Patience and Planning:
Tour a Lush and Thriving Pennsylvania Garden

By Kealia Reynolds

What was once a six-acre plot of unadorned land has been transformed into a lush oasis inspired by childhood memories and gardens from all over the world. From the hardscape designs to the diversity of plants and flowers, not a single detail goes overlooked in this Erie, PA, garden.

A brief history of the garden

As told by the gardener

We bought the present property in 1980 from the original owners. They had purchased six acres—which were actually two adjoining plots—from a farmer who sold off a number of similar plots in the late 1930s. Early pictures show flat fields with a slight slope down to the north.

Fortunately, the original owners were wonderful gardeners. In the 1940s, they planted trees, put in hedges, and at some point, planted a small 1.5-acre Christmas tree farm on part of the land. When we added a large addition to the house in 1997, we had to change the hardscape around the house and the driveway.

The hardscape and contouring of the front patio gardens and driveway were finished in 1997. In 1998, we began the planting of the front gardens near the house. Our last garden was put in during 2015, but it actually may not be the last.

Driveway Hardscape Dragon Wing begonias (in the front urns) and yews (rounded hedges just behind the fence) welcome visitors

Garden Fountain Japanese fountain grass and hostas place emphasis on this outdoor centerpiece

Design Approach When planning for the hardscape, the gardener wanted to ensure the front door and the revised side entrance were of equal importance

Landscape Details Shrubs and hydrangeas lay right beneath the windows of the newest addition to the house

Window Planter Potato vine, coleus, begonias, impatiens flowers, and lantana fill a garden shed window box

When did you begin gardening?

My father gave me a yellow Peace rose bush for my fifth birthday that I helped him plant and tend. It wasn’t until I was married and had property that I seriously started to garden.

How did you approach your garden design?

A major focus of planning both the hardscape and gardens was to make the front door and the revised side entrance of equal importance. This determined the design of the driveway, parking areas, and front patio. Our house sits on the western plot, stretching across the width of the entire area. We wanted to have the structure of the house blend more into the land, making it appear more centered and not as wide.

My husband and I have have been fortunate to work with a landscaper—Brett Maloney—who was also an art major in college. He has been very receptive to my ideas over the years and has provided the knowledge and brawn needed to achieve the textures and colors I desired in the plants. I can’t begin to thank my husband enough—who has no interest in gardening—for his complete commitment to providing the financial backing and moral support for these projects.

Garden Walkway On the left, astilbes are delicately placed among pachysandra and hostas while bright red New Guinea impatience provide a pop of color on the right

Where have you found inspiration for your garden?

The ideas that influenced the gardens came from my travels to other gardens in the United States, Japan, and England. Inspiration has also come from numerous magazines and books, and from memories of my childhood gardens. Because we have added gardens over a 20-year period, the challenge is to make sure the gardens hold some similar elements that tie them all together—this could be shape, texture, or plant material.

What are your favorite plants or flowers?

Hostas, alliums, daffodils, and ferns are among my favorites. They all come in a great variety of sizes, textures, and colors. Since I was born, I’ve always had mountain laurel (the state flower of Pennsylvania and the flower I was named after) in my gardens, especially in June when it blooms.

How does sunlight affect your garden choices?

We started out with a partly shady garden and have progressed to a mostly shady garden as the trees have matured. Some gardens that were started in the ’90s and early 2000s have been refurbished with more shade-tolerant plants. The newer gardens are established in areas where they will hopefully remain sunny for some time.

Garden Walkway Viburnum, ferns, hostas, and lilies-of-the-valley line this secluded garden path

What kind of maintenance is required for your garden?

There is no such thing as a low-maintenance garden as far as I’m concerned! In the spring and fall, I can easily spend six hours a day planting, weeding, trimming, and cutting down plants. In July and August, I’m watering. Luckily, I have a great yard service that does the mowing and maintenance needed for the large grassy areas—otherwise, I wouldn’t have a life.

I have no talent at pruning (even with a number of lessons), so I found an arborist to take care of the large specimen trees. Brett Maloney helps me with the smaller trees and shrubs, but I still do the hedges (which is a wonderful upper body workout).

Dwarf Deutzia This low hedge (pictured in the foreground) features gracefully-arching branches with medium-green leaves

How do you think about the way your landscaping and garden relate to your home?

The [goal of the] entire process was to tie the house to the land. My father was a big fan of Frank Lloyd Wright and his concepts referring to the relationship of dwelling to land. This is a very traditional house so we worked with what we had to make the transition from land to home softer and give it more character. Most of the rooms inside the house have views from two sides, so the gardens are almost like extensions of the rooms.

Can you tell us about those great purple tuteurs?

The tuteurs were purchased from White Flower Farm in Litchfield, CT, which is also a great place to get bulbs. They came in white, which was too stark a contrast with the shady gardens, so I painted them purple.

They act as garden art for me with the benefit that I can move them around, as desired. The outdoor furniture, for the most part, is also painted purple (my favorite color).

Playful tuteurs Tuteurs stand interspersed between dwarf spruces beneath a large oak tree

Any problems with wildlife?

I had a problem with deer making a path through the front garden and onto the patio. I placed 15 ceramic balls in a variety of colors and sizes throughout the area and it stopped them. They do the job and are visually striking—my Poor Man’d Chihuly.

At certain times of the year, there are a lot of deer. I spray [the plants] to deter them and that works to a certain extent. For favorite day lilies, I spray each bud. When I see deer near the house, I run out and chase them away, much to the amusement of the neighbors, I’m sure. I’m determined to get the upper hand at some point in my lifetime!

Any advice for those looking to create a lush garden?

I wish we had started planting trees when we purchased the house in 1980. By now, they would be fully mature. Over the years we’ve put in over 50 trees, although we’ve lost a few to disease and weather. It’s never too soon to start planting even if you only have a small area.

If you lack a long-term vision, I would find a good landscape designer that you can work with to create an overall plan to carry out over the years—it’s like getting an architect for your house and well worth the money in the long run.

Determine how long you want to wait for your garden to mature and buy in quantities to make that happen—mine was five years for most of the gardens. The cost is not so much in the plant material, but the labor. Additionally, the more you can do yourself, the better.

Garden Shed Coreopsis (low, yellow flowers) surround the shed and are supplemented by Russian sage

Why do you love gardening?

I wake up every day and the first thing I do is look out the windows to see the garden. You never know what you’ll find. Being in the garden is my meditation—no cares, no phone, and [the feeling of] something accomplished.

Any tips or tricks for home gardeners?

Do it because you love to! What you might consider mistakes probably aren’t and you can learn from them and can go on to make new ones. It’s always a learning experience—no two days will ever be the same in your garden. Visit gardens whenever you can because there’s always some element that you might be able to incorporate into yours. Most importantly, [your garden] is yours so don’t spend a lot of time worrying about what your neighbors or friends will think.

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