The gardens in the Main Line continue to astound me. Dodo Hamilton's 10 acre estate is tucked away behind a busy commercial section, you would never know it existed. There are seven full time gardeners who assure the plethora of yew, box and berberis topiaries and hedges are kept immaculately clipped. The greenhouse complex ensures there are fresh flowers daily for the house. Straight axis, great statures, perennial, rose and grass gardens, annuals galore, a fabulous pool and pool house, vegetable and cutting gardens, chicken palace, and touches of whimsy that made the garden very unique.
The Mt. Airy Learning Tree (MALT) has organized an Annual Hidden Gardens Tour for 20 years. This year they showcased 13 homes that have never been featured on the tour — two in Chestnut Hill, three in Germantown and eight in Mt. Airy.
We met Eric Sternfels, the organizer and local gardener and artist, at the first gardens, a row of homes on McCallum Street. A European feel with a great sense of community and gardens with obscurely placed sculptures and other pieces of art. Sternfels selected the sites by scouring the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s City Gardens Contest winners, leaning on his local gardening network and the old-fashioned method of revisiting gardens he liked, with the hope he might run into someone. “It’s really astonishing the amount of knowledge you’ll find is available if you get involved in this little local garden community, it’s amazing how much these spaces have filled in since I saw them the beginning of May. When you’re a gardener, you’re always just missing something. Something’s always just coming into season or just going.”
The next Mt. Airy garden we visited was built in the 1950s by a colleague of renowned modern architect Louis Kahn. Gardeners are friendly people, the host offered us cookies and told us his wife had planned the central feature, a 5,000 gallon garden pond stocked with Koi with an upper bog area that biologically filtered the water without the use of mechanical skimmers.
Only one garden on the tour really stood out, but what was special was the passion evident in the gardeners and the friendship and reciprocity emanating between them. No wine this time but we had a great crepes and coffee at a Mt. Airy cafe we discovered last year on another garden tour.
My favorite home, and one I've always wanted to explore. It was built in the early 1900s in a Quaker style but with an Italianate terrace to the side. Originally there were 17 acres, now reduced to a couple and the formal garden this pergola connected to has disappeared. Wonderful old wisteria vines wrap around the columns and provide shade in the seating area around what is now a pool. Looking at the house plans that were framed inside this was once the site of a formal garden, with spectacular views over rolling countryside and terraces down to a formal garden and more terraces below. Now unfortunately it looks down on the roof of neighboring houses.
There were wonderful details throughout the house, light airy rooms, bookshelves and a wonderful small fireplace complete with ash and damper that went nowhere -- the current owner said when he finally found the house plans he discovered that in the 1920s when they added a pool room and porch they just knocked down the chimney to make room but left the fireplace. I loved the thick stone walls and the chunkiness of these supporting brackets. Everything on a grand but simple scale.
To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, when you are tired of Fox Hollow, you are tired of gardens; for there is in Fox Hollow all that gardening can offer. Inta Krombolz’s garden is a plant addicts’ garden with personality and great design flair, a rare thing indeed. These three gorgeous acres are just outside West Chester, with mature trees, a cornucopia of unusual plants and the natural drama of contrasting elements of color, texture and form. Scattered through the gardens are whimsical sculptures Inta welds from old pieces of agricultural equipment that she finds in Amish machine shops, discarded buggy and machine parts are transformed into vines, arches and flowers and garden reeds. She delights in taking old utilitarian parts and putting them out to pasture in an aesthetic sense.
A once problem damp shady area was so overgrown with brambles, nettles and skunk cabbage when Inta and her husband bought the property they could not walk through it. Over the decades she has transformed into a moist shade garden layered with hostas, ferns, astilbes, iris and waves of chartreuse and purple leaved plants drifiting to a large rock-edged pond that Inta dug herself one mild winter to handle run-off water from the road and underground springs. She said when she started gardening the heavy clay soil was like cheese, so dense you could cut it with a knife, and she had to work in leaf mold and compost form the wooded areas so her plantings could thrive. The informality of the woods she inherited are reflected in the plantings, with large natural drifts of bold leaved hostas, Filipendula ulmaria ‘Aurea’(golden meadowsweet), Perilla frutescens ‘Autropurpurea’ and Ligularia stenocephala ‘The Rocket’ with contrasting feathery ferns and fine sedges.
