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Gardens of the heart

August 22, 2004|by Dorry Baird Norris

Several years ago we toured some of the famous public gardens around London. The Chelsea Physic Garden, Tradescant's Garden, the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew, and Wisley, the largest of the Royal Horticultural Society's gardens.

They were grand. They were inspiring. They were manicured beyond belief. And above all, they were intimidating.

My envy was kept at bay when I reminded myself that Great Britain's sea-tempered climate makes it all Zone 7. They can grow a huge variety of perennial plants that are not hardy here in Zone 6.

Back home, I eventually realized that the British gardens that most often tugged at my memory were not the grand, tourist-attracting places but the handkerchief-sized plots that I saw from the train window on our trip from the airport to London.

These were in the back yards of modest houses - many didn't even come up to the standard of modest - yet almost every one had highly individualized plantings. Interesting shrubs here, a tidy jewel of a vegetable garden there. One had an orchard of dwarf fruit trees. There were neat squares of herbs and jungles of self-seeded flowers. Some had only an impeccably tended patch of grass while, next door, discarded household appliances that lay rusting in the mist caught the eye - a different sort of outdoor sculpture garden.

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Then there were the window boxes at the pubs. It seemed to me that every publican had a secret desire to create the most eye-catching, beautiful bit of garden to add a country touch to his pub. Each was different - embellished with winsome combinations of flowers. In August they were a joyous sight; I did wonder how they were planted in the wintertime.

Truly it seemed, Great Britain is a nation of gardeners.

But were these really gardens? Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines a garden as: "... plot of ground where herbs, fruit flowers, or vegetables are cultivated; a container (as a window box) planted with a variety of small plants." The word "garden" is said to come from the Persian word for "paradise."

Upon reflection, the appeal of the railroad-route gardens and the pub window boxes must be marked down to their individuality. They had heart. Each one expressed the gardener's point of view as no public garden ever could.

Wandering around Washington County, I am constantly delighted by the gardens-of-the-heart that are everywhere. Close to home on Maugans Avenue, corn and squash reach for the sun in a narrow patch along a driveway. On a shady lot across from the rural Heritage Museum on Sharpsburg Pike, plunk in the middle of the lawn, a square vegetable patch flourishes.

On Jonathan Street, driving home from the farmer's market one Saturday morning, an instant garden, in the form of two overflowing hanging baskets had appeared in front of the double doors of a corner building. Further up the street, old-fashioned roses spilled over the wire fence and up the side of one house. Now the yard is full of the flowers your grandmother grew.

I often wish that the exquisite garden at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Northern Boulevard was on a quieter street so I could pull over and really see all the treasures. The continuous displays of shrubs and vines and flowers provide color and intriguing shapes year-round. Year in and year out, I envy the skill of the resident gardener who manages to keep the roses along the fence in continuous bloom.

In my own yard, nothing pleases me more than the tiny garden between the front walk and the porch that welcomes our visitors. There is some color, but it is the wonderful array of greens and leaf shapes that catches, yet rests the eyes (although adding an echinacea is something to consider.)

Purple sage, pushing up through a mat of dark green caraway thyme is the perfect border for the long blooming Russian sage that spills its blossoms along the walk. A 'Woodcote' sage abuts the amazingly hardy rosemary by the front steps - which just this week has burst into bloom. The cerise-carmine blooms on 'Zepherine Drouhin,' the old-fashioned Bourbon rose that clambers up the porch post, are skimpy this time of year, but the new growth is a glorious eye-catching maroon.

What beauties have you noticed in your neighborhood? The personal gardens that you share with passersby are so appealing because, as one anonymous writer noted, "The garden is a mirror of the heart."

What image of your heart does your own garden reflect?

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