A Visit to the Inspired Gardener
Plantsman and designer Marc Hudson has created beautiful gardens—both for himself and others.
Marc Hudson, owner of The Inspired Gardener Nursery in Westmoreland, with his ever-present companion, Emma.
One of southwest New Hampshire’s best-kept secrets is The Inspired Gardener Nursery in Westmoreland. Started by Marc Hudson in 2000, the nursery offers a wide assortment of woody plants and perennials. “I guess I’m something of a plant collector, which is why I started The Inspired Gardener,” Hudson says.
The shop is modest by garden center standards, but the plant selection is never dull. Its purpose is twofold: to provide an interesting and unique array of plants for gardeners who crave A Visit to the Inspired Gardener Plantsman and designer Marc Hudson has created beautiful gardens— both for himself and others. such things as well as to maintain an inventory of plants from which Hudson can draw for various installations. “If I’m being completely honest, there’s also an element of nursing my own plant addiction involved here,” he says. “Certain plants invariably find their way into my garden. It’s very much like having a sweet tooth and owning a candy store.”
The boxwood-lined formal parterre in Hudson’s back yard is built on the diagonal, and planted with datura and Verbena bonariensis. Spiral topiaries are created from ‘Emerald Green’ arborvitae. Hudson does the initial pruning with hand shears and a string wound around the plant to outline the spiral.
In addition, Hudson is a landscape consultant, offering garden design, installation and maintenance services. “When the shop first opened, I had less landscape work and was able to spend more time here,” he says. “Gardeners are an interesting group, and it’s such a pleasure to talk plants and gardens with people who share that enthusiasm. These days, with close to thirty clients whose gardens I tend to during the season, along with installations that crop up from year to year, I’m seldom at the shop. I miss that aspect of the business.”
Hancock gardener Eileen Elliott is a frequent customer at The Inspired Gardener. “It all started when I spotted a small ad in the Keene Shopper News about a nursery called The Inspired Gardener,” she says. “I stopped by and was instantly impressed by the assortment of unusual plants, some of which I only knew from gardening magazines. They were well cared for and reasonably priced, and the young man selling the plants was friendly and knowledgeable. That was sixteen years ago, and I still look forward to visiting Marc’s nursery. No one else has such a collection of rare and unusual plants. Much of Marc’s business is from friends telling friends, but somehow plantaholics find him.”
Hudson’s home and garden are next door to the shop, and at times, he has open garden days with tours highlighting interesting plant combinations. This gives visitors the opportunity to see what the trees and shrubs offered in the nursery will be like as they mature.
“I began work on the garden here in the mid-’90s,” Hudson says. “The house had been built in the ’80s on a piece of abandoned farmland. Aside from a couple of old apple trees, the land was open and sunny, unruly with brambles and pasture juniper.”
The lot is nearly five acres, bordered by woods and contoured with gentle slopes. “It was a clean slate, a perfect laboratory for someone long on enthusiasm, if only just beginning to grasp the practical aspects of design and the importance of proper siting,” he says.
Twenty-plus years later, and there are about seventy unique cultivars of trees spread over three acres, shading and sheltering the various beds of woody and herbaceous plants.
Peterborough garden designer Maude Odgers is another regular customer at The Inspired Gardener. “I stumbled across Marc’s nursery many, many years ago,” Odgers says. “As a gardener who aspires to find unusual and interesting plants and trees, I knew I had found a gem. I became a regular to his shop and a friendship began. It was then I learned that behind this small jewel of a nursery, tucked into the rolling hillside, sits a masterpiece—his gardens. It feels like walking into a fairy tale, where time stands still and the beauty takes one’s breath away. Meandering beds hold the mature specimens of the unusual shrubs, trees and plants he sells. No matter which way one walks, another garden appears, stunning in form and design. It is clear that Marc’s knowledge of horticulture is immense, and his creative and artistic sensibilities are apparent everywhere.”
Odgers has teamed up with Hudson on several garden installations. “Marc and I have collaborated on quite a few garden jobs, sharing in the design pro-cess, plant selections and installation,” Odgers says. “We have created gardens with water features (ponds and fountains) that I could not have done without his expertise. He is not only very accomplished with the many facets of gardening and creating gardens, but is also a joy to work with, who is always respectful, honest and hard working. Perhaps best of all is that beneath Marc’s soft-spoken manner resides a delightful sense of humor, which remains one of his greatest assets.”
