Garden bloooms with memories of people, plants (Hudson's Corner)

When people look at our garden, they see plants and trees. I do too, but I also see people, the people associated with the plantings.

The boxwoods, now in decline yet long the signature plant of this property, belonged to Judge Samuel K. Dennis, previous owner of our house. The largest came from his ancestral home "Beverly" in Worcester County. They connect me to people and eras I never knew. So do the thick borders of peonies, almost 90 years old, that continue to thrive.


Many bearded irises, in shades of purple and blue, maroon and brown, and whites were here when my family moved in 1959. The garden, typical of an American garden designed in the 1920s, was mainly spring-blooming plants: peonies and irises, also lilacs, daffodils, and roses. Six medallions of candytuft surrounded a small circular bed at the center of a formal garden with flagstone paths. Only three remain in a now shadier garden.

With my mother's green thumb, the roses increased until we had about 95. An organic gardener before organic was popular, she picked off Japanese beetles that proliferated from June to early August. Six of her roses still stand: three hardy Queen Elizabeths, one Radiance, one Frau Karl Drushki, and an un-named trial variety she received from Jackson & Perkins. She called that rose the "Katharine Hunt" for her mother, and I think of them both when its gentle perfume catches me by surprise.

Purple violets remind me of my grandmother and my sister, who continues to love them. Wildly spreading white violets, that could easily overtake the garden, originally came from our neighbors' family estate on the site of Memorial Stadium. Berthold Hoen was that neighbor. He was part of the renowned lithographers, A. Hoen & Company, and a fine horticulturalist remembered each spring by the white violets and a pink tree peony he grew from a cutting in our garden.

As quickly spreading as violets is the houttunyia, whose pink and green variegated leaves attracted my mother. She had no idea when she brought it to me how it loves to jump beds and strangle out other plants. I waged war on it last summer so the brunnera from my sister's former garden could spread. In some gardens spiderwort runs rampant, but not the transplants from Kathy Manson's garden that I have growing near perennial begonias from another neighbor, Joyce Maclay.

Red crocosmia Lucifer and Helene von Stein lamb's ear recall the distinct and endearing voice of the late artist, Peggy Deford. The lamb's ear also makes me yearn for the more common variety my mother gave my nephew at age three.

He and his sister have matured as beautifully as the pair of Yoshino cherry trees we planted to commemorate their 1989 birthdays. The Japanese zelkova, planted at the same time, towers as did my father that year of his 75th birthday. The perfect planting of those three trees still recalls the day I met Rufus Banks, the neatest and most perfect planter I have known.

Graceful larkspur spikes sport the enchanting blue, a family favorite, of delphinium, its perennial counterpart that never succeeds in our garden. My failing camellias make me think of my mother's disappointment when hers failed too.

Robust Hyperion day lilies thrive where I moved them into the main part of our garden, not so formal now. Kelsey Saint, Baltimore architect before my sister and niece ever thought of architecture as a career, gave us their beginnings. Equally robust are the Siberian irises from the stately gardens of my New York sister-in-law and brother-in-law and the black-eyed Susans from Lauren and Don Small.

New additions make me think of other gardeners I admire. Catawba album rhododendrons and Biokova geraniums say, "Sidney and Jean Silber, gardeners extraordinaire!" [stet.] The blue lace cap hydrangea is synonymous with Chestertown gardener Gretchen Knowles, its giver. Ditto white Japanese anemones and Rebecca Corbett. Silver artemisia reminds me of former neighbors, New Englanders Pamela and David Tuttle. The late Anne Lundy and her passion for native plants are memorialized by the pale pink tiarella she gave me and the adjacent leucothoe bushes.

Containers of Richmondensis begonias take me to summer chats on the porch of Susan Mills. A pot of kalanchoe from Joel Cohen and Richard Cole transports me 45 years to my job at the Library of Congress where Jean Allaway emphasized its pronunciation: "cal-an-KOE-ee."

Penney Hubbard introduced me to epimedium, Lewisia and Amsonia hubrictii, now making nods to her in my garden along with a trough of succulents.

For me, an extrovert, gardening is grounding (no pun intended). Recalling the people associated with the plants keeps me energized.