English with a Baltimore Accent

Ruggedness and visual artistry define these delightful gardens created by Jacques Kelly.              Photo by David Stuck

Amid the hubbub of a Charles Village thoroughfare sits the garden of veteran Baltimore Sun columnist Jacques Kelly. “I spend two weeks every year in Hampshire,” he says. “But you really can’t have an English garden in Baltimore City.”

First there’s the heat, then the humidity. Add the ambient temperature of brick pathways and houses, and delphinium or lupines rarely last more than a season. Still, what Kelly has achieved in his 2,000-square-foot space is an English country garden with a Baltimore twist.

Photo by David Stuck

A first step though the original, Victorian iron gate reveals both the ruggedness and artistry of his gardens. Hardy English ivy and liriope form two neatly scribed, intersecting circles of green. These circles are a hallmark of the gardens; Kelly had planted them almost immediately after moving into his freestanding 1872 home more than four decades ago. The circles bring a contemporary touch to the front garden, where he maintains a traditional turn-of-the-century scheme of mostly green shrubbery and plants. Original hostas, a massive Acuba bush and a mature Japanese maple give geometry and texture to this shady garden room.

“Color came gradually,” Kelly says. In this front garden, his love of color and England shows in the small hedge of medium and pale pink ‘Knock Out’ roses that grow along the iron fence. “Never the red!” he admits.

Nearby a path, composed of original bricks, leads through a stylish Arts and Crafts-style wood gate. Clipped ivy along the neighbor’s brick wall forms a green backdrop to Kelly’s long southerly border that becomes increasingly sunny. Rugged hosta, ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum and purple clematis bloom before a cluster of his favorite garden plants, ‘Queen Elizabeth’ roses. They’re a nod to England, as well as to his nearby childhood garden and home.

“We always had a silver bowl of roses on the dining room table,” says Kelly, who entertains frequently and grows flowers to cut and bring inside. Among them are daffodils, globes of lavender allium and orange fritillaria to cut in spring, underplanted in the garden with snowdrops and glory-of-the-snow bulbs, all very English.

In the sunny back garden, perennial borders spill gracefully over brick pathways. “I don’t mind things overflowing the paths,” Kelly says. “I like that blousy look.”

Photo by David Stuck 

Sun-loving plants stand tall against a brick carriage house. Two clipped, Irish yews give evergreens height. Massive oakleaf hydrangea bushes, planted 40 years ago, soften the corner of the carriage house. An elegant and formal green trellis nearby supports a mandevilla vine. Native Joe Pye weed grows 5 to 7 feet and attracts butterflies. Towering orange and purple zinnias grow from seed every year. “Mayer Seed makes a special mix,” Kelly says.

In the garden and on the house, his palette of orange and purple gives his garden the Baltimore accent. The gates, side door and shutters are reddish cinnamon, while the window trim is gray with a touch of purple.

Crocus and allium bulbs, perennial spiderwort, geraniums, clematis, ironweed and asters, annual ageratum and petunias all bring purple, too. Asiatic lilies, daylilies, million bells and chrysanthemums add orange. There are also white-blooming snowdrops, hydrangeas and Japanese anemones in these gardens, which offer nine months of blooms, March to November. Kelly changes out plantings in a dozen jardinières throughout the garden to keep the color going.

More local color (think Preakness) arrives via perennial Rudbeckias of many varieties. Familiar black-eyed Susans grow en mass at the center, with taller varieties at the back and shorter
varieties on the border edges.

Photo by David Stuck

A purplish blue heron sculpture by Robert Machovec adds whimsy with its long neck stretching into a well-stocked goldfish pond. The sculpture also serves as a decoy for real herons that might be interested in raiding Kelly’s pond.

This brimming, mature garden creates a lush painting for Kelly to enjoy every day from his charming kitchen window: “That is what I want, to stand in my kitchen window and look out on color.”

Mission accomplished.

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