Sanctuary on the Lake Shore

Nestled on the quiet shores of Lake Henry, Richard and Billie Slawski’s garden provides a beautiful backdrop to their Wayne County home. What started as a few flowers just around the yard has expanded to include vegetables, perennials and a cutting garden. Their garden has grown to encompass two additional plots of land in the past 23 years.

Billie says gardening is in her DNA; her grandparents were farmers. Richard and Billie met in North Carolina. While in college, Richard visited Northeast PA and saw a sign advertising a lake cottage for sale. His parents bought the property on Lake Henry in 1974, and Billie and Richard purchased it 19 years later. When they first began gardening in 1994, they cultivated the plants in the basement of their New York home and drove them to the lake in pots. A year or two later, they bought the lot above their home, which became a cutting garden. Soon after they bought the lot behind theirs, which now serves as a bountiful vegetable and herb garden. The garden currently encompasses one acre of property.

The couple starts their own seedlings in the cutting garden, and fill spaces in with plants from the florist. They have “mail-ordered” non-native trees such as weeping willows, which they planted as sticks. Daylilies spring up on both sides of the vegetable garden, and they have also put in a perennial border. Last year, Billie traded plants back and forth with fellow gardener and neighbor, Betty Connor. “We like to treat it as part of our home,” Richard said. “We decorate it with things we find.”

Along with beautiful flowers, Billie and Richard decorate the garden with rocks dug up from the property, bird baths and mosaics from neighbor, Merle Connor. When they heard a local lumberyard was closing, they picked up wood chips and scattered them about the vegetable garden. They are organic gardeners, and use no chemicals in their compost.

Gardening in Northeast PA has not been without its challenges. The Slawskis credit the short growing season and “Bambi and Thumper” as the largest obstacles they face. But the benefits certainly outweigh the challenges.

At around at 6 p.m. each evening, the couple strolls through their garden, pausing to sit on various benches and enjoy the view. “Gardening is wonderful,” Billie said. “It’s rewarding on so many levels.” Richard certainly agrees. “It keeps us fit,” he said.

“Gardening is good for the body and soul.”  –Megan Kane
Photos: Billie Slawski