Master Gardeners: Beautifying the World, One Yard at a Time, Part 1

Last time I shared my own gardening tip: live next door to neighbors with gorgeous landscaping. Today you’ll meet one of the reasons for this tip. Over the years, my dad, Don DeNooyer, raised the landscaping bar so high, it’s beyond my reach.

Though I don’t live next door to him, I had the chance to see his yard on July 7, 2018 when it was featured in the 25th Annual Battle Creek “Summer Songs in Flower” Garden Show.

Bottom via Dave DG.

Dad turns 88 today (August 13) and I can’t think of a better way to honor him than to feature him as a Master Gardener on my blog. Retired and blessed with good health, he still works long days—but now it’s under the sun, three seasons a year (sometimes 4!), on community projects, other people’s yards, and the local schoolyard. On top of his own.

Dad and his friend, fellow Master Gardener Dave DG, often work side by side. Together, they’ve logged over 1000 volunteer hours each on various local gardening endeavors.

Here’s how Dad describes the projects they worked on together at the Leila Arboretum Society. The arboretum is named for Leila Montgomery Post, daughter of C. W. Post, the founder of Post Cereal in Battle Creek.

Peace Labyrinth GardenWe started working in 2007 about 4-6 hours a week, spring to fall. It was in disarray; nobody had cared for it in some time. We did a a complete makeover. We removed undesirable or overgrown plants. We planted some new plants where needed. We weeded big time. The gravel paths were really bad; we brought in more gravel. We did normal maintenance: weeding, edging flower beds, cutting down ornamental grasses and spent flowers, etc.

Doty Native Garden. Only Michigan native plants allowed here. Weeding the gardens and brick oval pathway that surrounds it were the biggest maintenance duties. We had to remove a lot of invasive plants and buy some new ones. Around 2014, we constructed a very a large raised bed in the center of the garden (25x8x5). Absolutely beautiful!  Last year we installed bricks around the raised bed and two of the pathways leading to it. We worked July through November, 2017. We are doing the brickwork on the other two pathways this year—about 750 bricks.

Via Dave DG

Sunny Perennial Garden. Maintenance work only. The work crew assigned to that garden did the rest.

Children’s Garden. We conduct tours for church and school children, offering good teaching sessions.

Besides the Arboretum . . .

Christian Learning Centeroperated by Calvary Baptist Church. Dave and I have done extensive landscaping here. With a few other people, I spend a couple of hours a week maintaining the grounds.

(This same building was formerly the Battle Creek Christian School where I attended 1st to 8th grade. Dad volunteered for four decades as a board member, landscaper, and groundskeeper. He was also its Director of Development for many years, after decades of operating the local Chevrolet dealership.)

Q & A with Don

Are you involved in any other garden-related activities?

We also serve on the Board of Directors of the Doty Wildflower Foundation that funded the original Native Garden. We review grant applications. Our Native Gardens improvements are funded by this organization.

When did your interest in gardening start?

I have always enjoyed gardening. Caring for lawns and making flower gardens gave me a lot of satisfaction in my early days. In my high school years, I made a really big rock garden at our cottage on St Mary’s lake. I did major landscaping at our first two homes (1957 – 1973 and 1973 – 1982).

How long have you been working on your current yard?

We purchased our present home over 30 years ago (1980s). The lawn was badly flawed and the property was barren–one small tree and three shrubs. The soil was heavy clay; nothing would grow. The soil had to be amended big time.

How have you improved it?

The slopes on the south and west sides called for extensive hardscaping. (Hardscape refers to hard landscape materials, such as paved areas, retaining walls, etc.) In the back yard and on the south slope, I planted 24 grasses.  My property moved from full sun to full shade. Recently I removed several trees on the south slope to make way for a full sun garden. Since I became a master gardener in 2007, I have intensified my efforts to add to my gardens.

Coneflowers (pink), balloon flower (blue), coreopsis (yellow)

Any other challenges?

