A Garden of Many Pleasures

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Looking left from the main pathThe garden of Barbara and David Morse is enclosed by a picket fence, which complements their 19th century Greek revival home in northern Broome County. A gate off the driveway opens onto a walk that will take you straight to the main entrance to the house. daffodils along the pathBut chances are, before you ever get that far you’ll be enticed into the front garden, taking the path to the left. If it’s spring, a glorious swath of daffodils undoubtedly caught your eye. Later on in the season, an equally bright border of sundrops will light the lower path. Bub, as she prefers to be called, designed these borders with plenty of bright color, incorporating peonies, iris, Asiatic lilies, daylilies, spring bulbs, bee balm and mountain bluet. The Morses enjoy eating lunch on their front porch.She and Dave often eat their lunch on the front porch, overlooking the colorful front borders. Shrubs planted along the picket fence, such as Viburnum trilobum, Shepherdia argentia, honeysuckle and several Cornus cultivars screen them from the lane, as well as provide food and cover for the birds.

The chainsawed bear dines alfresco with the birds.As you follow the path around the corner of the house, the garden becomes much shadier. Several rhododendrons nestle under tall maples, birches, and evergreens, evoking a walk in the woods. On the right, Geranium macrorrhizum and a wide variety of hostas , as well as native Virginia bluebells, double bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis ‘Multiplex’), Jack-in-the-pulpit, hepaticas, ginger and ferns, add to the woodsy feel. To your left, an amusing bear, carved by a local chainsaw sculptor, sits on one of a pair of chairs carved from the stumps of felled trees. He enjoys the wildlife that visits a nearby feeder hanging from the fence. Benches from which to view the back garden and feed chipmunksFurther down the path, a pair of benches provide an opportunity to sit and relax in the dappled shade. Bub and Dave are very proud that their garden was designated a Backyard Wildlife Habitat. They get enormous enjoyment sitting quietly in this area, viewing the goings-on at several bird houses and feeders, and feeding a chipmunk who often shows up with peanuts kept on hand for this purpose.

Corydalis solida, lungwort, hyacinths and hellebores provide a soothing view into the spring garden.The benches are arranged to provide long views into the backyard, and eventually you realize there’s still a lot more to see. Several paths weave through an area densely planted in a cottage-garden style. Foxgloves, tulips, daylilies, bee balm, asters and many other perennials blend into a backdrop of lilac, filbert and dogwood shrubs, semi-secluding the chipmunk feeding area from the rest of the garden. A clematis-covered arbor at the end of a path beckons, and eventually you discover the Morse’s most recent project: the labyrinth.

The labyrinth Bub designedBub had wanted a labyrinth for meditative walking ever since she read about them in 1999. You might say she was obsessed. Not only did she read about them, she also sketched them on graph paper. She raked the leaves in her parents’ yard into a labyrinth and walked it. She stamped a labyrinth into the snow of her neighbor’s lawn. But it wasn’t until 2002 that she realized if she ditched her tired vegetable garden, languishing after two years of drought, she would have room for the 11-circuit labyrinth of her dreams.

And what is retirement for, if not to make a few dreams come true? And what is a garden for, if not to satisfy the longings of your heart?

Bub had long ago plotted her labyrinth on graph paper; Dave quickly added his know-how, and devised thin, shallow trenches filled with concrete to outline the labyrinth’s path. It took them less than a month from marking the outlines with rope and flagging tape to enjoying the finished product. In the center is a small stone bench that belonged to her mother and her grandmother before her. Bub finds walking the labyrinth therapeutic, helping her through her grief on her mother’s passing. My children, on the other hand, love to race through it at top speed, which just makes Bub laugh.

She laughs because her grandchildren do the same thing. The garden, after all, was designed to be enjoyed. The firepit, located beyond the labyrinth on the eastern side of the property, serves as the family picnic area and extends the enjoyment of the garden into the evening hours, especially in the spring and fall, when a chill in the air would otherwise drive one inside. A freestanding porch swing, a couple of hammocks, and an umbrella-shaded table where young guests are served cookies and juice without fear of spills complete the dining area.

Bub's toy - orchestra chimes (Photo by Kathy Purdy)Further east the bark-chip path of a modest pine grove lures you to one of Bub’s “toys.” What appears to be an odd assemblage of pipes dangling from the branches turns out to be remnants of a set of discarded orchestra chimes, tuned (so I am told) to a C# minor 7th chord. When hit with the rubber mallet conveniently hanging nearby, the sounds produced are reminiscent of cathedral bells. Bub, for whom music is another passion, picks out tunes on them when the whim strikes her. The path leads to a lawn shaded by black walnuts, yet another food source for wildlife and a source of dye for Bub’s basket making. The southern end of this area sports a small 3’x5′ kidney-shaped pond which is inhabited by frogs every summer, much to the delight of young visitors. This pond marks the beginning of the wet garden, where moisture-loving plants such as various primroses, Darmera peltata, Petasites japonica, Lobelia cardinalis, L. siphilitica, Chelone, and Houttuynia thrive.

As you arrive back at your starting point, you realize this garden mirrors the Morses’ interests in wildlife, meditation, music, basket making, and grandchildren, in addition to displaying beautiful plants beautifully grown. They spend a lot of time working in the garden, but are also careful to make time to enjoy it. From eating meals alfresco to chuckling over the antics of squirrels, relaxing in a hammock or meditatively strolling in the labyrinth, the Morses have woven their lives through the garden, creating a haven for many others in the process.Bub and Dave at the entrance to their garden

Originally published in Upstate Gardeners’ Journal Vol. 12, Issue 3 (May/June 2006) pp. 22-24. Unless otherwise noted, all photos are by Talitha Purdy and used with permission.

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