Many years ago I stumbled across the blog Hedgerow Rose and it was such a discovery - here was a beautifully written and gorgeously photographed blog that spoke to my love of gardens and flowers, right when I was spending hours upon hours of my days couch-bound, nursing a newborn through a summer heatwave. Since then, Hedgerow Rose has only become more of a joy to read, speaking right to my passions. In fact, in one post last year, the author Laurie Lewis described her garden as having become "roses, with a side helping of chickens & bees". Perfect!
In 2015 Laurie moved from a rented home in Pennsylvania (with all the challenges that come from creating - and leaving - a garden in a rental property) to start a garden more-or-less from scratch on her property in North Carolina. It has been such a joy to watch her progress in that time. I have learned so much through her blog, and have been referring to many of her older posts as we try to rebuild our garden again post-fire damage (like this wonderful one on tips for starting a new garden).
Today I am lucky enough to share an interview with Laurie, as part of my series of in-depth conversations with people who have grown their gardens from scratch. Too often gardening books and magazines skip over the "before" shots of a garden, when the garden was nothing more than a muddy paddock or an overgrown forest of blackberry bracken, and we never see the hard work that went into making the dreamy oasis that is now splashed across glossy spreads. As a gardener who has started from scratch, without even the bones of a garden in place, those are the photos I want to see! I need to be inspired and believe it is actually possible to turn our barren rocky ground into the garden I dream of... this series is about filling in the "befores" and learning from people who have created beautiful gardens with their bare hands.
My apologies that, yet again, I have managed to sit on this interview for much too long before getting it published. Laurie originally answered these questions in November, just as she had finished tucking the garden up for another long North Carolina winter. I suspect there will be many more changes to her garden as a result of rather dramatic winter events this year - what with a burst geyser destroying the rockery and collapsing the ground beneath (and the plants above), and the removal of some poplars to allow more sunlight in, which opens up the possibility of even more beautiful roses and other sunloving plants this spring. I can't wait to see what she gets up to in her garden once the weather warms up!
The Tree Diaries: What triggered your move from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, and to your current home in particular? What did you dream of for your life there and the garden you wanted to create?
Laurie Lewis: We were definitely ready to get away from those harsh Pennsylvania winters, but that was only part of the equation. The timing was perfect: Our daughter was graduating High School and moving out and my husband was also offered a new position within his company that would allow us to pick either NC, GA or FL to live in. We went with NC hoping that Asheville’s appeal would someday encourage our daughter to live here, too, and it worked! She moved to the area 1 year after us. Honestly, our dream was simply to find a nice place to live where we were no longer renting and where our daughter would still feel she had a home to fall back on. But I’ll admit that it hasn’t been everything we hoped it would be and there are many days where we all wonder if we should leave and move back up north. So I guess I would say our goal for now, at least, is to make the best of it and enjoy all the lovely things that are on offer while we’re here.
TTD: What did your garden look like when you first arrived? How far was the reality away from the dream?
LL: The “garden” was so far from the dream that you would need a telescope to see it. One March weekend, my husband and I blitzed down from Pennsylvania and went house hunting. We picked the third house we saw. I don’t recommend that! I think we were just at a desperation point because of the time and budget factor. That being said, I had such a positive emotional response when we first pulled up to the house because it’s a beautifully forested area with a really good energy. Unfortunately, though, the house was left to its own devices for decades and showed it. There was a lot of work to be done to make it feel less like a creepy cottage in the woods and more like a home.
TTD: What were the priorities when you were trying to make a start with the garden? Were you paralysed in the face of the “to-do list” or did you just dig in?
LL: We were definitely shocked because we had only spent a couple of hours here before we bought the house and moved in. We didn’t really grasp the extent of the work that needed to be done which was a very rude awakening! The first thing we needed to do was pull back the trees and shrubs that were literally pressing up against the house from all sides. Just doing that, and allowing sunlight in through the windows, made a huge difference. We’ve been here 2.5 years and are still actively removing the invasive plants and lifting trees to let in more air and sunlight. It’s been exhausting and expensive work but when we look back on photos from the past couple of years we’re reminded of how far we’ve come and are encouraged by that.
TTD: You’ve been working on your garden for about 2 years now - do you think you have a lot more to build, change or create in that space, or are you reaching the enjoy-and-maintain-stage of the garden?
LL: This summer was when I finally felt like it was a garden. A garden with a lot of warts and flaws and so much more to go, but a garden nonetheless. That was huge for me, that realization, and made this past growing season much more enjoyable. I do have lots of ideas for improvements including expanding the borders outside of the “courtyard garden” so I can grow more of my favorite Old Garden Roses. I think we’re at the point, though, where we might have to bring in some professional help to finish clearing and grading that section of the property. The question we always come back to is, “Are we staying here? Is it worth the effort?”
TTD: What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned in starting a garden from scratch? Is there anything you would do differently if you could start in the same space again?
LL: The most difficult thing for me has been coming to terms with the fact I left so many roses behind in my old garden. I’m talking rare and unique cultivars that are no longer in commerce that, for some insane reason, I didn’t take with me. I must have been delirious at the time. I’m still coming to grips with that heartbreak and so I advise anyone out there reading this that if you’re planning a move, start propagating and saving your favorite plants now. As far as what I’d do differently in this space, it would probably be to not buy it, haha! I love the forest around us but it’s a bit silly for a rosarian to pick a place to garden that doesn’t get very much sun.
TTD: Is this your “forever garden” or do you see yourself creating a new garden again in the future?
LL: It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little girl to move to Great Britain. If that dream ever comes true, then hopefully that home will have my forever garden!
TTD: Who inspires you in gardening? Are there any gardens or gardeners in particular that you admire, or any books that you return to again and again for inspiration?
LL: I adore Sarah Raven and could listen to her talk about her garden for days and never tire of it. I gobble up any book on roses I can find. I also love to read books about medieval gardens and about herbs and their uses throughout the centuries. I am inspired the most by home gardeners who make something wonderful with the space and challenges they are given. Understandably, that kind of thing really resonates with me!