A view of the property from the shore includes a gazebo beyond it are the vegetable and herb gardens. PHOTO BY JENNIFER OSBORN

In Julie Wang’s gardens, nostalgia runs free

BROOKLIN — Creating a beloved garden requires time, money and inspiration, according to landscape designer and writer Julie Wang.

A little bit of England doesn’t hurt either.

“Being British, you grow up with a love for the country,” Wang said.

Wang was born in Peter’s Field in Hampshire, which is near Winchester — the ancient capital of England.

Brooklin landscape designer and writer Julie Wang

Her great, great, great grandfather was Thomas Garnier. Garnier was a churchman, botanist and Dean of Winchester.

A garden in his name, Dean Garnier Garden, has been created at Winchester Cathedral.

Wang is currently writing a book about her ancestor. The working title is “The Dean and his Garden: Inheriting a Passion for Gardening.”

She also designs gardens, calling her enterprise Blue Poppy Garden. More of her work can be seen at www.juliedreyerwang.com.

Wang spends April through October in Maine. The other six months of the year she lives in Benin, West Africa where she teaches English.

Wang recently gave a talk at the Blue Hill Public Library to a crowd of roughly 50 gardeners and plant enthusiasts titled “The Perfect Maine Garden: Integrating English Country with Japanese.”

Sculptures perch on a granite wall lining part of the driveway. To the left rests a stone trough, which is near a sitting area Wang’s philosophy is to “respect the genius of the place.”

In Maine with its natural beauty, it’s important to “respect the genius of the place,” Wang said.

Stone and water are essential elements in Japanese garden design so that works on the Maine coast where there is plenty of both. English country gardens feature profuse flowers.

Wang is on her second Maine garden.

The first in Sedgwick, has numerous features. There is, to name a few, a croquet court, an espalier crabapple, bridges, water features, a lavender border, vegetable and flower gardens. She was there for 30 years.

Now Wang is transforming a five-acre spot at the top of Flye Point Road in Brooklin.

She started from scratch.

“There was nothing here,” she said. “Honestly, it was depressing.

“One of the first things I did was put trellises so I could have climbing flowers,” said Wang.

The trellises line both sides of Wang’s driveway. Granite blocks set flush with the pavement provide an unobtrusive border —a tip Wang got from “Kitchen Garden” columnist Barbara Damrosch.

Wang has planted roses, clematis, peonies, hydrangea, tulips and creeping Jenny ground cover. The driveway borders are a difficult area because the soil is not deep and the area is mostly shady, she said.

A boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) hedge encloses daffodils (narcissus) and grape hyacinth (mascari) while a Japanese pathway lines one side of Wang’s house.

Another favorite of Wang’s is boxwood (boxus), which is good for adding definition to a property.

At Wang’s home, visitors walk along a Japanese pathway lined with boxwood, which has clusters of daffodils narcissus and grape hyacinth mascari.

A patio and a field overlook Herrick Bay. Off to the left are vegetable and herb gardens.  A granite wall profuse with plants is a nod to English garden designer and author Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) whom Wang calls her patron saint.

In another part of the property, there are Japanese gardens with stone and water features.

All of this takes time.

“It takes years to get a garden right,” Wang said.

She told the library crowd that it takes a minimum of ten years to get a garden in place.

“Start by planting trees because they take the longest,” she said. “Beech trees are my absolute favorite. It’s my nostalgia.”

Nostalgia is another factor. Plant what you remember and loved from childhood.

“It’s really important to recreate some of those nostalgic moments from childhood,” Wang said. “One of the things I always grow is sweet peas. I can remember clutching a bunch of sweet peas at my aunt’s wedding.”

“It’s all about creating beauty,” said Wang. “Choose what appeals to you. That’s what we’re looking for — the inspiration to make our garden come to life.”

The landscape designer created this lavender walk at her former garden in Sedgwick. To the right, attached to the house is a crabapple tree, which Wang trained to grow flat and is still thriving today.

Also, gardening is like anything. Ignore it and it falls apart.

“Gardens fall apart really fast,” Wang said. She typically spends two hours a day working in her garden, especially during May and June.

If you do the work to get the garden set up during May and June, you’re in good shape for the rest of the season.

Wang is against mulching.

“Mulch leaches the nitrogen out of the soil,” she said. “The worms don’t like it. You’re way better off with a groundcover.”

“Personally, I like ground covers,” she said. “It eliminates the need for weeding.”

She uses spotted dead nettle Lamium as a ground cover in a circle in her driveway.

Wang described sweet woodruff as a “useful” ground cover.

After seven years you’ll have fewer weeds in your garden, Wang said. Don’t turn the soil over in the spring just top dress it with two inches of manure.

A few thoughts from the designer on overused plants:

Rosa rugosa should be eliminated, it attracts Japanese beetles and subsequently destroys lawns, she said. Day lilies are useful but overused and  Euonymus is overused.

“Cromptonia is (in my opinion) ugly and often used inappropriately in flower and shrub borders,” Wang said. “Pachysandra, a ground cover, does not belong in Maine. It is an overused, suburban plant. Hosta is extremely useful in shady areas and overused unless used intelligently.”

What’s uncommon here includes Kirengeshoma, a woodland shrub in the hydrangea family.  Woodland peonies, sea holly (Eryngium) and all the different kinds of grasses, Wang said. “I would love to see more people planting beech trees.”

When Wang designs for a client, the first step is for her to understand what the person wants. Questions include do they want an herb garden close to the house? How are they going to use the garden? How much maintenance are they willing to fund or do themselves?

“I then go out with the client and look around the garden, exploring for areas that might be more sheltered and slightly warmer for different, more fragile plants,” Wang said. Considerations include, of course, how much granite ledge there is to deal with, the views, soil quality, hills and valley, damp areas, raised or sloping areas, sun exposure and number of shade trees.

“Usually the first thing to take care of is drainage, making sure that there is a drip edge around the house so that mud doesn’t splatter back on the clapboards or shingles but sinks into a crushed stone edging around the house, which I often enclose with granite blocks,” Wang said.

“Frequently, clients like to cover the crushed stone with shells they pick up from the beach, especially mussel shells,” she said.

Julie Wang’s Suggested Reading

* “Visions of Paradise,” by Marina Schinz

* “AHS Garden Plant Encyclopedia”

* “Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs” Michael Dirr

* “Maine Gardens” by Lynn Karlin

Julie Wang is available for consultations. To contact her, go to www.juliedreyerwang.com.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.

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