Best overall garden: Barry Glassman, Butchers Hill

2011 Garden Contest Winner

  • A view from the fire escape shows the varied textures in Barry Glassman's serene garden oasis at his Butcher's Hill rowhouse.
A view from the fire escape shows the varied textures in Barry… (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
July 13, 2011|By Liz Atwood, Special to The Baltimore Sun

Before Barry Glassman could begin his garden, he first had to find the ground. His row house had been an apartment building and the yard next door a dump for the residents' refuse for 20 years. In 1996, he bought the property and began the transformation.

The first step, says Glassman who is retired from the banking and investment business, was to remove the trash — 40 contractor-size bags of it.

He had no set plan in the beginning. "I knew enough to go out and rent the biggest Rototiller I could find," he says. When Glassman was done clearing the lot, a towering 100-year-old hackberry in the back corner was all that remained.

"I started with an empty palette," he says.

He added 20 bags of soil amendment and the first year he planted only a Katsura tree and lots of annuals. But the yard with a southwestern exposure had little shade. "The annuals were happy, but it was brutal to be out there," he says.

So Glassman set out to create a shady retreat by planting crape myrtle and redbuds. As the trees grew and began to provide shade, he changed his flowers from the sun-loving annuals to shade-loving perennials.

"Gradually I converted the whole yard to native plants," he says.

He added a winding path and a koi pond, wrenching his back digging in the hard clay and splitting the stones that surround the pond. He read and visited other gardens, and he kept trying new things.

"Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't," he says. "I tried things and if they didn't work, took them out without regret."

Today, the garden is nearly as he wants it. In places, it resembles an Asian garden with sparseness, in the center a grouping of flowers resembles an English country garden and at one end he has tried to recreate the sense of walking along the Gunpowder River — all in the space of a 25-foot-by-85-feet lot.

Sweet woodruff, coral bells, wild orchids and camellia populate the garden alongside herbs and ivy. The variety and plant choice has helped earn the garden the National Wildlife Federation's recognition as a Certified Wildlife Habitat.

But while it is comfortable for the birds, the garden is really meant for people. Glassman and his wife, Dee Lundelius, frequently entertain there. Glassman, who was twice president of the Butchers Hill Association, often opens his garden for neighborhood meetings and receptions.

"I've got the look and feel of what I want," he says.

But of course, a garden is never truly finished. "There is always going to be one plant that says, 'I don't like it here anymore.' Or there might be a new native I have to try," Glassman says.

Favorite plants: Wild orchid, lavender, winter-hardy gardenias, night blooming Jessamine.

Tips: "Talk to your neighbors, particularly in an urban garden, to find out what grows in their yard… Check out garden tours for ideas and take a camera...Think of it more as an extra room to the house than as a garden for show."

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