Annapolis garden has great bones

October 22, 2006|By Nancy Taylor Robson | Nancy Taylor Robson,Special to The Sun

Steve and Jacqueline Ploof's garden in the heart of Annapolis is a little like Katharine Hepburn: a perennial beauty that looks good no matter what the season.

Like the late star, the garden, which beautifully fleshes out the 18th-century house and grounds, has good bones. A good thing, too. Unlike most gardens in Annapolis' cloistered historic district, which are hidden by buildings, virtually all of the Ploofs' garden is visible from the street.

"A lot of people stop to see it when we're working out here," says Steve Ploof. "So we feel a responsibility to keep it up to a certain standard."

Divided from the sidewalk by a wrought-iron fence, the garden is a showstopper. And while it's predictably gorgeous in spring and summer, it's lovely even in fall and winter when it starts to slim down.

The garden's "bones" -- the combination of shape and texture in shrubs, trees and hardscape (walls, fencing, paths and buildings) -- include two clean-lined rectangular beds that run parallel from a perennial border along the sidewalk fence to a brick walk across the front of the house.

In each bed, four carefully spaced red-berried yews stand guard like a plump evergreen regiment. In winter, they're conspicuous, sometimes sporting snowy mantles; in summer, they're almost obscured by a plethora of successive perennials -- hellebore, peony, rose, purple coneflower (Echinacea), hosta and more.

"Every two weeks something new starts," says Jacqueline Ploof. Some of the new things are annuals such as the three potted coleus that Jacqueline has positioned at the foot of a peeling river birch (Betula nigra). Other new additions are perennials, like the surprisingly delicate white-flowered Euphorbia `Diamond Frost,' a late-season bloom she planted for the benefit of passers-by.

The Ploofs know the enjoyment the garden gives observers because a year ago, they were among them. "We lived in the house next door for four years," says Jacqueline.

They watched former owners John and Betty Hanna shape the garden. When the Hannas were ready to move, they sold to the delighted Ploofs who inherited the garden's good bones, a design leg up for two novice gardeners.

"I'm totally in learning mode," says Jacqueline, who looks to Betty as a horticultural mentor. She studies gardening magazines and books, learning ways to put her own stamp on the space. She has added urns of claret-bloomed mums, pots of tropicals, and rose standards that set off the garden's lines and recall the house's 18th-century roots.

Jacqueline Ploof's garden tips

Read magazines and books. "The pictures help you to see what might be possible in your own garden," she says.

Don't be afraid to experiment. "I'm waiting to see if I want to plant more of that Euphorbia `Diamond Frost,' she says. "I won't know until next year if it's in the right place."

Try things in different places. "I moved the Andromeda bush only 2 feet, to cover up a piece of scruffy fence."

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