Organic enthusiast's vision featured in garden tour

Anchorage Daily NewsJuly 28, 2012 

In 1997, Martha Jane "Mardane" Connor invited some of her South Anchorage neighbors to join her in creating a collaborative garden on an untended portion of her property.

The original purpose was to grow potatoes for personal consumption. But the spot has evolved over the years to become one of the sites noted on today's Annual City Garden Tour organized by the Anchorage Garden Club.

"Mardane was the original gardener in the neighborhood," said Dennis Ronsse, one of her collaborators. "She and (husband) Tom had sort of an irregular-shaped home lot." It has the shape of a slim piece of pie that might be ordered by someone on a diet, with the long side facing the street.

"The (narrow) triangular end was growing up in weeds," Ronsse said.

The neighbors pitched in and, soon enough, had their spuds. But Connor had more in mind. The New Orleans transplant was a master gardener and organic gardening advocate. She worked diligently to improve the plot and encouraged others to try non-chemical methods of fertilization and pest control.

She died in 2004, at the age of 50, but her ideas and enthusiasm lived on. Tom Connor agreed to let her fellow gardeners keep working and improving the plot.

Today five households continue to share Mardane's Garden, also called the Pacific View Neighborhood Garden. The organic vegetables grow in raised beds. Perennial flowers border the space. There are composting bins, a small greenhouse, a beehive and a bench.

It's become something of a community gathering place.

"In the winter we generally don't see each other," Ronsse told the Daily News. "But in the summer, lots of people are out there walking by the garden. They stop and talk. We sit on the bench and share a glass of wine or a cup of coffee while we talk about plants. It's really a pleasant thing for the neighborhood."

The pleasantness has spilled out beyond the original boundaries.

"Across the street ... two households have expanded the gardening to a steep portion of the bluff overlooking Turnagain Arm," wrote Leann "Annie" Ronsse in a note for the Garden Club.

The Ronsses are one of those two households. The adjacent property is owned by Rose Meehan and Stanton Moll.

Annie Ronsse writes: "Simple lumber terraces are used to hold the soil and take advantage of excellent southern exposure, resulting in scenic views, high yields and excellent year-round healthy eating."

Organic, of course.

But though pesticides are discouraged, Mardane's Garden buddies nonetheless take pest control seriously. The plot is surrounded by an electric fence.

Solar powered, of course.

Its function is to keep moose and bear out of the crop. "But it's not foolproof," Dennis Ronsse admitted. "A moose is so powerful that it can get through the wire if it wants to.

"But I think it does ruin their appetite."


Reach Mike Dunham at mdunham@adn.com or 257-4332.

Anchorage Garden Club Annual City Garden Tour

It will take place from noon to 5 p.m. today. The tour is free, but visitors are asked to be respectful of the gardens and the neighborhood. Do not block neighbor’s driveways, walk through any yards or pick flowers. No strollers, high heels or dogs.

Garden tour

Gardens on the 2012 City Garden Tour, with notes from the Anchorage Garden Club:

2120 TURNAGAIN PARKWAY: Go west on Northern Lights Boulevard, turn right on Turnagain Parkway. Gardener: Kathleen Droege. Highlights: “A wall of art with many creative garden ideas. Stackable strawberry containers with both vegetable and flower gardens.”

2721 MCCOLLIE AVE.: Go west on Northern Lights Boulevard, turn right on Turnagain Parkway, take the third right onto McCollie Avenue. Gardener: Gary Guarino. Highlights: “A wonderful perennial garden in front with a secluded area for relaxing in the back.”

1964 LOUSSAC DRIVE: Go west on Northern Lights Boulevard, turn right on Turnagain Parkway, take the third right onto McCollie Avenue to Loussac Drive; look for the first house to the left. Gardener: Lisa Fitzpatrick. Highlights: “Many beautifully landscaped gardens.”

2060 ARLINGTON DRIVE: Go west on Northern Lights Boulevard, take the first right after Minnesota (right after the Post Office) onto Arlington Drive North. Gardener: Mike Messick. Highlights: “A huge well-established pond with waterfalls in back.”

13146 BEACH CIRCLE: Take Huffman Road west from New Seward Highway to Old Seward Highway, left on Old Seward to Brandon Street, right on Brandon. The first right is Cross Road. Follow Cross Road until it becomes Oceanview Drive. The house is on the right. Gardener: Donna Rhyner. Highlights: “A beautifully fenced in and well landscaped yard with many perennials and shrubs.”

1630 GEORGE BELL CIRCLE: Take Huffman Road west from New Seward Highway to Old Seward Highway, left on Old Seward to Oceanview Drive, right on Oceanview to Jarvi Drive, left on Jarvi to the second left onto George Bell Circle. Gardener: Gail Dudley. Highlights: “A beautiful wall of peonies in the backyard.”

1631 GEORGE BELL CIRCLE: Take Huffman Road west from New Seward Highway to Old Seward Highway, left on Old Seward to Oceanview Drive, right on Oceanview to Jarvi Drive, left on Jarvi to the second left onto George Bell Circle. Gardeners: Debora and Gary Griffeth. Highlights: “Many creative pieces of art scattered throughout the gardens.”

MARDANE’S GARDEN, AKA PACIFIC VIEW NEIGHBORHOOD GARDEN, 200 BLOCK OF PACIFIC VIEW DRIVE: Take Huffman Road west from New Seward Highway to Old Seward Highway, left on Old Seward to Brandon Street, right on Brandon. The first right is Cross Road. Follow Cross Road until it becomes Oceanview Drive. Turn left onto High View Drive and then the first left onto Pacific View Drive. Gardeners: Friends of Mardane Connor. Features: See main article.

230 PACIFIC VIEW DRIVE: Take Huffman Road west from New Seward Highway to Old Seward Highway, left on Old Seward to Brandon Street, right on Brandon. The first right is Cross Road. Follow Cross Road until it becomes Oceanview Drive. Turn left onto High View Drive and then the first left onto Pacific View Drive. Gardeners: Dennis and Annie Ronsse. Features: See main article

220 PACIFIC VIEW DRIVE: Take Huffman Road west from New Seward Highway to Old Seward Highway, left on Old Seward to Brandon Street, right on Brandon. The first right is Cross Road. Follow Cross Road until it becomes Oceanview Drive. Turn left onto High View Drive and then the first left onto Pacific View Drive. Gardener: Rosa Meehan. Features: See main article.

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