Five Yards and a Demonstration Garden: Part II

Asian landscape design aesthetic at Glencarlyn Library Community Garden, contributed by Paul.

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.

In Part I of this article, posted yesterday, three of the Glencarlyn Library Garden Coordinators shared their individual experiences shaping gardens in their own yards. In Part II, two more gardeners share their personal stories, and all five talk about their work together in the community garden.

Alyssa’s Garden

How many years have you been gardening this space?

We purchased our home in the fall of 2006, and in January of 2007 I attended a seminar where Doug Tallamy spoke about the importance of native plants. That talk changed the reason and the way I garden. The following spring, I started removing the ivy covering the shady backyard, replacing it with as many natives as I could find. It took me a year and a half to remove all the ivy, and I have kept adapting the space ever since. Due to slope and cost issues, very little was done in the front yard until this year.

How would you characterize your garden?

New front yard landscaping with dramatic trellis.

The site is sloped diagonally from one back corner to the opposite front corner, so erosion control is important. The back and front yards are very different, but both are intended to be hospitable to wildlife. My husband is a birder, and it is important to us that we create habitat for birds, insects, and other creatures. The backyard is now a layered woodland garden. The front yard has just been installed this year and includes areas accommodating culinary plants, a meadow, and what will be a more shady area as it matures. There is no lawn in front or back, though there is a no-mow pathway through the front, as well as a small patio with seating. My friend and fellow Extension Master Gardener Linda Carney created the front yard design, coming up with a wonderful hardscape plan and accommodating my requests for specific plants. My husband and I are thrilled and can’t wait for it to mature.

What are your favorite features in your garden?

I love the lush and peaceful nature of the woodland back garden, and right now I’m completely captivated by the tiny new fountain in the front yard, designed to lure birds in for baths and drinking, as well as a dramatic trellis on the front of the house with native honeysuckle. We’re lucky that we planted two whips in the front yard years ago as the county gave away native trees, and now our redbud and fringetree are looking quite beautiful.

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

When we bought our home, the yard was a gardener’s nightmare—an invasive-covered backyard and ugly, weedy lawn in the front. It has changed dramatically from that start. I keep learning about how nature works and have continued to adapt the plants and my cultural practices to reflect my belief in the essential role our home gardens play in the larger environment. My husband is particularly happy that, having eliminated the lawn, we recently gave away the mower. Having just installed the front garden, I plan to spend a good deal of time helping it get established and enjoying it as it grows.

What do you think your garden says about you?

I think a lot about the message I want to send, that a beautiful yard can also be an ecologically sound yard promoting biodiversity, and hope I’m showing that to passersby.

Paul’s Garden

How many years have you been gardening this space?

We’ve been in our current home for 35 years. The garden started small, with a few dahlias and assorted other plants, and kept expanding.

How would you characterize your garden?

The garden is eclectic. I’ve got a desert garden five feet away from my tropical garden. I think of it as a series of outdoor rooms—our living room opens out onto the porch, which opens onto a garden filled with a varied canvas of green shades, shapes, textures, and pops of seasonal color.

What are your favorite features in your garden?

Many homeowners put the bulk of their gardens in the backyard and have more traditional front yards with a lawn and foundation plantings. Our front yard is an extension of our living room, resembles a tropical garden with a pond, and features banana plants that grow to 15 feet. Nearby I added a cactus garden, with three varieties of prickly pear cactus, a eucalyptus sapling, baby sage (Salvia microphylla ‘Hot lips’), and assorted yuccas. Near that is an homage to midcentury Brazilian landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx. The dominant feature here is a hardy sugarcane (Saccharum arundinaceum) surrounded by stones, rocks, irises, yuccas, and lantanas.

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

Front yard patio with firepit in 2015

The front of the house was conventional when we moved in, with a few foundation shrubs and some weeds masquerading as lawn. A few years later, I converted one side of the front walkway into my first cactus garden. That lasted 15 years. After I renovated the house in 2004, we lost most of our plantings, and I had to start again from scratch. One of the first things I did was convert the driveway into a patio with a firepit. I think of it as an evening area. It is surrounded by tropical plants reminiscent of my early childhood in Southeast Asia. As they grow each year, the area becomes enclosed like a private oasis. The large porch complements that. From there, I can read, rain or shine, and look out at the varied colors, textures, and forms. I can see people coming and going on the street but enjoy a lot of privacy as well. And then there is a small, even more private, patio in the backyard surrounded by dogwoods and magnolias.

Today, the garden is mature and takes care of itself, while we enjoy the tranquility.

What do you think your garden says about you?

The garden is an assemblage of different things I like. It’s personal and eclectic. I never wanted a show garden. Mine is casual and unfussy, with a few dramatic touches.

Glencarlyn Library Community Garden

The Extension Master Gardeners who serve as coordinators of the Glencarlyn Library Garden each contribute uniquely to its success. Below, they share thoughts on their joint collaboration and individual additions.

How are you reflected in the Glencarlyn Library Garden?

Judy: There are curving paths entering and leaving the library garden. It is a place to “slow down and smell the flowers.” It was built gradually over years, evolving into a teaching garden with varied sections demonstrating a great variety of plants that grow well in our part of Virginia: culinary, fragrant, medicinal, pollinator, woodland, shade, native, Asian, tropical. Its hardscape invites all to enter through the archways, meander in the spaces, and take a reprieve from the fast-moving pace of suburban life. Pull off a leaf and taste the chocolate mint. Enter the gazebo, sit on a bench, and breathe. Here is a place of respite that welcomes you.

Renovated gazebo represents welcome and respite for Judy.

Elaine: Since joining the team at Glencarlyn, I have been interested in maintaining our model of sustainable, climate-conscious gardening. I have especially enjoyed introducing my colleagues to new native species, specifically grasses and sedges, to broaden our plant palette. My attention to detail is reflected in maintenance of our plant database and efforts to create accurate educational signage.

Switchgrass Panicum vergatum ‘Northwind’   – native grass introduced by Elaine.

Wendy: I send out the communications from the garden and hope they are welcoming, helpful, and express our gratitude to the many volunteers who love the garden and have made it their own. I’m full of ideas and every once in a while one of them comes to fruition, like the addition of an educational box on the patio, which includes information on native plants, pollinators, invasives, and other topics.

Garden education box proposed by Wendy.

Alyssa: I am very proud to have championed the Monarch Watch certified beds we have in the cemetery (maintained with the dedication of Extension Master Gardener Mary Frase). I also loved working collaboratively with the other coordinators to unify the parking-lot bed. I find working with others to be extremely rewarding and think the end result is so much better than what any of us could have come up with on our own.


Monarch Watch Waystation championed by Alyssa.

Paul: Getting the garden off the ground, Judy and I were great partners. We looked at the garden from different perspectives. She likes the country-cottage garden look. I like bold, bright, and hot colors. The two work well together. Structurally, we created the bones, little by little, and then we began to populate the spaces. As our endeavors advanced, more people have gotten involved, contributing their ideas, time, and labor, which have led to dramatic changes over the past 15 years and numerous positive additions, such as butterfly, pollinator, and Asian gardens. There is something else that makes the garden so special. The library and surrounding properties, including the historic Carlin Hall, have been the center of the community for more than 100 years. Judy and I live in the community and took it upon ourselves to make the then neglected, rough-edged garden our own. Over time, library staff and community members responded to our efforts by giving us materials, donations, and special plants from their own gardens. They became fully invested in the garden. Not a day goes by that we aren’t told how much the garden is loved. It is truly the heart of the community. I’d like to see every community have such a place.

Asian landscape design aesthetic contributed by Paul.

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