The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days in New Hampshire.
If there is anything a gardener loves more than working in his or her garden, it’s visiting and enjoying the creations of others. Before 1995, however, the only private gardens we could visit and admire belonged to people we knew. That year, Page Dickey, a gardener in North Salem, N.Y., wondered why this country didn’t have a program like the National Gardens Scheme in England, where private gardens were opened to the public for a day.
Dickey and her friend Penelope Maynard approached The Garden Conservancy, an organization established in 1989 to preserve and share outstanding American gardens, for help in launching a similar program in the U.S.
In the 20 years since, about 3,000 private gardens across the country have participated in “Open Days,” welcoming more than 1 million visitors.
Last year, several private gardens in the Merrimack Valley participated in Open Days. We were able to visit two of them last July: Tiffany Gardens in Londonderry, N.H., and Beyond the Garden Gate in Bedford, N.H.
Tiffany Gardens is a magical spot tucked into a standard suburban development. The homes in the area, most of which were built in the 1980s, sit on 1-acre plots in order for each house to have room for its own septic system and well.
The Tiffany Gardens house, which is also a bed and breakfast, is set back from the road. You get a sense that this might not be your ordinary suburban landscape as you drive toward it. The front yard is screened from the street by tall shrubs and trees that are separated from the pavement by an 8-foot-wide, neatly manicured bed of crushed stone. Ground-hugging junipers and a few large boulders have been placed artfully among the trees.
Kathy and Jim McMahon have spent close to 20 years grooming their 1-acre property to include 20 garden beds connected by winding, grassy paths. It all began, Kathy says, in 1996, when the couple decided to build their dream kitchen. This required them to move their septic system, and a large pile of rocks was left over. “I made some rock circles, put some plants in there and called it a garden,” Kathy says.
They had no other gardening experience, but Kathy and Jim were hooked. Before long, they began to tackle the rest of their property, and as they dug up rocks in order to plant, they built stone walls to create the terraces that define the gardens today.
Tiffany Gardens slopes gently away from the back of the house, so there are many points of visual interest. The photograph on the first page of this article is a beautiful example.
Natural stone steps lead down from the swimming pool area to a convergence of garden paths that invite exploration. The lush pachysandra beds at the bottom of the photo grow along the retaining wall, also made of natural stone.
The gardens are filled with a wonderful assortment of green foliage, the rhythm and flow of the plants drawing you into a world of tranquility.
A small wire gazebo structure draws a visitor’s eye to the far corner of the gardens, which is somewhat hidden by an emerald green arborvitae. A visitor can’t help but wonder what magical sight might be awaiting back there.
Each of the 20 beds in Tiffany Gardens features a large stone topped with a piece of whimsical garden art the owners have collected over the years. There is also a fishpond, waterfall, fountain and reflection pool. To top it off, Jim and Kathy have taken the time to label each of the more than 300 varieties of evergreen and deciduous shrubs and trees, so visitors can be educated as well as delighted by the beauty of this space.
In Bedford, N.H., June Scott has spent years designing, cultivating and maintaining her 1.5-acre landscape. She and her husband moved to the house in the 1960s. “I’m one of the oldest living residents here in Bedford now,” June says. She grew up in Lexington, Mass., where her father had a hobby greenhouse and a formal garden. “I learned about plants from him,” she says.
In the mid-1980s, June and her husband had an inground swimming pool installed in their backyard, which until then had been standard New England woods. Over the years since, working from the pool outward, she has created a series of garden “rooms” highlighted by colorful beds of perennials, specimen trees, shrubs, fountains and unusual garden art.
Visitors can relax on a stone bench beneath the natural canopy of a weeping cherry tree. From there you can see an arbor that marks the entrance to a hilltop garden. That garden, carved out of the woods, provides a lovely overview of the entire landscape.
“One garden morphed into another,” June says. “I hope I’ve settled down now. I’m not making any more gardens.” During the growing season, June estimates she spends at least two hours per day working in the gardens. Her main advice to beginning gardeners is to pay attention to where your site has sun. “Flowers require at least six hours of sun to perform their best,” she says.
The Garden Conservancy will be sponsoring Open Days across the country again this year, with garden visits beginning in March and going through November. Visit GardenConservancy.org for more information.