Like many gardeners, Sally Barker didn't become interested in gardening until her kids were grown. When her boys left home about 15 years ago, she looked at her back yard and decided the skateboarding ramp would have to go and that it was time to tackle the tangle of vines and weeds.
"We had to do a big clean," she says.
Drawing inspiration from friends, she began her gardening adventure by planting a single Shasta viburnum. She was so pleased with the results, she kept digging and planting. "We built a garden around it," Baker says.
With the help of her husband, Ed, she began transforming the barren yard into a lush landscape. "I never took a class. I just started," she says.
She hauled "hundreds and hundreds" of wheelbarrows full of mulch and compost to build up the beds. She planted hydrangeas, hellebores and hosta. Colors as well as texture became a primary consideration as she experimented with various shades of green. Azaleas provided springtime color, knock-out roses added splashes of color in summer.
After joining the Horticultural Society of Maryland, she began to learn the names of plants and what worked and what didn't in her yard. She has enlarged the beds several times over the years. "I think I have a good sense of works, what lives, what the cultivars are," she says.
She has become such an avid gardener, that she has planted gardens in the neighborhood and for her church. While she says she can easily spend six hours a day in the garden, she doesn't garden every day.
Despite her achievement, she said it evolved without an overall plan. "I simply would follow the contours of the yard," she explains.
Favorite plant: Hydrangeas. "I keep adding them because they are so satisfactory."
Tips: "Make the garden larger than you think it needs to be. Bring the garden away from the house. You can always fill the space. That lets you layer the plants. If you have a shallow bed it is never going to achieve much."
Runners up: Diana Woltereck and Jim Ralls, Parkton