I would be terrified to let these people see my garden.
This horde was one of the tour groups for the Perennial Plant Association's national symposium in late July, a gathering of "green industry" professionals that included wholesale growers, garden center retailers, landscape architects, garden designers, garden writers, and garden bloggers like me. The gardens below were part of Wednesday's design/landscape tour, featuring five different private gardens that differed greatly in size, character, and style. The photos below represent only a small fraction of the several hundred I took; for the rest, check out my Perennial Plant Association album on Flickr. I'll do a separate blog post about the Friday tours, which were great in an entirely different way.
Nell Strachan garden
Cassian Schmidt (Hermannshof Gardens, Weinheim, Germany)
The first gardens we toured, just outside Baltimore, surrounded a house perched on the edge of a steep ravine. The front gardens were in sun, with a path winding down from a patio at the top of the slope into a garden deeply shaded by large, mature trees. We all took turns on the overlook, trying to figure out how to incorporate such a feature into our own gardens. This garden interested me because my own garden is on a sloping property, albeit a much smaller one. This garden had colonies of Begonia grandis bigger than my entire garden!
Austin Eischeid (Austin Eischeid Garden Design), Barbara Katz (London Landscapes, LLC)
Container garden of succulents
I spied a colony of Aralia spinosa from the overlook, but never found it again
Descending into the garden: note the back of the house and its decks overlooking the steep slope
Look down: contrasts in color and texture
Look up: Magnolia tripetala
Down the slope
Find the photographer
Large colonies of Begonia grandis suggest how it might grow in its native habitat (see Big Begonia grandis)
And a fish. Of course there's a fish.
Our second stop was Cunningham Manor, where we stepped off the bus to find brilliant orange daylilies in front of an enormous (to my urban eyes) house. The flower-filled perennial beds and a few small containers hinted at what we would find when we walked around to the back. We were all surprised to discover that the house and its gardens were less than a decade old; it looked like it had been there forever. Unlike many of the "McMansions" in the Washington, DC suburbs, where large, lavish (and often garish) houses are lined up next to each other on small lots and set back from the road a hundred yards at most, this grand house was on a correspondingly grand property, with 34 acres of gardens and no neighbors to be seen from anywhere on the property.
Digitalis ("Digiplexis") hybrid
Hint of what's to come
I think many of us stifled gasps as we came around the back of the property. There were acres of gardens, with greenhouses and a potting shed almost as big as my entire house. We marveled at the 92 terracotta containers, overflowing with flowering annuals, with butterflies everywhere. I can't imagine the work that went into this, not just to create it but to maintain it. The containers were on an automatic watering system, but still need to be planted every spring, kept pruned and weeded, cleaned up every fall, and stored every winter so they don't freeze and crack. Make no mistake, it takes money to create and maintain something like this; the owners employ two full-time gardeners in addition to numerous contractors. But if I had that kind of money, this is how I would spend it.
Back of house
Roof and chimney details
Orange lantana, covered with butterflies
Aralia cordata 'Sun King'
Phlox paniculata: so jealous!
Amsonia hubrichtii border
Carolyn Mullet (Carex Garden Design and Garden Tours) and Austin Eischeid discuss garden design
Hardy Hibiscus cultivar
Hydrangea macrophylla 'Lady in Red' would fit into a tropical theme
Potting shed plantings
Elephant ear (Alocasia) and sweet potato (Ipomoea cultivar): I would have more like this!
(Photo courtesy of Barbara Katz)
Our third stop was an even larger property, the Millbourne Estate, sprawling across 50 acres near York, Pennsylvania. We had lunch there, on a vast lawn next to an inviting pool, with a view of the house at the top of the hill. By now we were all hot and tired, and showed great restraint by not jumping into the pool! It was probably smart to distract us with lunch first. We were each handed a carefully labeled map of the property and then set loose to wander at our leisure. I saw "secret garden" and knew where I had to go.
Something different unfolded at the end of every path and around every corner. Benches and other seating areas invited visitors to linger, and we did. Unlike Cunningham Manor, this was a genuinely old property, with the original house over a century old. Newer additions include a private chapel (with guest quarters upstairs) with a distant "tower ruin" visible from its windows. Damn, I want a tower ruin in my garden, and a dozen intervening acres to view it across.
Private chapel with guest quarters upstairs
View of the "ruin" from the guest quarters windows
PPA members outside the chapel
Tom Mannion (Tom Mannion Landscape Design)
Relaxing in the shade
"Naked ladies", Lycoris squamigera
Entrance to the secret garden
Perennial beds (click here for zoomable panoramic view)
Antique car collection (I somehow missed the antique garden tools collection!)
Another view of the "ruin"
Yes, I took a lot of photos of the ruin. I want one.
Two private gardens
As we headed back towards Baltimore, we made two more stops at small private gardens. It was a bit unfair to come to them after such large, grand estates. At the first I took only a few photos, primarily of plants that interested me. At the second, I'm ashamed to admit I took none, except for some photos of massive specimens of Nyssa sylvatica along the road as we headed back down to the bus. What can I say? It was a hot and humid day, and we were all pretty pooped at this point. So below are my last garden tour photos of the day; after the last tour the bus took us to Cylburn Arboretum, where all the bus groups (and there were several non-overlapping tours) gathered for a wonderful tent party where we all discovered that, somehow, we weren't completely exhausted yet. Go back to my first blog post about the symposium, Five days of plant geek pleasure, to read about it and see the photos.
Hydrangeas were loaded with butterflies
Tony Spencer (The New Perennialist), Barbara Katz, and Cassian Schmidt with Nyssa sylvatica
It was a pleasure to re-live these tours by going through my photos from that day. How Janet and her team got access to some of these amazing places, I have no idea. This wasn't just a matter of getting a small local garden club in to ooh and ah over the gardens: this was getting admittance for several hundred fanatical (but knowledgeable) professionals to admire, scrutinize and potentially critique every square inch of a stranger's gardens. The thought of some of these people seeing my own garden makes me queasy. I'm not a garden designer, I'm not a horticultural professional of any kind. I'm a hobbyist gardener and amateur plant breeder, and write this little garden blog about my tiny garden in my spare time. So who am I to critique any of these gardens? I was just happy (and sometimes awed) to see them.
But the day wasn't only about the gardens; I can only echo Susan Harris's comments for Garden Rant, Plant Fanatics Party in Baltimore, and in my own previous blog post, Five days of plant geek pleasure, that much of the pleasure came from the people I was touring with—many of whom I had just met. Between the seminars, the tours, the trade show, the reception, the tent party at Cylburn Arboretum, the after-hour dinners, and still more tours, by the end of that 5 days I felt like I'd known all of these people forever... including the ones I would be afraid to let into my garden.