Barbara Ellis and her Liberated Country Garden


Barbara Ellis is a garden book editor and author, most recently of the terrific Chesapeake Gardening and Landscaping (from UNC Press, with Atkins Arboretum), and she blogs at Eastern Shore Gardener.  I visited her at her home near Chestertown, Maryland with another beloved garden writer, the horticulturist Ruth Rogers Claussen. Ruth retired to Easton, MD, also on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. I hope to show you Ruth’s new garden someday but this post is about Barbara’s garden and life in lovely Chestertown.

The Garden

Barbara and her husband bought the 10-acre property outside of town in 2004 but couldn’t start transforming the garden until extensive renovations to the home were completed in 2007. Then the delawning began and it’s now lush and interesting and a little chaotic.

Yes, there are weeds coming up through the gravel in the driveway, but really, who cares? Certainly not Barbara. And why should country gardens look pristine? She’s not a neatnik on the two acres she gardens, and I wouldn’t be, either.

As for the other eight acres, her goal is to rid them of English ivy and other invasives, so her work may never be done.

There’s more about her garden and her journey to Chestertown here.


Barbara (left) and Ruth admire oxeye (Heliopsis helianthoides) blooming in the meadow, which was sown using a mix from Ernst Conservation Seeds, with a few other plants added.


Gardens, Other2

Above left, you can see the edge of a hot-tub cover and the view Barbara has while using it. On the right, the view from the master bedroom. Now we see what makes this property so special.


Peter Ellis, a retired social worker, has taken up metalwork as a hobby – one of many.


Here’s a small part of the couple’s collection of watering cans.

Living in Chestertown, with Border Collies

I asked Barbara what life is like in Chestertown – she and Peter moved there after years in Berks County, Pennsylvania – and she responded:

There’s always something going on here. Lots of music venues, plus free music in the park. (Here’s a link.) One of the latest events is the National Music Festival, which has been based here for three years now I think. River Arts has been a real boon to the community. They always have a show going.

In addition for Chestertown in general are all the Washington College events. They have lectures, plus a lifetime learning school. Also, there are all the water-oriented events such as the log canoe races in summer. Oh, and there is a National Wildlife Refuge on the tip of the peninsula (they have a great butterfly garden) south of Rock Hall.

barbara border collie

I actually was involved with Mid-Atlantic Border Collie Rescue before I moved here. We have placed about 1,800 dogs since our founding, including pure-bred Border Collies, BC mixes, and quite a few little dogs that came our way.

Indeed, a litter of Border Collie puppies was in residence and being trained for adoption at the time of my visit.

Waterside gardens, lunch with two wonderful women and puppies, too? The perfect day.


  1. I so enjoyed spending the day with Barbara ad Susan. Barbara’s garden is indeed fascinating. She and I have many of the same attitudes towards gardening–a lifestyle rather than “planting a garden this year”–for one. Having gardened all my life from my grandmother and mother, I certainly relate to her passion for getting hands in the soil. Creating vignettes with plants that shout “take me home” at nurseries, garden centers, and especially plant sales is a large part of the fun, even if it does sometimes create a somewhat chaotic scene. Don;t miss the opportunity to visit Barbara’s garden if you get the chance.

  2. Walking through my garden with Susan and Ruth was a real treat. I am relieved to find that it has been deemed only a little chaotic, because it often feels totally out of control. Truly, I do try to march toward less chaotic, but the plants always keep things interesting. Blonde Border Collie mix Casey is thrilled to be included in this post as well!

    • For the other 8 acres, have you considered hiring goats? That’s only if you want to delegate that job!

      Re: rescue organiztions–We wanted a small (but not tiny) dog, so we had a list of shelter & rescue organisations to visit. One problem: never made it past the first on the list, the Silicon Valley HS. We adopted two older mixes, one a poodle mut, and the other a bichon frisé mutt, who’d been released by a woman after a very bad accident. She needed 24/7 care, so off the dogs went. As they were bonded, it was a double or nothing, so until the elder died, we were a two dog household.

  3. Lovely piece, as usual, Susan. I’m glad Barbara posted a comment, with the beautiful dog’s name. I was going to write in to say that’s no Border Collie, but I guess a mix makes sense. A charming photo of Casey with the newspaper. And I too wanted some puppy photos!

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