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Nancy Ondra’s Pennsylvania Garden – FineGardening

Today’s photos are from Nancy Ondra.

Hayefield, my homestead in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, began over 20 years ago, when I built a log cabin on a minimally managed hayfield on our family farm. I slowly created the gardens, which now fill about an acre, and let about two acres go back to meadow. The remaining acre served as pasture for my alpacas; now I’m letting most of it return to meadow too.

lots of yellow flowers in front of a log cabinThe side garden at Hayefield in late August, with golden lace (Patrinia scabiosifolia, Zone 5–8) and Deam’s orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii, Zones 3–9).

Over the years, the garden areas have served many purposes. They’ve been a living laboratory where I’ve worked on plant combinations and color themes and experimented with garden maintenance techniques for the books I’ve written. They’ve provided endless opportunities for garden photography as well.

meadow garden in fallThis is a transition area from garden to meadow in mid-October, with fall color from Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica, Zones 5–9), Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum, Zones 3–8), and Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii, Zones 5–8).

Gradually, my interest shifted from acquiring the latest trademarked cultivars to enjoying the genetic diversity of seed-grown plants. I’ve been participating in seed exchanges since I started gardening nearly 40 years ago, and about a decade ago I started selling seeds from my gardens and meadows online.

close up of plant seed headsThis is the aptly named seedbox (Ludwigia alternifolia, Zones 4–8), an eastern North American native with distinctive cubic seed capsules.

I’m trying very hard not to create new garden areas, so each year I’ve been converting existing beds and borders into seed evaluation and production areas, replacing many of the cultivars with seedlings from my germination experiments and trying out new-to-me seeds of uncommon species, heirloom varieties, and horticultural oddities.

large chartreuse tomato plantOne of my favorite new plants this year is ‘Keith’s Ailsa Gold Leaf’ tomato (Solanum lycopersicum, Zones 10–11 or as an annual), which is from seed shared with me by one of my customers.

close up of marsh eryngoThe soil here at Hayefield tends to be on the wet side in some areas, especially in winter, but that’s not a problem for marsh eryngo (Eryngium aquaticum, Zones 6–8).

Instead of putting plants together to create beautiful combinations, I now puzzle out how to keep them far enough apart to prevent the various seed strains from crossing. Most of the gardens still look garden-y, but that’s more by luck than by design.

The back corner used to be my vegetable garden; now I call it my seed farm. I’ve given up trying to remember where everything is, so I had to create a map and add labels to the beds to make sure everything I need for seed gets planted and collected.

While I still drool over the latest perennial introductions and enjoy planning interesting combinations on paper, the yearly cycle of sowing, growing, and collecting seeds is so absorbing that I don’t much miss having a nicely designed “show” garden. There’s still plenty of space left for new projects, and there may be more changes in the future—I’ve long been tempted to try my hand at growing cut flowers, for example—so I’m sure I’ll never be bored!

row of False indigos in various colorsFalse indigos (Baptisia spp.) thrive here in the areas with better drainage, so I’ve planted a number of species and a couple of older selections, including ‘Purple Smoke’ and ‘Carolina Moonlight’. The bumblebees enjoy them all and have created some terrific natural hybrids in a range of heights, forms, and colors. I save seed from the best each year to sell as ‘Hayefield Hybrids’.

If you want to learn more about Nancy and her beautiful garden, check out her website.


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