Open Day 2023 Garden guide

Welcome! We are so glad to see you. Please feel free to take your time, ask questions and generally enjoy yourselves. As you’re aware, the recalcitrant weather has set the plants totally off schedule – we went through a particularly dry and mild winter, then spring arrived with a heat wave in tow and reverted back to winter in the month of April and now, May is blissfully beautiful! Several plants are late and a few brave ones flowered early. So, be at liberty to use your imagination wherever and whenever. We’ve given up all expectations of timely blooms.

Our small, suburban garden has limitations and constraints but in no way does it limit one’s creativity and personal expression.

We employ organic gardening practices (no pesticides, chemical fertilizers or insecticides), collect rain water and, make our own compost. Native and/or eco-beneficial plants are the mainstay here. However, along with all the serious stuff of sustainability, environmentally sound methods etc., it is the sheer joy of gardening that is the motivation. The garden reflects our philosophy and our lifestyle.

Start your visit with the front garden. The fence along the street was designed to delineate the garden as well as to invite viewing. Similarly, the brick walkway is designed  to be visually interesting while connecting street to house. The two flower beds near the house contain many bulbs and herbaceous perennials to provide color and texture through the growing seasons. Until last week the multitude of tulips were rendering this area into a riot of color. Above, are the window boxes which are changed seasonally. The rose arch has clematis and a New Dawn rose and provides an annual hideaway for nesting birds. Notice the tiny areas of lawn are not pristine grass – instead, its a mix of plants that support insect life. This year, we’re trialing Eco-Grass from Prairie Moon Nurseries.

Continue along the left side of the house. On your right is a row of peonies. All along the left side of this path is a Belgian espalier of apples and pears. This aesthetic feature not only functions as a fence, it is productive and easy to maintain as compared to regular fruit trees.As you walk along, on your right, you pass a David Austen rose ‘Boscobel’ ( the old ‘Heritage’ rose reverted to its root stock and could not perform well), a damask ‘Leda’ rose, a fig tree, agapanthus and rosemary. Just before the steps to the side porch, is a hybrid persimmon tree being trained up the wall. On the side porch, is a small collection of citrus maintained in pots. The grouping of succulents is a recent addition – it belongs to our daughter who has, unsurprisingly, picked up the gardening bug. The espaliered magnolia below this porch is being trained to grow into a fan espalier. The wisteria got too unruly for the location and was found a new home in a friend’s garden. The magnolia is expected to grow up to the top of the railing and form a living screen of sorts. The height will then be maintained by judicious pruning.

Be at liberty to take a break on this porch under the shade of the umbrella. The hummingbirds might choose to visit!

The side path ends in another rose arbor supporting a David Austin climber ‘Strawberry Hills’. Proceed into the herb garden with culinary and medicinal herbs. Several of which are mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. There is also a tiny potager with a mix of leafy greens. The rain barrel in this area is used to water the pots in the various areas of the property. Barring severely dry days, in general, we do not water the plants in the ground.

Stepping down from here is the ( native) wisteria clad pergola. It is a perfect extension of our living area into the garden. The fountain is an appealing water feature. Notice the wood burning brick oven, and across from it, the (Concord) grape arbor.

The checkerboard garden* of slate and Phlox subulata was designed to be viewed from the house above. After bloom season, the phlox is cut back to perfect squares and provides graphic interest for the rest of the season. The pot in the center, as well as the large pots with bay standards nearby, are underplanted with edible greens.

*It is what we call the ‘checkerboard’ garden. Set within a square space, it is about contrasts. The squares of slate are hard and the squares of creeping phlox are soft. Inertia vs momentum. Permanent vs impermanent. Non-living and living. Order and disorder. And the whole within limits.

The lower garden is a ‘meadow’ naturalized with many different bulbs and native plants and grasses. Forget-me-nots, ajuga and dandelions have also made this their home. While this might meet the disapproval of those who want pristine, mono-cultured lawns, this space supports countless birds, bees, butterflies and other valued wildlife. It is an area of controlled chaos! We accept the ‘lawn’ full of diversity and surprises. Bordering it are oak-leaf hydrangea, hellebores, heuchera, ferns, roses, lilac, an Amelanchier, an Itoh peony and other native shrubs such as nine-bark , buttonbush and fothergilla.

Along the (neighbor’s) picket fence, is a still young quince which will be trained into an espalier fence. Dutchman’s Pipe and Virginia creeper have been planted along the other neighbor’s chain-link fence with the fervent hope of covering it entirely.

The woods beyond provide a backdrop for the entire garden. It is also where we compost all garden waste.

As you step down into the lower garden, you cannot help but notice  on your immediate right, our latest experiment – lotus growing. Begun in early April from tubers given by a generous friend. We are quickly learning about aquatic gardening and cannot wait to see the lotus grow and bloom. It’s fun sharing a project in the early stages for, while it might not look impressive right now, the young leaves rising above the water feels very promising and exciting. Anticipation is half the joy!

The two grassy areas on either side of the path to the greenhouse are the native sedge Carex Appalachia – the only food source for the larvae of the Appalachian brown butterfly. In early spring, when the grass is still low, a few hundred F. meleagris (snakeshead fritillaria) bob their checkered bells very fetchingly.

The greenhouse is used to keep the tender perennials safe through the winter as well as to get a jump start in spring with seeds and root cuttings. In the summer months it houses dahlias growing in pots.

The stainless steel Dominico Bellis sculpture ‘Wind Song’ was designed, commissioned and installed six and a half years ago. It echoes the movement of plants, people, wings of birds and whatever the viewer imagines. The first two years of Covid restrictions, it reminded us of an embrace – something we deeply missed doing with friends and other family.

The stainless steel material catches and reflects the light and the plants themselves in interesting ways. Its shadows shift with the arc of the sun and adds another element of drama in this busy space.

The entire back gardens were planned keeping in mind that they are viewed from the house only from above. So it was important that they provide interest and beauty from that perspective as well.

As you now leave the back gardens and proceed up the driveway, you will notice the most unusual element in the garden. This is the vertical garden inspired by the ones created by French botanist and designer Patrick Blanc. We have pretty much built the wall according to Patrick’s recommendations. Since this is a N-NE facing wall, the choice of ferns was natural. Dr. John Mickel was very generous and supportive of our ‘pioneering’ project and provided us a collection of ferns  some of which were dug up and divided from his own world renowned collection. Because ferns emerge slowly at this time of year, the wall does not look so lush right now. However, by August, it is full and glorious and continues to look amazing well into late fall.

 We had hoped some mosses would move in and have been very pleased to see that indeed there are several types that have taken up residence. We have fine tuned the irrigation system, worked out a proper method to recycle the water and continue praying fervently that the plants take enthusiastically to their unusual home. The big challenge is to get through the winters unscathed. Outdoor vertical gardens of perennials in the northeast are not known and we are venturing into unfamiliar territory. What you see is a project that is several years old which is not much in terms of creating something new and sustainable. We feel we are still learning. Do visit each year to see the progress!

We hope you will take the time to enjoy these and other features. Again, please feel free to ask questions or offer comments. Gardening is a big classroom and we gardeners learn best from each other.

Thank you for visiting.

Shobha and Murali

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