OPGs (Other People’s Gardens)


Here in the magical mid-Atlantic, it’s truly High Summer in the garden.

This is the time of year when, no matter how many hours you spend — weeding, watering, pruning, harvesting, deadheading, gathering seed, weeding, watering, weeding, weeding, watering, weeding — it’s never enough.

Here in late July, the garden is a demanding lover and the sex is, often as not, sweaty, steamy, tinged with extremes. And between my demanding lover of a garden, and my demanding lover of a career, and my family, and my Circle, and my blog, and even my (bit of a) social life, weeks and weeks can slip by where I mostly just go to work, come home and garden, blog, sit at my altar, get up, go to work, come home and garden . . . . And, truth be told, that’s certainly not a bad life; indeed, it’s a life full of privilege that I could once have only imagined. But it leaves little time for experiencing OPGs (Other People’s Gardens). And any real gardener knows that OPGs are not only vital, but are also occasions of sin, as they inspire envy, greed, and lust. (No one will know if I just pinch off a tiny cutting of that gorgeous dark succulent, and I’m sure that these seeds will go to waste if I don’t take them, and . . . .)

And one of the things that I’ve promised myself is that I’ll wrestle my schedule into submission and find more time to do fun things, slip at least a few miles out of town, expose my aging brain to new experiences. Oh, and, also: OPGs.

And so I spent a bit of last night’s full Moon in Landscape Guy’s full Moon garden, dancing through an amazing portal, and, this morning, heading up to Ladew Gardens.

V, v, v early this Spring, I snuck out to Green Springs Gardens for a day, sponsored by Washington Gardener Magazine, of lectures and a seed swap (see, above re: lust). There was still snow on the ground, but the simple experience of stepping into a broad garden vista opened up my soul in amazing ways after weeks huddled inside, worried about slipping on the ice and snow. A month or so ago, I got back out there w/ G/Son and we walked all over the place, enjoying the dappled shade and taking pictures of the plants.

Today, I got up early and headed out to Ladew Gardens, which bills itself as The Most Outstanding Topiary Garden in America, and it may be, although I’m withholding judgement until I get down to see Mr. Pearl’s garden in South Carolina. (Landscape Guy & his partner have an in. I want a private tour on a cool, Autumn day.)

Ladew, about an hour and three-quarters from Washington DC, is gorgeous and completely doable in one visit. I left the Potomac River watershed for the Anacostia watershed and moved from Virginia’s flat clay to Maryland’s rolling hills. Hermes scarf secure, car windows down, and corny, old, rock-and-roll songs blaring, I drove past fields of standing corn and mowed fields of hay bound up into haystacks. When I was a v little girl, I lived at the edge of a wheat field that backed up to Pikes Peak. Almost nothing in the world says “High Summer” to me the way that haystacks do.

Ladew was created by Harvey S. Ladew, a mostly self-taught gardener. He was one of the first American gardeners to, as most gardeners in large (and sometimes small) gardens now do, create “garden rooms.” Thus, rather than the large and integrated gardens created initially by, for example, classical English and Italian gardeners, Ladew created a series of small, hedge-walled gardens, each with a different theme or feel, off of a main garden room (or in HSL’s case, off of a main bowl).

Even gardeners with tiny plots, such as your faithful correspondent, often imitate Ladew’s example, conceiving of their gardens as a series of separate spaces. Thus, my meadowy front cottage gardens slip into a side secret path garden of hostas, astilbe, day lilies, and curtains of branches, and then into an open patio/fire pit, and then up to the woodland garden. What a good room-based gardener strives for is a logical promenade, a cohesive and bound-together-by-a-story journey from the place where the viewer initially encounters the garden to the final spot where the viewer sits down to rest and observe everything. And, in America, we have Harvey S. Ladew to thank for that. So I was happy to have the chance to worship at his shrine, to see how it all began in America.

What matters most to me, both in terms of home decor and gardening (OK, and in life) is integrity. Thus, because my home is entirely Arts and Crafts, turn of the 20th Century, furniture and art, my garden needs to carry out that theme. It wouldn’t make sense, for me, for my garden, viewed from inside my home, to be an oriental (I adore them!) garden or a formal Italian garden (esp. not in this small space.) Nor would it make sense to have an English or American meadow garden, full of the wildflowers that bloom in wide open spaces all across this continent (and others). And, so, Landscape Guy and I have labored mightily to bring forth a garden that works in Virginia, in this neighborhood, outside this Arts & Crafts home, and that also does what The Witch of This Place needs a garden to do. I can harvest sage for smudge sticks, sit in contemplation in my woodland garden, dance with my Sisters around a river-stone fire pit, spread out in a a Full Moon herb bed.

As in the National Arboretum, there are spaces at Ladew Gardens that simply, IMHO, cry out for Pagan rituals. And, although they rent the gardens out for weddings, I doubt that they’d rent them out for Full Moon Circles or for Samhein. I’m not interested in/don’t have the spaces for the kind of amazingly lovely formal garden rooms that Mr. Ladew created. But it does my own soul good to sit in his formal topiary gardens, gazing out over his Maryland Fox Country creations and running my roots all the way into the stoney ground that surrounds his manor home.

Next time that I have the chance, I want to go to Ladew Gardens on a misty, rainy Autumn or late-Summer day. I’ve come to the odd conclusion this Summer that I much prefer almost all gardens in the rain and mist to seeing them in the bright sunlight, regardless of the type of garden. I may show up at G/Son’s Montessori school, grab him and Landscape Guy, and head up into those hills for a misty, moisty morning.

I shan’t be gone long. You come, too.

Picture found here.

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5 responses to “OPGs (Other People’s Gardens)

  1. I’ve come to the odd conclusion this Summer that I much prefer almost all gardens in the rain and mist to seeing them in the bright sunlight,

    Light rain or mist gives a lovely, soft focus to a garden that makes them even more magical. I first noticed this when I visited the redwoods and the fog was still in them; it was brought back to mind when I went to the Olympic rain forest. It seemed like the air itself was alive! It takes the harsh edges off bright colors and makes the air more pleasant to breathe.

  2. Laurie,

    I think that you’re right. I do love my own garden in the sunlight, but I REALLY love it in the mist and rain.

  3. I saw that photo, and recognized the location. How marvelous you visited up this way (we live SW of Ladew, and are members, although so far I don’t garden myself. Hoping to start).

    I also am very conscious of being in or leaving my watershed, which is the Gunpowder-Patapsco.

  4. Laiima,

    It’s truly lovely, and such an important garden in American gardening history. You’re lucky to live nearby!

  5. And I shall accompany you on any garden tour…I know Mr. Pearl is waiting to meet you, too!

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