Master gardener to offer advice in Jefferson Hills

| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Landscape design is easy if you start with what you want, what you like and what you need.

That's the advice of Martha Swiss, a master gardener since 2000. Swiss will visit Jefferson Hills Municipal Center on March 27 at 6:30 p.m. to offer information on garden design. Hers is the second of a four-part series.

Master gardeners are volunteers who take extensive training through the Penn State Cooperative Extension. Initially, there are 20 class sessions and 50 volunteer hours.

“They're a very dedicated group,” said Philip Bauerle, intern master gardener coordinator in Allegheny County. After becoming a master gardener, each member of the program volunteers 20 hours and takes 10 hours of continuing education classes every year.

About 160 master gardeners are in Western Pennsylvania, and there are about 1,500 across the state.

Swiss takes her expertise to local audiences frequently during the year. Her topics range from growing to pruning to fall cleanup.

Understanding how you want to use a landscape is key to planning the space, she said.

“If you have children or pets, you develop an area to suit your needs,” said Swiss, of Robinson. “Do you want the garden to be low maintenance, attract pollinators or be a space for entertaining?”

The same interior design principles can apply to an exterior space. The walls are the trees, shrubs and fences; the ceiling can be an arbor or a tree; and the floors, grass, gravel or a groundcover, she said.

She'll display pictures of colors, textures and patterns, and show how they bring beauty to a home.

“Perennials in pots or other containers are like the throw cushions,” she said, “once you get the basics down.”

Even the choice of a favorite flower can open the door to questions: “Where do I put it/them? How tall are they? Do I want them to screen the neighbor's trash or to see them when I get the mail?”

On drives through neighborhoods, she finds lots of landscaping errors.

In newer developments, there may be one tree and one flowering shrub on a property, but “no oasis of a garden.”

Swiss urges new residents to consider the value that thoughtful landscaping can bring to a home, and not just “decorate” for the short term.

“There is grace in an older landscape with mature trees,” she said.

But whether dealing with a barren new lot or a garden area full of tangles and wild growth, her caution is the same.

“Stop, look and consider,” she said, “and plant according to your vision.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5803 or

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