by Mary Reid Barrow with photos by Terri Gorman
Native oakleaf hydrangeas are blooming their pretty white pointed heads off in front of the old 1850s farmhouse in the Trantwood neighborhood.
The white clapboard home, lovingly restored to its 19th century charm by Amanda and Scott Justus, is on the Virginia Beach Historical Register.
Now the Justuses are in the process of bringing back the land that remains of the original farm in a way that “respects its history and also honors the future,” Amanda said.
To her, that means using native plants that could or would have grown naturally on the farm, leaving a little room for some veggies, and raising them all organically with no pesticides. The plants are gradually filling in a landscape that had become overgrown with vines, shrubs, and weeds of dubious origin.
Amanda, a physician’s assistant in Virginia Beach, knew from the beginning that she wanted natives to reflect the home’s history and to help protect the Earth in the future.
“We just have one chance (on this Earth),” Amanda said, “and we have to take care of it.”
One of the first things she did several years ago was to purchase a rain barrel from LRNow to save water and to prevent too much run off from her home’s roof.
The major overhaul that took out all the weeds and vines and left a blank slate was a Covid project when Scott, who in the Navy, was home more often.
In the beginning, Amanda said she started out buying way too many plants with no plan in mind. She enlisted the aid of landscape designer Trista Imrich, who owns Wild Works of Whimsy and specializes in native plants.
“I just wanted someone to make me a master plan so I could add plants accordingly,” Amanda said.
Now the Justuses add a few more plants every year following the design that Trista created for them. On the side of the house and around back, you’ll find elderberries, chokeberries, and blueberries, along with wax myrtles and Clethra. Borders are the likes of blue foam flowers and native grasses.
“And I’ve added veggies in random spots,” Amanda said.
Amanda’s youngest, Brad, pulled a carrot to eat as we talked. Asparagus ferns were growing nearby for the first time also.
Though Amanda was sure that growing natives and gardening naturally was the right thing to do, she had no idea how quickly that would become apparent. Recently she found one of the two plum trees she had planted out back covered in aphids.
She knew she shouldn’t use a pesticide, but she was tempted because the infestation was so bad. She put in a call to Trista, who suggested she purchase ladybugs, a natural insecticide, from a garden center.
“One container of ladybugs and the aphids were mostly gone in two weeks! “Amanda said.
Trista had encouraged her to grow her plants close together so the plants can shade out the weeds and eventually become their own weed control.
“And what I have found that’s so impressive is how much less mulch I need each year!” Amanda said.
The garden is a work in progress and Amanda enjoys tracking the new blooms each season. That day, she pointed out sweet wild geraniums near the plum trees that had bloomed recently for the first time.
Meanwhile back in the front of the house where the oakleaf hydrangeas bloom, Amanda also is working on edging a border along a path with used wine bottles.
A serviceberry is a new addition out front, but the small tree is overshadowed now by a giant yellow rudbeckia in full bloom. Blue Star Amsonia is filling in the border below the hydrangeas.
And a brand new Pearl Home flag is part of the show.
Find Mary Reid Barrow at firstname.lastname@example.org