Our property attracted many deer. Dealing with them has altered the plant selection and ways to protect my gardens from them. My gardens and lawn are grown with natural fertilizers—no spraying.

Via Dave DG

Tell me about the garden show.

My yard is one of 6 gardens featured this year. It is a sun garden with ornamental grasses and perennials. There are actually two sunny gardens—on the side south slope and next to the driveway. Full sun means 6 hours a day. The back yard is full shade (90%), sheltered by one oak, one Norway maple, and 5 pines.

Only some of the plants are in bloom now.

An overview of the backyard by Dave DG.

Lower: corydalis (yellow), penstemen (white), lamium (white & purple), Karen azalea (pink), carydalis (yellow); Upper: shasta daisy, spirea, black eyed susan, candy tuff, anemone.
Lower level: geranium (white flowers in the spring), upright stella dora lilies; Upper level: back–spirea (5), stella dora lilies (3), candy tuff (white flowers), shasta daisy (white), black eyed susan (yellow with black center).

The executive director of Leila Arboretum and the Garden Tour Committee work to choose gardens from a variety of applicants. All proceeds go to Leila Arboretum Society (LAS) programs.

We had a great show. Over 225 attended this year. I was awarded a beautiful home-made pillow with my picture in my garden on the front. It said: Garden Show 2018.

Holding the commemorative pillow for participating in the garden tour, Dad speaks with Brett Myers, director of the Leila Arboretum Society.
The Japanese Maple tree is 30 years old and full grown.

What is involved with becoming and remaining a Master Gardener?

Forty class hours with a 300-page textbook, a final exam, and forty volunteer hours are required to become a Master Gardener.

For years you maintained your Master Gardener status by doing 40 volunteer hours annually. Michigan State kept the records as you reported them. This requirement has been dropped. Dave and I have over 1000 hours on record—each.

One of the shade beds in the backyard. By Dave DG.
Right: Silver leaved brunnera and yellow flowered corydalis. By Dave DG.
Oak tree, little princess holly, ostrich fern, corydalis, brunnera, summer snowflake viburnum (white), toad lily.

Happy birthday, Dad!

Spreading beauty to the 4th generation; my sister Carol and her grandchildren.

Learn more about the Leila Arboretum Society in Battle Creek, Michigan here.

Do you have any favorite flowers, trees, or other plants? Any special garden spots you like to visit?

I welcome your comments below!

Ever musing,


P.S. Coming next: Beautifying the World, One Yard at a Time, Part 2 . . . Learn more about Dad’s friend Dave, another Master Gardener, and see his gorgeous yard!

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9 thoughts on “Master Gardeners: Beautifying the World, One Yard at a Time, Part 1

  1. Happy birthday to your dad! What a blessing he gives everyone with all those volunteer hours. Public gardens and beauty spots bring so much joy to so many people. And that yard! What a delightful area to relax and work and spend time with loved ones—or just talking to God, the ultimate Master Gardener.

  2. Your dad has certainly been blessed with a beautiful talent. I think it is really great that he has shared it in so many ways with others! Praying that God would grant him many more years to enjoy this creative gift!

  3. Happy Birthday Uncle Don…what beauty you have created and maintained all around you!
    Thank you and wishing you a blessed year.

  4. Others have already said it, but I’ll add my voice. Your dad’s work reminds me of the parable of the talents, where they took what God gave them and multiplied it many times over. Your dad could have just spent his time on his own yard, but he invested time and energy using his God-given gifts and talents to beautify other places, too. What a blessing to many. And a model for the rest of us!

    1. So true! I didn’t even mention the gardening he does in other people’s yards. For years–maybe decades?–he worked on my Great-aunt Ann’s yard weekly, side by side with her. He did this until she moved out of her house last year–the same year she celebrated her 100th birthday! Besides hers, he also works on other yards around town–enough to keep him busy from sun-up to sundown, three seasons a year.

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