Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Garden Visit: Margaret Roach’s Garden

As I mentioned in my last post, this past September 20th was my best birthday ever. Why? Because I got to see the private garden of one of my garden idols, Margaret Roach, as well as the garden of the amazing public garden designer, Lynden Miller. The icing on the cake (pun intended) was a visit to the New York Botanical Gardens the next day. A birthday weekend chock-full of gorgeous gardens, what could be better?!

I found my way to Margaret Roach via the Garden Conservancy. I was looking through their thick paperback of private gardens that were open to the public that year (which was last year) through their Open Days Program, and came across a full-page in the New York section about Margaret’s garden and her website www.awaytogarden.com. As soon as I checked out the site I was hooked. I signed up for the email newsletters immediately and became a regular listener of her podcasts. She has really interesting guests on her podcasts. Some favorites of mine this year so far: Arthur Evans on Beetles, Doug Tallamy on The Living Landscape, and Kelly Gill of Xerces Society on Pollinator Gardens. I learn something new and fascinating every time I listen. I must confess, I wish I was Margaret Roach, or maybe a combo of her, as well as artist and printmaker Angie Lewin, and photographer Robert Llewellyn. Wow, what a talented person I would be!

Margaret opens her garden to the public via the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program a few times a year every year. It just so happened that the only date that I didn’t already have plans this year was on Sept 20th, my birthday. I decided we could make it a garden-related weekend trip, with a few brewpubs thrown in to keep Brian happy. (Poor Brian, I think I wore him out dragging him to gardens all weekend! At least he earned that beer he drank at the brewpubs.)

Margaret Roach’s website is about “horticultural how-to and woo-woo.” She believes gardening isn’t just about being knowledgeable about gardening, it’s about being one with your garden and having a spiritual connection to it. This is something I felt the first time I stuck a trowel in the dirt. As Margaret says in her book, And I Shall Have Some Peace There, gardening is a “moving meditation.”

Margaret’s garden is also a “moving meditation.” The garden pulls you in and leads you on a journey as you go through it from one area to the next. There are sections to her garden, yet there is a unity to it and it all flows together in the most natural way. It has a flow and movement that I wish my garden had.

The house and garden are situated on these gracefully rolling hills, which just further add to the movement and flow of the place (but must make for some challenging gardening). The house is grayish-green with reddish/orangish trim, which seems to relate perfectly with the surrounding colors. The house itself becomes part of the landscape.

When Margaret very graciously greeted her guests on the 20th, she described her garden at this time of the year as a “giant botanical birdfeeder.” It is indeed a garden that keeps the creatures of the garden in mind. There are plenty of bird houses scattered about, as well as lots of berry-laden shrubs and numerous plants that birds would find attractive, as well as bees and butterflies. We spotted a pair of hummingbirds chasing each other in the front yard.

Broken Arrow Nursery was selling plants in the front of the driveway by the shed, and Margaret had some used books for sale.

She has several potted Japanese Maples here and there throughout the area around the house. Gives me ideas. I would be interested in knowing what varieties she thinks work well in pots like this.

This garden “room” is on the other side of the large shed or garage. There are pairs of wooden chairs here and there in her garden that are an adaptation of the Wave Hill chair (Wave Hill is a famous public garden in New York). They look like something Frank Lloyd Wright would appreciate and are exceedingly comfortable, much to my surprise.

The anemone September Charm was definitely showing it’s charming side on the 20th.

In the next garden area you see a bird bath converted into a planter. The stone path here is what I have been thinking of doing in the area around my greenhouse, with the hopes that moss would grow in between the cracks.

I was looking forward to seeing the patio outside the door after seeing photos on www.awaytogarden.com. I love the pots of water with either fairy moss or duckweed. So simple and serene. Some lovely begonias here.

As you walk behind the house you get a glimpse of the hill in the distance.

I immediately recognized the pond with the Buddha head as being the view that Margaret Roach talks about in her book. It’s the view she has from her writing desk. I was looking for frogs around the pond, but didn’t see any. I did spot a dragonfly, though.

The various little buildings on the property tie in with the house’s color scheme and add structure and interest.

I love the apple tree that is growing espalier-like up against the back of the house.

This garden has inspired me to put Nicotianas on my plant wish-list for next year.

The gravel patio area does a great job of combining tropicals into the landscape. I am envious of her weed-free gravel area. I am constantly weeding my gravel paths and would love to know her secret. The colors of the strawberry pot and succulent plants in it are reminiscent of the colors of the house.

Nice combination of foliage color and texture.

It was a beautiful sunny day and I was tempted to find myself a cocktail and sit on the patio for awhile. I remember reading about the snakes in the stone wall in her book. Good thing I didn’t see any.

But these squashes are kind of snake-like.

Her vegetable garden made me think of Mr. McGregor’s garden in Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit. I think it’s a combination of the gate, the metal watering can, and the raised beds that made me think that. And again, a cute little shed painted the same colors as the house.

 I like her simple trellising system.

Benches and chairs throughout the garden invite you sit and stay awhile.

The garden beds ebb and flow throughout the 2.3 acre property.

Gracefully cascading shrubs in various colors and textures.

I decided this is my favorite “view.” I could just sit here for hours. There was no chair here, though.

There is an organically-shaped, meadow-like area of un-mown grasses and wildflowers, like a giant welcome mat for the birds and insects of the garden. I love the tall Blue Spruce and how its symmetrical shape contrasts the carefree, flowing meadow grasses.

Some chairs are situated nearby and we sat for awhile, listening to the insects sing in the meadow. Clearly there is a living landscape going on in there, making for lots of happy little creatures. I almost felt like crawling around in there just to see what I might find, but I wouldn’t want to find a snake.

This naturalistic part of the property is very peaceful and serene.

This is indeed Margaret Roach’s little slice of heaven right here on earth. I can see why she found “some peace there.” She has created a beautiful, tranquil, welcoming place.

I think I like Margaret Roach so much because I can relate to her philosophies on gardening. I garden because I have to, not just because I want to – it is as much a part of me as the hair on my head. The more I garden, the more spiritually connected I feel to nature, as well as to the many little creatures I may find in the garden. The more birds and insects I see, the more I want to learn about them and find ways to invite them into the garden. Over the years I have come to realize that you don’t have to follow any set garden “rules,” because the garden is not there to please these garden rule-makers, it’s there to please me (and the many animals that make my garden their home).

Our gardens are a reflection of ourselves and I’ve learned a lot about myself, and the backyard world, through gardening. As Margaret says, “It is a life practice, a window into larger questions of existence.” Thank you, Margaret, for being an inspiration to other gardeners and for making us feel like we’re not just crazy people with trowels (although we may be).

To learn more about Margaret Roach, her books, her website, and her podcast: www.awaytogarden.com

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