Through the Garden Gate — The joys of a simple garden

Published 12:15 pm Saturday, June 11, 2022

Farmville is blessed with many talented gardeners. Explore the various neighborhoods, and you’ll find English kitchen gardens with tidy paths, carefully clipped borders, and thriving herbs. There are joyful cottage gardens with riotous combinations of colors and textures. There are also older gardens that still show the influence of Charles Gillette’s distinctive designs that came to be known as the Virginia style. Think hedges, vine-covered lattices, boxwood, and the creation of garden “rooms.”

Nestled around and behind one of the prettiest Victorians in town, however, is one of the most perfect gardens that I’ve ever seen. Why? It’s not showy and doesn’t incorporate famous designers’ concepts, but it meets all of the most important reasons for having a garden. It welcomes visitors and encourages them to explore. In fact, without wandering around, visitors will miss some of the garden’s hidden treasures. This garden offers a calm atmosphere that encourages visitors to slow down and relax. Every garden should do that. And finally, this garden is easy to maintain; years ago, the owner took into consideration the impact of aging on her ability to maintain the garden. It doesn’t require extensive work and certainly doesn’t need for the grass along the borders to be trimmed with manicure scissors. (Yes, that’s a thing in some gardens in England.)

If you’re lucky enough to be invited for a light southern supper on the veranda at Elizabeth Etheridge’s house, you’ll understand what I mean. The front garden is simple but inviting and with a few surprises. Some of those traditional flower beds contain bloodroot, a lovely, low-growing spring ephemeral with interesting foliage and large white flowers that pops up just when most of us are desperate for signs of spring. And about the time that early summer heat and humidity descend on our area, the bloodroot disappears until the following year.

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While the front garden is orderly and quiet, it’s the back garden, the one you can see from the veranda while eating your devilled eggs, Brunswick stew, and strawberry shortcake, that’s simple perfection. Both sides are lined with tall-growing shrubs that provide privacy from neighbors. The back of the property abuts woods and is planted with a variety of spring blooming azaleas, dogwoods, and other shrubs. It all looks very natural, as if it just happened.

While there aren’t any exotic plants here, there are some old-fashioned ones that lend themselves to benign neglect. My favorite is Kerria japonica, sometimes called the Japanese rose. It’s a deciduous shrub that works well in informal settings and provides interest throughout the year. In winter, the gracefully arching stems are green. In spring, the shrub is covered with a bounty of bright yellow, pom-pom-shaped flowers. In fall, the foliage turns bright yellow before dropping. Kerria japonica’s only bad habit is spreading by suckers. In this garden, that’s not a problem, and suckers can always be controlled, if desired.

Yes, this garden is simple, but it’s that very simplicity that makes it enchanting. It’s doesn’t radiate the need for serious and potentially stressful maintenance; it just invites visitors to relax and enjoy it. Perfect.

DR. CYNTHIA WOOD is a master gardener. Her email address is