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TUESDAY, AUGUST 2, 2005
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Maria's garden
A sunny mix of beauty

By Patrice Stewart
DAILY Staff Writer

pstewart@decaturdaily.com 340-2446

Her goal is to keep plenty of flowers blooming year round — even through the worst heat of summer.

A hydrangea bush blooms near a canvas-covered wrought iron gazebo.
DAILY Photos by Emily Saunders
A hydrangea bush blooms near a canvas-covered wrought iron gazebo.
With plenty of work, patience, water and Miracle-Gro, Maria Thornton is doing that. She loves flowers of all types and plants whatever she thinks is pretty from the lawn and garden shops.

And with the aid of a canvas-topped wrought iron gazebo for dining and a covered glider for sitting, the Southwest Decatur woman says she can enjoy her colorful back yard in all but the coldest and hottest months.

"We eat out there and stay outside with the grandkids when they come over. They enjoy the flowers in my garden, and my friends do, too," said Thornton. Her small stone garden figures of a boy with a dog, girl with basket of blossoms, cherubs and angels peek out from plants to delight her six young grandchildren.

Her pink, blue and white hydrangea blooms take center stage in the summertime. Last year, in its second year, she recalled that the bush had only three blooms, "but they were huge blooms." Recently, with the 8-foot-wide bush "about to take over my back yard," she finally decided to cut it back.

Her secret for that bush and other plants? "I use a lot of Miracle-Gro — they like that. I just mix the powdered form with water.

She also makes sure they get enough water, especially through dry spells in July. "I don't water them every day," Thornton said. "Three times a week usually is about right."

Right now she has daisies, impatiens, zinnias, daylilies, marigolds and even some chrysanthemums and one rose bush blooming, while in the spring she had tulips, followed by lilies, iris, gladioli, phlox and other flowers. She will put out some new plants as fall arrives and expects the same chrysanthemums to bloom again.

"I have a little bit of everything, and I like perennials, so I won't have to buy so many new flowers every season," said Thornton. "But I just pick out whatever looks good. I don't know the names of everything; they're just pretty flowers to me."

Thornton swaps plants with a neighbor who likes to grow flowers, and she enjoys sharing cuttings of her plants "with anyone who wants them."

She supplements her perennials with annual plants and likes to add color by planting them in containers she can move around. Her outdoor dining table holds a bowl of vinca, while a mixed urn of bright orange impatiens and asparagus fern stands nearby.

Thornton sometimes uses whatever turns up to hold her plants, such as the bright pink impatiens spilling over a concrete block. "I stuck a few leftover plants in there with a little dirt and didn't think they would do anything, but they're growing well," she said.

Thornton, a former Cedar Ridge Middle School cafeteria employee, also cooks up some of the fruits of her labor for her husband, James, to enjoy. One end of their back yard holds plants with cherry tomatoes and bigger tomatoes, as well as okra, bell peppers, parsley and cilantro. A fig tree's bounty of sweet fruit is about to ripen.

"The springtime is the prettiest season, and it's a challenge to keep everything going in the summer," she said. "But this is my favorite pastime, and I'd rather be out enjoying my yard than staying in the house."

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