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Y'all come to my garden

June 06, 2004

Years ago, while visiting England, my husband and I made our way over the Thames River and past Lambeth Palace to the Museum of Garden History in the churchyard of St-Mary-at-Lambeth. This quiet, walled garden is the burial place of two John Tradescants - John the Elder (1570-1638) and John the Younger (1608-1662) - as well as Captain William Bligh of "Mutiny on the Bounty" fame.

The Tradescants were plant explorers and gardeners to kings. John the Younger made three collecting trips to the New World. Our common spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana) is named for him.

The exquisite knot-garden we saw that day is, appropriately, in the Tudor style popular during their lifetimes.

On the April day that we visited we saw an older woman, on hands and knees, trimming the edges of the recently cut lawn with the a pair of scissors that would have been at home in a manicure set. She was smartly turned out and very intent on her task. It's said that the garden mirrors the gardener. In a flash I knew I didn't possess the patience to create a showpiece like this. My garden would, reflecting my priorities, be more unkempt, wilder. However, this realization didn't keep me from producing endless, idealistic garden plans for each place I have lived and gardened - upstate New York, middle Tennessee and western Maryland. But these plans always fell through as soil, weather and the herbs themselves had their way with my schemes.

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Washington County is a joyful place to garden. Plants that have sulked in other places thrive here. If I turn my back for a moment the garden becomes a jungle.

Rugosa roses bloom with glorious abandon and mercifully seem not much troubled by Japanese beetles. Witch hazels and viburnums thrive. Camas (bulbs used for food by Native Americans) and the endangered goldenseal do beautifully in the north-facing garden. Solomon's Seal, once I dealt with the encroaching sweet Cicely, is again flourishing.

In response to last year's generous rains, plants in the sunny parts of the garden are exploding. When I planted elecampane in New York or Tennessee, it soon disappeared without a trace. Here in Fountainhead North, it is flourishing - producing a magnificent display of shaggy, yellow flowers and rising to 6 feet at the back of the garden. In the Middle Ages, elecampane root was cooked up with honey and served as a confection; I simply enjoy the flowers. And joy of joys, once I learned to surround Echinacea with globe thistles to keep the rabbits away, it is finally coming into its own.

The Bible Garden is taking hold. Self-seeded nigella, called "fitches" in the Good Book, makes an enchanting clump of pink and blue. This year there is a wild-looking new addition to that corner - Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa). It is not actually a biblical plant but I couldn't resist the name. This hardy perennial is now 3 feet tall with 6- to 8-inch, furry, olive-green, heart-shaped leaves. Whorls of hooded soft yellow flowers are just appearing. One catalog suggests that it spreads quickly to form an easy-to-grow, weed-suppressing ground cover (it will bear watching.)

If you're wondering why this seems to be a mini tour of the garden, it is to entice you to come to the garden open house we've planned from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Friday, June 11, through Sunday, June 13. We're located at 19125 Olde Waterford Road, north of Hagerstown. From Pennsylvania Avenue (U.S. 11) turn east onto Longmeadow Road, then left onto Paradise Church Road. Olde Waterford is the first left and we are just down the road on the curve.

This is a young landscape and shade is at a premium. So, if the day is sunny, you would be well advised to bring an umbrella or wear a sunhat.

Remember, this is not a garden that the English lady who was using the wee scissors would find even marginally acceptable. It is a laid-back place, where there is always time to watch the butterflies collect nectar or where the gardener can be more interested in studying bees with yellow boots (that turned out to be pollen) than pulling up the weedy plant that was the source of the pollen.

Come, enjoy, and remember you're always welcome to pull a weed or two or three.

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