Edgewater garden boasts beauty, privacy

November 12, 2006|By Nancy Taylor Robson | Nancy Taylor Robson,Special to The Sun

Even among the manicured lawns in their Edgewater development, Bob and Nancy Shoemaker's house stands out.

It's not just that it sits up on a big mound. It's that the mound is crowned by a house half-obscured by garden, a look Nancy Shoemaker has been working on for five years.

"The entire property was visible from the road, so I've been planting for privacy," she says.

With a plethora of shrubs, trees and perennials, Shoemaker has created garden rooms that are retreats in plain sight.

The house even boasts a private little enclave right on the front lawn.

Hidden behind a trellis covered in Passionflower (Passiflora) `Form No. 3' ("unromantic name, but that's what it is") and Clematis `Betty Corning,' and banked by crape myrtle, coleus, plumbago and the feathery mauve fronds of Muhlenbergia, Shoemaker can sit undetected.

"It's wonderful in the late afternoon when the light makes the Muhlenbergia glow," she says.

The south and west sides of the house are filled with perennial gardens banked by anthracnose-resistant dogwood (Cornus), Beautyberry (Callicarpa), nandina, holly (Ilex) and more that shield two stone patios, tables and a stone barbecue.

A swale filled with Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra `Aureola') spills like a botanical cataract down the woodsy hill and stops at a contemplative patio and water feature.

While the overall effect is gorgeous, it's even more impressive when you learn that it all began in heaps of clay.

"They excavated for the cellar and dumped it around the house," Shoemaker says.

"It was like gardening in concrete."

She began piling on organics - leaf mold, peat moss, pine chips and more - to add nourishment and tilth and to smother weeds, which proliferated thanks to the excavation.

"Whenever you disturb the ground, you change the soil composition, and open it up to all kinds of weeds," she says.

Though there are blooms everywhere, it's the foliage - purple-burgundy coral bells (Heuchera `Palace Purple'), lime-green creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia), burnished oak leaf hydrangeas (H. quercifolia), sagey lavender, the ash-and-kelly-green spears of variegated iris - that is striking.

"I love foliage. I love the texture, shape, color," Shoemaker says. "Blooms last maybe two weeks, but foliage keeps going."

TIPS

Deal with what you have instead of trying to make it what it isn't. Choose plants for drainage, sun and shade.

Know your enemy. Voles love tulips but stay away from daffodils, which are poisonous. "So if I plant tulips, I surround them with `daffs.'"

Garden by exclusion. "Unless you're willing to coddle and guard it, leave out the things that attract the critters you don't want."

Plant for beneficial insects, butterflies and birds. "I don't put out bird feed any more; they get it naturally."

Add humus and organics. "It's so much easier to dig in softer ground!"

Go visit other gardens. "I learned so much, and see other plants that I love and will work well in my garden."

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