In all honesty, I am not sure there was a river and I don’t know if Ellen Ash is a grandmother (hmm..she does have a bubble machine in her back garden) but we journeyed through many tall trees on the way to her woodland garden in Great Falls, Virginia. California gardeners–except those in the coastal northern areas who have plenty of their own trees–get a little sappy about rural areas with rolling GREEN fields and stands of towering oaks maples and conifers. The Ash garden is no more than 50 miles from Washington, D.C. yet it seems to be in a totally different world.
The gated entry and long drive in flanked by mature woods reveal no clues of the contemporary home and treasure filled 2 acre woodland garden carved out of the forest.
This dry riverbed flows from the house to the drive. Mature plantings of hollies, flowering trees, junipers and other shrubs nestle up to the home. I often talk about designing plantings to give a garden a “sense of privacy and enclosure”. No need here! This property actually is enclosed on all sides with woods–no road or neighbor can be seen or heard. Check out our group as we left our bus to see the scale of the surrounding forest.
The highlight of Ellen’s garden for me was the extensive perennial bed–maybe 250+ feet long and 20 feet deep bordering the driveway directly in front of Ellen’s home. You can see just the end of it in the photo above.
In addition to small blooming shrubs, clematis, spring bulbs and lilies this bed is home to over 100 varieties of perennials and many of the fun garden chachkis Ellen adores. The low stack stone wall undulating through the bed adds a second level of interest.
We wandered through her woods which includes mature native American hollies, oaks, maples, hickories on our way to the back garden. I loved her use of very large stones set into mossy paths offering many side routes to areas filled with hydrangeas, azaleas and rhododendrons.
This little girl I met along the way made me laugh! Clearly she represents the joy this gardener takes in tending this beautiful piece of Virginia.
Among the ferns and hosta I spied this plant which appears to be an Acanthus-the variety is unknown to me as we pretty much just grow the Acanthus mollis which has the huge glossy dark green leaf. Can anyone help?
One of many areas to sit and enjoy the garden and its inhabitants, organic and inorganic!
The Ash back garden has a classic large lawn area–great for games and dogs–bordered by groupings of mature shrubs. When I gardened on an acre in Central Georgia I learned the value of having large areas which were less fussy and more maintenance free so that I would have time and energy to intensively garden other areas requiring more TLC. What a wonderful leafy background for these broad plantings.
While a large pool and pool house is the focal point for the back yard I was drawn to the variety of beds and plant material softening the perimeter and the areas between the home and the pool hardscape.
Ellen’s dahlia bed–so sorry I will not get to see these when they come into bloom in late summer.
The use of stone throughout the pool and patio area ties the manmade landscape to the natural landscape.
Layers upon layers of green made this garden seem cool even on a hot and humid late June afternoon.
As we say goodbye to Ellen Ash’s gracious garden I know you are wondering, “What does a can of spray paint have to do with a woodland garden?” Here’s the story!
The moment I got off the bus in Ellen’s driveway I was held captive by a number of groupings of brilliantly colored Allium. In my defense, your view is through my camera lens. In reality I was 10-15 feet away from the blooms. As I marveled at their clear color this late in the season, a Virginia garden blogger standing next to me clucked and shook her head as if I was a lost in the woods (literally). “They’re spray painted.”, she said. “No, really, they are.”, she added. Apparently spray painting your alliums is SOP in these parts. Many gardeners like to retain the spiky seed heads throughout the summer and then harvest them for fall and winter arrangements–presumably breaking out the spray paint again in an appropriate hue. I will admit to being a wee bit skeptical of the explanation until I saw spray painted seed heads in several more gardens over the next couple of days.
I can see the Ash homestead in the forest as the gathering place for friends and family far and wide–children and adults playing touch football on the broad lawn, going on scavenger hunts amongst the canopy of the forest or just sunning and swimming at the pool. In my mind’s eye I see Ellen with her sun hat and trowel puttering in her garden and enjoying the very personalized garden she has nurtured in this wonderful natural setting.