There is one yard on our street that is my favorite. I always admire it when I walk past with my dog, trying to suppress my shrub-envy. It belongs to a nice retired couple who brought many of their mature trees and shrubs along with them from their farm when they moved here five years ago. As a result, their property has the look of a much more established garden, unusual in our newer neighborhood. There are lush Japanese maples with an amazing variety of fringed textures and colors. A huge thriving Japanese Andromeda blooms by the front door, a plant that is notoriously finicky but richly rewarding with its long spires of white flowers framed in red and green glossy foliage. A very rare weeping juniper anchors the front corner of the house, draping itself in deep green swags. There are raised beds along the side of the house for vegetables and cut flowers, and a handsome Hawthorn that is decorated with red berries in the late Fall. Centered in the front bed is a novel new lilac, grafted onto a standard like a small ornamental tree.
Recently I happened to be walking by when the older gentleman who created this showplace was out front with some new azalea bushes. I stopped to say hello and took the opportunity to exclaim over his shrubs and let him know how much I enjoyed watching his garden throughout the year. While we had often exchanged greetings and short conversations in passing over the four years we have lived here, I had never really gotten to know him. As soon as I showed an interest in his garden, his face lit up and he began telling me stories about each plant. Fascinated, I learned about his wife’s favorite flower, the climbing Clematis vine “Josephine”, that she purchased at the Somerset Garden Show in England. It’s tendrils were weaving their way through a lattice against the mailbox post, heavy with buds, preparing to display their unusually ruffly double flowers, much showier, he told me, than the regular flat-petaled single varieties.
After we had covered the front yard, I felt bold enough to ask for a full garden tour of his place, something I had wanted to do since we moved here. Without hesitation, he took me all around the house, pointing out his favorite new additions as well as the special trees he had moved from his former property. He pointed out a pair of enormous evergreens in the backyard that had required heavy machinery to dig five foot holes to accommodate each root ball! Behind the house was a lovely broad patio, a koi pond, and a spectacular blooming vine of yellow jasmine climbing up a lattice against the deck. The woods out back had been carefully cleared of scrappy underbrush and planted with native understory trees and shrubs: azaleas, rhododendrons, redbud, and dogwoods that blended seamlessly into the natural patterns of the forest beyond.
After the tour, I thanked my host and told him I would keep an eye on the clematis “Josephine” by the mailbox and be sure to enjoy its bloom time. His reply was, “Gardens are meant to be shared. Blow a kiss to it when you walk by– that will help it to grow.”