Wide open spaces

The Ashland Garden Club's Garden of the Month for July/August is the work of David Hogan and Susan Baird at 975 Mary Jane St., near Mohawk. Susan is a teacher at Ashland Middle School, and David is working as a caretaker in the Ashland city cemeteries, which, he says, is the last one of his many careers.

David and Susan are the second owners of the property, which was originally developed by a Mr. Covington who built the original house in 1954. He lived there for 30 years, and left a legacy of some lovely stone walls, a few old lilacs and a large English holly.

When David and Susan moved to the property in 1984, the yard consisted mainly of sloping lawns and vegetable gardens. There were no trees, and thus, no shade. Although they never had a formal plan, David and Susan set about to transform the yard into the charming and pleasant garden it is today. Over time, the garden has evolved according to the needs of their family, accommodating a growing child and various pets and family activities, such as horseshoes.

A first order of business was creating a compost pile, as a source of organic amendments for their clay soil. Shade trees were among the first plant additions. As you view the front yard, you will see a Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), which has striking Fall color. Near the front entrance is a small Tanyosho Pine (Pinus densiflora "Umbraculifera), which started its life as a Christmas tree. Near it is a magnificent Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum dissectum). To the right of the entrance, you may glimpse two undulant Weeping Spruce trees (Picea pungens 'Pendula'), which also served as Christmas trees, described by friends and family as "Dr. Seuss" trees.

Above the driveway, a young Mountain Ash (Sorbus aucuparia) is just setting berries. Next to it are three other Ash trees, Raywood Ashes (Fraxinus angustifolia 'Raywood'), which will develop purple-red Fall color. David and Susan have learned the importance of doing their homework over the years, especially when it comes to planting trees. Earlier they tried planting a Tulip Magnolia (Magnolia soulangeana), only to find that it bloomed too early, and the blossoms were ruined by frost. When this happened one time too many, that tree had to go.

Both David and Susan are hands-on, attentive and adaptive gardeners. They carefully monitor their various plantings to see what works and what may need adjustment. Just now their front area has lovely daylilies and lavenders in bloom; however, some of the lavender is encroaching on the daylilies, which may necessitate some changes before next Spring. When you drop by, stop to admire the lovely soft peach daylily (Hemerocallis sp.), named "Naomi Ruth" that is Susan's favorite.

Deer are regular visitors to the garden, so various plantings have fallen prey to deer predation. As the deer grew bolder, roses, originally planted in front, had to be moved to the back garden. Just now, Susan is trying out Cosmos in a small entry bed with thymes and Blanket Flower (Gaillardia grandiflora). So far, although the deer have walked through the bed, the plants have not been browsed.

One of the recurring themes in David and Susan's garden is the idea of openness, of being able to look through from one area to the next. This approach is seen in the low, open fence in the front, through which one can glimpse the entry garden, with low moss-covered mounds and rockwork, and just of hint of what may lie around the bend in the back garden. David and Susan credit their neighbor, Tim Brown, at 969 Mary Jane, for being their "garden guru." Tim uses this "see through" concept in his own planting beds, and David and Susan have adopted it as well.

Another theme is the careful use of structure to solve various garden problems. An example of this is the very clever trellis that was installed high on a windowless front wall of the house. A Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) clambers up and across the trellis, softening and adding interest to this blank wall. Below the trellis, Susan has planted a bed of Coral Bells (Heuchera sanguinea), which provide a graceful base to the wall, and add to its warm color.

There are many more lovely aspects to David and Susan's garden, just around the corner, beyond the next turn of a path. For now, we will just admire their planning and work in creating a colorful and interesting front garden, definitely worthy of Garden of the Month status.

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