Transcendent garden will be featured on Botanic Garden Tour
June 20, 2015 12:00 AM
A pergola shelters the outdoor dining area, framed by climbing rose ‘William Baffin.’
Clematis climbs the pergola.
Tuberous begonia spills over the edge of a container.
Prickly pear cactus’ bloom in the sun.
A view of part of Bobbie Smith’s Fox Chapel garden. She plants the containers herself.
Roses bloom in the sunny perennial border.
A flower border in Bobbie Smith’s Fox Chapel garden.
By Susan Banks / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Bobbie Smith’s garden in Fox Chapel is transcendent in many ways. Her use of the property, hardscape, plant choices and a design that melds beautifully with the architecture are all exceptional. And even though she does have help tending the 2½-acre space, she still spends much of her day working outdoors.
Make no mistake: This garden is very much her personal creation. Others will get a chance to view this magnificent space when it is one of 14 gardens on the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden Town & Country Garden Tour set for June 28 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
What is even more amazing about the Smith property is that everything, including the house, has sprung from the earth in less than five years. Ms. Smith and her husband Keith broke ground in 2010 and moved into their new home in June 2011. They first had to raze an existing house that was falling down, fill in an old swimming pool and grade the land. Then they changed the new house’s location to take full advantage of the views of a garden that didn’t exist yet.
Now, it seems as if the home was built to showcase the garden, as every light-filled room has views of the outdoors that change by the season.
If you go
Tickets for the self-guided tour are $45 for members of the Pitts-burgh Botanic Garden, $55 for non-members. A limited number of guided coach (bus) tour tickets are available. Cost is $120 for members, $135 for non-members. For more information, go to www.pittsburghbotan-icgarden.org.
Things this good don’t just happen, and the Smiths left nothing to chance, holding joint meetings with the house’s architects, landscape architect Missy Marshall and contractors during construction. Once the home was in place, tons of good dirt was brought in. Then much of it ran down from the upper garden to the lower shade garden during heavy rains, which may explain the massive size of the plants there. Ms. Marshall designed the hardscape and suggested some trees and shrubs, but once planting commenced, Ms. Smith took charge. Hundreds of plants were moved from her former home.
“The peonies were my mother’s,” she says. “They have gone with me wherever I go.”
She doesn’t know the cultivar names, but they are important to her because of who they came from. “A lot of this garden comes from friends.”
Ms. Smith has always been a gardener and remembers picking Japanese beetles off her father’s rose bushes. But she says she found this property “a little intimidating.” Because of the existing mature trees, the garden would be much more than a collection of perennial beds. In fact, the couple did a thorough assessment of the trees on the property, and Mr. Smith says that a crew of arborists spent 10 days, pruning, thinning and trimming.
A good portion of the garden is in shade, but the patio is fully sunny, and there Ms. Smith has a field day with plants. Lots of succulents are stashed here and there, and she riffs off the textures with hot orange portulaca serving as exclamation points. Lushly growing blue creeping campanula perfectly sets off rosy-hued peonies and lavish hosta. Light blue bell-flowered ’Betty Corning’ clematis clambers up a pergola it shares with deep pink ’William Baffin’ climbing rose.
Wide steps lead upward, away from the patio, to a round sun garden lushly filled with perennials, conifers and shrubs. One highlight is several deep purple smokebushes deliberately pruned hard to keep them in check.
As you might expect, deer are a problem, so a good portion of the property is enclosed in unobtrusive fencing, allowing Ms. Smith to garden without tears. She continues to work on the other side of the fence, in a swath of property that is being reclaimed from invasive species with the help of garden designer Richard Liberto. Currently, trees are being planted and sections laboriously hand-weeded. A wildflower meadow is in place, and trees such as redbud, dogwood, oak, hawthorn and beech are interspersed with perennials such as monarda (which the deer are eating!), evening primrose, tithonia, iris and lots of milkweed. Shrubs are not forgotten; button bush, spice bush and elderberries populate the new space. Natives is the key word here.
The shade gardens in the back of the home are stunning, Aralia ’Sun King’s’ brilliant yellow leaves create bursts of neon among the hostas, brunnera, ferns and other shade-loving plants that grow into huge specimens. While Mr. Smith doesn’t do a lot in the garden, he does fill the water bags on the newly planted trees and helps with the heavy lifting. It is not his passion but he clearly appreciates the results.
“I’m proud of what she does,” he says, and brings out photos to show how far this garden has come in such a short time.
Ms. Smith, who will be out in the garden and happy to chat with visitors on tour day, hopes people viewing her creation get “a sense of the thoughtful planning and love of gardening that went into this place.”
“Even though this garden is only 5 years old, there's over 50 years of experience behind it. ... I feel this garden is the culmination of all those years.
”I would want my visitors to leave inspired to see something, or learn something, that they will take back to their own gardens.”
Tickets for the self-guided tour are $45 for members of the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, $55 for non-members. A limited number of guided coach (bus) tour tickets are available. Cost is $120 for members, $135 for non-members. For more information, go to www.pittsburghbotanicgarden.org.
Garden editor Susan Banks: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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