On approach to a 1927 Colonial house nestled beside a Ruxton hillside, fine horticulture beckons. Stands of grasses punctuate the sweeping roadside lawn. A stately southern magnolia blooms near the house, with groupings of osmanthus, viburnum and holly trees nearby. Yellow water irises line the streambed. Clusters of boxwoods, in several varieties, flank the front path and door.
The curved driveway and garden beds begin a flow of green and color that encircles and softens the wide gray house. The house itself provides an axis around which three acres of outdoor garden rooms open, one to the next.
“We began close to the house,” says interior designer Lauren Hurlbrink, who, with her husband Greg and their three children, moved in in 2003. Immediately, they set about renovating and expanding the house and gardens. “The house has so many windows. We wanted the outside to relate to the inside.”
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First projects included eliminating a family room and returning the space to its original design of an open porch. Next came the addition of a stone patio and the restoration of its adjacent knee wall as backdrop to a long, new perennial border. Along the wall they added a koi pond and a graceful set of stairs.
Sitting on this porch by the gurgling pond is one of Hurlbrink’s favorite spots, inside or outside of her home. “I come out every day with coffee,” she says. From this vantage point, it’s easy to see another early project: the delineation of the woods from the grassy hillside where her children used to sled.
A mixed border of ornamental trees, shrubs, ferns and brunnera, with annual plantings of caladium, now sweeps down this hill. This border connects the perennial border by the stone wall to newer gardens, around the pool and restored barn. “We knew it was time to re-do the old barn when a turkey vulture took up residence inside,” says Hurlbrink.
“Our gardens are inspired by English country gardens,” she adds, pointing out the bright lime groundcover, which carpets an area by the steps. “They have a looser look. We let the perennials do what they want to do, the creeping Jenny creep.”
Places to relax
Another favorite sitting spot is by the pool. This later addition, at the end of the house, brought opportunity for another garden room. Its deep borders showcase the diversity of plant material used to create highly textured, year-round gardens.
In spring, several varieties of daffodils bloom. They are followed by redbud and kousa dogwood trees, allium and astillbe, irises, baptisia and perennial geraniums. In mid-summer, hostas, black-eyed Susans, and several varieties of hydrangeas and crape myrtles bloom near the pool and throughout the gardens.
In fall, plumes of grasses, at either end of the pool, are in full feather. Conifers, of particular winter interest, give texture all year: Smaller ones punctuate the perennial border, and tall ones stand behind deciduous ornamental trees.
Adjoining the poolside gardens is an intimate shady room, one created to screen a stone culvert. Yellow water irises, variegated hostas and crape myrtles brighten this space that is a surprise, secret garden nook.
Themes and variations
Threading through all gardens, front and back, to unify them is the repetition of various plants: boxwoods in hedge, conical and topiary form, as well as dogwoods, in native and kousa varieties. Crape myrtles with textured bark and blooms, further Hurlbrink’s palette of pinks, lavenders and white. Redbuds with bright pink flowers and heart-shaped leaves add more color and geometry, with sculpturesque limbs. Various hydrangeas, grasses, hostas and irises also repeat.
“I credit Foxborough (Nursery in Harford County) with the seaming of the old and new,” Hurlbrink says. The plant material has to relate, one room to another. The gardens are very cohesive, but each area has its own unique look and ambiance.”
Her current challenge is to prune the thriving plants: curly willows, towering hydrangeas, grasses that have overtaken the low perennials. But there are no new garden projects. After 17 years, these two soon-to-be empty nesters can just maintain and enjoy their expansive gardens. “Greg and I would say the greatest success of this garden is that it seems like something that has always been here. It feels as if it’s been this way a long time. The house supports the garden, and the garden supports the house.”
Photography by Paula Adelsberger Simon