Five Yards and a Demonstration Garden: Part I

Glencarlyn coordinators celebrate Audubon at Home certification.

The Glencarlyn Library Garden Coordinators Talk About Their Personal Spaces and Public Collaboration

By Extension Master Gardeners Elaine Mills, Alyssa Ford Morel, Wendy Mills, Paul Nuhn, and Judy Funderburk.


Judy’s Garden

How many years have you been gardening this space?

When we bought our house in 1976, it had two HUGE evergreen shrubs, probably yews, overwhelming the front entryway. I knew those had to be removed but didn’t really get into creating my own garden until the 1990s.

How would you characterize your garden?

Eclectic. A mix of native and non-native perennials, shrubs, and small trees brings shape, size, color, and pollinators throughout the year. This spring, oriental poppies, foxglove, flowering quince, and iris brought pops of color in the front gardens, while Virginia waterleaf, wild geranium, green and gold, bluebells, trillium, wild ginger, mayapple, Jacob’s ladder, azaleas, and a variety of ferns shared space in the shady sloping backyard.

What are your favorite features in your garden?

Montage of perennials in walkway garden today

Long Branch Park and stream provide a seasonally changing backdrop for my shade garden plantings, plus support for the many birds and small mammals that visit daily. I love my fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii), oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), and weeping threadleaf Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum‘). Each has at least three seasons of interest. The curving flagstone walkway from our carriage-track driveway to the front door takes all who enter through a montage of herbaceous perennials, including spiderwort, foxglove, phlox, goldenrod, penstemon, Jack-in-the- pulpit, iris, plumbago, black-eyed Susan, snow-in-summer, the list goes on—a patchwork of color, texture, height.

How has your garden changed over the years? What’s the next thing you have planned?

We took out a concrete driveway that extended from the sidewalk all the way down the left side of our house. My husband built me an archway leading into this side garden. That changed the way I experienced that part of our lot, and I began to plant a variety of shrubs and small trees. Now, I love walking toward and through the arch where viburnum, fringetree, oakleaf hydrangea, flowering quince, witch hazel, and winterberry holly reside.

What’s next is a challenge! Several eight-foot Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica) and a ten-foot Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica) are among the overgrown foundation plantings on the north-facing front of our house. I have pruned episodically, but these evergreen shrubs do not in my opinion complement the house. Plus, the andromeda has lace-bug damage, and the camellia has scale and horrible black sooty mold on almost all its leaves. Still, each has lovely flowers and brings lots of pollinators, plus birds nest in the andromeda every year. I find myself stuck at that “what’s next” point.

What do you think your garden says about you?

That I love gardening! Plants of all kinds bring me joy. After years of searching for my “calling,” I found that gardening is the one thing I do where I never (well, almost never) get tired, where the giving of my energies is returned. Plus, when I share gardening or being in a garden with a friend, the sense of joy is doubled! I like to dig in the dirt, weed, keep a bed clean, talk to my plants, and tell them how grateful I am for their presence. 

 


Elaine’s Garden

How many years have you been gardening this space?

I have been caring for my present garden since 1985 when my husband and I moved into our home in Arlington. I began assessing the existing plantings and making some changes after having a site visit by two Extension Master Gardeners, Mary Ann Lawler and Jennifer Frum, who introduced me to native plants and brought some to share from their own gardens. Almost 20 years ago, I worked with a landscape company to design hardscape and install trees that have now reached canopy level. Since then, I have added around 150 mostly native species of shrubs, vines, perennials, grasses, and ferns.

How would you characterize your garden?

In my garden, I aim to balance beauty with wildlife support. The sunny front garden has a more traditional look with a few benign non-native plants intermixed with native species that support pollinators. Foundation plantings are all native species of shrubs that offer fruit for birds. The backyard is now a shady woodland with plants from canopy to ground level, including native wildflowers, grasses, sedges, and ferns. Many plants throughout the property are host plants for Lepidoptera.

What are your favorite features in your garden?

