Walkers along the Stony Run Trail in Roland Park always comment on the adjacent gardens and prodigious berm of plantings by the park. Among a series of fine gardens along this section of the trail are two that belong to avid plant collectors, Tanya Jones and Margaret Wright. Jones and Wright live one house apart, each in a 1910 Dutch Colonial duplex known as one of the “railroad houses.”
The houses are so named because the Ma & Pa railroad (Maryland and Pennsylvania) ran parallel to their street until the late 1950s. With the tracks gone, and Stony Run and the park around it refurbished, the area still feels like a piece of countryside within Baltimore City. Wright, Jones and a neighbor in between merge their three front lawns into one large green bordered by low drystone walls and gardens. The three lawns are mowed together and fed and aerated by the same company. This creates a lush, green space at the center of intense planting at either end by Jones and Wright. These two women also share plants, seeds and horticultural information, go together on planting-buying trips and volunteer together at Cylburn Arboretum.
Jones, whose garden is featured here, is a dietitian and emergency room physician assistant. She and her physician husband moved to Roland Park with their two children in 2002—becoming fast friends with Wright and her physicist husband who purchased their home, two doors down, in 1965. (Stay tuned for their fine garden to be featured in the April issue.)
Both women are rabid plant collectors. “Margaret is more artistic than I am,” says Jones. “Her collections are spread throughout her garden. I like to group mine together and see them all lined up.” A licensed nutritionist, Jones focuses on soil composition and preparation for growing success.
“Succession gardening is also what Margaret has taught me—when you have something blooming January to January,” says Jones, who grew up in Portland, Ore., (a city known for its gardens) with a mother who had a green thumb. “Also, if something isn’t working, you move it or get rid of it.” To that end, the two regularly pot up plants they can no longer use and set them out in the berm for others to take.
When Jones, her husband, Bruce, and sons moved from Atlanta to Roland Park, the first order of business was to clear the overgrowth around the house. That included a high euonymus hedge in front with Leyland cypresses, a chain-link fence, dog run and deck in back. “We had major drainage issues,” she says nodding to a steep slope in back and the houses and lane above.
Bruce Jones and his father spent more than three years building a rock wall in front and terracing the back with more low stone walls that still serve as hardscape for the garden and a diversion for a stream that runs around their house when it rains.
“Next, I reconditioned and sifted the soil,” says Jones, adding that soil preparation is much like baking with ingredients like fresh yeast. “As my mother said, ‘You can’t put a $20 plant in two buck soil.’”
Then, in 2006, came the fun. “I like plants,” says Jones in an understatement for one whose alphabetized plant list now is 21, single-spaced typed pages. In her half-acre, densely planted garden thousands of plants ring the house and fill gracefully planted beds in front. Jones specializes in spring blooming bulbs, including many varieties of snowdrops and winter aconites, species daffodils and tulips; unusual dianthus; trilliums, miniature rhododendrons and azaleas, as well as Alpine plants grown in rock gardens and pitcher plants that are carnivorous. Stone troughs are full of these bug-eating plants.
After years of establishing her plant collections a major challenge arose: an old and towering oak tree in the back garden died and a neighbor’s equally large beech had to be removed. The once shady garden became one in full sun. “I quickly learned that growing sun-loving plants is harder than with variable sunlight,” says Jones. “They are a lot more work.” The back garden has now been rearranged to include sun-loving plants with some of the shade-lovers moved to the side and front.
Jones is already at work on her next project: expanding the back patio, making the path beside it wider, thinking about what plants will surround it and adding a walkway to the top. “We have always used the top of the stone walls as paths up into the gardens, but we aren’t always going to be able to do this,” says this vibrant, middle-aged horticulturalist, who finds digging in the earth and being outside in her garden every day, all year, the way she wants to continue to live. “You really experience the seasons this way. It is a nice way to live. You see things grow, there’s always something to look forward to.”