How Gail’s Garden Grows

Garden Spot

The formal entry of Gail and Mike Giuffrida's home and garden

Gail Giuffrida, gardener, dietitian and lifelong worshiper of the earth, has spent decades caring for and nurturing gardens. From her New England childhood where she helped her father plant vegetables for the family Victory Garden to the joys of reaping salad ingredients from her own plot in one of Capitol Hill’s many community gardens, Gail’s lifelong passion has been gardening. It’s a process that has taught her patience and made her accepting of both the beauty of nature and its sometimes unforgiving, stern hand. A wisteria’s grape-like bloom and wafting perfumed scent, the ferns in her garden exploding in mid-April, and the last harvest in the crisp air of October, all these things give Gail joy and help her mark the passage of the year. 

Since 1988, Gail and her husband Mike, have enjoyed the unique environment of Capitol Hill—its varied streetscapes, green spaces, and beautiful architecture. When they discovered the center hall, brick house located at 118 12th St. NE, Gail instantly saw the garden’s potential. Though “there were only a few puny shrubs out front planted on barren soil, I knew it was going to be my next garden.” 

A Capitol Hill Garden Grows 

Gail, an avid member of Capitol Hill Garden Club, wanted a garden befitting the charm that is Capitol Hill, and that she has created. The formal entry garden now contains boxwoods and sitting areas, specimen dogwoods and pockets of color, flowers in early spring and a rose or two to accent those long, hot Washington summers.

The front garden is much wider than the adjacent homes on the block and the landscaping have been designed to emphasize that fact. There is a formal, main flagstone walk leading to the front stairs that are elegant with just the right amount of imposition. English boxwoods soften the transition from walk to stairs and add a necessary formality without being pretentious. From there the garden wraps the house on both sides of the front with fall blooming camellias, Fire Power nandina, and two sentinel Green Luster hollies. Coral bells, a Victorian mainstay, add pop to even the drabbest winter day, and two formal hedge rows of holly soften and mask the fence lines to the north and south. Several varieties of hydrangea summon up a gentile time of croquet and lawn picnics in the lazy summers of Washington gone by. Astilbe and ferns soften the transitions in height and stance. The dogwoods add a pop of color during the spring and fall. There is a soft yet organized structure from the cobblestone border and grotto-styled sitting area of river gravel. 

The rear garden is a magnificent enclave hideaway. There is a brick wall that runs the length of the garden, masked partially by five elegant planters filled with large evergreens. This European detail brings you down and into the rear sunken patio space where long summer dinners can be enjoyed in private seclusion. Flanking the sunken patio, Gail has planters of snapdragons and verbena, while Vinca and gerber daisy take up the real estate surrounding a small water feature. There is a specimen tree and large espaliered fig that add height and a bit of grandeur to the space. A solitary gardenia adds white hues and intense scent to the garden in late spring and summer. An old English rose is a perfect punctuation mark. 

What Has Gail’s Garden Given Her?

“My gardens have always been done to satisfy my love for digging in the dirt,” says Gail. “Whether my “garden” was a windowsill houseplant garden during the years I raised my children, or my garden plot where I have the joy of watching my swiss chard and arugula growing like weeds. My husband Mike’s favorite explanation for my passion for gardens is telling anyone who asks, “Gail’s got to have dirt.” Gardening provides me with a grounded, satisfying sense of self. I work my body and mind. My gardens force my creativity, and bring me balance and a sense of the natural flow of the earth. I can’t be away from my plots of land for too long. There is nothing nicer than the smell of dirt in early spring, making plans with my fellow enthusiasts in the Capitol Hill Garden Club about the growing season at hand, and seeing the first worm when the ground begins to thaw in March. In my gardens, I feel very alive.” 

Gail’s passion and patience provide her with heavenly scented roses and gardenias in the spring, figs in the summer, and a harvest of tomatoes and peppers in September. Gardening is her joy, her meditation, her exercise, and according to her brings her more pleasure than she could ever have imagined when she worked alongside her father in her parents Victory Garden so many years ago.

Derek Thomas is principal of Thomas Landscapes. His garden designs have been featured on HGTV’s Curb Appeal, and Get It Sold. His weekly garden segment can be seen on WTTG/Fox 5 in Washington. He can be reached at or 301.642.5182.
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