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Catering to Critters

Cynthia Newby’s Roxbury Garden is all about wildlife



Photo by Kindra Clineff

Cynthia Newby and Jan Napier’s Roxbury garden was never all about them. Instead, outdoor entertaining was their gig. We’re not talking about the company that rolls into the driveway. Instead, their ideal guests fly in or amble by unannounced. When the titmice, chickadees, hummingbirds, and foxes arrive for dinner, you want to be prepared with the right munchies. 

Lagniappe Garden is dedicated to hosting wildlife. Back in 1995 when Newby was a new homeowner and enrolled in a crash course on garden design at Yestermorrow in Vermont, she developed her concept. “Conservative in front, blowsy in the back, with birds as the focus,” she summed it up. She studied goodies to bring in the birds, she went heavily into fruiting trees, she invested in berries, created shelter, and planted shrubs as perching options.

Even more importantly, she dedicated half of the six-acre property to its own devices. In the “wilderness” area, fallen trees were left in place as snags for nesting birds, rotten logs where insects could hatch were not cleared away. Closer to the house, she cultivates meticulously kempt formal terrace plantings. Walk a few yards away, and she splits the design principles into a shared collaboration that is natural but groomed, slipping into a flowery ode to density planting. The critters love it. In fact, rare woodcocks (aka timberdoodles) and brown thrashers are not uncommon occupants.

 Of course, it wasn’t totally smooth gliding. Indeed, the learning curve was initially steep. But the design crash course was a wise move. Early in the game, she smartly inserted more than 30 boxwoods to give the garden structure. But she somehow didn’t realize her garden’s capacity to swallow masses of perennials. Half a dozen echinaceas didn’t read as diddly squat from a distance. That’s when Newby discovered that numbers need to be hefty in order to make a statement.

In fact, even when planting trees, she found herself doubling quantities as time went on. So when she tried an experimental lawn alternative of Mazus reptans, she ordered 2,000 plugs—which worked like a charm. On the other hand, half a dozen primroses tucked into the bog have proved fruitful and multiplied without Newby’s help. “Sometimes it’s just a right plant, right place situation,” she realized. That said, “I also learned a lot about scale.”

In other words, meadow plants abutting a path need to layer down or the walkway will disappear into oblivion. Chalk it up to experience. Meanwhile, her furry/feathered visitors applaud the “more is more” philosophy. With a little tweaking, her guests-of-choice flock in. They dote on what she’s done while Newby and Napier watch their happy houseguests with binoculars. Dinner is served.

 

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