On a warm summer morning, front containers of dark green arborvitae, variegated hostas and coleus, chartreuse euonymus and sweet potato vines offer the first lush clues. Then comes an allée in the airway beside the house. It’s lined with boxwoods, Boston ferns, Japanese pieris and more hostas. Visitors step down — and into the sea of green that is Jake Boone’s stunning Bolton Hill garden.
Of the transformation to an all-green garden that took place in one summer season, the well-known floral designer says, “I got bored and wanted to change the look.” This is his simple explanation for the shift from what was an acclaimed, full-color garden, which Boone had enjoyed 28 of the 30 years in his rowhouse.
But a few other elements factored in the change. First, Boone expanded the back porch, then he added columns to frame a doorway from porch to garden. Below it, he flanked the new staircase with black iron railings and added a pair of stone lions as unique porch railings (and solid enough to keep any child visitor from falling into the wonderland of this verdant masterpiece). Boone then asked Brian Loane from Loane Bros. for a new awning. Enter a black-and-white striped porch canopy that resonates with the black flooring and ironwork.
“One thing leads to another,” Boone says.
Wide, antique black shutters from the now-demolished Green Spring Valley Baetjer estate form an elegant wall down the airway. Carefully spaced peephole mirrors, carriage lanterns, fluted columns and stone statuary play down both sides of this long, narrow corridor. Green and textured hardscape here features a horizontal wall of climbing hydrangeas geometrically punctuated by globular boxwoods, frilly ferns, trailing vines and vertical, towering Japanese pieris. (Feeding them is key, Boone explains.) Climbing hydrangea vines continue around two more sides of the back garden to enclose it with a graceful green backdrop. Against that, artistically staged levels of plants are in both the ground and in the containers.
“It’s all about texture and layering,” Boone says of the garden, which, because of evergreen plantings and architectural elements, has year-round interest. Plant varieties are repeated for varied textures and for the geometry of their overall shape, as well as that of their leaves. Ferns, hostas, and azaleas, plus evergreen Japanese pieris and boxwoods, stitch the garden together front to back. In any garden, repetition unifies the space. In one so densely planted, repetition fosters calm cohesiveness.
So does the rhythmical spacing of sculpture and lights. The center of the garden showcases Boone’s artistry. A flute-playing Pan emerges from a mound of green and white annuals, perennials and shrubs tiered on an antique wrought-iron tree seat with an urn at its center. A cluster of blue and white ginger jars, not immediately visible on approach, stands behind Pan, reflected in one of the windowpane mirrors hung amid the climbing hydrangea. This gives the illusion of another garden room farther back. The mirrors add depth and light to this verdant, shady space.
White blooms from spring to fall do, too: neighboring Natchez crape myrtle, pear and magnolia trees and Boone’s azaleas, hydrangeas, Japanese pieris and annual impatiens. Silvery leaves of ornamental cabbage and dusty miller shimmer, as does the white variegation on hostas, Swedish ivy and vinca. Shades of green further the contrasts and play of light. Deep green of boxwoods and English ivy highlight the chartreuse hostas, variegated euonymus and trailing sweet potato vines. An occasional pink and green coleus brings soft color. “There’s not much,” Boone says. “I like it that way.”
For further brightening, Boone smudged whitewash on the patio bricks, inter-planted occasional “bricks” of grass and used a geometric floor cloth with a creamy tan pattern. Throughout the garden, stone sculptures offer soft, aged whites.
Then there is the lighting, perfect for summer entertaining. Several lanterns sit atop pillars with evenly spaced carriage lanterns affixed to the walls of the house and garden. Reminiscent of Tivoli, strands of lights wind through the garden and across wires entwined with Virginia creeper and ivy. The overall effect of this magical garden is transportive.
“A Charleston garden,” Boone says. “Unexpected in downtown Baltimore!”
Photos by David Stuck