Autumn Splendor


When Nell Strachan and her husband, Peter Ward, moved to their Ruxton house in 2001, the well-known garden created by previous owners Sydney and Ann King (featured in Style, March 1999) was a draw.

The almost two-acre, steep hillside of woods had already been transformed into a wonderland of rhododendrons, azaleas, hostas, ferns, perennials and bulbs. But Strachan, a recently retired attorney well-known in horticultural circles, had her own vision of how to personalize the gardens.

In the past 10 years, Strachan and Ward have revised and added to both the plantings and hardscape, amplifying the focus on the woodland, which serves as a counterpoint to manicured sections of a now more floriferous, year-round garden.

When driving up to the house, the first noticeable change along the sunny street side is an open and welcoming flowering shrub and perennial garden, which has replaced the high evergreen screening. Flowering vines also provide color from March through November. 

Throughout the property, Strachan has added elegant new stonework that unifies the design and increases the garden’s sense of definition. Entrance gardens are edged with stone knee walls, which are also used to terrace the steep ravine by the front door and create a naturalistic two-part pond with a gurgling waterfall.

Above the intricately woven gardens around the house and winding paths leading to gardens 40 feet below is a canopy of shade trees— oak, ash, beech, tulip poplar and hickory. Each fall their leaves gradually turn hues of crimson, yellow, gold, beige and orange. Under this rich tapestry, the foliage of ornamentals, shrubbery and perennials, including a multitude of natives and hydrangeas, also offers swales of color and texture.

On the hillside and back gardens, more knee walls border a flagstone terrace surrounded by a densely planted rock garden, which has replaced the swimming pool. Down the steep hillside, which the previous owners cleared and turned into gardens, stone steps have been installed and the paths widened. The couple replaced a playhouse with a viewing platform surrounded by a tempered steel railing, which resonates with the modern architecture of the house above and provides a scenic overlook. Like the terrace, the platform was designed for viewing and sitting— though Strachan rarely sits.

She is in the garden every day, always accompanied by her golden retriever Honeysuckle. On weekends, Ward joins her and at other times horticulturalist Michael Rosendale, who has done much of the designing and stonework. “I want something blooming every day of the year,” Strachan says, noting that she particularly enjoys fall because its cooler temperatures make it a pleasure to plant, divide and transplant. “And I love fall for the promise of spring it brings,” she adds, pointing out buds on the many rhododendrons, azaleas, dogwoods and magnolias.

Tree care: Stansbury Tree Service,, 410-840-9623.
Gardening: Michael Rosendale, 410-325-3953. Nurseries: Green Fields,, 410-323-3444; Sun Nurseries,, 410-442-2090; RareFind Nursery,, 732-833-0613; McLean Nurseries: 410-882-6714; Cavano’s (wholesale only),, 410-592-8077; The Perennial Farm:, 410-592-8077. Bulbs: John Scheepers,, 860-567-0838; Van Engelen,, 860-567-8734.
Masonry & Hardscape: Terrace:  New World Gardens,, 410-357-4900. Steps:  Landscaping Creative Ways, 410-472-7002. Walls:  Michael Rosendale, 410-325-3953.
Water lily ponds: Fox Run Ponds,, 410-247-1378.
Bridge, pergola and platform construction: HC Peters Construction, 717-235-5005. Iron railing: Jennifer Mallet, 410-303-3914.

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