Garden Tour, pt 1: Garden Elements



It’s May, and Maryland’s gardens are at their peak.  There’s all the requisite public gardens we can tour, but it’s peaking behind those elusively private garden gates, and getting a glimpse of the inspired, lovingly-tended, personal gardens that’s the real treat.   Beyond the Garden Gates garden tour is downtown Frederick, Maryland’s answer to this curiosity we share.  The tour, held only once a year, is May 20-21 – the very weekend Chartreuse & co is open!

So make a weekend of it (here’s our recommendation for places to eat and sleep).

In the mean time, here’s a look at three gardens from previous tours.  (Here’s a link to this year’s tour.)   Each one is distinctive and uses garden elements in an effective way.  What intrigued me, too, was how two of them (Kettlestrings and Roy) brought key elements of rural life into their urban settings, and how each garden reflects the family’s ethos, lifestyle, and is very much a part of their daily lives.

The Kettlestrings Garden – A gardener’s masterpiece; a family space.

The Kettlestrings Garden – A gardener’s masterpiece; a family space.

It’s these views that tempt us: The beauty of the front garden makes us eager to go beyond the garden gate. The Kettlestrings’ garden is a study in texture and perfectly situated elements.

Garden tour


Something as simple as this softly curved tower of stone adds texture and interest to your garden. This little piece is tucked subtly into the perennial border, just an unexpected little addition. Click here for cool, vintage concrete.


Trellis, vines

A trellis is a simple way to add height and interest quickly. Most vines grow quickly, and many flower – clematis is a great example. They even look fabulous on the porch, set atop a planter filled with soil – it’s almost like placing a tree on your porch – delightfully unexpected.


This thriving little evergreen is the Arbor Day treasure of the Kettlestrings’ youngest son. Patty Kettlestrings has moved it (as truly gifted gardeners do) several times, giving it the best chance for survival. I’m so impressed by this. I don’t know about you, but my girls’ Arbor Day saplings rarely made it through the summer. I love the flowing, natural shape of this thriving pine.

Metal woodpecker on tree


As we walked through the garden, Patty prompted me, “Over here’s my woodpecker.” Now that impressed me – she’s even tamed a woodpecker. But lo’ and behold, it was this charming metal silhouette perched happily upon this tree. Such a lovely, quiet element. 


Outdoor living garden with house


Don’t forget your home itself, and your porches and patios. They are major elements in your garden. This structure is actually an open porch. No screening, no glass. There’s a fireplace, a gracious seating area, and a dining space. It’s a 3-season area, perfect even in the rain. I love how it’s lines ground the softness of the plantings, and add yet another texture to this rich gardenscape.


Outdoor garden shed


We’ve all seen the standard wooden garden shed. They really are a necessity. This one, painted a just-right Benjamin Moore grey (no, Patty couldn’t remember the name of the paint) is landscaped, not just stuck in a back corner. The plantings around it help it meld into the rest of the garden. The overhang created the perfect space for additional potting space. I love this grey in concert with the terra cotta tones of the pots and the brick walkway. This is a project/space anyone with a yard can implement and use right away.  (Click here for a fresh selection of pots and planters.


Moss growing on wooden fence in garden


I know many like the look of brand new fencing. But to me, this weathered, mossy fence and gate integrate into the garden much better now with age.


Garden with brick


True confession: I had never heard the term “herb spiral” before I shot these gardens. And now I’ve seen and photographed two. This one is fairly new and will fill in this summer. The brick spiral makes an intriguing gardenscape, and provides an easy foot-fall for you as you harvest your herbs each day.


Hidden playground


Above all, a garden, like a home, must be lived in. This charming ‘fort’, tucked into ‘the forest’ and painted to mesh with the shed next to it, is another garden element to consider. These structures provide countless hours of delight for your children, and can be charming elements on their own, when done well.


Tree trunk


Tucked into the back of this city garden is what the family calls ‘the woods’. A delightfully secluded and quiet spot.


Bird bath in garden


Basins for catching water, where ever you put them, will add sculptural as well as textural beauty to your garden. In general, the simpler the better – let the plantings shine.


Bird feeder hanging from tree


What garden is complete without birds? We call our south yard ‘the aviary’, as the birds flit through it, singing so beautifully every morning. In a suburban environment, set out little lures like this discrete one, to be sure they sing in your garden.


