Green Masterpieces

Wildflowers including pink tree peonies, black-eyed Susans, zinnias, lilies and sunflowers span more than 3 acres of Christine McComas' Woodbine property. "I love to sit out there and see the birds and the bugs," she says. (Photo courtesy Christine McComas / May 8, 2012)

They’re neighborhood showpieces, serene retreats, abundant providers, and a joy to the senses.

A well-tended and purposefully planned garden can excel in both aesthetics and function. It’s enough to make a neighbor envious, or perhaps just fortunate to live near such natural splendor.

With the help of Howard County Master Gardeners and the University of Maryland Extension, Howard Magazine got a peek inside some of the county’s most impressive and unique gardens, and we talked to their owners about the passion, purpose and dedication that goes into each green masterpiece.

Wild for Wildflowers

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Christine McComas inherited a love of gardening from her father, who tended flower and vegetable gardens.

“It’s a nurturing way of caring for the environment and helps you to notice the small things,” says McComas, 47.  “It’s a wonderful legacy to pass on.”

When McComas and her family moved to their current home in Woodbine nine years ago, the property was a blank slate.

“There was absolutely nothing on it,” she says. “I’ve always loved birds, so I put up a birdfeeder, but none of the birds came because there was no habitat — no resting place, no water.”

So McComas took it upon herself to build a home for all kinds of birds.

As a Master Gardener, she’s learned about biodiversity and how to care for her garden in a less toxic manner, which is better for the environment. Her 3.5-acre wildflower garden includes a mix of native plants and warm season grasses. Flowers include pink tree peonies, cosmos, goldenrods, oxeye daisies, black-eyed Susans, zinnias, lilies, sunflowers and more.

“I love to sit out there and see the birds and the bugs,” she says, adding that tending the garden provides her with a relaxing escape. “That’s my time away. I don’t see it as a chore.”

A grant from the county Soil Conservation District’s Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program helped McComas create her wildflower meadow. Her property also is certified through the Maryland Bay-Wise program, which promotes landscaping that’s beneficial to the region’s water quality.

“A Master Gardener will come out and look for activities in your garden that support the environment,” she says of the certification process.

McComas, who previously worked for theKellogg Co., now works as a part-time certified professional horticulturist for the University of Maryland’s Home and Garden Information Center, thus combining her passion for gardening with her career.

“I never in my wildest dreams thought I could turn my hobby — a pastime — into a career,” she says. “I learn something new every day.”

For McComas, gardening is a spiritual experience. “It’s such a peaceful thing to do,” she says. “It reminds me that we’re part of a bigger world. It really helps put things in perspective.”

Backyard to Table

Kent Phillips began his 2,500-square-foot garden to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for his family.

More than 35 years later, the Clarksville resident is still providing. The bounty extends to a new generation, as his twin daughters and grandchildren reap the benefits of his labor.

“I decided that in order to feed them the best and freshest vegetables, you have to grow them yourself,” he says.