Overall garden winner: Growing from garden novices to blooming experts

Baltimore Sun 2013 Garden Contest

Couple's Poplar Hill property is result of learning as you go

  • Cristina Quigley, who along with her husband Harry, is a winner of the overall garden contest.
Cristina Quigley, who along with her husband Harry, is a winner… (Barbara Haddock Taylor,…)
July 11, 2013|By Liz Atwood, For The Baltimore Sun

Harry and Cristina Quigley's garden grew from the inside out. The couple purchased a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home in the shady neighborhood Poplar Hill in North Baltimore in 1996 and found themselves looking out on a bland landscape of trees and grass.

"We became gardeners because we wanted to look at something nice outside," Cristina Quigley says. "We were total novices."

They first tackled a steep slope in the front of their home that was difficult to mow. They ripped up the grass and put in rhododendron and some short-lived plants that Cristina Quigley barely remembers. The results were hardly satisfactory.

To learn more about gardening, the couple took classes on native plants at the Irvine Nature Center and began reading books and magazines. Eventually, they became more adept at selecting plants that would live in their mostly shady yard.

Cristina Quigley says one trick they learned was to buy three of everything and plant them in different areas of the yard to see where they would thrive. "After a year, we would rescue the other two," she says.

Each year the couple tackled a new section of their 3/4-acre yard. They ripped up ivy and dug up roots and rocks.

In time, they created a four-season garden that features natives species, including trillium, Dutchman's breeches, crested iris, ginseng and twinleaf. The garden blooms from the snowdrops at Christmas to witch hazel in late fall. A quarter-mile of paths meander through the gardens beneath 80-foot-tall trees, including a 250-year-old liriodendron, beside understory shrubs and around a four-step waterfall that empties into a lily pond.

So little grass remains in the yard that Harry Quigley has put away his power mower and now uses a push mower instead.

Like all gardeners, the Quigleys have had setbacks. A storm knocked down a white ash and destroyed a beautiful Japanese maple. "After crying for three days, I saw that I had a new opportunity," Cristina Quigley says.

Some of the shade-loving plants that had been under the maple adapted to the sun, including hellebores, Solomon's seal and some of the hosta. The Quigleys moved other plants and eventually planted a river birch that again shades the area.

Although their home is in the city, the garden is a haven for wildlife, including foxes, raccoons, hawks and woodpeckers.

Harry Quigley, a surgeon at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins, says he often talks about gardening with his patients during surgery to keep their minds off the procedures.

The Quigleys have become ambassadors for city gardens. Harry Quigley recently became a member of TreeKeepers, an organization that aims to recruit volunteers to plant and tend to trees throughout Baltimore, and the couple has given a number of their plants to young gardeners who are just starting out.

Favorite plant: Butterfly weed. "We are so fond of Monarch butterflies and that is the host plant for the Monarch," Cristina Quigley says.

Lessons learned: "The main lesson I have learned is to be a patient person," Cristina Quigley says. "If it doesn't work this year, it will probably work next year. You have to be willing to wait for something to happen."

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