Well, it’s winter, a fine time to enjoy the lushness of a fabulous new garden in my neighborhood. It was
recently visited by a group of DC-area landscape designers, and their tour guide was the garden’s designer, my friend and fellow gardening columnist, Pat Howell. Pat’s assignment was to transform the all-turfgrass front yard. Into what, she wasn’t told. Oh, and how about some soft surfaces for the kids to play on? And here’s the result.
A GARDEN FOR YOUNG CHILDREN
Now if you’re going to all the trouble to yank the lawn, why not make it a space where the homeowners’ young kids could have some fun? That notion led Pat to research gardening with children, and she soon discovered that having kids simply work alongside adults in vegetable gardens is going out of style, in favor of a focus on play. So this garden has boulders to climb on and hide behind, sand boxes, and even a Faerie Garden. Pat learned to use that Celtic spelling, and had fun shopping for figurines and other essential fairy items at local shops and the National Cathedral greenhouse.
A MODIFIED RAIN GARDEN
To direct water from three downsprouts, Pat consulted with Lauren Wheeler of Natural Resources Design, and a rain garden with drainage for excess water was the solution. Packed with colorful but water-loving plants, they definitely needed the occasional flooding Pat gave them to survive the Great Drought of 2007.
A FOUR-MULCH GARDEN
And not a one too many. Shredded hardwood was used in the rain garden because it filters pollutants. Pine fines, Pat’s favorite mulch, were used in the flat "meadow". Pea gravel and pine fines were used in the boulder garden. And for a soft landing in play areas, Pat spread a layer of Tread Spread, a recycled tire product used on playgrounds. It turned out to be soft enough but too hot under the summer sun for barefoot play. Too bad!
A HAVEN FOR WILDLIFE
Because plant choices were left up to Pat and she’s a real plantsperson, this small front garden is now home to 53 different perennials (250 in all), nine shrubs or small trees, two vines and seven annuals, including enough red and orange flowers to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Talk about your biodiversity! For sheer tropical lushness Pat included large purple elephant ears and the only banana plant that’s hardy here (Musa basjoo, which gets cut to the ground in fall and covered with four inches of mulch for the winter). And nothing too tall was planted because the homeowners like to sit on the front porch and see their neighbors passing by.
[The sign in the bottom photo says "Peace, love, marriage – rights we should all enjoy," as best I can make out. I should know the words by heart, though – they’re all over town.]
COMBINING GARDENING AND POLICE WORK
Pat and I met for lunch recently to talk about the garden and she filled me in on her other life — patrolling
the streets of D.C. in a police cruiser on the midnight shift for 40 or 50 hours every month. She’s a member of the Police Reserve, having completed nine months of training many years ago when she first got involved with the force. This grandmother of two also contributes her vast plant and growing knowledge to the 200+ members of our local gardening Yahoo group, free of charge. And her clients tell me she leaves them little notes suggesting the care their plants need, so she doesn’t just design and install, but also teach. I’m hereby designating her a gardening coach.