Hello Fellow Readers,
Recently the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) hosted a tour of two private gardens in Northwestern NJ and I had the joy of attending. While I frequently have savored a stroll among my friend and design colleague’s garden, this visit of meandering grounds and gardens was especially glorious; the unusual and pleasing plant combinations meticulously maintained. Ken Druse, garden author and photographer, joined the first leg of the PHS tour and shared concern that his gardens, next in queue, may not pass muster by comparison. It’s true this Spring’s plentiful moisture has been pleasing for plants, especially weeds. We giggled comparing gardening hands; both my friend’s and Ken’s equally worked.
“They’re here for you Ken,” my colleague humbly said. While it’s true Ken Druse is nationally known, my colleague’s design skills warrant her popularity and “fame” if she chose to not remain anonymous. Her gardens are featured in two books: Great Houses and Gardens of New Jersey by Caroline Seebohm, 2003 and Gardens of the Garden State by Nancy Berner and Susan Lowry, 2014. Ken’s gardens are also featured in the most recent book; a highly recommended read.
When I arrived, Ken was admiring the Davidia involucrata Baill, also known as Dove Tree, which was in bloom for the first time with pairs of white bracts that look like handkerchiefs or ghosts (the tree’s other common names) dancing upon the heart shaped leaves.
It’s a finicky bloomer, often not fully hardy when young, and can take ten or twenty years to flower; perhaps why the Dove Tree is admired by many garden gurus. The legend of its discovery and propagation reads as a thriller. Earnest Wilson, a young botanist equipped with a hand drawn map, rides the seas to China, almost drowns, escapes bandits, and survives disease. Only to find the one known Dove Tree cut down to build a house. The happy ending – Wilson’s unyielding exploratory spirit succeeded in finding other trees whose seeds were brought back to England in 1901.
Next stop on the tour was Ken’s garden he shares with Louis Bauer, director of horticulture at Wave Hill. PHS’s promotion of the event describes “Their rural garden, situated on a two-acre island, is home to a vast collection of specimen plants, some very rare, and all carefully chosen and sited to their best advantage.” Ken cordially invited guests to meander but requested folks not step backward as there are narrow paths winding throughout. “This garden is about plants. And the goal is to fit as many in as possible.” Ken’s beautifully designed garden is indeed a plant museum of sorts. After relishing the gravel garden, a collection of columnar boxwood, Buxus sempervirens ‘Graham Blandy’ cleverly lassoed with yarn to exaggerate their svelteness, made a striking invitation to a charming stone bridge topped in turf leading to an alluring lawn embraced with glorious garden goodies.
Opening ones’ gardens to guests was a delightful gift these two provided. Their gardens far better groomed than my own I might add; a shoemaker with worn shoes as the saying goes. One wonders how these cobblers find time to sew such magnificent shoes. Garden Dilemmas? Askmarystone@gmail.com
A few of the many plants in Ken’s garden especially admired: