HOME & GARDEN: The Evolution Of A Gardener And Her Garden
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
"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
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
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
"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
"I just love being out there -- it's very fulfilling."