Glorious Gardens

A lifelong gardener plants a lush landscape more than 10 years in the making, eventually creating a place everyone–even a few pet cows–can enjoy.

The view from Ruth Ann Mummey's Sergeantsville kitchen is a colorful expanse of annuals and herbs. The color scheme changes from year to year; Mummey says she is particularly fond of pinks, blues and yellows.
The view from Ruth Ann Mummey's Sergeantsville kitchen is a colorful expanse of annuals and herbs. The color scheme changes from year to year; Mummey says she is particularly fond of pinks, blues and yellows.
Photo by Laura Moss

Growing up in Ridgewood, Ruth Ann Mummey lived beside the greenhouse where her mother worked. “Dirt runs in my veins,” she declares—and her home is proof.

These days, Mummey and her husband, Pete, live in a New England cape-style farmhouse they purchased in 1995 in the tiny Hunterdon County village of Sergeantsville.

It sits on just shy of 100 acres. “We bought here because of the soil,” Mummey says. “We have very fertile soil. It’s close to class A, very well drained.”
The lush landscape that surrounds the home was 10 years in the making. “I did 90 percent of this myself,” she says. Much of the work was trial and error. “My gardening knowledge is really, put it in the ground and if it grows, it works,” she says.

Although Mummey gardens “experimentally,” she does have her favorites. “I have a huge variety of hydrangeas, and I’m always adding new ones as I discover them,” she claims. “I lust for them.” Other favorites include the Crepe Myrtle trees she planted in 1996, despite being told they’d never grow there, and the enormous holly trees that fill with red berries in the winter months.

Mummey’s garden—almost an acre of planted beds—requires constant tending. “Starting in March, the early season, I’ll spend 40 hours a week,” she says. Although the soil is very fertile, Mummey takes an extra level of precaution with hearty mulching. “It helps keep it moist and protects against weeds,” she says. “I rarely water the perennial beds. Occasionally the hydrangeas.”

In addition to the planted beds, the couple runs a wholesale nursery, Bellsflower, on about 25 acres that caters to landscape architects and designers. “It’s all custom grown, dug to order,” says Mummey.

The remainder of the land—hay fields and cow pasture—is home to four Belted Galloway cows, often referred to as Oreo cows because of their distinctive black-and-white coloring. “They’re my moveable lawn ornaments,” Mummey jokes. “Some people have dogs. We have cows.” They currently have four: McClellan, the youngest (born last August), his mother Margaret and his sister Minnie, plus “the old lady” Missy, who’s part of the original herd. The cows require little care. “They feed themselves all summer,” Mummey says. “We don’t fertilize. They make their own and put it right back in the soil.” In the winter months, a south-facing open shed keeps the cows protected from the cold and wind. “In the winter I’ll give them grain and some hay,” Mummey says. “They’ll come right to me if they see I’m feeding them.”

Last spring, at age 74, Mummey finally got some help. “I’ve hired a young man to help me weed.” But you’ll still find her out there every day getting her hands dirty. “I’m totally nuts for this,” she admits.

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