Above: A zigzag bridge, inspired by Japanese garden design, spans a stream that permits access to the far reaches of the garden (right). One of three rustic, hand-hewn bridges leads visitors through the garden. That's akebia, a fragrant-flowered vine, scrambling over the top and primroses and grass-like sweet flag along the path (left).
We are mesmerized by all of the tropicals in your zone 6B garden. What's the story there?
I love the foliage you can find in tropical plants and like to have them layered into my front and back gardens. Bananas, red and green Cordylines, Canna, papyrus, Abutilons, Agave, bromeliads, and ferns—all of them! They are either planted in the ground or left in plastic pots which are sunk into the ground. As most are frost-sensitive, in late October they are removed from the garden and either discarded or replanted into terra cotta pots and stored overwinter in a nearby greenhouse I rent. We move them back to the garden in early May. I've been doing this for years. It's a lot of work! Every year I say I won’t do this anymore, but in August when everything is big and leafy and gorgeous I say, "okay one more year."
Your garden has a focus on foliage that translates to a lush, enchanting experience. What advice do you have for gardeners who love this look?
My best advice about designing a garden is to just start looking around. I lived in my house forever and did nothing to the garden. Then I would be out and about and started to notice things that I wanted to try and grow. I initially worked with a designer and then started reading books and taking classes, but figured out my own garden by watching and learning, seeing gardens, and thinking "what can I do with that?" I did it myself because I wanted to be responsible for my mistakes and victories.
Aside from some clematis and hydrangeas, my garden is mostly foliage. In terms of designing a garden centered around foliage, you need to think in extremes—you want very large and very small leaves so that each plant stands apart.
When it came to my garden, one thing I wanted was to be able to look out every window of the top floor of my house and see a different tree. Talk about foliage! I planted five different trees, including golden metasequoia, magnolias, umbrella pines, and Stewartias, in different spots and now have living curtains with lots of privacy.
Tell us about a time when things didn't go exactly according to plan?
I have three dogs and plenty of critters, so just about everything is on the menu. Plus winters in New England can be rough. At one time, I had 75 hostas, each of which I could name, that disappeared. And my dogs stripped the bark from my birch trees. I am also guilty of planting too close and too much and have had to remove my share of plants.
What advice would you give a gardener just starting out and on a smaller budget?
I started with a single project and built out the garden over time. Decide what you "need" rather than "want" and let that be your guide. And buy the best plants you can afford even if it means landscaping a small area, but doing it well.
Clearly, this garden is personal. What does it mean to you?
For me, gardening is an essential, extraordinary experience. There is nothing like that connection with the earth. It changes you. My garden is very accessible. An average suburban lot that I made special. And a partnership with nature that makes it even more meaningful. All I really need is my family, my dogs, and my garden.