered through the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, has a hotline each of the counties has a phone number that you can call up with your gardening questions. There's a lot out there.
What should one consider when planning a garden?
The very first thing you should do is test your soil. If you don't know what kind of soil you have, you're not going to grow a good garden. Period. It's the foundation of the garden. The next step is compost. Good gardeners grow good soil; they compost or they buy good compost. Once you get your soil set, you're 90 percent there.
What are some plants that are often overlooked but worthy of attention in our gardens?
Oh, I've got a lot of those. A small tree that's overlooked is the cornelian cherry, which is in the dogwood family, and it blooms in the very early spring and then leafs out. Another plant that has a lot of merit is the beautyberry. They are deciduous, but in the fall they have these beautiful plum- to lavender-colored berries up and down the stem; it's a wonderful show. Perennial-wise, I'm going to go with blue starflower, a native plant that has a soft blue flower in the spring whose leaves turn yellow in the fall.
What non-living elements add interest or character to a garden?
What people need to realize is a garden is a space; it's like your living room. A living room has furniture; the furniture is equal to the plants, your shrubs, trees, perennials. Then you have artwork or accessories that make the space more unique to you. My question is, what do you want to do with that space? The accessories in the garden can be hardscaping water fountains, bird feeders, arbors, lanterns, hammocks, wind chimes. There are so many options, but it's personal. n
Twenty-three years ago, Peggy Singlemann started working at Maymont with a staff of "me, myself and I." Now she manages three to four staffers, around 25 volunteers and a handful of interns. She is currently working on bringing topiary animals and a butterfly garden to the children's farm, planning an 18,000-square-foot native plant garden and re-creating a woodlands theme for the new eagle and raptor exhibits.