Garden Designers Roundtable: Our Home Gardens

This month on the Garden Designers Roundtable, we have a special treat for you. Rather than exploring a specific garden design topic, we thought we’d let you peek into our own gardens.

OK, I have to admit that before I became a professional garden designer, I guess I assumed that all garden designers had these amazing home gardens. You know, something that epitomizes the best of design and is worthy of being showcased in every garden design magazine around.

Now that I’ve met so many professional landscape designers, and talked to them about their own gardens, I can tell you that many of us have gardens that are not exactly show pieces. Like the cobbler whose children have no shoes,tending to our own gardens often is not a high priority, especially during our busiest seasons.

So with that in mind, I’ll pull back the curtain and reveal what my own garden, a wooded acre located in southwestern Connecticut (zone 6b), actually looks like outside of all those staged photos you may have seen on this blog.

I think it can best be summed up in nine words…


I consider my garden a laboratory. I like to try out plant combinations, push sun/shade exposures and generally just fiddle around with the same plant in different locations and watch what happens. Last year I bought a bunch of landscape plugs to be able to experiment on a larger scale. I got Tiarella cordifolia ‘Running Tapestry’, Calamagrostis brachytricha and Geranium maculatum ‘Espresso’.  I’ve learned the most from observing ‘Espresso’.

After one growing season, I’d say it is not nearly as deer-resistant as the species, it’s pretty drought tolerant and the color of the leaves, described as red-brown, are not overly attractive. They’re a bit too brown and washed out for my taste, especially with more than a few hours of sun each day. I’ll give it another few years before declaring ‘Yay’ or ‘Nay’ but I do know I’m glad I experimented in my own garden before rushing off to plant them in a client’s garden.

Geranium maculatum 'Espresso' plugs

Geranium maculatum ‘Espresso’ plugs – the experiment begins.


I’m the kind of person who likes to surround myself with objects that mean something to me and have sentimental value. Inside my home, you’ll find lots of collections of framed photos on the walls,  not a print that color coordinates with the sofa fabric. My garden is the same way. I don’t have a lot of garden ornaments but the ones I do have are full of sentimental value. This old weathervane is from my mother-in-law’s garden. After she died, we decided to give it a home in our garden. Every time I look at it, I’m reminded of her and how much she loved her garden.


If asked, I’d have to admit that one my favorite trees in my garden was my coral bark maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’). Bought on a whim at a big box store several years ago, it’s ever-changing look quickly fascinated me. It was just starting to come into its own and I could see more than just hints of the spectacular tree it would become. So when a freak snowstorm in October proved too much for it to weather, I felt like I’d lost a friend.

My beloved coral bark maple splits under the weight of a freak October snowstorm


Last summer, on a beautiful August day, a tree fell on our house! There was no wind or rain…no reason for the healthy tree to have fallen that day. Luckily, the damage was minimal because the tree basically ‘hugged’ the roof line. We needed a new roof and some gutters but, all in all, I felt like the garden was watching out for us.

It’s not every day that a tree falls on your house…


One of my favorite parts about our garden is that we have two oak trees that are the perfect distance apart to hang a hammock. There is nothing quite like lounging in a hammock that is suspended between two trees. I do some of my best thinking about clients’ garden design plans (aka napping) in this very spot.

A perfect spot to take a break


I’m an advocate for using native plants in all types of designed gardens. And my garden is no exception. One of the side benefits of native plants is the beautiful butterflies they attract.

Echinacea purpurea is just one of the native plants in our garden


While I love native plants, I also appreciate the beauty of exotic (non-native) plants. One of my favorite non-natives is my groundcover maple (Acer palmatum ‘Yatsubusa Kiyohime’)Mine is just a baby (only about 2′ wide) but it will eventually get to be about 8′ wide. Here’s a look at my groundcover maple on the top and a mature specimen on the bottom.

 Groundcover Maple (Acer palmatum ‘Yatsubusa Kiyohime’)


As I said in my opening remarks, my garden is often neglected, especially in the spring when my business is so brisk. Here’s a peek at all the weeds and seedlings that are waiting to pulled. Glamorous, aren’t they??

