secret garden


In the garden of Amy and Jim Matis, the wall’s the thing. When this couple and their daughter moved to the 1938 Virginia Tidewater house in Pinehurst, an elegant, walled garden was already there. “A walled garden is something Jim had dreamed of since childhood,” says his wife, who works side by side with him both at home in their well-tended, sophisticated garden and in the civil engineering firm, Matis Warfield, Inc.

Built to include historic salmon bricks from Crisfield, the house is patterned after “Makepeace,” a 17th-century estate in Somerset County. So is the hardscape of the formal gardens established on the quarter- acre lot when the couple moved in as second owners in 1999. Brick paths and patios, parterre gardens and brick walls define both interior and exterior space.

“Cozy ” is how Amy describes the feeling the walls give their garden.

And, indeed, these formal, historic-looking structures do create cozy garden rooms. Two sets of walls define the spaces. Four walls enclose the back garden, and the walls of the garage, house and family room
addition together create two courtyards within the walled garden.

Just off the kitchen is an intimate plant-filled dining area with a brick floor, ivy-covered walls and a solid wood gate that leads to a courtyard driveway. Pots of herbs, annuals, stone architectural artifacts and sculpture, as well as candlestick collections, shelves filled with vintage wine bottles and pyramidal boxwoods give geometry, artistry and warmth to an area used regularly for lunch and dinner.

Down brick steps to the wide lawn in the garden, a perennial border flanks the north wall. “We use tall plants so the dogs won’t run into it,” says Amy as two smooth-coat collies romp and play hide-and-seek. Plants include hummingbird-attracting monarda, original hybrid tea roses and phlox, clematis and native black-eyed Susans. “I used to keep to a pink and purple palette, but now some yellow has crept in,” she says. She also tried delphiniums, tough in Baltimore heat and doubly difficult around heat-absorbing brick walls.

A line of four square gardens, each defined by trim, dog-friendly Hoogendorn Japanese holly hedges, stretches across the west wall, lined with a sculpted Leyland cypress hedge as a green backdrop and punctuated by a neighbor’s overhanging maroon Japanese maple. A Chippendale teak bench and Victorian fountain stand at center to continue the formal geometry.

Where a massive yew bush succumbed to winter blizzards on the south end, a variegated ‘Hakuro-Nishiki’ Japanese willow lights up against a hemlock hedge backdrop. And after disease claimed original billowing English boxwoods on the south terrace, the couple expanded the patio and low walls to the garden. A pair of espaliered apple trees and a tightly clipped, tall euonymus hedge on the walls of the house now hug seated guests.“Every year brings opportunity,” Amy Matis says, a true gardener embracing change.

Never miss a story.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Email Address


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here