Cobb County garden tour offers tips for design, eco-friendly features

You will find ideas for inexpensive and eco-friendly gardening during the 14th annual Through the Garden Gate Garden Tour.

The May 7 tour includes four gardens owned by members of the Master Gardener Volunteers of Cobb County. Master Gardeners Michelle Gambon and Debra Stockton offered tips for designing and decorating gardens.

1. Be smart about plant placement

Even though a plant that needs a lot of sunlight may look better in shade, the plant won't be healthy or flourish, Gambon said. Georgia red clay presents challenges in metro Atlanta gardens, including Gambon's property. Testing the soil is the best way to know what you can grow and where to grow it, she said. The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension's Agricultural and Environmental Services Laboratories ( provides soil analysis tests for $6. "It's the cheapest, most informational thing you can do for your garden," said Stockton.

2. Create compost stations

Compost stations in Gambon’s garden provide new soil. Composting items such as egg shells, unused mulch and leftover plants saves money and reduces the amount of chemicals you put into the soil, she said.

3. Incorporate unique design

Stockton enjoys decorating her natural, woodland-style property with eclectic garden art from Think Outside's "ee-i-ee-i-o" collection (, available at Pike Nurseries). The sculptures and patio furniture are made from recycled oil drums. "I may have a whole barnyard in my garden soon," Stockton said.

Gambon’s repurposed shed is made from shingles and lattice donated by neighbors and windows that she found on the side of the road in Alabama. Arbor and Sage, a Canton landscape design/build firm, constructed the shed.

4. Add water-smart components

Rain barrels can keep drainage from running over your yard and causing erosion, said Gambon. Her barrels catch large amounts of rain and channel it back into the ground. Meanwhile, Stockton has found a way to channel the water in her sloped backyard. The gutters catch rainwater, which flows through an drainage system under the lawn and onto rock-covered stream beds for birds to drink and bathe in.

5. Provide a wildlife haven

Stockton's garden received certification as a backyard habitat through the Community Wildlife Project, a program by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Garden Club of Georgia ( Her garden is home to birds, including a family of marsh hawks that has nested in two dead trees, called "snags." Stockton has kept the snags for the hawks to continue nesting, even though the trees aren't visually attractive. "It doesn't take a big checkbook or a big footprint to have a green sanctuary," Gambon said.

If you go

Garden Fair and Plant Sale

When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m., April 22-23

Where: Jim Miller Park

Prices: Free admission

14th annual Through The Garden Gate Tour

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., May 7

Where: Various locations in Cobb County

Prices: $15 in advance, $20 day of tour

Info: 770-528-4070,