When passing by one particular home on Broad Street in Bexley, you won’t see a perfectly manicured lawn out front. But don’t be mistaken- this is a carefully designed and well-loved parcel of land. Tufts of clover and a scattering of violets are intentionally left in the front yard to keep this home’s guests happy.
Cheryl Vaia and Herb Bresler realize that their front lawn “isn’t all that great. It’s a habitat yard,” Herb says. “The wildflowers that find their way there, we leave alone. When they are in bloom, we try to mow around them.”
The couple avoids chemically treating their half-acre parcel because as Herb says, “Birds and creatures won’t come to a treated lawn.”
“The families of bunnies who live here will attest to that,” says Cheryl.
Planting the seeds
The couple has lived in Bexley since relocating here from Maryland over 25 years ago. Their son and daughter were eight and four years old at the time.
“I’ve always gardened,” says Herb who has a degree in biology and spent his career as a research scientist. “We had a vegetable garden growing up and my mother said I would plant any seed I could get my hands on. I have always been fascinated by plants and animals.”
Cheryl, who grew up in the country, was raised with a similar love of gardening. Both she and her husband wanted their kids to have that same experience.
“I wanted them to know what it’s like to pick things from the trees and bushes and just eat them,” Cheryl says.
In addition to an abundance of flowering perennials and herbs, the site is also home to black and red raspberry bushes, apple trees, cherry trees, a pear tree, a vegetable bed, an herb garden and four varieties of hops that are used for Herb’s home brewing hobby.
“We don’t spray anything,” Herb says. “Last year the birds beat us to the cherries. We didn’t get out there in time.”
Low maintenance mindset
In line with the man vs. nature conflict, this is a couple who, most of the time, knows to let nature win. “We try to pick native plants that do well in this environment. Our water lilies, ground covers, perennials and trees are native for the most part,” says Cheryl.
“We take a natural, organic approach,” she adds. “Natives don’t need a lot of care.”
But without doubt, her definition of “a lot of care” may be different for the rest of us.
The couple keeps busy in their yard from late April to mid-June. On weekends when the weather is good, they are out from morning to night for at least one of the days, if not both. Most weekdays, they spend two to three hours working in their gardens.
A water refresher
In the corner of the property, there’s an inviting pond, complete with a pleasant-sounding waterfall. The eight by 20-foot pond is home to fancy goldfish and a source of entertainment for the family’s cats. Herb hand dug the pond so that the roots of the nearly 100-year-old trees near the pond site would not be disturbed.
“I very deliberately designed the pond so that it would largely take care of itself,” he says. “The plants in the bog on one end catch a lot of silt and filter the water to keep it clear. Plus, they help the fish hide. It’s a matter of wetland vs. waterways. You to have create a little wetland to sustain a healthy body of water.”
Ready for company
“Our goal every year is to get the garden ready before the summer solstice. We host a midsummer party on the Saturday closest to the solstice. We’ve been doing it for years. We’ve had upwards of 200 people here,” Herb says.
“Those years were too many,” Cheryl adds. “Now we try to limit it to about 100 friends.”
The party is a wonderful incentive for the two to get their gardens in shape. Beds are edged and mulched, furniture is cleaned, and lights are strung from the trees. Then right before the party all they need to do is mow the grass and sweep off the sidewalks.
This year, the couple has the added deadline of June 6 when they will open their home for the first time to tour goers on the Bexley House & Garden Tour. Cheryl has served on the tour committee for over ten years, and she knows what she wants to convey with her gardens.
“You can have great success with using native plants that are known to do well in this part of the country,” Cheryl says. “We use very few annuals and keep it as organic as possible. This is a labor of love. I’m hoping this is what people get from the tour. Animals, insects and birds are happy here.”
Container Gardening Tips
Following an earlier career in consulting, Cheryl decided to reinvent herself and dove into the field of horticulture. She started a new business, Green Thumb Gardens, and worked as a garden designer with a special fondness for container gardening. She recently retired from that business but shares a few tips on creating beautiful planters:
Follow the “thrilling, filling and spilling” ideal:
Thrill. You want something tall—that is often the thrilling layer.
Spill. Then you find a spilling plant, that hangs down the sides of the container.
Fill. You fill in between those two with your filling plant.
She recommends not limiting your selections to annuals, saying that it is interesting to use tropical plants and perennials in the mix. And it’s important to have foliage that provides interest when the plants aren’t blooming.
Mark Your Calendar / Bexley House and Garden Tour: June 6, 2021
“This is definitely the year to celebrate our gardens, yards, patios, and decks and all the different ways that outdoor spaces enhance our daily lives,” says Jane Baldwin, co-chairperson of the 2021 Bexley House & Garden Tour.
With Covid precautions in mind, the Bexley Women’s Club has decided to focus their annual tour on open-air venues. This year’s tour will feature some of the best outdoor living spaces in Bexley including nine residential spaces, the two Bexley Community Gardens, and the winner of Bexley’s “Love Your Alley” contest.
With north and south locations, the Community Gardens provide Bexley residents, as well as neighboring communities, a place to garden. The gardens are managed by volunteer community gardeners, currently led by Jeff and Maggie Harriman.
The Bexley House & Garden Tour is the primary fundraising event for Bexley Women’s Club, which has awarded more than 900 scholarships totaling over $550,000 to students in the Bexley area.
Visit bexleywomen.org for tour and ticket information, along with Covid precaution details.