A new path beckons
For a young man who grew up in the city, Hudson has a natural gift for gardening and plant care. “I grew up in Connecticut in a house with very little in the way of a yard, so woods and fields and green space of any size was something of a novelty,” he says.
Hudson came to New Hampshire in the mid-’90s to work for a computer company, and soon he also began working weekends at Arbor Gardens, a large nursery in Keene. The couple who owned the nursery had a knack for seeking out interesting plants in addition to the typical garden center fare. After a season of part-time work at the nursery, Hudson realized he had an inclination for working with plants, so he left the computer company to take a full-time job at the nursery doing landscape installations and working at the shop. He worked there for five years until the owners of the nursery retired. A year later, Hudson opened The Inspired Gardener.
A gardener grows
When Hudson first started gardening, he found summer garden tours to be a great source of inspiration. “The gardens ran the gamut from grand, professionally designed and tended places to quirky little artist’s gardens,” he says. “I found that no matter how modest the space, there was always something unique and personal about each. Every garden bore the fingerprints of its creator, and offered a new way of looking at and defining outdoor spaces. There’s a romance to such spaces.
A paperbark maple with a shed in the background makes a perfect fall scene. Sedum ‘Matrona’, boxwood ‘Green Gem’, and ligularia ‘Britt Marie Crawford’ add their flowers and foliage to the view.
“I think that’s what hooked me—the notion of defining spaces with living things,” Hudson says. “It was something of a revelation for me creatively. I was just beginning to grasp the impact that plants have on the environment as a whole, but also, more specifically, on our personal spaces. Looking back, I had only the vaguest sense of how much there was to know about such things. One of the pleasures of gardening is that no matter how much knowledge you manage to accumulate, you’re constantly learning something new. Contrary to what we’re sometimes told, there is no right or wrong way to make a garden. There are practical considerations, of course, but the beauty of gardening is that anyone can do it.”
Even though Hudson’s garden offers something of interest in every season, fall is truly a special time when the flowing tapestry of flowers and foliage change colors against a backdrop of unique trees and evergreens. “The thing about autumn is that you get one last sense of a garden’s personality. It’s something of a final production, a grand finale before everything gets quiet, visually speaking,” he says. “The temperature cools, the rainfall typically picks up, the grass gets very green and the light is softer. The colors are vivid and the contrasts are sharper. It’s a great time to slow down and take it all in— much more so than in spring when everything seems to happen all at once.”
Photographer and gardener Joseph Valentine is a frequent visitor to Hudson’s garden and nursery. “I love visiting Marc’s garden and take the opportunity whenever I have the chance. His garden is especially glorious in the fall,” Valentine says. “I also look forward to visiting Marc’s nursery many times during the gardening season when I’m in search of that rare and unusual plant. Just like the nursery he runs, his own private garden is loaded with unique specimens of trees and shrubs, most of which you don’t usually find in gardens in this part of New England.
“Because Marc began collecting plants years ago,” Valentine says, “the garden feels very mature, almost park like, as you stroll among the large specimens of trees and shrubs. And, for a photographer, there’s no better time for a visit than in the autumn when the colors are simply eye-popping!”
Time for reflection and planning
Like many gardeners, Hudson uses this time of year to weed and edge the beds, do some final pruning, and get reacquainted with his garden. “A big part of this ritual involves planning and prepping new garden beds and reconditioning or reimagining old beds,” Hudson says. “For me, half the fun of gardening lies in the planning of new projects and trying to improve upon what’s already here. Eventually, the colors fade, the air cools and the days get short. There’s an element of racing the clock, trying to make some final mark on the landscape before the ground turns hard and the snow starts flying. It’s a precious time, or at least it feels that way.
“As my garden has matured and the trees have grown,” he continues, “I’ve also taken a liking to that brief period, usually mid-November on into early December, when the leaves have come down and been carted off, the beds cleaned up, and the architecture of the garden is finally visible again— ‘the bones,’ as gardeners like to say. As much as I enjoy all that autumn plumage, there’s something about the simplicity of the garden at its most basic that I find very lovely, the essence. It’s all right there, stripped and stoic, until another spring turns it loose.”
