At Home With Plant Pros


August 22, 1993|By Mike Klingaman

The William Paca House maintains a perfectly restored 18th-century formal garden with stylish boxwood topiaries and genteel antique roses.

Two miles away, there's a yard filled with plants from the other side of the tracks, plants that led scraggly, pathetic lives until their adoption.

They are two very different gardens, but both are maintained by the same person.

Lucy Coggin is director of the pristine Paca Garden in Annapolis. She is also nursemaid to dozens of stray plants, both abused and abandoned, which she found -- literally -- on the side of the road.

Will the real Lucy Coggin please stand up?

"I'm both," Mrs. Coggin says, laughing. "Gardening is my life. I could never leave my work anywhere. I'm fairly entrenched in the world of plants."

Among her peers, Mrs. Coggin is not alone. A number of horticulturists find time to maintain personal gardens, including the chiefs of three other popular attractions: the U.S. Botanic Garden, in Washington, and Cylburn Park and Sherwood Gardens, both in Baltimore.

L Just what do they grow in these gardens? You'd be surprised.

There's a rugged stand of bamboo in Mrs. Coggins' back yard. Thirty feet tall, the bamboo stands out like a cowlick, yet it makes a fine soccer goal for a 9-year-old boy.

The bamboo was there when Mrs. Coggins moved in. The mountain laurel, columbines and wild phlox were not. These plants she rescued from roadside ditches or abandoned homes or construction sites where their days were numbered.

She spotted the phlox growing beside a dumpster, surrounded by tire marks.

"I'm sure the plant is happier where it is now," she says.

Ironically, she later discovered the plant was more closely related to 18th-century phlox than anything sold in a nursery. The phlox may even find its way into the Paca Garden, as a horticultural Pygmalion, says Mrs. Coggins.

There's another reason she saves stray plants, she says: "Most of them are self-reliant, having withstood years of neglect. Since I don't have much time to devote to my own garden, I figure a little more neglect won't bother them."

As a mother of two, Holly Shimizu tries to leave her work at th office -- except for her green thumb.

Ms. Shimizu is assistant director of the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, a six-acre national showpiece near the Capitol.

Her gardens at home are also picturesque, from a sunken garden in the front yard to the man-made waterfall flanked by trees and vines behind the family's cottage in Glen Echo, Md.

The sunken garden is laced with various shrubs and kitchen herbs. Here, hydrangeas, boxwoods and Japanese junipers mingle easily with rosemary, chives and thyme in a bed enclosed by a picket fence.

The waterfall, which the Shimizus built themselves, feeds a small pool nestled among Japanese maples. Children swim in the pool while their parents relax nearby in the family's meditation garden, a shady, peaceful corner filled with hostas, ferns and a three-tiered Roman fountain.

Somehow, the layout works on this cozy quarter-acre lot overlooking the Potomac River in Montgomery County. Ms. Shimizu and her husband, Osamu, a landscape designer, completed the project in two years. In their spare time, of course.

"Our work is also our hobby and passion," says Ms. Shimizu.

The project was "a very big undertaking, one that you wouldn't see in most home gardens," she says. Yet facing the same horticultural challenges at home and at work doesn't bother her. She will never burn out on gardening, she says.

"Gardening is therapeutic for me. It's certainly the focus of a lot of our attention. What some people have invested in furniture, we've invested in our garden."

It's a garden that doubles as a family retreat, she adds.

"We don't need to go anywhere to escape on weekends."

"People say you shouldn't bring your work home," says Gerar Moudry, chief horticulturist at Baltimore's Cylburn Park. "But gardening is so much fun. I can forget about my responsibilities here in my own yard.

"I don't worry about landscaping here, I just grow things."

Mr. Moudry enjoys dabbling with rare plants in his yard, which is a hodgepodge of unusual trees and shrubs that may end up in Cylburn, the 167-acre city-owned park in Northwest Baltimore that he has managed for 35 years.

Space is considerably tighter at his home in Parkville, where Mr. Moudry has turned much of his half-acre lot into an open-air laboratory, which, by his own admission, lacks rhyme or reason.

"It's a jungle out here," he says, stepping over plants in the back yard. "I wouldn't say it's landscaped. I just stick plants anywhere. It's like an outdoor attic.

"I don't worry about color and form, I just collect things and put them in the garden."

His yard is a potpourri of trees and shrubs that he has accumulated through the years. Somehow, he always finds room to squeeze in a few more.

"I'm making cuttings all the time," he says.

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