WOOSTER, Ohio — Karl Ruth’s driveway is his playground.
He has claimed the section in front of the garage for an array of container gardens, which hold plants ranging from common crops like strawberries and lettuce to more exotic choices such as goji berries and pomegranates. The arrangement lets him grow fruits and vegetables where they’re less vulnerable to birds and squirrels, but it’s also an opportunity “just to play with things,” he said.
Playtime might involve helping himself to the sweet fruits that grow on his three fig trees, lifting potato plants from buckets to harvest the tubers or learning about the growing habits of a pomegranate tree, a plant he first encountered during a visit to northern Italy when he was an exchange student in Europe in the 1970s.
“A lot of it,” he said, “is just curiosity.”
He’ll share the sources of his fascination as well as the bountiful backyard garden created by Ruth and his roommate, Tony Sigler, when their property is featured on next Saturday’s Purple Ribbon Garden Tour. Ruth and Sigler’s garden is one of eight stops on the tour, a benefit for the domestic violence agency Every Woman’s House.
Ruth said he started growing things in his driveway after he tired of fighting “the birds and the squirrels and the squirrels and the squirrels.” Now he lets the creatures feast on the plants that grow in beds behind the house while keeping the plants he wants for his own consumption close to the garage and the house’s back door. The frequent comings and goings of Ruth, Sigler and their next-door neighbors tend to scare off furry and feathered marauders, he explained.
Some of the plants grow in commercially made pots, but many are in repurposed containers or vessels Ruth constructed. Wooden containers on wheels were crafted from old fencing and lined with heavy plastic and a layer of newspaper in the bottom.
Strawberries grow in baskets that hang from a metal support he had custom made. Five-gallon buckets lining the driveway are filled with tomato plants that lost their tags when a helper mistakenly threw them away, so the harvest will be a surprise.
There are plants filling shelves, plants hanging from the deck railing and plants suspended from hooks under the garage eaves. Ruth plans to train a peach tree into an espalier, a flat, spread-out form that will cover a blank wall on the side of the house.
Dealing with cool weather
When the weather turns colder, he sets up a portable greenhouse in the driveway so he can continue to grow cold-tolerant crops such as cabbage, carrots and parsnips. Tropical plants go into the house to spend the winter, many of them in the first-floor room that Ruth and Sigler turn into a lush indoor oasis.
This time of year, though, they’re more likely to retreat to their backyard, a gently sloping city lot with a shady deck and a profusion of plants — some edible, others strictly ornamental.
A sizable dieffenbachia perched on a plant stand holds court in a shade garden just off the deck, its fronds stretching above a green expanse of ferns, hostas and variegated Solomon’s seal.
In a sunnier bed edging the lawn, Greek oregano rampages among the yellow flowers of prickly pear cactus. Ruth likes the look of the oregano, so he lets it ramble as a ground cover instead of keeping it tamed. “As I need to, I just yank it out,” he said.
A kiwi vine clambers up a trellis so enthusiastically that Ruth has to cut it back frequently to keep it in check. Several fruit trees dot the yard, including a couple of Asian pears Ruth is training into a drooping form by tying strings to the branches to pull them downward. Eventually he hopes the branches of the two trees will intertwine, creating an arch.
Ruth said the garden is a matter of constant compromise between his desire for a more formal appearance and Sigler’s preference for a natural look. It’s also a place for incorporating the finds Sigler is always bringing home, such as the sandstone they used to create a patio edged with the more formal-looking brick that Ruth likes.
It’s been a 13-year transformation for the yard, which was just an expanse of grass when the two moved in.
And like most gardens, the evolution is bound to continue.