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Home & Garden: Gardening with rocks provides unique feature to landscapes

Cindy Mootz works in her garden outside her West Fargo home. Submitted photo1 / 3
A raised bed holds a mix of vegetables and flowers. Submitted photo2 / 3
A chair-height rock garden sits outside the Mootz home. Submitted photo3 / 3

On the Soroptomist's West Fargo area tour this summer, I was intrigued with the garden of Ron and Cindy Mootz. Cindy is a local artist who has shown at the West Acres Art Show. Her home is full of her art projects and furniture that she constructed using skills learned from her father.

The unique feature of the Mootz landscape is the stone raised beds that Cindy built. She was originally inspired to make raised beds because their lot is often too wet. She has been gradually replacing timber beds with stone that comes from her family's farmstead near Sebeka, Minn. The largest of the gardens is built at chair height and is quite thick, so that a person may sit on it when gardening. She is anticipating the time when it will be more difficult to do garden chores. Moreover, since the rocks are mortared into place the beds will last a long time. Most of the other beds are 12 inches high.

The only grass on the lot is a small patch in front of the house and it will soon be gone. Most of the front yard is paved with flat stones set a maximum of two inches apart. A soft low 'Mother of Thyme' fills the spaces between the stones. She began this area by setting in large flat rocks to form a pathway to the backyard. This set the grade for the rest of the stones, which slope, away from the house.

Cindy tries to have something in bloom from May through October. She used manufactured stones to create two large planters in the front area. They are filled with a mixture of vegetable and flowers, including Marigolds, carrots, Swiss chard and leafy greens. They are handy to the kitchen close by. A low garden snakes in front of the house and is filled with purple 'Bertrand Anderson' sedum. Ground covers of creeping Veronica and yellow Sedum Acre add color.

There are two plum trees on the border of their home with the neighbors. Cindy is planning to form them into freestanding espaliers (a tree trained to grow flat) making a privacy screen. Three birch trees from Mom's woods and a cherry tree create a lovely shaded courtyard. She cut off the Birch when they were very young so that they formed clumps from the side shoots. A shady nook is filled with Bergenia, Lamium, Primrose, Hosta, ferns and purple Oxalis making a purple, white and green garden. Surprisingly, a very large 'Festiva maxima' peony anchors this shady area.

As you walk through the gate to the fenced back yard, you notice a wall of shelves filled with rocks for future use. The fence is covered with grape vines and Engelman ivy (donated by the birds). They grow plenty of grapes to make juice as well as to share with the birds. Two large trellises covered with Black Eyed Susan vines are along part of the fence. Their fan shapes were created with dead honeysuckle vines and lath.

Two apple trees, a 'Honeycrisp' and a 'Sweet 16' are loaded with apples. As the season goes on Cindy thins out the apples and makes juice from the prunings. Since they do not use pesticides on edible plants, they hang tangle foot traps from the trees to keep apple maggots at bay. Cindy makes some of them herself, but they must be painted a certain red color to attract the moths. She hangs them in the trees just when the apples begin to form.

A large 'Quaking Aspen' in the center of the backyard screens the nearby neighbor's yard and fence. This tree came from the farm and it tolerates the high water level. An attractive Sumac is in the corner.

Cindy raises asparagus, pole and bush beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, kale, dill, cilantro and chives. She grows tarragon to flavor vinegar. One raised bed is a 'Three Sisters' garden in which corn, beans and pumpkin are grown together. A round bed is filled with everbearing strawberries. She grows Russian Sage to attract bees to pollinate everything.

Ron is the cook, canner and childcare specialist. They have four grandchildren who spend two or three days a week with them. He cooks, cans, freezes or juices whatever Cindy produces. So far, this year, he has canned 25 pints of beans and last year he put up 68 pints of tomatoes. Soon he will can carrots and even meat. He browns beef cubes and packs them into jars for delicious stews later in the year. Everything is processed in a pressure canner. He makes enough beet pickles to last two years and likes to put jalapeno peppers in his dill pickles and salsa. He and Mom often trade recipes.

Ron says that it is no cheaper to can than to buy in the store, but he can control the amount of salt, seasoning and sugar in his product. He picks tomatoes after they have ripened on the vine for optimum flavor.

Cindy says the secret to maintaining the gardens is to concentrate on one area at a time. She regards the garden as living art, which is always changing due to the selection of perennials.