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High above the Baltimore harbor, French doors lead from the beautiful 12-room penthouse owned by Jimmy and Barbara Judd to a series of five terrace gardens filled with world-class antiques and mature, verdant plantings.

Jimmy, a well-known Howard Street antique dealer, is owner of Amos Judd and Son, while Barbara is the owner of eight Cactus Willie restaurants in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Pairing their passions for art and fine food, the couple enjoys entertaining visitors— from 12 grandchildren to 200 international museum directors to Shirley MacLaine and Placido Domingo— in their spectacular surroundings.

Besides artistically designed and diligently maintained plantings, the garden is filled with the earthly sights and delights of the city and harbor below. The fragrances of jasmine and wisteria mingle with the aromas from Little Italy, while the sounds of mourning doves nesting in the garden mix with boat horns and music from Pier 6.

Backdrop: The panoramic view east, south and west from these fifth-floor gardens is almost impossible to absorb in one take. The largest garden to the south opens directly off the living room. Lush green, with no immediate view of the skyline, it feels like an Italian grotto. Architects Bob Berman and Henry Johnson of Johnson Berman, who redesigned the penthouse inside and out 20 years ago, added steps at either end of the south terrace. These stairs lead to two “secret gardens” on observation decks that overlook the National Aquarium, the harbor and the grassy slopes of Federal Hill, and offer wide vistas stretching to Key Bridge and Sparrows Point.

The views from four smaller terraces are equally spellbinding, encompassing Canton, Fells Point, Little Italy, the downtown skyline and West Baltimore clear to the massive Montgomery Park building.

Concept:  “European,” says Jimmy Judd, describing in one word what he was after. “I wanted it to feel like a garden in Italy or France.” That effect is achieved through multi-level gardens with delicate but dramatic lighting, spiraling topiary, vine-covered trellises and walls, groupings of French-blue, antique wrought-iron tables and chairs, and dozens of columns and pillars. For good measure, plenty of European sculptures are tucked into the vegetation.

Johnson designed the 45 cedar planters that hide the metal railings that border the terraces. The planters themselves are concealed by cascading plantings of hardy trees, shrubs, vines, perennials and annuals. Many of the plantings offering year-round interest were added during the last 15 years by Bob Buczek of Green Expectations, who continues to supervise their care and feeding. So mature is this rooftop garden that it feels as if it weren’t container-grown, but rooted on terra firma. 

Challenge:  Much of the garden is protected from drying winds by the multi-leveled penthouse walls, so the biggest challenge is hydration. “We water every day, seven days a week, for one hour with a hose,” says Judd. “And we fight over who does it, because it’s so much fun. There’s so much to see.”

 

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