Some of Marc Hudson’s Favorite Plants for Fall
Full moon maple (Acer japonicum) 'O taki' not only has beautiful color in fall but also in spring, when its new leaves have a reddish cast. This small tree gets wider as it ages.
• Heptacodium miconioides. Although often grown as a shrub, this can be found sometimes in tree form. The bark peels off in long strips, exposing smooth, chalk-white limbs. This is good in all seasons, but particularly so in fall when it produces clusters of small white flowers.
• Acer triflorum. As one of the most reliable trees for fall color, this turns a vivid shade of orange. It is another four-season tree featuring long vertical lines of papery bark that curl away along the trunk and branches.
• Fothergilla gardenia. This is an easy-care shrub that belongs in every garden. Its fall color is very reliable, manifesting in shades of orange, gold and red. This color is almost as festive as the white fuzzy flowers that cover the plant in late May.
• Parrotia persica. Although this can be hard to find in nurseries, it is worth owning. The fall color is variable from year to year, ranging from a sharp yellow to a brilliant mix of yellow-orange and red. The bark on older trees becomes a patchwork of muted colors. The limbs are sinewy and slightly twisted, giving the tree an interesting aspect in the winter.
• Stewartia psuedocamellia. This always shows up on “must have” lists and justifiably so. The fall color is typically a muted red or yellow, but the exfoliating bark and big white-petaled, early summer flowers are equally good reasons for owning one of these trees. • Nyssa sylvatica ‘Wildfire’. This offers reliable, scarlet-red fall color and has showy red new growth in spring and summer. Best of all, it has very little in the way of insect or disease issues.
• Betula nigra ‘Little King’. A dwarf cultivar of the river birch, this is a great substitute in smaller gardens for the considerably larger species and its cultivars. The papery, cinnamon-colored bark is attractive all year long, and the fall color is a pleasing yellow.
• Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’. A nice, small tree with reliably showy fall color, usually in a mix of oranges, yellows and reds. It grows slowly and features feathery, deeply cut leaves. This is good for adding some texture to the garden.
• Rhus typhina ‘Tiger Eyes’. This great three-season tree features finely cut, yellow compound leaves during spring and summer. In the fall, the leaves turn from yellow to bright orange.
• Cercidiphyllum japonicum. The katsura is a lovely tree all year long. Early to change color in the fall, the leaves go from a rich green to a warm, buttery yellow in mid-October. This color is often accompanied by a sweet, sugary fragrance.
• Oxydendrum arboreum. The sourwood is notable for its strings of white, late-summer flowers and stunning scarlet-red foliage.
• Clethra alnifolia. This is an adaptable shrub with fragrant, latesummer flowers. The fall color of summersweet is a festive, bright yellow that lights up on rainy autumn days.
• Amsonia hubrichtii. This adds a textural element to the garden during spring and summer. In fall, these plants really stand out as their fine, feathery leaves turn to gold.
• Itea virginica ‘Little Henry’. This nice dwarf form of the Virginia sweetspire is a versatile plant that grows in sun or shade, although it prefers a loamy soil. The fall color is a reliable red-orange.
• Ornamental grasses. These add movement and texture to the garden, and carry a garden along, particularly in late summer and fall when many grass species really shine.
‘Degroot's Spire’ arborvitae and ‘Skylands’ oriental spruce with yellow needles are underplanted with ajuga ‘Black Scallop’ and low-growing chamaecyparis ‘Kosteri Fast Form’.
Acer palmatum ‘Emperor I’ is underplanted with geranium macrorrhizum. Variegated pokeweed (Phytolacca) ‘Silberstein’ lights up the scene with its chartreuse leaves.
The paperbark maple (Acer griseum) is another tree with exfoliating bark. Ligularia ‘Brit Marie Crawford’, bear’s breeches (Acanthus hungaricus), hosta ‘Birchwood Parky’s Gold’, dwarf fleece flower (Persicaria affinis) ‘Dimity’, and sedum ‘Matrona’ surround its base.