Urban gardener creates peaceful sanctuary

Harry Brubaker's creation was one of six stops on garden tour

  • Peggy Hardinge, 58, of Hagerstown, examines espelier -- a technique of pruning trees into a single plane pattern -- in Harry Brubaker's urban garden in Hagestown's West End. The garden was among six in a garden tour Saturday to benefit the Washington County Rural Heritage Museum.
Alicia Notarianni, Staff Writer

HAGERSTOWN --"If Harry stuck a pencil in the ground, he'd grow staples."

Such is the lore that circulates among friends of Harry Brubaker III.

A tour of his eclectic garden explains why.

Fifteen years ago, Brubaker purchased an early 20th-century brick duplex in Hagerstown's West End. At the time, the house had a narrow stairwell and landing leading to the back door. The backyard was small and uninspired, consisting of a grassy patch and a Japanese maple tree at the end of the property.

Today, the yard is a peaceful sanctuary and the source of so many fruits, vegetables and herbs that Brubaker not only plans meals around them, but gives them as gifts.

The urban garden was among six on a garden tour Saturday to benefit the Washington County Rural Heritage Museum.

Brubaker, 43, took a step-by-step approach to the transformation. He began with a matching companion to the existing Japanese maple.


"I saved enough cash to buy a tree the same size and color. It was $150. I was going for symmetry," he said.

Next, he built a two-tier deck and fence bordering the property, creating a cozy 80-by-20-foot space from the back wall of the house to the back gate. He hoped to create a retreat, to establish a sound barrier given his close proximity to U.S. 40, and to grow some fresh fruit and vegetables.

Brubaker said he was careful in his gardening choices and with his use of every inch of space. Window boxes grace the fence. Decorative sweet potatoes spill from English hanging baskets on the wall of the house. Along one side of the yard are peach trees. Adjacent to them are meticulously managed raspberry bushes. The deck is rife with containers bearing herbs, broccoli, sunflowers, ferns, cosmos and even avocados.

"This (avocado) plant came from seeds from the pit of an avocado I bought at the store. People said to put the seeds in water but nothing happened. So I put them in soil and they grew. So here I have this tropical plant that shouldn't be growing here, but it is," Brubaker said.

Potted tomatoes and green beans climb bamboo trellises near the back of the yard, cordoning a bench in a restful shaded area where Brubaker has his morning coffee.

Endowed with a passion for cooking, Brubaker said he delights in harvesting the fruits of his labor and creating sumptuous dishes.

"My favorite thing is to make sauce or salsa from my tomatoes, oregano and basil, and to make dough blending in fresh herbs," he said.

He uses his peaches and red raspberries to make beer, and he has given Japanese maple tree sprouts as Christmas gifts.

Peggy Hardinge, 58, of Hagerstown, visited Brubaker's garden during the tour. Hardinge said she is building a home and was looking for ideas to make a "cozy retreat" in her own backyard.

"I want to learn how to make a nice Zen place to relax," Hardinge said. "What I love about this (tour) is witnessing people's passion firsthand. I appreciate these people who make our world so beautiful."

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