Beginning to Start to Commence

Beginning to Start to Commence
The wind knocked down the peony stand.

Once Jim and I secured the property, it wasn’t initially obvious what direction the use of the south-facing empty lots would take. He wanted to garden, a vegetable garden and I wanted an ornamental garden. We were beginning to start to commence.

Both could be planted with no problem, but for me it had to compliment the age and style of the house. I had spent a lot of my formative years in the East Mid-Atlantic states and loved it and the gardens in the historic districts.

Those gardens had always captured my imagination. I decided to install a more formal garden like the town gardens I had known back East. We set to work getting to a clean slate.

Clean Slate

We had cleared the empty lots next to the house. We kept the London Plane (the large tree on the property).  The trunk had been hidden by all the overgrowth that had now been cleared out. It was a ghost of the past, as it  was probably planted in the 80’s, but it shines with it’s white and gray bark.

My love of symmetry and formality called for another tree to be planted to balance it, but not necessarily the same variety. I decided to plant a magnolia, recalling the plant material I had grown to love in those Eastern Tidewater gardens.

Italianate House, Italian and English Gardens?

The house was Italianate, So a somewhat Italianate school of thought began to emerge in the design of the garden structures, with the trees as the anchor. While my earlier garden efforts were not so rigidly married to a particular style.

It seemed like the obvious thing to do with the house at Mezzacello. Italian gardens generally are more formal the closer they are to the house, and the further out they go the more wild they become. With that in mind, around the trees would be planted formal garden rooms, an allee, a parterre, and if enough room…a “wilderness”.

The Friendship Garden

Friends started giving us plant material. I wasn’t quite ready for it, but really appreciated the gifts. I didn’t know what to do with it yet, so I staged it in the southeast corner of the lot with the London Plane.

Iris was planted at the base of the tree. Shrubs and hostas were planted along the fence. Old shrubs planted randomly around the property were also moved there to stage them. It was the beginning of what we now call the “Friendship” garden.

I began seeing a pattern. I liked the stand of Iris under the tree countering it’s lightness of color with the lavenders of the flowers below. I decided to plant a circle around the Magnolia — I wanted it to mound though so I needed something low to carpet around it.

Dianthus became it’s bed. I had a big square between the two circles, and decided then to have three rooms. Two circles on either side of a square room. They would be walled with shrubs, preferably boxwood, like the hedged gardens of the historic town gardens I was familiar with.

We had divided the lot east to west, with formal gardens facing east onto North 20th Street. Jim had claimed the back part of the lot for his vegetable/kitchen/farm garden. There was enough space to still divide into two areas.


Between our two realms, it became apparent that our styles were wildly divergent. We would later christen the two gardens as North and South Korea.

I decided to do an allee that could be viewed from the windows of the dining room in the house, and looked down into from the bedroom above it. At the end would be a focal point. That still left enough room for what we called the DMZ (in reference to the North/South Korea designations).

Jim would have complete control and say of what would happen in the back pottage gardens and I would take the ornamental pleasure gardens. The elements began falling into place.

Finishing the Planning

A neighbor was taking out a formal garden in the back of a house, with a lot of boxwood that needed removed, to make room for a vegetable garden of their own. I was thrilled to transplant all the boxwood making the borders of my rooms. I wanted it to have an established look so the older boxwood was a welcome addition.

Peonies were moved from the back and sides of the property to fill in some of the beds. I liked texturing and waving plant material in the gardens I had planted before, so this inspired and spurred me on further. I needed more material that I could purchase to keep going.

I still had visions of a parterre, but the amount of plant material needed was just not in the budget. So I learned to cut and propagate plants. Rows of lilac, hydrangea, and hornbeam were needed. The rooms began to fill in.

The allee was plotted out…and there was just enough room to meander a wilderness path from the Friendship room, behind the end of the allee, into the DMZ, that would later house our fish pond and parterre/herb garden.

The structure and design sort of created itself. I had always heard and found that a garden takes on it’s own life, and so did this one as it came to life and began unfolding it’s leafydesign. The house, the land, and the needs of our hearts guided us as we let our property and available assets lead to the current spaces that we call Mezzacello.

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