“Tashiding” is the name of the most venerated monastery in Sikkim, one of three historic Himalayan kingdoms. In homage to that holy place, it is also the name a 50-something Baltimore County native and his wife, a member of the royal family of Sikkim, chose for their majestic, 35-acre estate. Tashiding means “the center of all things auspicious,” and that is precisely what it feels like when visiting the expansive, serene garden this couple has created during the past 11 years.
Upon entering a long, curvaceous drive flanked by dozens of deciduous and evergreen trees, visitors are struck by an array of harmonious elements: a wide-open lake with stands of fluttering white prayer flags on its shores, acres of rolling lawns, a stream, artistic islands of plantings, Asian artifacts and fine architecture, all of which converge to provide a peaceful, almost other-worldly space.
The driveway leads to a meticulously restored and expanded 1810 Quaker farmhouse nestled into the hillside. Not only is the view from the house— over the long hillside, past the lake to Western Run— breathtaking, but inside, at the heart of the house, sits an enchant-
ingly simple, yet intricate, courtyard garden. “It’s not a true Japanese garden,” says the owner. “They are awfully fussy. This has the sensibility of a Japanese garden without being overwrought.” Boulders gathered at garden centers and in northern Baltimore County provide vertical interest among rocks collected from the owner’s childhood home in western Baltimore County. Locally bred Kingsdene boxwoods, Japanese maples and an antique Kasuga lantern punctuate the horizontal surface of a drystone stream and a moss carpet. The rock and moss garden recalls the renowned Himalayan mountain Kanchenjunga, which is pictured on a nearby wall. “It’s the sense of place we are trying to evoke,” says the owner.
Under the expertise of architect James R. Grieves, the once-dilapidated stone house in 2003 was completely re-footed, restored and expanded to include this courtyard and various well-integrated wings, taking the house from 2,000 to 7,500 square feet.
Before and during the restoration, the owners cleared the neglected grounds. “Our part-time groundskeeper, who has worked hand in hand with us over the last 10 years, and I spent years removing 40 years of invasive multiflora roses, porcelain berry and poison ivy from virtually every tree and every acre of the property,” says the owner.
Then, without a master plan— or a landscape architect or a designer— the couple began their enthusiastic development of gardens. With 20 years of experience as “serious amateur gardeners” at their Monkton home, and with inspiration from the mountain environment of central Himalaya, the Zen gardens in Kyoto, Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, the Griswold gardens at “Breezewood” in Monkton and the forests of “Emerald Hill,” they slowly transformed the property into a vast and open landscape conducive to both walking and contemplation. It’s a park-like space that showcases “big sky” and 1,000 trees, which the owners planted dozens at a time as they cleared the land. “We planted drifts of trees, just as some plant drifts of bulbs,” explains the owner, who adds that they dragged 600 feet of hoses and relied on a 200-gallon tank of water to keep newly planted trees alive their first years. With so many trees, the couple tries to look ahead and “respect what the property will look like in 50 years.”
But the gardens are not all trees and bigness. Islands of plantings and perennial borders punctuate the open landscape with smaller, more intimate areas. Outside the house, these islands provide focal points of color and texture and offer visual interruptions to the rolling lawns. “The lawns create the negative space,” says the owner, a manufacturing executive who relies on his visual acumen and artistry (inherited from a long line of artists, engineers and designers) to pursue a passion for planting. He is the designer and planter; his wife is the weeder. “I love to weed,” she says. “It is very satisfying.”
While Tashiding is a study in greens, it is hardly monochromatic. The gardens are a symphony of texture, shape and ever-changing color created by a mixed palette of deciduous and evergreen trees, perennials, shrubs, ground covers and a few annuals.
Exiting the side entrance of the house, the garden begins with a cluster of Japanese granite lanterns and a pagoda nestled under one of the original sycamore trees underplanted with hellebores, azaleas and mock orange. On the hill behind the house, the stone ruins of a corn crib function as a garden folly. Then comes the wife’s private garden, a woodsy area that leads up the hill to a springhouse. “This is my secret garden,” she says. “I’m a haphazard gardener. I want to have fun. I want to plant what I want, where I want. No comments allowed.”
She has moved plants from other locations and added whatever strikes her fancy: a variegated gardenia, several cutleaf Japanese maples, hellebores, skimmia, primrose. “This is also the prayer flag graveyard,” she says, pointing to worn gauze flags whose characters have faded to gray. East, toward the stream, a sunny perennial border showcases peonies, crape myrtles, Knock Out roses, irises and a Katsura tree.
A line of ancient silver maples (with multiple trunks due to many underground springs) leads to an eastern border of poplars that are intermingled with several oaks, which survived harvesting by a previous owner, as well as dozens of new hemlocks, hollies, spruce, Himalayan pines and cryptomeria. “We couldn’t even get to the stream before, and vines wound through every one of these trees,” says the owner, striding through the woodland to one of the most gorgeous features of the property: a clear, rushing stream beside which the couple added more trees to keep the water cool and to encourage trout.
Three footbridges allow visitors to walk back and forth across the stream. Views alternate between the shady, secluded woodland, where Baltimore Orioles nest and prayer gardens feature antique Japanese granite lanterns and pagodas, and the wide-open lake that is the focal point of Tashiding. A serpentine rock wall, softened by occasional low conifers, shrubs, native plants (such as Joe-pye weed and goldenrod) and thousands of blazing yellow flag iris surround the lake. This curve resonates with the graceful, newly scribed driveway and three curved terraced gardens filled with red and green Japanese maples, dwarf conifers, rocks and ground cover. The repetition of trees in the island beds and throughout the property knits the vast gardens together to give a cohesive feeling and appearance.
The latest addition to the lake is a Western red cedar and glass teahouse designed by retired architects Peter Paul and Barbara Sandrisser, formerly of New York. Heated in winter, it is used year-round by the owner’s wife for prayer and meditation, as well as by visitors for viewing the sky, water, clouds, gardens and wildlife. On a sunny afternoon a turtle sits motionless on a rock. Koi swim in the pond. Prayer flags flutter on the hill. A dragon fly skims the water. Cosanti bells strung from tall trees, new and old, bring sounds reminiscent of Buddhist monasteries to Western Run. 9
Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage features this Western Run garden, among others. Sunday, May 17. For tickets: 410-821-6933 or http://www.mhgp.org .
Masonry and stone work: Andreas Grothe, New World Gardens, Parkton, 410-357-4900; Robert Stegman, Stegman Stone Masonry, Sparks, 443-212-5338
Specimen plants and trees: Manor View Nursery, Monkton, 410-771-4700, http://www.manorview.com; Roland Harvey, Natural Concerns, Sparks, 410-472-6860, http://www.naturalconcerns.com; Robert Farmer, Gristmill Landscaping, Jarrettsville, 410-557-4213; Fieldstone Nursery, Parkton, 410-357-5114, http://www.fieldstonenurseryinc.com
Arborist: Frank Fogle, Davey Tree Expert Co., 410-377-4002, http://www.davey.com