Virtually Meander Along the Pathways of Martha's Perennial Garden, a Landscape of Delights
"This is a garden of variety," says Martha of her perennial flower plot in Bedford. Blousy roses climb tuteurs and arbors, spires of purple and pink lupines rise up regally, vibrant poppies punctuate the landscape, and chartreuse sprays of lady's mantle spill onto paths. Animated with color and abuzz with pollinators, the 150-by-90-foot spread teems with more than 200 different types of blooms. "I'm a collector," she explains. "I love to learn by having as much diversity as I can."
The expanse is an ode to Turkey Hill, Martha's former home and garden in Connecticut, which itself was inspired by trips she made to Claude Monet's at Giverny, in France. It originally grew vegetables, but she had to relocate them after an onslaught of mole crickets, and set out to create her "dream garden" in their place.
She started in 2013, transplanting a dozen or so old-fashioned roses from Lily Pond, her home in East Hampton, New York. Then she began to fill the quadrants with flowering perennials. To create a painterly scape, she varied colors, heights, textures, and bloom times, and plotted plants at random, rather than in a formal grid. Today, she takes care to keep any single species from overtaking the scene, cutting back the roses and asters to keep them from getting too large. "Gardens have to be tall and short, bushy and thin, clustered and individual," she says.
And ever-changing. "I like to experiment," says Martha, who hunts for seed packets on travels and scours catalogs for unusual varieties. New discoveries join favorites saved from the previous year. Aside from tubers, bulbs, corms, and an occasional nursery find, she and her gardeners grow most varieties from seed, a practice that is more cost-effective than buying plants in pots, and lends more variety. Of course, some experiments fail. Last year, Martha removed overly aggressive coreopsis and rudbeckia that were running wild.
"I love to see how the garden changes," she says. "It's always full of surprises." A seedling pops up, giving rise to an unexpected combination, or a cultivar stretches its foot-print. But the uplifting effect is constant. "It's the last garden you see when you leave the property," says Martha. "And the first one to welcome you back home."
Above, the sun rises over Martha's perennial garden, which is enclosed to protect it from hungry herbivores. "Good fences make good gardens," says Martha of the sturdy, eight-foot-tall steel structure. "I'm not one for quaint fences," she admits. "I prefer them to be utilitarian and well-made, and I do think this one is pretty."
Martha contrasts purple 'Universe' alliums with white-bearded irises and red Oriental poppies (Papaver orientale), whose seeds she originally saved from Turkey Hill.
In one spot, rust-colored Baptisia 'Cherries Jubilee' echoes the bronzy hue of Rodgersia foliage and firework-like Allium schubertii.
Plenty of Purple
In another, she incorporates lavender B. 'Bubbly' with 'Universe' alliums and the feathery white Aruncus (in the background). "I love Baptisia and must have 10 different varieties," she confesses.
Babcia Helen, Martha's paternal grandmother, raised and propagated dozens at home. Martha followed suit, winning blue ribbons from the Nutley Women's Club (in New Jersey) for ones she grew herself, and has been a "rose addict" ever since, growing hundreds around the farm. Here, 'Constance Spry', the fragrant David Austen variety, winds up a tuteur she brought from Turkey Hill. It blooms profusely every June.
Martha recently updated the plot's two main paths, edging the sides with black granite bricks that elevate and define them, but also help prevent soil and gravel runoff after heavy storms. Next she laid down stone dust and pea gravel. Inspired by the way nasturtiums blur the paths' borders at Giverny, she planted lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis and A. erythropoda) to do the same. Reddish-pink 'Benjamin Britten' roses climb an arbor.
A bird's-eye view reveals the garden's intricate swath of lupines in varying shades of pink and purple, poppies, and globes of alliums. In the coming weeks, these blooms will fade and make way for summer flowers like lilies, hollyhocks, asters, and daisies. For easy access to weed, cut blooms, and deadhead, Martha recently added stepping stones. "Otherwise you trample your plants and feel bad," she says.