It’s as hard to imagine a tropical paradise in the densely wooded acre behind Betty and Buddy Rosen’s sleek, modern home, as it is to imagine Betty Rosen’s long platinum hair being chopped off by an African tribesman— which happened when she was taking photographs in New Guinea in 1971.
One step inside the Rosen house, however, and the drama this stylish couple cultivates meets visitors head-on. First are Betty’s huge photographic portraits of tribal people, taken during some 30 years of world travels with her husband. Then a Rousseau-esque garden explodes outside the wide glass windows, giving visitors the distinct feeling that Eden has come to Baltimore County, and may even be creeping inside the Rosens’ home.“I started 35 years ago with bright, red-orange geraniums in pots around the pool,” says Betty. “We had no land suitable for a garden, so I used pots.”
Because the hillside of oak and poplar trees was so steep, no traditional garden existed when the Rosens moved in 40 years ago. “We brought in tons of fill dirt,” says Buddy, showing the ground that now supports a deck and a pie-shaped pool, which is the focal point for his wife’s container garden.
Over the years the geraniums disappeared— Betty now chooses “anything but geraniums”— and the container garden expanded to include 80 to 100 pots filled with 500 to 600 tropical plants and trees.
“The unique feature of Buddy and Betty’s poolside garden,” says Leigh Barnes, owner of Companion Plantings, who has provided plants and design advice for the Rosens for three years, “is that everything is in such abundance that one would think many of the plantings are in ground. The impact of all the strong colors and bold foliage is one of pure drama.”
Though Betty claims her favorite color is black, her garden is awash in bright orange, red, yellow, purple, pink and chartreuse blooms, which contrast brilliantly with the shiny black-glazed oriental pots.
From May, when night temperatures reach the 50 degrees necessary for tropicals, to late October, the plants fill the deck surrounding the pool. Because of the intense heat of the western exposure, Betty waters them each morning. “I get nervous about my plants if I even go away for two days,” says Rosen, whose annual two-month trip is reserved for winter, when the plants are stowed safely in the greenhouse or in Barnes’ basement.
To already established palm trees, bromeliads and banana plants, Barnes, past president of the Horticultural Society of Maryland, has added plants that are increasingly “bigger, bolder, brighter.”
“The name of the game in Betty’s garden is ‘wild,’” says Barnes. “It is rare to have a client who wants to have containers on a scale this large and ones created with such wild abandon. There is nothing timid about this space.”