When we arrived at the gardens here at our new home in Winchester, Virginia, at Thanksgiving in 2004, there appeared to be nothing pleasing outside at all. Overgrown trees and vines were everywhere. We knew that we needed to do something and fast.
The house was built in 1840, and despite having water and limited electricity needed a lot of repairs. Before our purchase, the house had been empty for a couple of years and rented out before that. The gardens were non-existent, no pathways, no useable driveway, and despite some large established trees, very little else was evident.
Fence lines were full of poison ivy, wild grape, and honeysuckle. English ivy raged up the right-hand side of the house from cellar to attic. Ridding the yard of these unwanted vies was the first job tackled, cutting it at the base to allow it to die back before peeling it off the wall, uncovering two windows and a rather angry squirrel whose nest came down in the carpet of ivy!
At just one acre and with the house situated on the left-hand side of the property, it has given us the chance to indulge our ‘addiction’ (as our 10-year-old son informed us!) to a vast range of plants both old and new. Some are native, others are not, but they work for us and with the wildlife that increases each season, giving us hope that we are moving in the right direction.
The gardens have also allowed us to examine what works in our locality, which has proven most useful when customers have asked: “Can we grow this here?”. We have tried many plants and continue to experiment with new introductions as well as heirloom plants know to us from our childhoods both in Virginia and England. It has been interesting and exciting to find those that work well and frustrating to see those that struggle or even fail. For us, though, this is what makes gardens so engaging, as well as aids with their evolution. It helps our understanding of where we live and the different interactions between plants and animals.
We have found that it has been useful to have goals for the garden each year and within each season. In 2020, we hope to install propane gas and electricity permanently to our greenhouses and potting shed, not strictly plant-related but most necessary for our comfort and that of the plants we overwinter. Where an old shed used to sit is now a large pond, and we hope to work on installing the liner and begin construction on the waterfall and surrounding plantings. However, this is dependent on rainfall and being able to get a machine into that corner of the garden to assist with rock moving and placement. With our son’s treehouse nearing completion, it would also be satisfying to complete the landscaping around it and give us a chance to see what we can grow in that secluded part of the garden. There are a couple of distinct areas, one wet and shady due to the swale that flows into the pond and the other being dry and shady under the trees where the treehouse nestles.
We want to take you on a journey through our experiences of transforming this nothing into our home garden. Sometimes it worked out great, others, not so much. A little patience and a lot of hard work, mixed with a love of plants have helped us grow to where we are today.