Officer and a gardener


IT'S EASY TO TELL WHICH home in the historic Fieldstone community of Randallstown belongs to master gardener Jimmy Waites.

Inside his shaded front lawn, hemmed in by mixed viburnum, two huge maples are ringed with hostas. Wooden trellises spaced along one edge of the property frame weigela, Leatherleaf Mahonia (Mahonia bealei) and azalea. Opposite, a meandering bed of shade-lovers leads you up the driveway to an iron arch at the front walk that is covered with rose-and-blond-bloomed honeysuckle "Gold Flame" (Lonicera x heckrottii). A few scarlet salvias highlight a curve along the drive.

"My favorite colors are pinks, purples and yellows," says Waites. "Then I add a spark of red every now and then to draw the eye."

Waites, who became a Baltimore County police officer after 10 years in the Navy, has taken many horticulture classes at the Community College of Baltimore County's Dundalk campus and once considered landscaping as a career. But he didn't want gardening to become work.

"I garden for relaxation," he explains. "I don't have [and don't want] any stress while I'm gardening."

Yet while his garden helps him unwind after a tough day, Waites has discovered that gardening can help defuse tension on the job, too.

"Sometimes when I'm on a call, I'll say something about the person's garden and it will open things up, get them to talking more easily," he says.

And while he doesn't garden for money, he does share his passion with friends and neighbors.

"I help friends design their gardens," he says. "And I designed the memorial garden for the fallen heroes at the precinct [Precinct One on Wilkens Avenue]. It has weeping cherry trees and 21 boxwoods that represent a 21-gun salute."

Waites appreciates symbolism, but is more interested in what gardens offer the senses, including the ear. He loves the sound of water and has several fountains burbling quietly throughout the space. He has also hidden a speaker and plays -- very softly -- bird-call tapes (Canada geese for example) to add to the lively conversations among the many songbirds that live there.

Not surprisingly, his property is a certified wildlife habitat. Bullfrogs "gullump" in his pond. Hummingbirds zip through the red bee balm (Monarda didyma cardinalis). His butterfly bush (Buddleia) arbor draws hundreds of butterflies that land on him when he walks through. There are squirrels and rabbits and chipmunks.

"I once looked out and there was a red fox lying down by the koi pond," he says.

But the quarter-acre garden isn't just for critters. He places focal points -- statuary, ornaments, urns, gates -- to lead visitors through every portion of this mini-wonderland. The garden is a flowing series of "rooms," each with its own spot from which to admire the view.

"I think very hard about placement for view," he says. "For example, I planted a native dogwood (Cornus florida) to block the ugly stop sign in front from my view from the front bench."

Waites, who has lived here six years, says he almost has it where he wants it. "Then I can start dividing plants to share," he grins.


* Don't try to do everything in one year. "Think in terms of a five-year plan," Jimmy Waites advises.

* Discover, rather than force, where paths should go. "It took me a year to learn where I naturally want to walk," he says.

* Place potted plants before you dig them in. "Six inches one way or other can make a difference," he says.

* Read, read, read. Michael Dirr's Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, and Allan Armitage's Herbaceous Perennial Plants are Waites' favorites.

* Outdoor lighting lets you enjoy the garden in the evening after work.

* Use sedum as a natural support for tall perennials. "The sedum helps hold up the [5-foot-tall] monarda when they get knocked down in wind and rain," he says.

* Don't be afraid to experiment. "Go by the labels for sun and shade requirements at first, but then you can test things. My 'Stargazer' lily only gets 5 1 / 2 hours of sun, but it looks gorgeous."

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