I especially enjoy the sunny front yard plantings in the spring when they are bursting with color, and I love to spot pollinators coming to the summer- and fall-blooming flowers there. I also like the calm feeling of being surrounded by shrubs and trees as I walk down the paths in the woodsy part of the yard.

How has your garden changed over the years? What’s the next thing you have planned?

Front yard of “The Rose House” in 1985

When we moved in, our home was referred to by neighbors as “The Rose House” to reflect the many rose beds maintained by the original owner since the 1920s. The remainder of the property was a flat expanse of lawn with two small trees (long since dead) and a few traditional landscape plants (crocus, daffodils, irises, coral bells, peonies, daylilies, and hydrangeas). I gave the roses to friends who would be better able to maintain them, retaining some of the other original plants in a single bed. In 2002, I had the lawn removed, deepened the beds surrounding the house and garage, and added flagstone and stepping-stone paths to lead to a naturalistic garden in the backyard.

Last year I received a lovely native tree, a black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), from EcoAction Arlington to replace two dying invasive Norway maples. Since then, I have been focusing on adding native shrubs and perennials to the newly opened beds. I plan to incorporate different species to other empty spots throughout the garden as I learn about them at my favorite native nurseries.

What do you think your garden says about you?

My garden says that I love plants, not just their colors, but their many forms and textures. I love going out every day to see what’s new, savoring the beauty of unopened flower buds, feeling the textures of different leaves, and discovering what fruits and seeds look like through the seasons. I enjoy taking photographs of those things for my photo library of native plants.


Wendy’s Garden

How many years have you been gardening this space?

I’ve been gardening this property for 25 years or so, starting with the planting of a few bulbs. It was always my dream to have a garden—a refuge of my own.

How would you characterize your garden?

It’s a mature perennial garden that plays off the angles of our modern prairie-style rambler. It favors native plants and trees with a large vegetable garden at its heart.

What are your favorite features in your garden?

I love the ‘Winter King’ hawthorn (Crataegus viridis) in the front yard and the alley of American hornbeams (Carpinus caroliniana), the sculptural crepe myrtle, and large black haw (Viburnum prunifolium) in the backyard. I love the combinations, sense of abundance, and the lush, layered effect of the plantings throughout the garden, as well as the emphasis on native plants, vegetable gardening, sustainable practices, and supporting wildlife.

How has your garden changed over the years? What’s the next thing you have planned?

The garden has had three distinct lives. The first garden replaced a poor excuse for grass, a rusting shed, and chain link fence. It was a 100 percent improvement with a lovely border and small pergola and new shed, but the perennials were more or less chosen for me, and the front of the house with its two dogwoods and evergreen hedge remained intact.

Front yard landscaping by Susan Abraham in 2007

The second garden was the result of a long-time collaboration with Susan Abraham of Lush Life Landscapes, whom I met through Earth Sangha. Our common interest in ecological principles, sustainability, native plants, and spirituality drew us together. Susan created an entirely new garden that played off the clean lines of our renovated home and gave the garden a sense of space and depth through layered plantings and multiple points of interest.

The third iteration has been in process for the past year and has two parts: The renovation of the eastern side of the garden is a collaboration with Extension Master Gardener Linda Carney to create a woodland landscape under the hornbeams and rejuvenate the plantings along the pathway that leads from the front of the house to the backyard. The second component advances my dream of transforming the garden into an urban homestead. Working with Love & Carrots, we removed the remaining grass in the backyard and added seven raised beds, which will enable increased food production and crop rotation.

What do you think your garden says about you?

I hope the garden says this is the home of people who value nature and beauty. I hope it says something about the creative spirit and the potential we all have to present a different paradigm for residential landscapes. People who know me best know that the garden is the outward manifestation of my internal work. Sweeping the path, removing the dirt and shoots from the pea gravel, weeding, turning the compost—all these tasks are opportunities to engage with habits of mind and return to the present moment. The garden keeps me connected to basic truths. It is my teacher and my practice.

Watch for Part II of this article to hear from two more Extension Master Gardeners and learn about the collaboration of all five on the Glencarlyn Library Demonstration Garden!

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