Not exactly what you’d expect to see in a glamour shot for a garden design magazine


Here in southwestern Connecticut, we have a big problem with deer. While most parts of the state have about 16 deer per square mile, here in Fairfield county we have 4 times that amount, on average 62 deer per square mile. It’s not unusual to find 6 – 8 deer wandering around my garden most mornings. That means I have lots of experience with deer resistant plants, that I spray my fair share of deer repellents and that I take a perverse satisfaction in running around in my PJs, arms flailing all over the place, trying to scare away the deer.

Deer in my Connecticut garden

Scared? Not a chance. But I am interrupting their breakfast.

For more peeks inside the garden of a professional landscape designer, I invite you to visit the links below to read the posts from my fellow Roundtablers …

Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In The Garden : Los Altos, CA

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX

Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI

Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA

Rochelle Greayer : Studio G : Boston, MA

32 thoughts on “Garden Designers Roundtable: Our Home Gardens

    • Donna, It does seem like some years the weeds win, doesn’t it? I think we all have gardens that have areas that are exactly the way we want them to be and others that are still works in progress.

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  4. Debbie,

    Thank you for sharing your garden and plants. Sorry for your loss of the Coral Bark Maple. I was lucky that my client’s two survived the storm. They are beautiful. I can imagine you chasing away the deer, I will be looking for the YouTube that I’m sure one of your sons will post.

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  6. I had basically the same experience you had with a tree falling on our house.
    It was a perfectly healthy evergreen that just came crashing down one December day. There wasn’t any snow on the branches or any windy conditions that day but lo and behold we heard this terrifying crash. We were
    completely stunned and didn’t have any idea at that moment as to what had happened. We sustained very minimal damage also considering the size of the tree that toppled. Good old “Mother Nature”

    • Marilyn, From what I’ve learned since our tree incident, that type of thing happens a lot. I figured the tree just got tired and decided enough was enough! I’m glad to hear your damage was minimal too.

  7. Ohmygosh – those deer almost look fake!! And that tree? Holy Cow you were lucky there wasn’t more damage! What a wonderful tour – thank you Debbie. I love seeing what you’ve created with your acre of beautiful property. And I love your honesty, too. Is there really any garden that’s perfect? I don’t think so – but that’s what makes them interesting, right? And how sad would it be to have your garden completely finished – what would we do then?? :)

    • Rebecca, I agree, that photo does look staged. I wish I could have taken one that was more in focus. The fawn was so sweet I ALMOST hated to scare her away. I can’t imagine having a garden that’s ‘finished’, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself then.

  8. That groundcover Japanese maple is SO COOL! That’s going on my wishlist for sure. The deer, not so much.

    I tried Geranium ‘Espresso’ too and was similarly “meh,” but I think I planted it in too much shade that was too dry. This is the first year it’s done anything (planted two years ago), and it came out early and colored up well before the trees above leafed out. We’ll see how it fares the rest of the season. I’m trying Calamagrostis brachytricha this year too!

  9. Ahhh, the normal and abnormal extremes…plants must be tougher than humans (except ones from OK or KS), since we usually retreat inside. But that’s some serious room to garden in…so glad I have a small space, and I barely have time for that. Good point on a designer’s own garden…but most us do care, though in deed, not so easy for that on my end, at least.

    I am all for the relaxing on the hammock part…and between 2 oaks? Can’t get better than that!

  10. Wat a wonderful post! You really captured the complexity of your garden. And the interesting kind of complexity – full of life and ever changing, not over-designed and in need of constant maintenance.

  11. Much thanks for showing us your beloved garden. Nice to know there are other people who fall behind on their garden chores but also saw some lovely spots that bring ideas. The japanese forest grass under the trees by the hammock is wonderful.

  12. I love how you’ve kept it real in your post, weeds and all (yes, we all have them!). You’ve evoked the emotional response of your garden, which is a beautiful way to talk about it. Great post, Debbie.

  13. I think your post this month MOST cleverly conveys all the same feelings that I have about my yard too. Your creative observations and descriptions were some superior entertainment in garden reading. Not only garden talent, but clearly writing talent as well. Good on you!

  14. I’m a little late to this party but had to tell you I love this post. The vision of you chasing deer in your pj’s makes me smile. I do the same and now deer have taken to snorting at me, but still running away. I share the same problem as other professionals … my seedlings are still in flats, new shrubs still in containers waiting to be planted, and some of my garden beds are still waiting for a visit from their caretaker.

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