A texture filled garden with various plants


Patty Kettlestrings describes her garden as full of texture. And that it is. She’s really an artist, painting with plants and their accompanying structures. And here you see how the structures define and frame the artwork.


Side wall of a brick chimney


Every structure in your garden is an opportunity. Look for areas like this wall and niche to add an unexpected detail. This is the side wall and chimney of the gracious covered porch seen in an earlier photo.




Ahh, wisteria.


Garden fence with flowers


I hope you’re noticing the subtle, and varied use of trellises throughout this garden. Here it’s serving to soften the impact of the fence structure. While the rhododendron is spectacular, it’s the detail of the squared-off caps on the fence posts that catches my eye. It’s a small, but classic detail that finishes the structure well. Imagine the same fence without those caps – a very different feel.


Rain gutter


Every element of your home and grounds is an opportunity for creating beauty. Look at what a lovely water feature these very practical stones surrounding the rain gutter create.


Clever stone work


The front garden, a low-maintenance, textural space, includes this flagstone path to the back garden, softened perfectly by this creeping thyme.


Bird bath in garden


In the front garden, this simply shaped bird bath adds a sculptural element, but is diminutive enough to slip in with the rest of the garden and not dominate it.


Garden landscaping


Here’s a broader view of the flagstone walkway, which winds around to the right toward the lush back garden. It is here that the homeowners enjoy watching the birds and passers-by. (Click here for inspired garden seating.)


Concrete steps


These newly-constructed front steps add a sleek, modern structure to the front garden, where succulents, native plants, and other perennials are growing together, creating a low-maintenance area to enjoy. Notice that you can not see the pair of adirondacks. The plantings and angle of the property create a very private spot for sitting.

The Irwine Garden – A mid-century gem, updated


Front yard garden 


The Irwin home is painted one of my favorite exterior color combinations. And the plantings complement the color.


Landscaping of front yard


The mid-century lines of this home’s exterior create a perfect foil to the soft vegetation. The use of the chartreuse-green underplantings complements the warm grey of the stone and painted brick.


Front yard landscaping and seating area


The fuller view of the front of the house. Again, here, we see accommodation for sitting and enjoying the front garden.


Front door, blue


With bright green being used in the plantings, the choice of this deep, almost french blue complements the house and its gardens beautifully.


Front yard landscaping


While this home is not on the tour, it sits directly across the street from the Irwin residence. It’s classic, mid-century design sits perfectly in the landscape, surrounded by azaleas and boxwoods. A fabulous view from the porch of the Irwine home.


The Roy Garden – a rural fantasy in an urban setting


Rural front yard landscaping 


The Roy garden is conceived as a lifestyle and an example to those around, showing their community how useful and productive even a small urban space can be. Surrounded by predictably plain green lawns, theirs stands out. Upon moving in, the Roys turned the sod over, creating mounds and paths in which they planted vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers. They even leave the edible weeds and harvest them.




Garden elements come in all shapes, sizes, and species. The Roy’s garden is one of lifestyle, philosophy, self-sufficiency, and community interaction. These delightful young chickens are just one aspect of this young couple’s dedication. 


Chicken coop


The Roy garden is a testament to what one can do with 1/5 of an acre, a clear design, and hard work. The hen house is on wheels so that it can be moved as needed. The silver, metal strands above the fence are to keep airbourne predators away.


Water feature


The Roy garden – which is truly a small, urban farm – is watered via this simple rain-water collection system. It keeps the garden watered throughout the year, without taxing the Frederick community public water system.




The back garden, though tiny, does not feel that way. Its paths and plantings fill the kitchen throughout the summer, and provide the family with paths and seating areas, such as this simple log area. (It was pouring the day I took these photos, hence the deep puddles.)


Backyard garden


A more complete view of the back garden. Their daughter surveys the bounty.




The garden is allowed to flourish, with the clippings and weeds composted right on site.


Vines and plants


The practical elements of this forward-thinking garden create aesthetic interest.


Chicken coop


I just love these chickens. Each one is named, unique, and beautiful.




Freshly watered by the rain, these lettuces looked mouth-watering. This abundant garden serves its family well.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look back at these three private gardens, and now have a sense of what awaits you in Frederick, May 19-21 (Chartreuse & co’s sale weekend!). Garden tour Tickets are available online. 

Thanks for reading,



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