Highland tour: McDonald, Specien gardens

The Highland Blooms II: Garden Tour is set for Saturday. Over the next few days, you’ll get a glimpse of the gardens. Today: the McDonald garden and Specien garden.


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McDonald garden

A year and a half ago, Cathy McDonald’s front yard was bare. As recently as February, her back yard was smothered in vines and three to four feet of leaves.

Tomorrow, Cathy’s yard will be featured on the Highland Blooms garden tour.

Expect lots of color out front and a serene atmosphere in back.

While her dad owned a landscaping business, Cathy says she was never a gardener until she bought this house three years ago. After renovating the house, doing most of the work herself, she tackled the outdoors.

“I started slowly with cuttings people gave me and 50 cent plants. I get them at the end of the season and see if I can keep them alive,” she said.

Among the plants you’ll find out front are Drift roses, gaura, coneflowers, petunias, verbena, salvia and a Belinda rose that grew from a cutting a friend gave her.

In back, look for hostas, hydrangeas, ferns and a Japanese maple. And don’t miss the fairy garden along the fence.

“I’m like a little girl,” she said. “I still believe in fairies.”


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Specien garden

Bob Specien’s goal is to spend 35 to 40 hours a week tending his bonsai.

With approximately 2,000 specimens in various stages of development, is that really enough?

Bob’s interest in bonsai was born 22 years ago through the influence of a friend who loved everything Japanese. His first attempts were to mimic images he saw in books. Then he graduated to workshops. Now he teaches them himself.

So who likes the art?

“My current thought I that it is older people who would like to have a garden and don’t have any room and don’t have the energy to do it. You can basically have a garden in a couple of pots.”

Bob cautions potential bonsai enthusiasts about expectations.

“You have to develop a relationship with the plant so you know what the plant’s going to do. You can’t make a maple look like a black pine and lots of people try. You have to understand how the plant is going to grow and how the plant is going to look in the wild and take advantage of that to make it look like an old tree in a pot.”

It’s unrealistic to expect a new specimen to look like a 175-year-old specimen overnight.

Of course, you can get a head start. Bob has bonsai that are 60 to 80 years old that he collected from the wild – or off the curb. That’s where he found some old gnarly boxwoods.

“You’re really not doing this for instant gratification,” he said. “You’re doing it for long-term gratification.”

And part of the gratification comes from the process.

“It’s really remarkably peaceful. It removes all stress in the world. Sitting out here the world just kind of disappears and I like that.”

Highland Blooms

  • When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 10. Rain date: May 11.
  • Gardens of: Ben Humphrey, 948 Boulevard St.; Lisa Linn, 627 Rutherford St.; Cathy McDonald, 518 Columbia St.; Katherine Brandl, 323 Washington St.; Bob Specien, 2601 Highland Ave.; and Pat Crager, 2221 Creswell Ave.
  • Also features: Spring Artist Market, 2102 Southern Ave.; food trucks and dining area at the Center for Families, 864 Olive St.; “The Art of Bonsai” talk at 11 a.m., 2601 Highland.
  • Admission: $12, available online at http://www.thehighlandexperience.org/tickets/, any of the gardens or at C&C Electric, 2430 Line Ave.





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