When Susan and Paul Niemeyer moved into their Roland Park house in 1978, they found a well-landscaped yard with a sloping back lawn, magnolia, maple and ash trees, azaleas and boxwoods, nice flagstone paths and a fountain, but no developed garden beds. Over the past 30 years, the Niemeyers have transformed the gardens into an intimate, artistic, cohesive creation, doing most of the planning and labor themselves.
Their first move was to create a curved border of boxwoods in the front yard and restore the fountain in the side yard, says Paul, a U.S. Circuit Court judge by day and poet, planter and garden designer in his off-hours. In 1985, Paul designed and sited a patio behind the house that features artistic trellis walls and a cedar shake roof, now covered in moss. Over the years, he and Susan, a teacher and fiber artist, have trained English ivy in the fanciful shape of an elephant on the adjacent garage wall.
Paul also terraced the sloping backyard and continued the original flagstone paths on the side to connect the front gardens to the new patio, which Susan filled with containers and surrounded with beds of roses, perennials and annuals. “Every spring, my friend Judy and I go to Westminster and buy a whole car-full of plants. Other drivers comment on the hanging baskets inside the car,” says Susan, who broadens the horticultural diversity every year.
In 2001, the Niemeyers introduced an element that makes their private garden unique. “We lost a lousy silver maple,” says Paul, “and all of this land, 40 feet wide in the lower garden, opened up.”
The couple considered creating a Japanese garden until they remembered the labyrinth Susan had visited at a San Francisco cathedral. Paul researched the 4,000-year history of labyrinths, had four truckloads of soil delivered, and spread and leveled the new earth himself with a rototiller. He scribed the circle and inner paths of the labyrinth with strings and orange spray paint then planted 153 boxwoods (the number of beads on a rosary), each 20 inches apart, for the circular passage. At the center is a white ‘Pascali’ rose surrounded by white stones Paul and Susan gathered in Jerusalem and in a summer spot in Vermont. Just outside that inner circle are three benches for rest and contemplation.
The labyrinth has now been traversed by friends and family, who have walked meditatively, skipped, run and danced at all hours. A son was married there, and Paul has been known to appear there to his grandchildren dressed in Easter Bunny attire.
concept: An English garden, with interconnected garden rooms each filled with beds marked with hand-painted tiles from a shop in Jerusalem. Some commemorate deceased parents and grandparents; others honor living family members.
The palette of the garden is cool, with whites, blues, pinks and a touch of red. As for plant selections, “We go in phases,” explains Paul. “Roses, hostas, grasses, vines.” Each phase runs intensely for about year, with an artistic insertion into many of the various “garden rooms.” More containers filled with jasmine standards, hibiscus plants, gardenias, mixtures of vines, annuals, perennials and herbs are planted every year.
prized plantings: Roses— at one time numbering 42— that provide a long season of color, including a pale pink ‘Sally Holmes,’ deep red ‘Don Juan Dortmund’ and white iceberg ‘Dainty Bess,’ the boxwood maze, blue atlas cedar.
future plans: A greenhouse behind the garage for Susan’s growing collection of tropicals and containers, and something on the ivy-covered slope around it. An all-native plant garden is a possibility, as well as a wrought-iron fence on the west side.
Plants and trees McLean Nurseries, 410-882-6714; Westminster Wholesale Nurseries, 410-848-9444, http://www.westminsterwholesale.com; Fieldstone Nursery, 410-357-5114, http://www.fieldstonenurseryinc.com
Pruning and tree service Carroll Tree Service, 410-998-1100, http://www.carrolltreeservice.com
Lawn care Green Way Lawns, Westminster, 410-876-2323
Fountain restoration Buddy’s Pool Service, 410-666-1800, http://www.buddypool.com