Chris Woods, the director of Chanticleer, says that good gardens are the expression of an individual heart and should make one laugh and express the joy of living. For me, Fox Hollow does just this.
Nine private gardens opened their doors for the Shipley School's annual fundraiser. Often they are more exhibits of money than horticultural worth, but this year there were a couple that were fabulous.
An added bonus was they were all clustered in Bryn Mawr, Villanova and Haverford so travel time was at a minimum. The properties showcased included a vast old estate in Villanova with a baseball diamond and paddocks; a contemporary mansion on a couple of acres of land with an infinity pool and stone logia; and a wonderful and a truly secret garden in the center of Bryn Mawr - once the 18th century carriage house of the Humphrey's estate the owner fit a "petenque" court, a formal boxwood garden with a fish pond centerpiece, a potagery with raised vegetable beds and fruit trees as well as an outdoor dining area under four espaliered plane trees and an outdoor kitchen into a relatively tiny space. Although the smallest garden on the tour it was one of the most horticulturally interesting ones.
Other gardens included a historic Tudor home designed by famed local architect William Price for Louis Clarke, a brilliant innovator who co-founded the Autocar company in Ardmore with fabulous mature red and white azaleas lining the driveway and an interesting rain garden that spilled into the neighbors gardens and was maintained without regard to property lines in the interest of water management.
One of the few properties actually designed and tended by the owners was created from the ruins of Cheswold (the Alexander Cassatt Mansion). The front terrace wall was created with stones salvaged from the ruined mansion, a succulent wreath I could only dream of creating graced the front door and a series of seamlessly flowing garden rooms surrounded the cottage-style house with drifts of tulips on their way out, and a clematis montana framing a bench at the bottom of the garden.
The final house on the tour was a traditional 1920s stone colonial on Golf House Rd in Haverford. The preserved mature landscaping blended well with a variety of more recently planted hydrangeas and roses and a pool with formal lines and manicured lawn that contrasted fantastically with stone paths that were informally inter-planted with sedum, thyme and ajuga. There was a fabulous poolhouse, spacious terraces for entertaining and a recently installed herb and vegetable garden with grass steps leading to a BBQ area.
Wyebrook Farm in Honey Brook PA dates back to the late 18th Century and the land has been continuously farmed for over 200 years. It is gorgeous country with rolling hills and old stone walls built by workers from the Isabella Furnace in the 19th Century. It is well worth a visit.
The current owners have gone back to the land and their sustainable farm produces animals and vegetables without the use of artificial fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, hormones or antibiotics. They sell their products, and those of other local farmers, diary producers and cheesemakers in a converted barn at the farm. Their pigs are slaughtered weekly, the organic grass fed beef is hung for a week before being sold and a local dairy farm provides delicious creamy raw milk - great stuff.
On Saturday they held their first annual Bluegrass Festival. The farm market and outdoor cafe were open, the bands were fabulous, children ran free playing with grasses at the edge of the pond, adults danced and the sun shone most of the time.
The Carousel Farm opens today. It is located in Bucks County, just outside New Hope.
First established in 1748, has had many subsequent lives from a dairy farm to an exotic animal farm. The current owners bought it in 2000 and drew their inspiration from the South of France. The 18th century stone barn, fieldstone farmhouse and rolling fields and stone walls are stunning lavender fields that are now over 8 years old and stunning.
I find it almost impossible to grow lavender in the harsh PA climate and heavy clay soil. The owners of this amazing estate researched cultivars and chose 4 varieties of English and French lavender that seem to be thriving. They have over 15,000 plants, each one planted, pruned and harvested by hand. A farm store on the grounds sells there lavender products and accessories that complement the lavender.