An Inspiring Layered Garden

An Inspiring Layered Garden in Hamilton Forest

Curving paths beckoned us to explore further

Marilyn Schwabenton’s home on Pebble Drive has earned our Yard of the Month designation this time – her combinations and color play created a treasure hunt for our judges. Taking photos on a hot, sunny day is less than ideal, but you’ll note that the shadows and silhouettes are welcome as part of Marilyn’s shady layers.

As we ventured down this side-yard path into the shade, we noted that the temperature dropped about 10 degrees, so welcome and offering an opportunity to more closely examine the individual plants that flourish there.





This closeup of Barrenwort leaves offers evidence of leafcutter bees doing what they do – carving their semicircle material to wrap their larvae for incubation.






This Stewartia tree is nearly at peak bloom, and offers a neat vignette in the understory.






Glazed ceramic planters pop up throughout the landscape, providing a colorful contrast to the plants nearby. This Oakleaf Hydrangea’s leaves are huge as it tries to collect more sun for photosynthesis. To the right of the planter a patch of Epimedium shows how useful it can be as a rambling groundcover in shady areas.


Marilyn’s designs illustrate a great concept – don’t have shade? Make your own by planting trees. There are so many choices for shade trees as well as smaller ornamentals. Marilyn’s varied choices include Amelanchier arborea (Serviceberry), Redbud and Stewartia, and various Japanese Maples and a lovely potted Ginkgo. Once your trees (“walls” of the garden room) are in place, the real estate underneath can be planted with smaller shrubs and perennials.

We liked the changing fence materials here.






Another phenomenon we can study in this garden is how a small space can be made to feel bigger once the plants and other elements are added. Think about how you transition from your front yard to the back along the side of the house – how could it be more interesting?

Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Fastigiata’, the columnar Japanese Plum Yew strutting its stuff, the tightly textured foliage provides contrast to the lighter green ferns and Solomon’s Seal nearby.





Texture is really in evidence here, everywhere we looked. As we traveled along the paths deeper into Marilyn’s designs, we encountered many different combinations that worked well together – ferns, wild ginger, heuchera, astilbe, and one of her most-repeated species – Epimedium. So versatile as it scrambles where it thrives – in dappled shade beneath and among other plants.

She uses a number of interesting conifers, too – Hinoki Falsecypress, Juniper, Hemlock and Spruce each found their niches with Marilyn’s guiding hand.

How does this scene make you feel? Serene? So many delicate details combine to provide casual sophistication.





A potted Ginkgo on the deck. Simple, yet elegant and interesting.






Staying with the pots for a moment – here a Boxwood, usually a formal plant – softens a cast stone planter that provides permanence.





‘Fire Chief’ Arborvitae lends its perfectly round habit to another investment pot.






Be still my heart! Chartreuse St. John’s Wort groundcover in a bright blue pot – great combo.






In the sunny spots, Marilyn’s talent for combining color and texture is on full display –



She’s still planting – here some Blue Fescue.




This blue lacecap hydrangea repeats the blue/green element in this standout garden.




Layers, layers everywhere.



Marilyn also uses lawn to frame her garden beds…but we estimated that mowing here takes about 10 minutes.





Here the wild ginger wanders across a fieldstone path.






In a secluded corner we discovered the staging area for new plants that have not yet found their in-ground homes.



We can’t wait to see where this pair of Coral Bark Japanese Maples get inserted. Maybe in this garden, or maybe at one of her clients’ projects. Marilyn has a gardening business of her own.





Coreopsis and Daylilies greeted us cheerfully.






One of several Clematis climbers.






A topiary seems perfectly paired with the porch columns. 2 great architectural elements.






How to design the mailbox garden – more than just a clematis!



We hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into a garden designer’s own “secret garden”. It is a thing of beauty that continues to evolve. Thanks to Marilyn and all who entered our contest this month. We appreciate you taking the time and inviting us to tell your stories.