Most people think you can’t grow anything under an evergreen tree.

But Omaha gardener Gary Thompson has discovered the solution. He has 6 to 8 inches of rich black soil under the five spruce trees in his front yard, allowing all types of shade plants to flourish.

“The mulch is the real secret,” he said. “It decomposes, and it just turns into beautiful black soil. Earthworms are everywhere because of that. Those things are the real secret to gardening.”

Thompson will share his 17 years of gardening success the next two weekends during the Lewis and Clark Garden Path Tour.

More than 40 gardens, museums, greenhouses, wineries, gift shops and farmers markets will be part of the tour that stretches along U.S. Highways 75 and 77 from Omaha to Sioux City, Iowa. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Aug. 31 and Sept. 7.

Thompson was part of the Munroe-Meyer Garden Walk in 2010, but said his garden has matured since then. He just started in 2002, when he retired from a 32-year career with the Omaha Public Schools. He was principal at Central High School and Lewis and Clark Junior High during that time.

His gardening philosophy is simple.

“Fill every hole with something pretty,” he said.

Most of his property in the Miracle Hills subdivision is in the shade, so he has lots of astilbe, impatiens, coral bells and hostas. He loves coleus, and has a huge variety of those plants to add splashes of color. Impatiens do the same.

He has some sunny areas in the back, and in those beds you’ll find coneflowers, asters, black-eyed susans, daisies, cardinal flowers and phlox, which he said has been stunning this summer. He also has containers of annuals.

“In my sun gardens, I have a lot of annual salvia,” he said. “The butterflies and bees absolutely love them. Hummingbirds love those kind of plants. I have a butterfly bush that is gorgeous.”

He does use some fertilizers, but tries to avoid pesticides to keep those butterflies and bees healthy.

Thompson is also proud of the elephant ears on his property.

“I have been experimenting the last couple of years with the Thai giant,” he said. “I have a real nice specimen of that in the backyard.”

Thompson was always very organized in his years in the teaching profession, and he approached gardening the same. There were lots of plants in straight lines at first. Now, things grow everywhere.

“It’s kind of a mix of all kinds of plants,” he said. “I think that makes it more interesting.”

Marjie is a writer for The World-Herald’s special sections and specialty publications, including Inspired Living Omaha, Wedding Essentials and Momaha Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @mduceyOWH. Phone: 402-444-1034.

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