An Aromatic Adventure

An Indian Springs couple uses herbs to spice up their outdoors

When Lana and Constantino (C.J.) Santavicca bought their home in the Indian Springs subdivision five years ago, it had minimal landscaping. That’s the way Lana wanted it. “I had a blank canvas!” Lana exclaims. Lana’s plan was to plant all of the things she loves and dreamed of when she was too busy working as a teacher and raising a family to do much gardening. She began to design and plant, seeking out special and often hard-to-find treasures

Herbs and other useful plants are situated throughout the landscape. “My first love is herbs,” says Lana, “so I have a lot of those. And a lot of the ornamental plants are used as herbs, too—like the roses.”

The landscape has a few themed planting areas, including the culinary herb garden, the formal rose bed and a natural area down by the creek. All of the edges of the property burst with colorful plantings. Connecting them is a fragrant, lovely, lavender-lined path.

The lavender path

“Lavender I absolutely love,” says Lana. A walk along the path, with the summer sun on your face, hands outstretched to brush the tips of the flowering spikes—this is a sensory experience evoking the Mediterranean.

This is by design. Lana and C.J. have traveled a lot in Italy and France. Lana has even taken cooking lessons at Julia Child’s house. These experiences have influenced her gardening choices.

Not quite fully blooming in these photos, the lavender is the cultivar ‘Grosso’, chosen for its long flower stems and deep purple color. The path is accented with Skyrocket junipers. There are several varieties of thyme underfoot, including coconut, caraway and creeping red thyme.

Lana used to treat the lavender plants as an annual, replanting each year. Then she realized that a hardy English lavender cultivar could overwinter if given the right conditions—very little soil, mostly sand and no watering. “It loves drought,” she explains.

The large stone steps were set in place by Brian Shroeder from the Cincinnati Horticulture Group, LLC. All other stonework, and the overall design, was completed by Lana and C.J.

Roses and mixed borders

Lana plants boldly, in swaths, using large numbers of her favorite plants. If she likes it, she wants to see a lot of it, she claims. The landscape includes a formal rose garden as well as a long stretch of red Knock-Out roses.

“We’ve had a lot of Japanese beetles. I go into the formal rose garden about twice a day with a bucket of soapy water, and flick the beetles into the water. I sometimes use Neem oil (a natural insecticide) too.”

Around the roses are blooming trees and shrubs like Prairiefire and Sugar Time blooming crabapples, eleven different kinds of lilacs, and a young ginko tree.

Throughout the garden, there are hydrangeas. “We have tons of different hydrangeas, and I enjoy every one of them!” Lana exclaims. Some favorites include Limelight, Pink Winky, and the lace-cap varieties.

Tucked in between the woody plants and perennials are some edible landscaping, including several basils, nine varieties of peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and borage.

Lana planted some red and oakleaf lettuce, she says, “But the neighborhood rabbit thought it was in Mr. McGregor’s garden and chewed the lettuce to the ground!”

The roses in the herb garden are ‘Carefree Marvel’. Lana can attest to the fact that they really are carefree. On the other hand, some David Austin roses on the gate require regular disease control—but the beautiful show in spring makes them worth the effort.

The natural retreat

For a cool change, step through the rustic gate at the bottom of the hill that leads to a shady haven created by C.J. Next to the bank of a burbling brook, you will find a hammock, picnic table and fire pit. Lana claims that it is always ten degrees cooler in this spot.

It took about two years for C.J. to clear out the overgrown underbrush in the area. Weeds and Japanese honeysuckle were replaced with sour cherry and apple trees. A bit more clearing is in the works.

There is a little island, dubbed “Treasure Island” by the next door neighbor girls, formed by a bend in the creek. The girls sometimes set up a tent and have overnight campouts there. They use the fire pit to cook, and they laugh and have the best time, and probably stay up all night, says Lana.

“And to think, when we bought the house, we didn’t even know the creek was down here!” she exclaims.

The culinary herb garden

Lana is as passionate about cooking as she is gardening, so naturally the culinary herb bed is one of the centerpieces of the landscape. “I cook a lot with herbs, every meal, and I like to have everything I need close at hand,” says Lana.

Culinary selections include popular cooking ingredients like parsley, sage, and oregano. Green and ‘Dark Opal’ basil make attractive garden plants. Chives create eye-catching borders. Feathery-foliaged dill contrasts with shrubby and ground-covering thymes.

The herb garden is bordered on the front with lady’s mantle and on the back with ‘Walkers Low’ catnip. “I always mix perennials in, and a few annuals for color, since herbs are not always the most colorful of plants,” says Lana.

The birdhouse in the herb garden is sized for a house wren. Lana explains how the male house wrens will clean out the houses and make several different nests for the female. She then chooses the one she wants. “When you are working in the garden, they sing and sing and sing. All the bird houses are inhabited,” she adds.

Potted herbs include a large lemon verbena and a Key-lime tree. Lana shows off a prize-winning ‘Golden Rain’ potted rosemary plant—it won best of show at the Cincinnati Flower Show a few years ago. These plants spend the summer outdoors and the winter inside, in keeping with a long tradition.

“In Colonial days, the people didn’t take many baths. They just put all these herbs in the house and as they walked through, the aroma would rub off on their clothing and they would smell better,” Lana explains.

Because of the landscaping and the way their lot is positioned, the Santaviccas never see any people when they are in the back yard. Lana claims that it’s just like being at a resort.

She expresses her joy at the way the garden has evolved: “I love everything. It’s just how I wanted it to look. I had to do it myself, because I know what I like. I’m so glad that I did!”


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