I think the best present I have ever given myself was hiring Nancy Duffy, owner of Muddy Boots, and William Deaver, owner of Trademark Homescapes, to design and install a MASSIVE landscape project at my new house. The outdoor “living rooms” on this new property are as important to me as the indoor ones and I knew I did not have adequate knowledge of plants, materials or process to figure out how to reshape almost 3 acres of untended hardwood forests on my own.
I have some incredible features that provided good background for the formal gardens. Hundred year old rhododendrons surround the property and Robinson Creek creates the magic of water music. However, we had steep slopes and rocky dirt for the garden areas. Did I mention rocks? We’ve hauled truckload after truckload of rocks and limb debris from the property just to get started!! Did I mention bittersweet, poison ivy and multiflora roses? It was my job to eradicate those invasive pests and I stayed covered in poison ivy blisters most of the summer. Now I can tell you it was worth every second of the itch and the backbreaking aches and pains!! And my favorite footwear has become my RED Hunter garden boots!
To complicate the design process for Nancy, I had William dig about 50 of my most precious trees, shrubs and perennials from the property where I was living last December when they were all dormant. I kept a list of what we had dug and William moved them to property where he could tend them during 2013 while we were building. It wasn’t until May that I hired Nancy, so she now had to design a garden that included those plants without ever having seen them! Not an easy task for sure. Then I gave her photos of all this “yard art” that I wanted incorporated into the design. I have always fondly remembered my first visit in the mid 1980’s to the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC and I wanted a small taste of that joy to be a part of walking through my garden. Ceramic pots, metal sculptures, benches, trees, shrubs, flowers…they all are part of the garden I have dreamed of.
After visiting Nancy’s gorgeous and inspirational garden, I realized that something was missing from my “stick a terrific plant in the ground” design concept: there was no sense of tranquility nor continuity in my gardens. Yes, I had lovely specimens with great texture and color, but there was no unifying element and therefore the eye never rested comfortably when looking at the garden. This became Nancy’s great challenge: to create a garden that made me want to sit down in it rather than hurry through it. And she has been up to the challenge!
We have four distinct gardens now. Of course we have Mother Nature’s garden that includes the rhododendron thickets, native hollies, beech, sourwood and dogwood trees all serenaded by Robinson Creek. I have added to her garden by planting 600 daffodil bulbs (thank you Babbie and Waid Shelton!) along with English roseum rhododendrons, red twig dogwoods and native rhododendron arborescens. Spring is going to be GLORIOUS and SWEET SCENTED coming down my driveway and walking through the woods! I have also installed low voltage LED landscape lighting throughout the gardens and these rhododendron thickets lit at night are simply magical!!
The first man made garden you encounter is the Courtyard Garden. This is a long and narrow area created by the stone slab retaining wall and the east side of the house. The front door is here so I wanted a wow factor while at the same time I wanted it to be a place of reverie. The sun rises here and by mid-afternoon it becomes shaded. This will be my morning coffee spot next spring as I will watch the hosta, arborvitae ferns, ‘golden lotus’ lenten roses, brunnera, sedum and rozanne geraniums come to life. Euphorbia, japanese painted ferns and a ‘capistrano’ rhododendron will come to life next spring.
The “entrance” to the courtyard has a Ryusen Japanese maple planted atop the stone wall. This is a true weeping Japanese maple and its branches will cascade down the wall as it grows. By the front door is another Japanese maple ‘Aka Kawa Hime,’ a semi-dwarf whose bark is red in the winter time and has lime green leaves during the summer. Nice with the red soffitt, don’t you think? Also at the front door is Himalayan sweetbox. This little gem of an evergreen will produce white, very scented flowers by February and the gloom of winter will be over!
There are two ceramic jugs in this garden: the one by the front door was made by Daniel Johnston, a potter who lives in Seagrove, NC. The pot “holding court” in the center of the courtyard was made by Mark Hewitt, another Seagrove potter. These pieces remind me of my days spent with these fabulous craftsmen and they add a traditional elegance to an otherwise very contemporary garden. The stone bench is a trademark design feature that Nancy loves to use and while I first resisted it, I now know that the garden would have been “naked” without it!
This garden will bloom yellow, white and blue next spring. The David Austin rose ‘Winchester Cathedral’ will be a standout among the Degroot’s Spire arborvitae. The white astilbe, ‘wild swan’ anemone, coreopsis ‘sienna sunset’ and ‘casa blanca’ lilies will fill the graveled courtyard. Don’t the stone steppers just invite you to come see what’s around the corner?
