Paradise Islands Well-designed planting islands offer contour and interest in a Ruxton garden.

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Curved island beds with repeated shrubs, such as Annabelle hydrangeas, and perennials, such as Phenomenal lavender, White Swan and Magnus coneflower, give this Ruxton garden continuity and offer counterbalance to the rectilinear lawn, pool and house.

On a nearly 3-acre property in Ruxton, islands are the thing. Not islands in the middle of a pond or other body of water, but islands around a 1941 Butler stone and clapboard Colonial house. “We’re one of the few flat yards in the area,” explains Beth, the homeowner and a self-described plant nut. In 2001 she and her husband, Greg, moved to this gracious piece of property with their three sons, and she wanted to vary the topography for more interesting design.

“But I wasn’t going to move the earth and create berms,” she says.

So, with the help of designer Karen Gahs and TDH Landscaping, Beth created contours and visual interest on otherwise uninterrupted, flat land by developing a series of plant-filled islands. After the first large island around an existing silver maple was planted, she says, “the kids were afraid the gardens would be everywhere.”

But Beth was able to control herself. She developed only four gracefully curved planting islands — OK, five, counting a small island of roses that went in around the swimming pool, which was designed by Baltimore architect Laura Thomas and installed in 2011. This left plenty of grass for boys and dogs to romp and play soccer and lacrosse.

What made Beth think of this configuration in the first place? The perimeter of the property and the existing wide beds around the house provided plenty of space for ever-expanding collections of evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs. Those spaces alone might have given most homeowners more than enough room to indulge their horticultural passion.

“I understand design,” Beth says, “but I am a plant collector! The islands gave me someplace to put the plants I wanted.” After taking the well-known Community College of Baltimore County courses titled Woody Ornamentals 1 & 2, Beth became a plant nut, more specifically a woody plant nut. One by one, and often by threes, she added deodar cedar, bald cypress, dawn redwood, katusura, Japanese snowball, silverbell, lilac chastree and crape myrtle trees. She also repeated different varieties of magnolias, boxwoods, hydrangeas and hollies to unify the gardens front to back.

Having a mixture of deciduous and  evergreen plantings gives year-round  garden interest. “You don’t want to look out on a bare garden in winter,” Beth says. Beneath dozens of these fine specimens, she grows collections of shade and sun-loving perennials, including grasses, such as African feather grass and Japanese silver grass, and native plants, like summersweet and Joe Pye weed.

Each fall, she plants 250 bulbs, which for years were restricted because of deer, to the whiter varieties of daffodils. Beth plants en masse by digging a wide hole and planting about 10 bulbs in it before moving to the next big hole. “This year we finally put up a deer fence and new gates, so now I can have tulips.” She’s also looking forward  to having some deer-attractive perennials like stonecrop and hostas inside the unobtrusive fencing. Even with many fine species in her garden, Beth is no plant snob. In the first island garden, she planted rugosa roses, considered by many too wild. But they  reminded her of her parents’ beach home in Duxbury, Massachusetts. This year she and Gahs espaliered the rose of Sharon on the pool house wall.

“In a garden it’s always something,” Beth says. “I make mistakes, then move the plants. The roses were too busy around the pool, so I’ve replaced them with boxwoods.” The boxwoods now create billowy, evergreen undulation around a rectilinear pool and adjacent pool house. So do the many Annabelle hydrangeas flanking the pool house.

With four seasons of interest in the garden, the color scheme of the blooms is pink, blue, purple and white. “No red,” Beth says, but she does grow stunning, deep orange red-hot poker behind chartreuse barberry in one island. A burgundy accent threads through the gardens via barberry bushes, smoke trees and cutleaf Japanese maples.

Of her planting style, Beth says, “I guess you’d say it’s Southern, with magnolias, hydrangeas, roses and boxwoods. I grew up in Virginia. … I like order in a garden and a little formality. I don’t like messy.” She likes the curvilinear shape of the islands and swaths of the plants within them, all inside a long and wide rectangular lot. The driveway also is curved with two small green islands, filled with plants like doublefile viburnum, oakleaf hydrangeas, Japanese maples and the native dogwoods of her Virginia childhood.

“My gardens are very full,” Beth says as her yellow Lab, Barritt, fortunately not a digger, runs through the largest island. And with the three boys now grown, another large island may soon appear to accommodate their mother’s yen for a Japanese zelkova, honey locust or golden raintree. Paradise expands.

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Under an original spruce tree, swaths of ferns flourish.

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Autumn Joy stonecrop and Elizabeth bellflower.

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A dappled willow is the focal point of one bed, while a red Knock Out rose is punctuation for an adjacent bed with a budding Annabelle hydrangea and a collection of mixed hostas.

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To the wide Colonial house leads a curved bluestone path flanked by deep borders filled with Zagreb coreopsis, Snow Lady shasta daisies, Phenomenal lavender and Magnus coneflower, as well as Green Velvet boxwoods.

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A stand of mixed perennial astilbe.

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A Natchez crape myrtle gives texture, vertical interest and anchor to a bed with budding Annabelle hydrangea and white slender deutzia.

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False asters and Phenomenal lavender further the garden palette of white, blue, pink and purple.

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