The stone courtyard, which covers the space between street and front door of Leslie and Blake Goldsmith's Roland Park home, makes the house look as though it's firmly planted on earth and rock. But walk out back and it looks more like the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse. Perched at the apex of an acre and buttressed by vine-threaded decks, it clings to a hillside so steep it makes you want to yodel.
Some gardeners would have thrown up their hands at this vertical challenge. Not the Goldsmiths. As soon as they moved in 23 years ago, Blake Goldsmith, owner of an event planning and catering firm called Extraordinary Events, began building terraces that Leslie then filled with azaleas, hostas, hydrangeas, rhododendrons, Arisaemas, pachysandra, native dogwoods (Cornus florida) and more.
"My husband is wonderful with rocks and stones," she says. "He did the hardscaping and I kept planting and planting to soften it."
Once they had the terraces, Leslie Goldsmith created two gardens at their feet, one on either side of the red, hip-high garage roof. The two are distinctly different.
One, reminiscent of an English cottage garden, boasts a manicured lawn banked by clean-edged perennial beds of daylily (Hemerocallis), Oriental lily (Lilium) "Star Gazer," Ladies Mantle (Alchemilla) phlox, roses and Autumn Clematis (C. angustifolia). Poppies (Papaver) and grape-bloomed spiderwort (Tradescantia) fill the slot between the garage roof and a Zen-calm rectangle of bluestone pool. At the end of the yard -- like a horticultural finial -- lies a small circular herb garden complete with seating.
The garden on the other side of the garage roof is more New World. An earthen landing holds a Williamsburgesque quartet of squares planted with herbs and vegetables. Nearby, a grotto-like pond fed by a huge sculpted carp is dug into a sunny bank. At the foot of the garden, a random-stone patio filled with "steppable" herbs like Creeping Thyme and Babytears (Micranthemum) sports Adirondack chairs at the edge of a clipped lawn.
Maintenance is constant and takes muscle. She hauls the electric mower up stone steps from the garage below, then up and over an uneven stone path between gardens. A 15-minute-weeding session nearly always turns into hours.
"It's never done," she says.
Aside from the enjoyment of their frequent guests, she does it partly for the pleasure she takes in creating a thriving habitat for critters. Raccoons, skunks, foxes, chipmunks and more, as well as the neighborhood dogs and cats, visit this oasis.
Green Fields Nursery Co.
5424 Falls Road
Home Harvest Garden Supply
3807 Bank St.
Mill Valley Garden Center
3401 Chestnut Ave.
Hemphill's Garden Center
Towson Market Place
River Hill Garden Center
12165 Clarksville Pike
LESLIE GOLDSMITH'S TIPS
Don't use landscape fabric. "It's too hard to plant through," she says. "You have to use a knife to cut a hole through it to plant anything."
Use Leaf Grow instead of too much mulch. "It is wonderful for the soil and the plants," she says.
Always buy in threes. "One of each looks like a hodgepodge," she says. "Threes make groups."
Plan so you have color all the time, but remember what colors bloom when. "You can have orange and bright pink in the same place, but not -- at least for me -- blooming at the same time."
Don't be afraid to learn by trial and error. "Everyone's soil is different, and you need to learn the soil and what you can and can't do with it."
Join a garden club. "There's a wealth of information, and you can share plants with other gardening friends."