The second man-made garden is what we call “Meridies.” I adored taking Latin in high school and when Nancy suggested Latin words to define the garden spaces, I was 100% on board. Meridies means south, and this is indeed my south garden. It’s going to be sunny and hot and full of hot colored perennials next summer! For now, it is defined by a gravel area anchored with a bench made by Paul Knoblauch, sculpture by Dale Rogers, a ceramic pot by Joseph Sand and my cocker spaniel birdbath dedicated to the dog-love-of-my-life Gabby who went to heaven before I left Penland in 2007. The plantings that populate this garden include: ‘Natchez’ crape myrtle, ninebark ‘diablo’, hoogendorn hollies, paperbush ‘edgeworthia chrysantha’, Fireglow japanese maple, a baby fig tree (thank you Gloria Wetjen!), a ‘red majestic’ filbert, a Hortsmann blue atlas cedar, agastache ‘golden jubilee’, day lilies, iris, daisies, crocosmia, and my herb garden. It’s a riot of plants and textures…and next summer I’ll add pots of tomatoes, for sure!
The stone steps invite you to walk to the creek and roast marshmellows over the fire pit! The lovely tree at the foot of the steps is a white fringe tree, a late blooming tree that will herald summer’s arrival.
The final garden area is called “Vespere,” Latin for “in the evening.” This is the west garden and will be where the sun sets behind Robinson Creek and where I’ll be sipping wine under the covered patio next summer! Did I mention the music that Robinson Creek makes as it flows across the property?! This garden is defined with its gravel path surrounded by sculptures made by Grace Cathey, Susan Hutchinson, Joseph Sand, Norm Schulman, and Adam Walls. The plants in this area include: hydrangea ‘limelight,’ smokebush ‘royal purple,’ ginkgo ‘jade butterflies’ which will be golden yellow next fall, redbud ‘forest pansy,’ azalea ‘golden lights,’ sky pencil holly, franklinia tree, deutzia, japanese maple ‘japanese sunrise,’ lilacs, black lace elderberry, calycanthus ‘athens,’ ‘thunderhead’ pine, Horstmann ‘silberlocke,’ hydrangea ‘incrediball,’ anemones ‘honorine jaubert,’ hosta ‘komodo dragon,’ white astilbe, leucothoe ‘rainbow,’ and male fern. And of course the stone steps to the creek are the crowning glory of this garden sitting high above Robinson Creek.
Are you still with me? There’s more! The raingarden/retention pond has been planted with Lousiana iris, swamp sunflower, swamp mildweed, bee balm, bottle gentian, pitcher plant, cardinal flower, clethra ‘hummingbird,’ and itea ‘Henry’s Garnet.’ This is a very challenging garden feature to photograph, but next summer it’s going to be full of hummingbirds and butterflies! And it serves the very important purpose of holding all rainwater from my roof and driveway so there is no sedimentation or erosion on the property. That’s gardening with a purpose!!
The last landscaped area is what we call the East Bank. It rises above the septic tank and drain field and ends at the top of my property with yet more rhododendrons. Here we have planted: oakleaf hydrangeas, white dogwood, serviceberry, hemlock, oakleaf holly, redbud, witch hazel, ninebark, winterberry hollies, and the majestic tupelo tree which will be brilliant scarlett in the fall. Summer perennials include lupine (thank you Beth Eckstein!), butterfly weed, blackeyed susan, bee balm, and switch grass.
Gardens are so very difficult to photograph and each season has it’s own story to tell. The photos you see here simply can’t do justice to the months of planning and hard work. It’s too newly planted, and it’s cold outside! But if you want to visit the garden next year as it grows in, know that you are welcome. We’ll stop for a cup of tea or a glass of wine, but be prepared to hear the story behind each and every sculpture and each and every plant! Can you tell how happy I am?!
Nancy Duffy has introduced me to a gardening blog “Landscape of Meaning” by Thomas Rainer. In his post on November 2, he writes:
So I think the best way to wrap up My Journey Home is by acknowledging how much I have learned, how many wonderful new people I have met along the way, and the multitude of overwhelming emotions I have felt for the better part of a year now. While the construction is largely completed (my driveway still needs to be paved!) and the garden bones established, the real journey is only now beginning. Will I slow down enough to witness the turkeys grazing in the woods? Will I sit quiet enough to watch the bluebird light in the crape myrtle next to the birdhouse? Will I put on my coat and take that evening walk to watch the stars and wonder at the beauty of the night sky? I can do all those things if I only become mindful enough and thankful enough for the bounty that has been presented me.
I will close by referring you to Cameron Kempson’s blog “Growing Grace Farm.” There she shares Walter Rauschenbusch’s poem “A Prayer of Thanksgiving.” Please read it and share it with your loved ones this Thanksgiving season.