PUTNAM COUNTY — The Putnam County Master Gardener Volunteers Present: Gardeners of Putnam County. This is the fifth in a series appearing in the Sentinel every other week into October. Each article shares the experience of a different Putnam County gardener, focusing on a particular garden project or feature that brings the gardener joy.

Master Gardener Volunteer Brenda Schumaker chuckles at the irony of touting rain barrels in a season of relentless downpours, yet she says, “I water my flower pots every day from mine.” Her four barrels are integrated into the flower beds around the house she and husband Joe built 45 years ago on family ground off a quiet country road between Miller City and Leipsic.

Brenda won the first two barrels about four years ago at a charity auction. She found they were such an asset to maintaining her flowers that two years later, she bought two more. The barrels are fed by downspouts and designed not to overflow. When they are full, water is directed back into the downspout and down the drain. “It only takes about a half inch of rain to fill a barrel,” Brenda says. In the winter, to prevent freezing and cracking, Joe takes the barrels down to clean and store.

Two barrels are set behind the house at opposite ends of raised beds with stonework edging that Joe and Brenda built. The other two, in an elegant urn-style, are set in a bed on the east side of Joe’s work shed. The barrels have spigots and hose connections, but Brenda prefers toting water in a bucket to dragging a hose around the yard. So Joe adapted the barrels accordingly by cutting around the tops and turning them into hinged lids. All Brenda has to do is lift a lid and dip in a bucket.

Brenda’s luxuriant flowers and hostas show the benefits of regular watering. Her barrels supply the raised beds all around the house and Joe’s shed; small island beds; and hanging pots around the backyard gazebo that Brenda and Joe built and around their “mushroom house,” a whimsical round structure with a pointed cap and a picnic table built around the trunk of a big maple that had to be cut down.

Brenda describes herself as “gardening on the cheap.” Her plants start as freebies and divisions or limp end-of-season plants from garden centers that she revives with TLC. She has hostas and coral bells from her sister, Lori Schroeder; irises from her grandma and her ninety-five-year-old mom, Laura Recker; daylilies from her workplace; and bright begonias that once were near death in a garden center.

A theme running through Brenda’s conversation is her delight in time spent with her sixteen grandchildren, who like to be outdoors with her and ask questions about plants. One story she tells has a rain barrel connection. When several grandkids were visiting one hot summer day, they noticed Brenda dipping water from a barrel. They ran over and asked if they could look inside and see the water. “And would you like to feel the water?” their grandmother asked. With that, she pulled up a bucketful and doused them with it. Their reaction? “Do it again, Grandma! Do it again!” When Brenda delivered them home soaking wet, the scolding that nearly erupted fizzled out when their mom realized who the culprit was.

Other home gardeners wanting to defend their plants against dry spells with free, uncontaminated water can find rain barrels at a number of sources. The Putnam Soil & Water Conservation District office, (419) 523-5159, has DIY instructions available. Big-box stores advertise 40 gallon barrels, and gutter and downspout dealers can get you together with super-sized, heavy duty models.

Master Gardeners are Ohio State University Extension-trained volunteers working with county Extension personnel to provide educational services to their communities. For more about the Master Gardener program, contact the Putnam County Extension Office, 419-523-6294, or go online to mastergardener.osu.edu. Watch for an announcement in the Sentinel about Master Gardener training classes.