Natural Landscaping                               EcoYard

   Interview with Master Gardener

  Wiebke Hinsch


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My name is Wiebke Hinsch and I came into the United States from Hamburg, Germany 20 years ago, in 1989.  I moved into Woodland Lake and the garden that I inherited, so to speak, was boring. There were just a few trees and some foundation plantings.  I started planting some crocuses in the fall, and some tulips, and then from there I became more and more involved in planting.  That's how it started.

This is Sam from Bergen SWAN, and I'm sitting here with Wiebke Hinsch.

1.       How did you originally become interested in gardening?

-I had a small garden in Hamburg, so I became interested in plants from my early childhood.  Because my mother was very interested in plants, I learned all the names, the common names of plants as a child.  When I moved here, I got married, so that was a bigger challenge, because we have a little more than half an acre and so I got really... hooked!

2.       Keeping native species alive is very important. What varieties of local plants do you grow in your garden?

I started out without knowing anything about native plants, and invasive plants.  Nobody talked about that at the time, so whatever I liked, I planted. Last year, when I became involved with Bergen SWAN's Eco-Tour, I was shocked when I looked at my gardens and saw how many invasive plants I had in my garden.  More and more I become aware that I should buy native plants.  I do have some native trees. Do you want to know the names of the trees?

Chionanthus is a fringe tree that grows, (actually, it is winter hardy here, but it comes from Georgia), and so on in the East. Then I have a poncirus trifoliata that bears little lemons in fall, yellow lemons, and has a beautiful white flower, in spring. Then I have American holly, I have daylilies. Actually, those aren't native, but they have been in this country for a long time, and they are well-behaved, so they can be considered native I think.

3.       What advice do you have for someone who is looking to start their own "natural", chemical-free garden?

The most important thing is not to look for a "manicured" garden. Let things grow where they want to grow and of course make sure that you eliminate invasive things. I have removed quite a lot of invasive things already, and more and more I'm involved in that. The most important thing is that you have fun, and it is inspiring, awe-inspiring, often, what you find in your garden, what is in bloom.

4.       What are the advantages of having a lawn alternative garden, i.e. utilizing varieties of trees and plants while reducing the area of traditional grass?

I learned that grass, as we have in every garden, is not beneficial for nature at all. Not for insects, not for anything, it's just green and dead.  So, more and more I took the sods off and made flowerbeds. Especially I invite and cultivate the weeds in the lawn. They smell so beautiful, even when you mow the lawn, and they are growing all year, and they are green, so what is wrong with that? Not all year, but all the growing season. It is green, and flowering, and beautiful, and I don't care to have a manicured garden. I don't need the fertilizer even, mostly. I mow the lawn and I leave the grass on the ground, and that is its own fertilizer.

5.       How can gardens like yours help soak up run-off water from roads and other impervious surfaces?

I was very interested in making a rain garden. I was standing there at the bottom of our lot and I thought, "I already have that." I just have to direct the water that is running heavily from the street, down the street into the garden instead of the drain.  This is 3 - 4 feet wide water coming down that flows into the garden.  I dug a trench and when we have heavy rain, I have a huge area that is covered with water, and it slowly sinks into the ground, and doesn't go into the lake on the other side. It just sits there and is filtered through the soil.  I was very pleased because run-off from the street also comes into our land.

6.       How can composting help grow a healthy garden, and what is the value of composting organic materials rather than using fertilizers?

I think it's a nice idea to recycle the things that you cut from your garden. If you recycle, meaning compost, the garden debris and leaves can be put back into the soil, and as a result you don't need to use fertilizers.  I hardly use any fertilizers, but when I do, it is just for the spring.  I put a small amount of organic fertilizer, on the ground.  I have three ways of composting, I have the ordinary compost heap I have bins for the leaves and a tumbler for when the grass clippings are too long.  With the tumbler, I put the grass clippings in the tumbler with shredded leaves and other material.  It takes two years to decompose, but composting is very low maintenance. After two years I have wonderful compost.

7.       How have you used your experience becoming a Bergen County Master Gardener to bring information about sustainable lawn care to the community.

I just started giving talks to garden clubs, and whenever there is a question at the Master Gardener meetings I try and help out, I also hold an open house for the garden conservancy once a year. People that come can get information about these subjects that are dear to my heart.

It's good to hear that you're active in the community. That was Wiebke Hinsch, and this is SWAN signing off.