Woman's garden blooms with beauty

July 15, 2003|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - The first hint that this is a special place are the day lilies and tall hollyhocks that line the long lane leading to the old farmstead.

That's just the beginning.

At the end of the lane is a barn on the left. Across the lane a gate leads to a centuries-old stone farmhouse surrounded by an profusion of glorious color. Gardens, in well-organized plots, look as if a crew of professional horticulturists have been at work.

They are the creation of 75-year-old Beulah Cordell, who has been stooped over for 40 years creating and tending to them.


A sign at the end of the farm lane where it meets Grindstone Hill Road invites visitors to come in and walk through the islands of color. There's no charge. Visitors are asked only to sign a guest list that Cordell leaves in the mailbox.

Last year, more than 2,000 visitors signed her guestbook, she said.

Area nursing homes bring residents to the gardens by the busload during the summer. "I always try to come and meet with the visitors when I can," she said.

Monday afternoon Anne Lehman of Waynesboro, Pa., brought two friends, Mary Meyers from Baltimore and Judith Proffitt from Frederick, Md., to visit Beulah's gardens. It was their first visit.

Proffitt said her favorite was the bee balm. "It's a native-American plant. It substituted for tea when the colonists boycotted (British) tea," she said.

Meyers liked the day lilies. "The yellow ones are gorgeous," she said.

Beulah's helper in the gardens is Merle Cordell, 78, a retired Mennonite minister and her husband of 56 years.

"He does the digging, spraying and spreads the manure. I do the planting," she said.

August is the most brilliant month in Beulah Cordell's yard. That's when her favorites, the big, bold canna lilies bloom. She has 18 varieties. They are planted in circles and in rows in shades of red, pink, orange, peach, bronze and yellow, their dark broad leaves framing the brilliance of their blossoms.

Other favorites are her lovingly cared-for geraniums, also in a riot of colors. They stand guard in pots on the broad front porch of the house, so many that one can barely see the windows behind them. Some are 4 and 5 feet high.

"My daughter-in-law says I'm growing geranium trees," Beulah Cordell said.

And she dearly loves her day lilies. "This is their time right now," she said.

The blossoms, which only live for a day, keep her busy pulling off the dead and dying every night to make room for the new ones that will open in the morning. They, too, come in a range of brilliant colors.

Beulah Cordell used to grow roses, but no more. "I had them for 30 years until I got tired of taking care of them. I dug them out and put in canna lilies," she said.

Most of her flowers are perennials - spring daffodils, tulips, the lilies, bishop's weed, elephant leaf with its 42-inch leaves, phlox, hydrangea, yucca, bee balm, coleus, lamb's ear and hosta.

When she and her husband bought the farm, the only thing on it was an old tree stump and three hosta plants. She has propagated hosta plants throughout the yard, all from the original three plants. Beulah Cordell can point to a dozen varieties of flowers that she has been propagating from original plants over the years.

The gardens hold a half-dozen varieties of annuals that she buys at a local nursery every spring - marigolds, petunias, ageratum, scarlet sage, wax begonias and impatiens. "We buy about 50 flats every year," Merle Cordell said.

There is also a double row of gladioli, the blooms of which are just starting to appear. She digs up their bulbs and stores them over the winter for replanting in the spring.

The only flowers that Beulah Cordell plants from seeds are her zinnias.

She never brings flowers inside the house. "I don't need them inside. I look out my windows."

Asked how much time she spends tending her gardens, Beulah Cordell quipped, "I don't get this suntanned sitting in the house."

She said she hates to see summer end. "I don't like winter. I don't like to see my flowers freeze."

Fall is one of the busiest times in the garden. Beulah Cordell takes a cutting from each of her geraniums, puts them six at a time in soil in plastic ice cream tubs and sticks them on the deep, wide window sills in the stone house to ride out the winter.

"I had about 80 tubs last year," she said.

The canna lilies take even more work and a lot of help from her husband. He cuts each clump of four or five stalks about 8 inches off the ground with a corn cutter. They dig up the roots and shake the dirt off and place them on the dirt floor in the basement of the house for the winter.

Merle Cordell estimates that the number of canna roots lying on the floor is close to 1,000.

Most of Merle Cordell's attention is spent on the vegetable garden, berries, grapes and fruit trees behind the house. "I grow the stuff we eat," he said.

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