April 24, 2015

An Interview with Master Gardener Betty Robison, Owner of Robison Acres in Scenery Hill, Pa.

Image copyright Robison Acres

I am excited to interview Master Gardener, Betty Robison. She and her husband John, are the owners of Robison Acres, a plant sanctuary and nursery nestled in the quiet woods outside of Scenery Hill, Pennsylvania (not too far from me!). 

Betty is a devoted gardener and conservationist; therefore, she is quite knowledgeable about plants, flowers, and shrubs, and she appreciates a thriving ecosystem with native plants and plenty of pollinators.

Robison Acres is designated as a Wild Plant Sanctuary. Read on to find out more about Robison Acres, as well as find out more about Betty's planting practices and John's handmade garden goodies! 

Image copyright Robison Acres

What is a typical day like at Robison Acres? 

 It starts out by looking at all of the plants, every morning, inspecting them and making sure everything looks healthy. Then it is lots and lots of gardening, transplanting and chores while we are open. 

How did you get started working in the plant business? 

 I became a master gardener in 1997 and have been supplementing my knowledge by attending numerous classes at Phipps and continuing education as required by the Penn State Master Gardening Program. I continually read books and articles trying to stay current with the best gardening practices that are organically based. I often speak at gardening seminars and garden club event. Some of the talks I have provided are: Garden Rooms, Garden Folklore, Outwit, Outlast, Outplay Critters in Your Garden, Gardening for Pollinators, Gardening for Butterflies, Miniature Gardening, Healing Gardens, Therapeutic Gardening in Nursing Home Settings, Gardening with Disabilities, and many more. Five years ago after having our property certified as a Wild Plant Sanctuary in Pennsylvania, we decided to open a small nursery. 

What kind of plants do you offer? 

We specialize in perennials, unusual perennials, natives, many types of heirloom vegetables including 40 varieties of tomatoes. We carry a minimal amount of shrubs and some trees from time to time. We now graft tomatoes here and offer those too. 

What are some strategies for inviting birds, bees, and butterflies to the garden? 

We try to focus on a succession of bloom so there are many flowers from early in the spring through the fall. We feed a wide variety of birds throughout the late fall and winter. We have begun to raise honey bees so we have numerous gardens with quite a variety of flowers for all of the pollinators. We have a bat house built within the specifications of Penn State which at the current time houses 40 plus bats which return every year. The population is growing and we are happy about that. Bats are also pollinators. We attract hummingbirds and typically have several dozen in the summer that feed on our flowers and the food we keep stocked in the feeders.

Images copyright Robison Acres

What is your take on native plant species versus non-native? 

Pollinators are attracted to native plants 4 times more often so it is important to always include them in your landscape. What advice would you give to a gardener whose just starting out? Take a class, rely on good books to guide you such as “The Well Tended Perennial Garden,” and ask lots of questions. Use magazines and the internet to look for pictures of gardens that appeal to you. Use those pictures as a guide when choosing plants. Take them with you with pictures of your landscape and ask for advice at local gardening centers and nurseries. Make sure you pick plants that are at least a Zone 4 so they will survive a harsh winter. Always plant the right plant in the right spot. For example, do not plant a perennial that requires full sun in a partial shady place. It won’t thrive there.

What do you recommend using for pest control?

Don’t use pesticides, ever. The very best thing you can do is to first diagnose what is going on. For example, if something is eating your plant, you have to identify what it is before you can do something about it. Is it a flea beetle, a Japanese beetle, a bird, a slug or a deer? There are so many possibilities. Look at the leaves for any telltale signs of bugs, webbing, chewing, and so forth. Look to the internet or ask a master gardener. Most counties in Pennsylvania have cooperative extension that have master gardener programs. You can call them, take in a specimen for identification, or have them send it to Penn State for an ID. 

What are the benefits of having a garden?

It is beneficial for your body, mind and soul as well as the members of your family. Plus, if you have a vegetable garden, you can save a lot of money at the grocery store if your grow your own. And it is healthier! I cannot begin to explain the feeling I have as I work in the dirt, plant and tend to my gardens. It is pure bliss. 

What do you recommend planting for a sunny or shady spot here in Western Pa?

Seven top picks for sun: Echinacea(coneflower), monarda (bee balm), tall phlox, sedums, baptisia, daylily, peonies. Seven top picks for shade:Foxgloves, hostas, heucheras, lobelia (partial shade), thalictrum, hardy fuchsia, solomon’s sea. 

Most of these plants have native varieties. It is great to mix them up and choose a variety of colors. Butterflies like orange and red, and bees like purple and yellow. 

What other products besides plants do you offer? 

 We have birdhouses, bat houses, trellises, organic deer repellents, various garden items to add to your garden including small fairy gardens, plate flowers and more. John will also make a variety of metal garden art and self-watering garden containers. 

Images copyright Robison Acres

Is there anything else you’d like to add about Robison Acres or/and gardening? 

Folks can tour all of the gardens, including the vegetable gardens, to get some ideas and learn about how we manage common problems. We use no pesticides and our plants are healthy, never root bound or over-fertilized. We ensure that the plants are hardy to this zone and will over winter well. We offer one on one gardening advice and can also provide onsite consulting to aid in making decisions about which plants will do well in your yard. We have a fairy trail for children of all ages to explore that is approximately 500 feet long.

Image copyright Betty Robison

Thank you so much Betty Robison for allowing us a peak inside a Master Gardener's life! Robison Acres is a wonderful sanctuary and nursery where you'll find honest owners, unique and healthy plants, fair pricing, handmade gardening accessories, and a ton of inspiration! Find out more about Robison Acres HERE.

Image copyright Robison Acres

Thanks for visiting!