Tour Givers’ Holiday

We hosted our last spring garden tour this week. After a full schedule of tours on Walnut Hill, we took one ourselves. Kathy leads bus trips to private gardens twice a year for the Kaleidoscope program of Roland Park Country School. A recent one included two Baltimore County gardens Penney had never seen, and one she knows well. We had a ball looking at other people’s gardens.

First stop: the 10-acre Draycott Gardens. Over 30 years, Carol Warner has turned this part of her childhood farm into a garden show place and a nationally renowned nursery of beardless irises. Because the tour was a week later than usual, many of Carol’s 800 different irises and 150 different peonies had finished blooming. There was still plenty to see. Carol showed us how cross-pollination works on beardless iris. We enjoyed seeing her Itoh peonies that are a cross between herbaceous and tree peonies. (We both want one!) Carol had clipped off her spent herbaceous peonies, but many plants had gigantic side-buds. And up on the hill was a striking Sciodopitys verticillata. Like those on Walnut hill, Carol’s started off in a small box but now gives tall, glossy, evergreen counterpoint to the surrounding deciduous trees. Next year, we plan to return in prime time.

Nearby was Karen and Chip Offutt’s garden. Theirs is ten years younger than Penney’s, but it is a kindred spirit. Kurt Bluemel, who masterminded the Walnut Hill design, and Wolfgang Oehme both had a hand at the Offutts’ New American style garden.  Swaths of plantings flow around the house: hellebores, perennial begonias, hydrangeas and grasses. There was also plumbago, a non-invasive lythrum, Lythrum virgatum ‘Morden’s Pink,’ and a lacy Sambucus racemosa ‘Lemon Lace’ (elderberry) planted with Liriope muscari for amazing texture.  We enjoyed the way Karen uses tropical plants in poolside containers. The fishpond, swarming with koi, and the surrounding rock garden Karen’s brother designed were a highlight. Kudos to her for having such a good-looking, well-maintained pond. Not easy to do. The one on Walnut Hill came out years ago.

After lunch a third stop was a six-acre garden filled with a magnificent collection of international sculpture. Dave Thompson of Foxborough Nursery was on hand with the owner. Dave clearly has had so much fun using his creativity here. With the owners he’s built an elegant series of garden rooms that embrace the house and compliment each piece of sculpture.

No matter how many times we visit, something always strikes our fancy here. Now that we’re accustomed to the grand flow of the gardens and well-sited sculpture, smaller details caught our eye. Glossy black window boxes and freshly planted containers by the pool and pool house said, “Welcome, Summer!” White mazus in a checkerboard pattern between bluestone squares made Kathy want to take off her shoes to feel their soft cushion. Wood tuteurs to match a nearby rustic table were a new addition to the sunken garden, as were many white caladiums planted among well-clipped boxwoods in the kitchen garden. The owner said white tulips often stand in their place in spring.