Beauty by Design

2008 Garden Contest Winners


What wonders Maryland gardens hold. In our second annual garden contest, we discovered not only beautiful flowers and well-designed landscapes, but also bogs in shade gardens, fruit trees shaped by espalier, barren lots transformed into lush gardens and a balcony shaded by grape arbors and pine trees.

We received nearly 200 entries and visited 15 gardens from Bel Air to Gambrills. With the help of experts from the University of Maryland's Cooperative Extension Service and the Maryland Horticultural Society, we chose favorites in four categories: small, medium, large and edible, and an overall winner. These gardens exceeded our expectations and made us green with envy.

Becky Cody, Bel Air

Best Overall

Becky Cody's half-acre woodland garden seems as natural as can be. Wildflowers, ferns, Japanese maples and moss grow beneath a canopy of poplar trees. Paths meander alongside azaleas and past bogs sprouting delicate irises, ferns and foamflower. But all of this is according to design and is what Cody calls her "29-year work in progress."

Cody, a part-time operations manager with Chesapeake Corporate Advisers, dispels the notion that you can't grow anything in the shade. She has been a fan of woodland gardens since she was 6 years old and would wander in the woods near Victory Villa in Baltimore County where she grew up. "My dog and I would go out checking the wildflowers," she says.

When she married and moved to Edgewood, Cody had her first shade garden of azaleas, red maples, dogwoods and conifers. When her husband, Phil, suggested a move to Bel Air, she was reluctant to leave her garden. But he promised she could take it with her and much of it they did, digging up and transplanting 60 favorite trees and shrubs to start her new garden.

Their new yard had some trees and wildflowers. Cody drew up a plan of where everything else would go, and her husband helped dig and gather rocks. "This was a wonderful thing we could do together," she says.

Her husband died in 2004, but Cody continued to work on her shade garden. She came up with an idea for a new feature: "I had always wanted a place where I could have a bog garden," she says.

Her wooded lot didn't have one growing naturally and she wondered if she might be able to build one. She did some research and found that, indeed, she could. She dug a hole, lined it with plastic and filled it with rich well-drained soil in which she planted delicate irises, foamflower, ferns and lizard's tail.

Although bogs need to be wet, she said they don't necessarily require a lot of water. "It's like a potted plant in a plastic pot. It holds the water a lot longer," she says. "I don't have to water that nearly as much as the things that are not in a bog."

Cody, a Master Gardener, also found that bog gardens don't require exotic or expensive plants. "You look at the Rodale perennial book and a good 50 percent of all the plants in there want consistently moist, well-drained soil."

Don't talk to her about roses, daisies, black-eyed Susans or other sun-loving beauties. "Shade gardening is wonderful," she says, "once you get by the warning you can't grow anything in the shade. ... It's 15 degrees cooler; you don't have the weeds."

Favorite plants Japanese iris, all types of ferns, moss

Tips "Know your site. How much sun you've got, the soil you have and the plants to go along with that site."

Watch a slide show of how to create a bog garden at

Susan and Michael Conord, Gambrills

Best Medium Garden

Susan and Michael Conord's garden began seven years ago on an empty lot with a drainage ditch running down the middle. Today, it is a lush space with sweet-smelling roses, elegant river birch, towering monarda and a wall of Leyland cypress. Tucked in one corner is the French-style tool shed Michael Conord built from scratch. A little bridge spans the stone rill that was the drainage ditch. A small fountain trickles at another corner. Wisteria hangs from a pagoda and a formal grouping of boxwoods stands before a wooden bench.

Susan Conord, a teacher and counselor for victims of childhood trauma at Chapelgate Presbyterian Church in Marriottsville, has been gardening for 30 years. "When the children were young, I didn't do a whole lot. Over time, the gardens got bigger and more complicated," she says.

Confronted with the vacant lot when they moved into their new home, she was undaunted. "I have enough confidence to get myself in trouble," she says.

She sketched out a rough plan of how she wanted the garden to look. "I drew the bones of the garden and over time I've been filling it in."

The garden reflects her vision and benefits from her devotion. She spends at least one hour a day in the yard, deadheading, trimming and weeding. Michael Conord, who is vice president of work force strategies for Erickson Retirement Communities, provides the labor for some of her most ambitious projects.

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