Exploring darkest Asheville

Restful repose: Jean and Sally Carter’s garden is just one of several on the Kenilworth tour. photo by Max Rouslin

Gardeners are explorers. Always on the hunt for the next great find, they seek out obscure nurseries, order from distant catalog companies and peer over neighbors’ fences. Like the great naturalists of the past, gardeners are never content with what they have, secretly yearning to discover some unknown specimen.

But not everyone who picks up a trowel will be the next John Clayton. What to do? Attend a garden tour.

On June 19, Asheville GreenWorks will host its annual Father's Day Garden Tour (see box, “Take the Tour”). This year's edition features a dozen gardens in Kenilworth. "Proceeds from the event will support Asheville GreenWorks’ community environmental efforts," notes Program Director Jennifer Moore, including tree plantings and litter removal.

Here's a hint of what awaits tourgoers:

Mary Hiers and Lee Skelton's garden is a plant lover's delight. Hiers is a landscape designer with a master's degree in horticulture from NC State University; Skelton, her husband, is a landscape contractor. Walking through their garden is like visiting an arboretum: Each plant is an exciting new find. The front yard is mostly shade-loving plants: Solomon’s seal, hostas, Heucheras, epimedium, ferns, azaleas, rhododendrons and toad lilies. Some are dwarf, some variegated and some are native varieties.

The backyard garden is a total opposite, featuring a patio with built-in grill, a tumbling water feature, a stone wall and stairs, vegetable beds and a test plot of Zoysia grass. "Climate change is affecting grass," she says. "The fescue isn't performing as well as it did, so we're trying out a summer grass."

Despite the bells and whistles, this is a working garden, used by the couple to test plants and projects (such as the stone wall and patio). If they've grown it or built it themselves, they’re better able to advise clients. Expect the unusual here — and bring along a notepad for jotting down the names of desired plants.

Sally and Gene Carter's garden took a sudden turn when an 80-year-old Norway spruce died. It was one of those “aha” moments when a staple item is suddenly gone, and the couple hired Avant Garden in Weaverville to help them create a new outdoor space. "I wanted a lush Victorian garden with Asian overtones," Sally explains. Consequently, the front garden is a bounty of color and plantings — roses, fastigiated evergreens and perennials, and annuals complemented by intricately formal wrought-iron work and an old headboard for a gate.

Upon entering, one notices the spiraling roots the old spruce left behind — the couple’s inspiration for the garden. Those spirals continue throughout the yard, creating smaller outdoor spaces that surprise and invite. Spirals, she notes, evoke the full circle of life. Their stone walkway spirals away from the primary front garden toward quiet meditation spots, dogwoods that form a perfect canopy for outdoor gatherings, and the grand finale: Gene’s rose garden. Visitors will find inspiration here, and a quiet spot to gather their thoughts.

Marilyn Covington-Rouslin and Max Rouslin's garden reflects a classic scenario: Guy buys house, girlfriend thinks he's nuts but marries him anyway — and together they turn it into a vision of light and movement, enhanced by lovely plantings that only true gardeners can conceive. Max saw what no one else did: a blank canvas just waiting for that first stroke of paint. And Marilyn, an interior designer, was the perfect partner to help bring that vision to life. Lessons were learned, she reports: "I found out our first winter here that evergreens are essential. I hadn't planted any, and when the leaves fell, the yard looked bleak again, like when we first moved in. So I started adding evergreens."

Design is important to the couple: Their conversation centers on a discussion about the “bones” of the garden. Max is the visionary and overall handyman; Marilyn adds the spark via careful planting arrangements and brightly colored benches. The result flows seamlessly, bolstered by connecting stone pathways and terraced perennial beds. It all feels effortless — which means you can be sure it took great effort.

Hey, it may be not be China, the plant hunter’s paradise, but then every gardener suspects the next great find is lurking somewhere in their neighbor's garden. Why else would we peer over fences?

— Cinthia Milner gardens in Leicester.

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One thought on “Exploring darkest Asheville

  1. Donna Teague

    Thank you for the tour preview Cinthia. I certainly hope I’ll be able to visit these gardens.

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