Pacesetting Gardens

Photograph By
Derek Thomas

Spring this year was particularly memorable. A number of factors collided and made for a spectacular display of kaleidoscopic colors. Plants like daffodils had varieties like the usually very early ice follies blooming with the usually very late Salomé; pansies rebounded just in time to compete with the tulips and hyacinths. The obvious voids of less hardy plants that were not returning from the winter’s cold were quickly overshadowed by huge dogwood and iris displays. The destructive, deathly remains of winter past blew out as rapidly as the flowers exploded in every tree box and park space. Spring in Washington can be so beautiful and has a way of balancing and centering every gardener with a sense of revitalization and renewal.

Five Great Gardens

Several times this spring I felt like a bobblehead dog perched in the rear window of a car. Head bouncing left then right, up then down, not sure which way to look as the sights of spring were everywhere and the brightness of color was spectacular. Magnificent even on a cloudy day, the gardens of Capitol Hill erupted in a brilliant unorchestrated show. Here are five pacesetters.

900 East Capitol St. NE

This soaring Victorian is the perfect example of why the Hill is in the top 10 neighborhoods in the country. The home would be spectacular even without a great garden. However, the wraparound garden is a gracious nod to a time before cell phones and Internet connections, a slower time and place when residents spent cool springs and humid summers in the garden’s front lawn, when parties were for croquet and picnic blankets, not tablets and interactive video games. Roses spill over iron fences, and boxwoods and magnolias make up the Victorian charm. A manicured lawn joins home to garden, and the side yard is long and luxurious. Well done  

640 South Carolina Ave. SE

Perched atop a hill on this grand avenue is a beautiful home and garden. The garden is private due to the elevated perch it sits on and the enormous azalea that adds to the height and privacy of this charming cottage garden. A wall of stunning red followed by evergreen beauty, this monster hedge is a true living wall for the private garden inside. Russian sage and chives create harsh contrast with hydrangea and oriental lilies. Iris and English daisies buck for prominence and importance. Roses, day lilies, and speedwell wait patiently in the wings for their 15 minutes of annual fame. The walk to the home is filled with potted tomatoes and petunias in an oddly creative fashion. The front porch is the spot to be in as this garden unfolds, act after act, in a charming cottage play of floral abundance. Lemonade anyone?

1403 South Carolina Ave. SE

The negative spaces created by this garden’s river-stone center make the fullness of its border quite amazing. The garden is built around a dry stone bed that is breached only by the creeping liriope silver dragon. From this place the fullness of the surrounding garden is quite impressive. The solitary flower, which seems to be an iris interloper from the neighbor’s garden, is the only predictable spring flower. That is what makes the space truly impressive. In the absence of flowering colors the garden is full of shape, texture, and, well, color. The rich red of the Japanese laceleaf maple and the plum shades of the loropetalum make the tips of the dwarf crape pop out in coppery, fire-filled protest. The cool blue of the blue star juniper is subdued against the grays of the river stone. The boxwood and liriope are contrasting opposites in texture and height; the wall of chindo viburnum that creates a living screen softens the transition from home to street. Nicely lush and perfectly tranquil.    

156 13th St. SE  

The winding brick path that takes visitors through this space is as peacefully at home on the Hill as it is perfect for the lush garden that it intersects. Overflowing with roses and phlox, magnolia and forsythia, hydrangea and ajuga, it shows a nonstop palette of plants that will produce a longer continuous show than an overbooked circus act. Strong elements like the two-story magnolia that has been espaliered on the Independence Avenue wall and subtle accents like the delicate coral bells popping up through the hydrangeas make this garden a living, park-like crawl. The roses that flank the iron fence speak to a time when horses strode down Independence Avenue, rushing home their passengers and breezing by the lush planted spaces. Antiquity in horticulture. 

904 Maryland Ave. NE

This rose garden pops with vibrant color and charm. The true stars are the roses and they are displayed unashamedly in random chaos. The garden has purple and red, pink, and salmon roses smashed together in chords that are both pleasing and startling. Roses make the transition from spring to summer, and in this garden the transition is flawless. In the understory of these magnificent plants are phlox and iris and ground orchids. The roses set the pace and the understory plantings contain the story. Here lies a garden created to show passion for the rose. Enjoy.

900 East Capitol St. NE
640 South Carolina Ave. SE
904 Maryland Ave. NE
156 13th St. SE
1403 South Carolina Ave. SE

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 www.thomaslandscapes.com or 301-642-5182. Find and friend him on Facebook at Facebook/Thomas Landscapes. Go to Twitter @ThomasGardenGuy for great garden tips.


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