An Italian hideaway on the Baltimore skyline

Garden: Jimmy and Barbara Judd's penthouse garden leads its visitors into a magical place of rare plants and striking objects.

August 01, 1999|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Sun Staff

The first thing you need to know about Jimmy and Barbara Judd's garden is that it's not exactly your average back yard. Unless, of course, your back yard is more than a dozen stories off the ground, and overlooks the Inner Harbor, Camden Yards, Little Italy, Canton and other points east, west and south.

But the views, stunning as they are, have a lot to compete with in the 1,400-square-foot terrace space that meanders around three sides of the Judds' penthouse apartment in Scarlett Place. Multiple levels, layered plantings, eclectic statuary, unusual flowers and subtle lighting give the mostly long, narrow spaces all the mystery and panoply of an Italian hideaway.

"When we sit up here in the evening," Judd says, gesturing to the rooftops of Little Italy from the east terrace, "we can smell all the garlic bread and all the pasta -- so we decided to have an Italian garden here."

Two 400-year-old Sicilian stone gnomes grin from the foliage of ivy, vinca and Virginia creeper. Barbara Judd carefully deadheads the blue-violet balloon plant (Platycodon grandiflorus) every morning so it will keep blooming.

"It's our enchanted garden," she says. "Here you are in the middle of the city, and we escape -- it's our own private world."

As on the rest of the terraces, the wrought-iron furniture here is painted a bright color that Judd, president of Amos Judd & Sons Antiques on North Howard Street, calls "French blue." Although it's a sharp contrast to the green of the foliage, it subtly echoes the shadows among the plants and the water and sky beyond the railings.

Evergreen dwarf Alberta spruce, carved into spiral topiary, punctuates corners and offers focal points throughout the garden. Underfoot, dark gray-brown interlocking paving stones make paths through the luxurious plantings.

"We feel as if we're in the country," Judd says. "We don't feel like we're 14 stories up."

When the Judds moved to the space 10 years ago, they had Baltimore architect Henry Johnson, of Johnson-Berman, design the 44 planters that wrap around most of the exterior railing and provide two layers of plantings.

"What we wanted to do," Johnson said, "was not have your typical balcony. Up there in the 14th floor, it's a wind tunnel. We had to get the dirt someplace, because we wanted trees and shrubs and vines and flowers. When you put the planter boxes outside, you can fill them with dirt, and you can insulate them."

Foliage plants predominate -- especially early in the season -- but the Judds like to punctuate the lush greenery with annuals, such as pink and white impatiens, and sun-colored day lilies.

They also use some more unusual flowers, such as the balloon plant, and Mandevilla, a vine with showy pink flowers. There's also a rampant "mystery" vine that bears purple orchid-like flowers.

"It goes everywhere," Judd says. Fortunately, it's an annual. He saves the seeds and replants every year.

Overhead, trellises supported by old iron or stone pillars carry wisteria to soften the sun below. The trellises also carry tiny spotlights that, at night, cast the statues into striking relief. Amber under-lighting hidden in some of the planters creates a subtle warm glow.

The Judds do a great deal of entertaining, but no matter what sort of event is in progress, Judd says, "At night the guests always drift back out to see the lights and the boatss going up and down the harbor."

The Judds' love of antiques is as striking on the terraces as it is inside the sumptuous dwelling.

In the interior (which was featured in Southern Accents magazine in 1990), artifacts of several centuries abide in cheerful harmony, as if in some Venetian countess's ancestral palazzo.

Outside, the oldest piece of statuary -- around the corner from the smirking Sicilian sprites -- is a Burmese marble piece of a solemn young boy that dates to at least the 16th century. There is also a 4-foot-tall 19th-century Italian porcelain relief on one wall, of fruits and draperies in the Renaissance style of the della Robbia dynasty.

Among the newer works is a small bronze of a nude woman, a round, soulful face above her affectionately rendered avoirdupois. "I used to sculpt at one time," Judd says, smiling. "This is mine." It's based on a childhood memory of a woman standing in the surf, watching her children play in the water. "She looked just like this," Judd says, "except I took her clothes off."

Caring for the garden is a labor of love for the Judds. They water every day. With the wind, things always dry out, Judd says, but he doesn't mind the watering. "It's not work, it's like the highlight of the day."

The Judds feed all the flowers and vines every other week. The topiary and hedges are tended by Bob Buczek, owner of Green Expectations landscape service in Pikesville.

"When you're in a small area, you can see everything," Barbara Judd says. "It has to be manicured."

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