Landscape designer Barbara Katz is one of the rock stars of the garden world. In addition to creating beautiful and personalized garden spaces as the owner of London Landscapes LLC, she has teamed up with the high priest of meadow design, Piet Oudolf, to create the new Delaware Botanic Gardens.
The opportunity to visit Barbara’s Bethesda, Maryland garden is a rare honor made even more special after learning a little of the its history. The home was built as a spec home in 1994 and in 1995 its new owners contacted Barbara to create the gardens front and back. The commission was Barbara’s first major residential work and she poured her heart and soul into every detail–so much so that when the project was completed she found herself actually missing the garden.
Years past and Barbara’s design build firm flourished; she never quite let go of that first garden. In 2002 she happened to meet her former client at a local grocery store and learned that they were moving out of the area. Barbara and her husband ended up purchasing the home and the garden returned to her tender care. Right where it belonged!
A large bed filled with grasses, perennials and annuals greets visitors. The colonies of purple Agastache, commonly called hyssop, attracts bees and butterflies along with other pollinators to the garden.The color palette is bold enough to hold its own under strong summer sun but subdued enough to not detract from the home’s stonework and burgundy accents. What you don’t see is the cut bluestone walk adjacent to the curb which provides both a place for visitors to step out of their cars and a little space for plant colonies to grow without ending up in the street.
The bluestone is repeated in the small patio nestled against wide front steps. The plant material layered to the right and left of the steps includes several conifers which will provide winter interest. The red leafed Japanese maple is just visible on the left and echoes the door and shutter color–check out the great dark red rockers on the porch!
The rhythm of the path through the side yard is set by large staggered cut stones. This shady area is illuminated by a variety of lime green and lighter green plants including several varieties of Hosta, Japanese forest grass, ferns and Lonicera nitida. Taller, darker green vines and conifers seem to only intensify the lighter, lower selections. Many of us struggle to just get our generally narrow side yards to look remotely attractive–this pathway could be a garden unto itself and beautifully accomplishes the goal of drawing you into the back garden with the promise of yet unseen colors and combinations.
This charming vignette is found just as the side yard opens out into the back garden. The simple birdbath is nestled among a lovely variety of leaf textures, shapes and colors. The wee bit of pink at the branch tips of what I think is one of the Loropetalum species is echoed in the exquisite bi-color daylily. I regret not getting down on my hands and knees to see if the daylily was tagged–I want this one!
The back of this lot slopes up 12 feet to the property line near a 200 year old oak. As my eyes travel across this slope, which has been terraced to several levels, I see literally hundreds of annual and perennial plantings in well studied plant combinations. Combinations are repeated throughout the space giving the exuberant design continuity and order.
The lesson here is layer, relate, group, repeat. Green is the neutral throughout Barbara’s garden–and all these greens live together in harmony.
The waterfall and small pond were not part of Barbara’s original design and were added recently. Again we see the use of conifers as year around structure in the garden. The vista will be different but just as attractive when the annuals have been removed and the perennials put to bed for their long winter’s nap.
The first of the stone retaining walls is barely visible behind the plantings. The variety of stone walls and paths will also provide winter interest when the leafy materials are dormant.
As you climb the wide stone steps to the upper levels the waterfall can be viewed from multiple perspectives. Ajuga reptans fills in around the stones and will have a lovely bright blue stalk in the spring. Also called bugleweed, this ground cover spreads by runners and will bear a short bright blue stalk of flowers in spring. The white and pale green varigation of the large dappled willow draws your eyes to the sky!
A small circle of turf on an upper level offers a cool spot to relax–I hope Barbara and her husband sit here often to watch the birds and wildlife attracted to their garden. Another stone retaining wall produces the opportunity to layer in screening plants which act as a backdrop for the entire garden and provides some privacy. The variegated tree in the center is Cornus kousa ‘Wolf Eyes’. I had this small and very stylish dogwood in my George garden where is literally glowed among a backdrop of darker green foliage.
We are almost at the top of Barbara Katz’s world now! A few steps behind us she has tucked in hot tub and a spot to sit with her husband for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.
Pretty reluctant to leave the Katz garden, my group wandered out by way of her other side yard. What looked to me like more dug in plant material turned out to be her holding area for jobs in progress and additions to her own space.
Plants in flats and gallon containers are clustered together up against the house. From the street the area looks perfectly planted. I am sure she shifts items around trying out combinations and getting a feel (on a small scale) how plants will complement each other in a finished design. Water is nearby and she can pull from or add to her stock as necessary.
Barbara met the challenge of this difficult steeply sloped yard head on with beautiful results. A variety of levels, the continuity of the use of stone and the explosion of carefully curated trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals make this a garden for all seasons–every blade, leaf and flower had me at hello.