Garden Walk 2011: Bette and Randy Hughes

The second garden I photographed for the Champaign County 2011 Garden Walk was the urban oasis cultivated by Bette Hughes. With the help of her husband Randy, Bette has spent the last 30 years transforming a small barren lot in old town Champaign.

The first time I met Bette was a sultry afternoon in late June, about a week before the garden walk. She was out in the garden preparing it for a big day in the spotlight. That’s the funny thing about garden walks. These landscapes are chosen because they are spectacular, but the owners invariably go to great lengths to make them even better for the day of the walk. Bette paused briefly from her tasks to welcome me warmly to her garden and ask me about my own garden (somehow she just knew).

Bette’s garden can best be described as a series of small rooms and passageways between them. Its beauty lies in how each room melts into the next, defying the constriction of straight lines and clear definition. Pictured above is the central path that leads from the front gate to a small seating area and water feature near the back of the house.

Bette’s garden is no doubt one of a plant lover and collector, full of uncommon specimens and unique combinations. Along the main central path, I particularly liked the clump of Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’.

I also loved the way these purple Stokesia combined with the rose-colored Callirhoe involucrata (Wine Cups).

The cool start to summer led to late flowering in many of our local daylilies, but Bette’s garden had several varieties providing full-bloom highlights and color.

Along the street, Bette grows an informal mixed border including many wildflowers that grow from seeds she scatters. The visual repetition of the orange butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) ties the border together along its entire length.

The Miscanthus along the sidewalk glowed in early evening sunlight. Bette uses green twine to tie these large grasses about halfway up the plant to prevent them from flopping into the sidewalk, a practical technique that gives an extra architectural boost to the plants.

Edibles were interspersed throughout the garden, including this grape arbor along a stretch of the front fence.

The visits I made to the garden would have been worth the effort for nothing but the scent of this rose. Although Bette didn’t know the variety off-hand, this beautiful bloom carried the most amazing, sweet scent. The aroma was so strong, I first smelled it from yards away. Simply delicious.

A small patio area separates the front garden from the vegetable garden and compost area. On summer days, the umbrella and small water feature provide respite from the heat.

One of my favorite color combinations in Bette’s garden was the coral color of these Echinacea along with the bronze sedge in the turquoise pot.

Because of the location of the larger trees on the property, there are many small pockets of shade. A wide variety of Hosta, Hydrangea and other low-light plants effectively filled these areas.

The backyard is predominantly comprised of raised vegetable beds, expertly planted to maximize space and aesthetics. In fact, the design of these gardens has me rethinking the possibilities when it comes to food production in my own garden.

As I was finishing my second shoot of Bette’s garden, I noticed these two stones — kindness and wisdom — at the base of a fountain. I thought to myself, that’s what gardeners are really all about: kind enough to welcome strangers into their gardens with the hope that they walk away having gained and shared a little wisdom along the way.

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