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Tour highlights homes where gardens bring joy

| Sunday, June 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
A downed tree is converted into birdhouses in the garden of Bonnie McConnell and Orv McConnell photographed on June 15, 2013 in North Huntingdon Township.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Detail from a cactus in bloom in the garden of Bonnie McConnell and Orv McConnell photographed on June 15, 2013 in North Huntingdon Township.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
A portrait of Bonnie McConnell and Orv McConnell taken in their garden on June 15, 2013 in North Huntingdon Township.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Purple poppies stand out among the rose bushes in the garden of Bonnie McConnell and Orv McConnell photographed on June 15, 2013 in North Huntingdon Township.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Detail from the tri-color beech tree in the garden of Bonnie McConnell and Orv McConnell photographed on June 15, 2013 in North Huntingdon Township.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Detail of a metal turtle sculpture on the stone bank of the stream and waterfall in the garden of Bonnie McConnell and Orv McConnell photographed on June 15, 2013 in North Huntingdon Township.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Detail from a pink flamingo maple in the garden of Bonnie McConnell and Orv McConnell photographed on June 15, 2013 in North Huntingdon Township.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Detail from a Sango Kaku maple in the garden of Bonnie McConnell and Orv McConnell photographed on June 15, 2013 in North Huntingdon Township.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Climbing roses cover an arbor in the garden of Bonnie McConnell and Orv McConnell photographed on June 15, 2013 in North Huntingdon Township.

Orv and Bonnie McConnell, their three Shelties and two cats make their home in North Huntingdon on land that was once a farmer's field. Frequent visitors include a variety of wild birds, squirrels and other woodland creatures — some more welcome than others.

One of seven stops on Greensburg Garden Center's “The Joy of Gardening” garden tour, the McConnells' residence on Barnes Lake Road is a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat. The property surrounding their house is a treasure trove of unusual varieties of perennials, shrubs and trees, along with water features, birdhouses and feeders.

The couple has worked hard to beautify their landscape. Since their retirement, Bonnie, a former elementary teacher with Norwin School District, and Orv, who worked for Elliott Co. in Jeannette, have had more time to pursue their mutual interest in gardening.

Orv credits the well-fertilized farm soil for the success they have had in most everything they grow — from their 100 varieties of day lilies and hostas to a large selection of ornamental trees, including some unusual varieties like their tri-color beech and “Cherokee Sunset” dogwood, and eight varieties of Japanese maples, including a “Flamingo” variety with pink, cream and green variegated foliage.

He is the mastermind behind several ornamental structures “built out of necessity,” he says, that serve as trellises, arbors, walls and fences. When he decided to install a pondless stream to meander through an existing flower bed in their backyard off the patio, he says he wasn't sure how difficult the project would be, as he'd never tackled building a stream before.

“I watched a video and figured I'm either going to flood the house or end up with a trickle of water,” he says. Neither happened and his stream is now a favorite destination for birds that stop by to take a drink or splash in the shallow water.

Off to one side of the patio close to their house is a small cascading waterfall, which Bonnie says was a retirement gift from her husband. Bordering the backyard is a row of “Knockout” roses in full bloom with pink, yellow, blush, red and double-red flowers.

In their large vegetable garden, corn, tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, peppers, beets, potatoes and green beans are among the crops that Bonnie will freeze to enjoy when summer has ended. Other edibles include raspberry bushes and apple, pear, cherry and plum trees.

She is especially proud of her patriotic flower bed, where hosta varieties mixed with Jacob's ladder are chosen for their patriotic names: “Patriot's Fire,” “Fourth of July,” “Blaze of Glory,” “Peace” and “Minute Man.” The front yard features a large shade garden with hostas, hellebores (Christmas rose), ferns and Solomon's seal, a Native American woodland plant.

If the McConnells aren't tending to their plants and flower beds, there's a good chance that they're visiting local nurseries to scout out new additions for their gardens. Bonnie says it's one of their favorite pastimes.

Highlights of other gardens on the self-guided tour include:

• Bob and Janet Bentz, featuring a two-tier pond and beds filled with perennials, shrubs and ornamental trees, including a variety of iris plants that have been in the family for 75 years.

• Rick and Sharon Schwirian, with 10 varieties of hydrangeas, and herbs, vegetables and flowers grown from seed by son Chris and window boxes planted by daughter Katrina.

• Jeff and Pat Bates, highlights include ornamental trees, including Golden chain, white pine, mimosa, “Twisty Baby” locust and Southern magnolia, tropical plants, four garden fountains and various garden ornaments.

• Bill and Annie Gillingham, with topiary-style conifers, a weeping Japanese maple, roses, lilies and salvia, a fairy garden maintained by the couple's 9-year-old daughter and succulents grown by their 6-year-old son.

• Maurice and Sybil Williamson, featuring 100 varieties of hostas, a woodland garden with hellebores, European ginger and ferns, a large Harry Louder's walking stick and dawn redwood.

• Dick Errett, with miniature conifers, sedums and mosses along with collected rocks and artifacts, lilies and four Franklinia trees started from seeds from Longwood Gardens.

Mary Ann Artman is chairwoman of this year's garden tour. Refreshments will be provided at the McConnells' garden.

Candy Williams is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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