Sometimes a house and its surrounding gardens are so artistically rendered that together they become a single, integrated, living sculpture. Such is the case with the two acres A.C. and Penney Hubbard have cultivated on a hillside north of Baltimore. As with any fine workof art, the more the viewer experiences it, the more it reveals its intricacies.“There was one rock wall and a number of mature, deciduous trees— pinoaks, maples, locusts, poplars,” remembers Penney of the property when they first moved to it in 1969. “And a straight hill on the slope to the woods.”
At the time, the 1937 Worth Jamieson-designed house had been unoccupied for twoyears, so the Hubbards began by clearing the overgrowth. Before they started new planting, they consulted with nationally renowned landscape architect (and former chair of the American Horticulture Society) Kurt Bluemel, who suggested they begin at the perimeter and work in from there.
Among the existing deciduous trees, the Hubbards interplanted tall conifers— spruce, hemlock and holly trees— to provide privacy as well as create scenic views from the house and terrace, year-round color and a backdrop for shrubs and plants.
A.C. continued to pursue conifers, collecting unusual ones from the East and West Coast, while he and Penney together began specializing in Japanese maples and day lilies, as she studied landscape design and horticulture through Georgetown University extension courses.The increasingly expert gardeners soon found they had a hard time saying “no.” Driving home from summers in New England, they’d stop at White Flower Farm in Connecticut, and for the rest of the trip back to Baltimore, their three children rode with laps full of plants.
“Everything came as tiny little plants in boxes, and then one day they grew up,” says Penney. After 20 years, their seedlings had transformed into extensive collections of Japanese maples and day lilies, weeping and mature dwarf conifers, and the largest collection of Japanese umbrella pines in the area. “I am a bit obsessive,” admits A.C., who is also a well-known collector of wine and English glass.
In 1990 the Hubbards decided to make extensive renovations to their house and hired Bluemel to help redesign the gardens to bring them into closer association with the house. During construction, the conifers and Japanese maples were moved to holding beds. Of more than six dozen mature trees in the collection, the only one not later transplanted was a majestic blue atlas cedar, which continues to serve as a focal point for the entire hillside.
New, mid-sized, deciduous trees like white blooming silver bells and Japanese snowbells, along with delicate redbuds and yellow flowering cornelian cherry and Franklinia trees, were planted. Shrubbery was added, too: a variety of viburnums and witch hazels, andromedas, azaleas and rhododendrons, plus grasses and perennials planted in masses. The redesigned gardens now include five different, but carefully interconnected spaces, all of which boast year-round interest.
“The front courtyard is on an axis to formalize the entrance,” explains Penney. A black wrought-iron gate opens from brick walls to a path flanked by beds planted white in spring (with tulips, leucojum, azaleas, andromeda, candytuft and dogwood) and blue and white (with spirea andanemones) in summer. The branches of an unusual Japanese maple here turn coral red at winter’s frost. Terraced by drystone walls, the beds lead to a smaller, more intimate courtyard at the main entrance.
“I am a strong believer that the first impression sets the tone for the house,” says Bluemel. “You don’t want to create a circus, and put everything you own out front.” Still, the pair of weeping beech and golden Chamaecyparis trees, the espaliered Stransvaesia and meticulously groomed original American elm suggest the extraordinary quality of the gardens to come.
The straight lines of the front garden and house also serve as a linear base from which the other gardens branch. “Everything elseis curvilinear,” says Penney.
Out the French doors at the rear of the home, the terraces begin with a spectacular view of towering evergreens and deciduous trees. Huge Pennsylvania bluestone boulders partially sunk into the hill form descending levels of rock gardens. Dwarf trees, shrubbery and grasses catch the light and provide texture, and work together with bulbs and perennials to weave brilliant tapestries among the rocks.
Winding stone stairs descend through these gardens to a wide, serpentine lawn on the lower level, perfect for parties, weddings and playing with two dogs and six grandchildren. Curved drystone walls, like sculptural parentheses, delineate the ends of the lawn. More stone walls terrace the land below into a woodland garden that rings the lowest level of their hillside property. “The woodland garden is the crowning jewel,” says Bluemel. “The entire plant collection is outstanding, with more than 120 different varieties of native plants here alone.”Under a canopy of mature trees, 5,000 bulbs intermingle with drifts of ostrich ferns, astilbes, hellebores, coral bells, perennial begonias, fragrant Solomon’s seal, Virginia bluebells, trillium and native pachysandra. Curved, mulched paths and flagstones lead through the extensive woodland garden back up the hill. One path leads to a uniquely shaped swimming pool tucked so naturally intothe steep hillside, it appears to have developed on its own from water cascadingdown the rock wall. The poolside gardensfeel like a grotto, surrounded by many ofthe original collections of burgundy and chartreuse Japanese maples, brilliant green Hinoki cypress, billowy Japanese umbrella pines, weeping blue atlas cedar and a few original day lilies. Nearby, not far from A.C.’s office, is a cutting garden, once used as a vegetable garden and now filled with tulips in spring and brightly colored dahlia sin summer.
After 30-plus years of study and hands-on gardening, Penney says, “We know what we like, and what we don’t like.” Inspring she prefers pastel shades and in summer the bright hues of flaming red Crocosmia ‘Lucifer,’ brilliant pink Asiatic lilies, intensely blue salvia, golden rudbeckia and some original yellow day lilies. “We happen to love a fall garden, too— the vibrant colors of the anemones and all the grasses,”says Penney.
For now, the current project is adding to the pool garden: kousa dogwood and Stewartia trees, some summer blooming hydrangeas.“It is hard to stop,” says Bluemel. “The Hubbards live in their garden. Thi sis a gardener’s garden, a garden for all seasons.”