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HOME & GARDEN: The Evolution Of A Gardener And Her Garden

(with photos)

BY KAAREN VALENTA

Like many gardeners, Maureen McLachlan's interest evolved slowly.

"My gardening came without me knowing -- it grew with me," she said.

After living on Juniper Road in Newtown for 17 years, the Maureen and Richard

McLachlan and their two daughters moved in 1986 to a modified cape-style house

that they built on part of an open meadow at the corner of The Boulevard and

Schoolhouse Hill Road. The property had been in Dick McLachlan's family for

years, and when it was sold, he and Maureen kept the corner lot of about an

acre for themselves.

"My husband grew up on this property -- it is really home to him," Mrs

McLachlan said. "He always wanted to build a house, and he always wanted to

build on this property."

The development of the gardens at the McLachlan residence evolved slowly, but

surely over the following years, as Newtown gardener/author Sydney Eddison

pointed out when she included the McLachlans in The Self-Taught Gardener

(1997, Viking/Penguin).

"The landscaping was done when the house was built. I would have done it

differently now, but I work around it," Mrs McLachlan said. "There is a lot of

trial and error in gardening. If something doesn't work, I change it. If a

design or color works well, I like to repeat it throughout the garden to have

continuity, a full look."

With the house bordered on two sides by streets and by houses on the other

sides, the McLachlans realized that their first priority was for privacy. They

planted evergreens across the back of the sloping lot and enclosed the deck on

the east side of the house with walls of airy lattice. At first, they planted

honeysuckle at the foot of the lattice. It was lovely and fragrant, but didn't

provide the privacy they needed, so they replaced it with a single wisteria

shrub.

The plant grew quickly, soon covering the lattice and forming a leafy green

roof across the trellis roof.

"It's so pretty when it flowers," Mrs McLachlan said. "It's great for privacy

and shade, and the birds love it, but the wisteria is aggressive. It broke all

the latticework on the deck and we have to keep cutting it back."

Besides the need for privacy, Maureen knew that she did not want any of the

house's foundation to show. She had the beds across the front of the house dug

extra deep, so that an ample amount of perennials and annuals could be nestled

among the needled and broadleaf evergreen and deciduous shrubs that the

landscaper planted. The effect is a delightful dooryard garden that looks

attractive all year, as Mrs Eddison pointed out in her book.

The two McLaughlin daughters, Kelly and Kerry, graduated from Newtown High

School in 1989 and 1990 and left for college. No longer involved in

school-related activities, their mother admits she was a little lonely at

first, but "gardening just sort of took hold of me."

"I just love being out there -- gardening is very fulfilling," she said,

explaining that it is also very therapeutic. "I love to share this interest

with friends, especially those in times of crisis. Gardening has made a

difference in their lives."

Her first garden was a friendship garden, one created by the sharing of plants

with other friends. She planned a rose garden in 1990.

Eventually she moved the junipers and PMJ rhododendrons from the front of the

house to the side and interspersed them with grasses, coneflowers, Russian

sage, butterfly bushes and sedum. To the front entrance, she added bulbs and

woody perennials for winter interest along with the roses, azaleas, cleome,

caryopteris, catmint, phlox, perennial geraniums, and lavender that borders

the brick walkway.

"Sydney Eddison told me that everything in gardening is personal -- do what

you please because there is no right and no wrong to gardening," Mrs McLachlan

said. "She gave me a lot of encouragement."

Slowly gardens began to fill the McLachlan property. In the back is a 20-foot

perennial and herb garden. More than a dozen large whiskey barrels filled with

plantings dot the property. A "white" garden on the hillside features plants

with all white, silver or blue blooms. "It's the only garden we can view from

the inside of the house so I wanted it, even though I don't encourage anyone

to garden on the side of a hill. It's not the easiest place to garden," Mrs

McLachlan said.

Japanese maple, hydrangea and flowering crabapple trees dot the property.

"If I had a favorite flower it would be the hydrangea," Mrs McLachlan said.

"But a garden is not just color. It is texture, background, shapes, forms. I'm

really into hardscape structure in the garden -- arbors, walls, things that

give you another place to sit."

Last summer, the McLachlans erected a long trellis with honeysuckle along the

side of the house.

To add to what she was learning first-hand, Maureen McLachlan joined gardening

clubs, read voraciously, took garden tours, and finally enrolled in the master

gardening certification program, an intensive 13-week course taught through

the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension System. After passing the

exam, the students must provide 60 hours of volunteer work which Mrs McLachlan

did primarily by manning the telephones at the extension office, answering

questions on gardening. She took classes at the New York Botanical Gardens,

and worked for a spring at Twombly's Nursery in Monroe. One day a week she

works at Emily's Cheese & Eatables in Bethel, where she uses her creative

energy to design gift baskets.

"My design background is natural. I like to decorate, I'm a very visual

person," she said. "I can see what I like and make it work. In my gardens, I

want a spiritual, soft, inviting look."

Recently, Maureen McLachlan started her own business as a garden design

consultant.

"As you get older, you appreciate the sharing of things," Mrs McLachlan said.

"It is very therapeutic. Gardeners are great people."

Gardening is also a year-round activity, she said.

"I don't find gardening just a summer pastime. I do a lot in the winter, too.

If someone doesn't garden, they won't understand why you don't want to go

South in the winter."

There's an awful lot of beauty out there," she added, glancing through the

window at the deck where a red-headed woodpecker busily worked at a piece of

hanging suet.

"I just love being out there -- it's very fulfilling."