EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of two pieces by Goffstown landscape designer and author Robert Gillmore previewing Manchester-area gardens on this year’s Garden Conservancy Open Days tour coming up this weekend.
Whenever people tour Evergreen, my woodland garden on Summer Street in Goffstown, many of them look at my neighbors’ unusually large shrub-and-perennial gardens and exclaim, “You must have inspired them!”
Actually, I reply, I can take almost no credit for their work. That three special gardens in greater Manchester are right beside each other is mostly a (very big) coincidence.
In fact, my neighbors’ perennial gardens were created not because of, but mostly in spite of me. That’s because I advise people to avoid perennials (in most cases) because they’re too much work—trees and shrubs require much less maintenance.
So, no thanks to me, Terri McKinnon, with help from her husband Bob, has blanketed virtually all of her three-quarter-acre lot on the corner of Summer Street and Third Avenue with a vast collection of perennial flowers (plus some shrubs and ground covers). Now there’s virtually no grass left for Bob to mow.
Actually the McKinnons did more than eliminate their lawn: They made their garden bigger by building terraces on their south slope. A retired mason, Bob supported the terraces with large, handsome curving fieldstone retaining walls.
Similarly, Sue and Dennis Hooper have replaced most of their front lawn with an exuberant, English cottage garden-style collection of perennials, which is much more interesting than the unremarkable bed of grass that preceded it. The flowers on the lower lawn are supplemented with a nice collection of shrubs, including large rhododendrons and red Japanese barberries.
Now Dennis takes considerable satisfaction from the fact that the only grass he has to mow is the paths winding around the flower beds.
Both gardens illustrate this important idea: Grass is a high-maintenance ground cover — but also one of the few that can be walked on. Use it only when you need a ground cover that can tolerate foot traffic—for a path, play area, etc. But when grass is purely ornamental—when all you do is look at it and mow it—replace it with more colorful, more interesting and less demanding plants.
Actually, I did have something to do with the Hoopers’ backyard garden. Like Evergreen, it’s a beautiful, parklike space of big, towering white pines; handsome granite boulders; and hay-scented ferns, lily of the valley and other shade-loving plants. Inspired by my example, they’ve added hostas, rhododendrons and other species and turned it into a mini-Evergreen.
Both the Hooper and McKinnon gardens are among seven noteworthy private landscapes in the Merrimack Valley that will be open to the public Saturday and Sunday, July 12 and 13, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The openings are part of the Garden Conservancy’s national Open Days Program, which raises funds to restore and preserve outstanding private gardens across the country and open them to the public, usually as non-profit organizations. One of its first projects was the Fells, on Lake Sunapee in Newbury, which was the summer estate of John Hay, secretary of state under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.
Usually the Conservancy includes only larger gardens—typically an acre or more—in its Open Days program and charges $5 to view each one.
This year, however, the Conservancy consented to include three smaller gardens—including the Hoopers’ and the McKinnons’—in its Merrimack Valley program, and is charging a special fee of just $30 to see all seven landscapes.
The third small garden, at 2468 Elm St. in Manchester, uses berms planted with broadleaf evergreen shrubs to solve a difficult landscape problem: how to create, on a small urban lot, the privacy and seclusion normally found only on much larger rural or suburban properties. It was described in last Tuesday’s At Home section.
The four larger gardens on this year’s Open Days program are:
• The extensive Asian-inspired landscape of Lane Johnson, at 133 Baptist Road in Canterbury.
• Tiffany Gardens, at 15 King John Drive in Londonderry, where grass paths wind among well-designed planting islands, many of them sweeps of perennials with tree or shrub accents.
• The gardens of June Scott, at 21 Nancy Lane in Bedford, whose centerpiece is a large, free-form swimming pool and which includes an extensive collection of perennials and shrubs. It’s on the Open Days program for the first time this year.
The gardens will be open rain or shine.
For more information, including directions, visit www.gardenconservancy.org/opendays. Or call the Conservancy, toll-free, at 888-842-2442
Robert Gillmore’s books include “The Woodland Garden” and “Beauty All Around You: How to Create Large Private Low-Maintenance Gardens, Even on Small Lots and Small Budgets.”