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Finding bliss in a backyard retreat

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Health care reform. Recession. Escalating fuel prices. And a fast approaching deadline for filing tax returns.

Life can be overwhelming. So maybe this would be a good time of year to vacation in the back yard. Finding a safe and relaxing retreat can be as easy as climbing into a worn hammock and sipping an iced drink under the shade of a tree.

But if you’re longing for something more—like a place filled with fragrance, harmony, and calming sounds, where you can prop your feet up at the end of a busy day—consider creating a little hideaway of your own. While the sky can be the limit, garden bliss can also be achieved with a little green and some imagination.

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Red peonies flow from the garden beds to the cottage beds in this quaint quest room nestled among a variety of garden rooms and away from the primary bed—known as Lynn and Paul Groover’s place.
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Open the door and discover the creek at the end of a garden path.
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Magic can be found in a log that washed up on the shore and turned into a crocodile.

A walk down the garden path at the Groover’s New Day garden in Northumberland County is like following the white rabbit into the magical world of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. Lynn and Paul took a plain, salt box house and wrapped it in a maze of garden rooms. While they delivered all the essential ingredients for a homey retreat, it is considerably more. The outdoor rooms are cozy, yet filled with whimsy and drama. And when a garden is still enchanting in the closing days of a long, cold winter, it’s a sure sign the gardeners have created something special.

Enter the Groover garden through antique carriage house doors and discover second hand objects discarded by others but finding new life as garden accents. A tea pot and cup set out on a plank welcomes pirates up to an adult-sized “playhouse” with porch and rockers and hidden in the woods overlooking the beach and landing. The path is guarded by, what else, a crocodile fierce enough to scare the likes of Captain Hook—although the croc’s former life was as a log that washed up from Lowe’s Pond.

An assortment of weathered chairs are sprinkled among rooms of plantings. Some serve as rest spots with a little table and lamp. Some are decorative objects while others are for the birds, literally, featuring bird houses and feeders. Paul designed and built all the garden-path bridges in his workshop/game room, tucked on the other side of their private cul-de-sac.

Old ladders are used as props and a recycled door adds intrigue at the end of a winding path.

“Start with the foundation,” Lynn advises. “It gives you a defined area, definition. Boundaries.” She starts with clothesline to lay out boarders and paths. “Stand back and look at it. Then start planting.” First add foundation plants as backdrops using evergreens, trees, shrubs. “And once you have the basics you can run amok with all your flowers. Let it evolve.”

Foundation trees in the Groover garden include a healthy dose of Crepe Myrtles. Lynn prefers the white variety because of their colorful red bark as a winter accent. Cyptomeria for its lacy branches, Harland boxwood, Star Magnolia, curly leaf Ligustrum and Nellie Stevens Holly for its hardiness.

She takes her favorite plants and repeats them over and over again, creating rivers of flocks, violets, Knock-out roses, and daisies. 

Five starter plants of tall, wood daisies in one garden room spread like wildfire, engulfing a decorative doll house, statues, and other garden art in a sea of wispy yellow and white color.
There are touches of Nandinas and butterfly bushes galore.

“Butterfly bushes are wonderful because the deer don’t eat them,” she added.

Each garden room is shaped to provide privacy on a small scale.

And as dusk ends and darkness descends, the gardens turn to romantic bliss under the moonlight, helped along with the soft glow of lanterns and path lighting. A few lights are strategically placed to add drama to plants with some lighting accents taking the shape of cattails and bluebells. 

A stroll through Paul’s evergreen garden of yews, junipers, boxwoods and tall Cryptomeria trees ends in a flourish of red Peonies that appear to have propagated from the garden beds onto the guest beds in a garden room of another variety—the guest cottage.

It’s the ultimate repose for visiting sons and their wives who like to leave the kids back in the main house with grandma and grandpa.

The three acres of land boarder a picturesque spring-fed pond that mixes with salt water from the Potomac River. The main attraction has to be the gardens. It is a retreat for the weary and a wonderland of discovery and joy for children of any ages. New Day is a place visitors remember and are still talking about years after making its public debut on the spring garden tour. 

“It’s such a joy to walk out in the garden every morning and watch the sun come up and see all the plants come alive,” Lynn said.

posted 03.25.2010

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