A Nod Hill Charmer is Blooming and Beautiful
Photos by Rana Faure
Twenty years ago, when Sandi Blaze and her husband Wiley Bell moved into their 18th- century Nod Hill antique charmer with their three young children, there was plenty of work to be done. The entire property had been sorely neglected and there were only two garden beds 18 inches wide planted with a few ho-hum perennials on the four-acre lot.
The transformation that has taken place over the last two decades is nothing short of spectacular. Today there are 12 exquisitely beautiful flowerbeds, as well as a vegetable garden and many fruit trees.
When Blaze first laid eyes on the grounds, she knew there was enormous potential but she also recognized that a great deal of manual labor and thoughtful planning would be required to tame the tangle of out-of-control flora that was actively taking over.
First came the removal of leggy yews and an abundance of poison ivy. Next came dealing with the massive junipers that completely cut off the stone terrace closest to the house.
The shrubs were so ancient and entrenched that the new homeowners had to use a truck and heavy gauge chains to literally yank out dozens of these shrubs. But these exertions paid unexpected dividends.
“When stripped out the juniper, we discovered a granite ledge. My husband and I felt like archeologists when we also uncovered a thin copper pipe that led to a stone bridge and an old fish pond.”
Next, they relocated Viburnam that had grown so tall that it almost completely prevented light from entering the living room. Once things were tidied up, Blaze rolled up her sleeves once a gain and dug into the dirt.
“In my mind’s eye I saw a blueprint of our gardens as they exist today. My goal in the design was to have something blooming from spring through frost, and to include structural elements that would lend interest to the garden during the summer and winter months. I fashioned garden rooms and follies to create anticipation as you move through the garden.”
When asked what challenges she faces maintaining the property, Blaze doesn’t hesitate. “Deer! We do not have a deer fence, so the herd has date night, including an all-you-can-eat buffet, in our garden.”
Blaze is always changing things up, moving plants from one area to another, and adding new species. “It’s my creative outlet. I view the garden as my canvas.” And what a breathtakingwork of art she has created on said canvas!
The couple enjoys entertaining al fresco, and serves luncheons made with organic fruits and vegetables they’ve grown themselves. “We also like to have a party every summer with catering by The Big Green Pizza Truck, and we set up games of badminton, volleyball, horseshoes, and croquet.”
Throughout the area there are multiple seating nooks but Blaze confesses that she rarely sits to admire her handiwork.
“Who sits? My favorite thing to do each morning is to walk through the garden with a cup of tea in hand, looking to see what has bloomed overnight or what perennials might need to be moved around in the fall.”
She strives to grow rare and unusual plants and there are now hundreds of varieties of flowers, ferns, trees, and shrubs, on the property.
When pressed to choose a favorite, she demurs, “That’s like asking someone with a large family to choose their favorite child. I love Baptismal, peonies, summer vetch, Blue Star, and patrinia, to name a few.”
She then adds diplomatically, “But I love all my ‘children’.”
Just talking to Sandi Blaze about her gardening techniques is like getting a primer on horticultural practices. But her final piece of advice is one she hopes most people will take to heart: “Plant what makes you happy, and never feel that your garden isn’t as good as someone else’s. Each garden has its own charm.”
Experience “Pixie Perennials” gardens September 17, 10 am to 4 pm, the Garden Conservancy Open Days.