Originally published in the New Castle Courier-Times in August 2020.
by Donna Cronk
MIDDLETOWN — When DeWayne and Marta King decided to leave town life behind 20 years ago, they wanted to live in the country where Marta could create beautiful gardens.
They looked no farther than rural Middletown, next to their best friends Tom and Kathy Furnish. “They said, ‘Come and be our neighbors,’” recalls Marta.
The Kings, married nearly 41 years, purchased the 10-acre property and never looked back. Up went her dream home – a farmhouse-style house with a wrap-around porch and plenty of space outdoors to create dreamy gardens to go with it. DeWayne even crafted a walking bridge over a wooded ravine, and they have outbuildings and a greenhouse.
The couple got a bonus right away, as there were a bounty of huge, beautiful boulders to place throughout the landscaping. It had been a desire of Marta’s to have a big stone at their property’s entrance. Now one is there, displaying the property’s name – Indian Summer Hill.
For the past 20 years, Marta has operated her own business, Hand Tied Memories, creating floral designs for weddings. She loved the work, using wholesale flowers but also adding special touches from her own blossoming plants. She’s retiring in October.
Rooted in family
Marta’s love for gardening was learned from her Pendleton grandmother, the late Jewel Mercer, who had greenhouses, gardens and dairy farms. Marta lived nearby as a child, walking through the cornfield to get to Grandma’s house.
“My thing is the dirt, digging in the dirt, putting flowers together,” Marta says.
She recalls how people would pull into Grandma’s drive to see her beautiful peonies, and she in turn would give them handsful of the spring flowers to use in decorating graves.
Years later, Marta would inherit peonies. A lady she adored had beautiful peonies and following her death, Marta was gifted with the woman’s peony bushes – all 75 of them – which she dug up and moved.
In fact, if Marta could have only one flower it would be the Indiana state flower, the peony.
But there’s plenty of love to go around and other perennial favorites include iris, heliabores, butterfly bushes, lilacs, Russian sage, Trumpet flowers and more. She says while hostas are notable in gardening for their leaves, hummingbirds love dining on the small flowers the plants produce.
“I love planting anything that attracts pollinators,” Marta says. She has a patch of milkweed to attract Monarch butterflies, which it does; and she has tons of hummingbirds which she is certain return each spring. She said when they arrive, they hover around her as if to say they are back.
Not only does she love perennials, but container gardens which she uses liberally on her porch as they bloom to the overflow from their good care with good soil, fertilizer, water, sunshine and a doting gardener.
Marta’s love for container gardens results from her love for good design. She sees each container as having its own design, much like designing a vase bouquet of flowers or a bridal bouquet.
There are also hanging baskets with cascading Boston and asparagus ferns and many other kinds of flowers, and something that may be her favorite annual – red geraniums.
Marta loves the red geraniums in white boxes that are found on Michigan’s Mackinac Island and duplicates the look on her porch.
She also had three fairy gardens last summer, has a garden filled with miniature versions of plants.
In her genes
“It’s in my genes,” she says of her hobby. “It’s relaxing. I can just get lost out there.”
She recalls times when she was so happy to get home from work that she would set her purse down and get busy working in her yard until 10 or 11 p.m. and then wonder where she left her purse.
While some women want jewelry, Marta says she wants to go to the garden center. Husband DeWayne is happy for her.
“He said he loves the gardens because I love the gardens,” Marta said. “He’s very willing to run me anywhere to find a new plant. We also plan trips around botanical gardens.”
The couple has a pet dog, Madi, and overnight trips must include her. They have two grown sons and two grandchildren.
A few of the certified Master Gardener’s insider tips for gardening follow.
1. Proven Winner fertilizer is her go-to. She also recommends Espoma Organic products.
2. Marta enjoys her morning coffee while viewing her favorite YouTube gardening star on a six-day a week program called Garden Answer. She highly recommends it. Bonus: the show host’s gardens are in the same zone as Indiana’s.
3. Through the years, attending gardening seminars and hearing speakers provide a bounty of information. Marta says she is “just like a sponge” soaking up ideas and tips from the programs.
4. Along with her lavish outdoor gardens, Marta most always brings some of the bounty inside with fresh flowers on her kitchen table.
5. She recommends reading “Indiana Gardener’s Guide,” by Tom Tyler and Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, and the magazine, Indiana Gardener.
6. Marta tells how to save geraniums from year to year. Dig them up; shake off the dirt; trim back the plants, place in brown paper bags and close the bags, store in the garage.
Six weeks before planting them in the spring, add soil in pots, the plants, and fertilize and water them, placing the pots in a greenhouse.
7. She has saved asparagus ferns for over 20 years. Cut them back even with the top of the containers they are in at the end of summer. Water lightly once a month, store in the garage with no covering, just the open pots, and come spring and summer, “They just pop.”
8. Marta also composts everything and recycles.