I consider myself a decent and relatively well-informed gardener, but I also humbly recognize how much I have to learn about garden design and culture. My home office and nightstand are overflowing with garden books, ripe for the picking whenever I have a spare moment to learn something new. The greatest resource for learning about gardens, however, are my fellow gardeners and the gardens they grow. Visiting gardens and talking plants with their cultivators is unrivaled by any book or traditional classroom. These experiences invariably lead to new knowledge, a healthy bit of gardening inspiration, and — hopefully — new friends in the soil.
Each June, I look forward to our local garden walk. Visiting several local gardens in one day is always one of the highlights of summer. One of the highlights this past year was the garden of Mike and Susan Weber. The experience was nothing short of amazing.
The Webers have been cultivating their constantly-evolving gardens for nearly a quarter-century. By their own description, Mike is the plant expert and Susan is the designer. To the garden visitor’s eye, their talents combine in a beautiful harmony. On my first visit to the garden, Mike took nearly an hour of his time to walk me through the gardens. He highlighted his favorite plants, talked about the history of each of the areas in their landscape, and even showed a sincere interest in my gardening background.
The map of the Weber garden provided to the garden walk visitors defined 14 separate garden areas, but Susan’s innovative design schemes create a borderless flow among the areas. Her use of paths through the gardens effortlessly combine aesthetics and function. The flagstone path through the conifer garden invites the visitor to travel between the central lawn and the lilac garden at the top of the berm.
The garden areas not only stand on their own, but also provide seamless transitions between adjacent gardens. The north garden is comprised largely of herbaceous perennials, including many of the Weber’s collection of more than 150 daylilies (Hemerocallis sp.). On the day of the garden walk, Mike noted that every daylily in their garden was blooming — an outstanding feat!
From almost any vantage point in the Weber garden, I could take a photo that could stand next to the definition of mixed border in a garden design textbook. They combine evergreen and deciduous woody plants, perennials, and the occasional annual in a wide variety of creative ways.
My favorite mixed border is the Weber landscape is the area beneath the 23-year old cinnamon-bark cypress tree (Taxodium distichum). This combination of hosta, hydrangea, daylilies, Japanese maple and other plants continually drew my attention.
The western side of the Cypress garden has more sun exposure and so includes more sun loving annuals and woody plants.
The south side of the Weber garden is more shaded and intimate. Subtle pathways lead the visitor through much of Mike’s hosta collection (numbering more than 300 different cultivars). More Japanese maples, oakleaf hydrangea, and other perennials provide diversity of color and texture among the hosta.
The design of the patio and deck gardens is slightly more formal in nature, but still softens the hard lines of the house while creating privacy. In this area, annual container gardens designed by Susan brighten the patio.
A closer inspection of the Weber’s garden shows how masterfully they combine plant size, color and texture. Partnerships of Hosta and Hydrangea are used as a repeating element in many of the garden areas.
At the edge of the patio area, a spruce in the dwarf conifer garden provided a beautiful background for a container-planted coleus. I loved how the underside of the coleus leaves echoed the color of the brick wall and contrasted with the blue-toned foliage of the spruce.
The patio area was highlighted by different annual container gardens. Visitors were welcomed to the patio by this Petunia ‘Pretty Much Picasso’ spilling around the vase-shaped rush in the center.
Several containers were planted artistically with miniature succulents. The detail in these containers was an wonderfully intimate contrast to the large-scale of the rest of the Weber landscape.
I tried to capture as much of the breadth of the Weber garden as possible, but my love for gardens truly lies in their detail. While Susan’s design eye is captured with a wider lens, Mike’s specimen choices are best appreciated with a tighter frame. The new foliage of Japanese maples brings both color and texture to the gardens, especially when the sun angle is low.
Mike has added several cultivars of Hydrangea macrophylla to the garden. Although this species can be marginally hardy in our Zone 5 gardens, they bloomed vigorously last summer.
Many of the thousands of photos I took in the Weber garden focused on Mike’s daylily specimens. This perennial is one of my favorite to photograph, but can often become an eyesore after bloom. I have never seen a garden where Hemerocallis is used so effectively as color accent in mixed borders. My visits to the Weber garden have inspired me to rethink how I use daylilies in my own garden.
One last aspect of the Weber gardens that I need to mention is their effective use of art. I’m not generally a fan of art in the garden; I tend to prefer natural beauty to human-created aesthetics. But I was blown away by how art was used as accents through all of the garden areas. Not only was the art itself tasteful, but it was placed to perfectly complement the surrounding plants. This birdbath was my favorite piece. I loved its organic form and how the water reflected the bark of the adjacent tree.
As I walked through the Weber garden with my camera, I hoped that my photos would express both Mike’s encyclopedic knowledge, appreciation, selection and care of plants combined with Susan’s eye for design aesthetics and plant combination. I now hope my words can convey how I’ve been inspired by the Webers to be a better gardener myself. They reminded me in so many ways that gardening is more than plants, soil and hardscape. Gardening — at its core — is about creating beautiful, healthy environments to share.