An Artful Garden in Peterborough

A Peterborough gardener creates a landscape that pleases the eye and evokes joy.

With just one visit to Maude and John Odgers's garden in Peterborough, you know there is an artist at work there. Although the landscaping at the front of the house is tranquil and understated, there is a promise of good things to come. "I purposely keep the front quiet so when you walk around back you are, hopefully, surprised by what is there," Maude says. And what a surprise it is!

Behind the house are large curving beds and deep borders filled with an eye-pleasing mix of annuals, perennials, shrubs and even some small trees. Entering the garden is like crossing an invisible threshold into another world. Maude has drawn on her skill as a textile artist and painter to make each bed a rich tapestry of textures, colors and shapes. "I see the garden as an evolving painting," Maude says. "Nature has always held an important place in my life. For me, working in the earth brings a sense of comfort and peace. I like to think that I create my gardens in that state of quiet, and I hope they reflect that feeling."

Designed as artwork

Twenty years ago, while Maude was visiting her sister in England, she spent a lot of time wandering through parks and gardens there, studying how the plants were used as well as the depth and shape of the garden beds. "Most of the beds there were at least fifteen or twenty feet deep, and many were curving in shape," she says. "I had read never to put a garden bed in the middle of your yard, but it is done all the time in England. I was inspired! When I came home, I took out the large vegetable garden that was originally behind the house, added a large, central, curving bed and enlarged all the existing beds to give them more depth. To me there is something very pleasing both architecturally and emotionally about large curving beds, each one rhythmically flowing to the next. It creates a quiet cadence, and there is always mystery to be found around the next bend."

A stroll through the back yard is full of moments of discovery. Each bed is so deep and densely planted that you are drawn around to see it from all sides. Colors echo from bed to bed: red day lilies, red zinnias of varying heights, persicaria 'Firetail', red cannas, red-stemmed angelicas, and red-leaved physocarpus and Japanese maples, to name just a few in one color family.

Shapes are repeated in the round-headed alliums and cleomes, globe thistles, boxwoods and poppy seed heads. Maude treats each section as a collage of textures, shapes and colors, and then plays the next section off the previous to weave it all together.

"The challenge-and pleasure-comes from taking each grouping of plants and creating an entire garden that works harmoniously with itself and the natural world around it," she explains.

Around the garden, some plants make encore performances, such as the tall, pink brugmansia 'Angel's Trumpet'; finely cut sambucus 'Black Lace'; nodding chartreuse bells of Nicotiana langsdorffii; and six pots of agapanthus that sit on granite blocks throughout the garden.

Trees help to elevate the show. Maude names Aralia elata variegata, Cornus kousa 'Wolf Eyes', katsura 'Heronswood Globe', heptacodium and stewartia as some of her favorites. Along with the trees, there are other strong vertical elements, such as teasel, great white fleeceflower (Persicaria polymorpha) and the truly huge ornamental grass Miscanthus giganteus.

Some of the smaller plants demand our attention as well, such as Acanthus mollis, glossy-leaved Clerodendrum ugandense 'Blue Wings', epimediums and dwarf smartweed Persicaria affinis 'Dimity'.

The grass paths flow effortlessly around the yard and draw us on from one garden to the next. "People who enter beautiful spaces are altered by them, no matter what the spaces are," Maude says. "The ultimate goal for me is to create a space that evokes emotion, whether it be joy, tranquility, intensity, mystery or something words cannot touch. For me, it is more important how people feel when they enter my garden than what they see. Of course, what they see has to evoke that emotion. But isn't that the goal of an artist?"

Complementary building

Maude and John cleared the land in 1980 and have since designed their home together. John built the house, barn and curved wooden arbors. The one nearest the house is covered with wisteria while the one in the garden has lavender-hued clematis 'Betty Corning' on one side and raspberry-colored clematis 'Duchess of Albany' on the opposite side. Through the arbor, we can see a welcoming granite bench in the shade at the end of a long path mown through the original sheep pasture. John has also set the granite steps and helped Maude create a curving bluestone patio.

Another garden feature is the small pond John built near the barn. The pond adds another dimension to the landscape with the sound of the burbling fountain and songs of the resident frogs. A large saucer magnolia-which the Odgerses have moved three times-flowers magnificently each spring, happy in its new home between the pond and barn. Maude has planted a weeping redbud Cercis canadensis 'Covey' Lavender Twist next to the pond in hopes that it will eventually spill over into the water. Golden hakonechoa grass, one of the few ornamental grasses that thrives in shade, lights up one edge of the pond while a statue of Buddha overlooks the water lilies.

"Different sights around the garden speak to me," Maude says. "It might be the pale pink petals of the magnolia floating in the pond, or the contrasting leaves of the melianthus and the sambucus 'Black Lace', the heads of the alliums mimicking the round balls of boxwood, or the lone pansy growing out of a crack in the patio stone. Every day there are new delights to be found. Therein lies the reward."

French doors open from the light-filled garden rooms to the broad bluestone patio. "We often sit here at the end of a long work day, and reflect on our gratitude for the place in which we live and how we have made it what it is together," John says. "We are fortunate to have this collaboration of passions: I'm the builder, Maude is the artist. That combination has served us well."

A blossoming passion

A serious gardener for more than twenty years, Maude has learned not only through trial and error but by extensive reading on the subject, visiting gardens here and abroad, attending lectures and symposiums, attaining a Master Gardener certificate from the University of New Hampshire and working with other serious gardeners.

In 2005, she started her own garden design business, The Artful Gardener. "My clients inspire me to create spaces that are unique and fitting to them," Maude says. "My goal is to keep it fun and rewarding so others become inspired and proud in return."

Since the Peterborough town gardens were planted fifteen years ago, Maude has volunteered weekly during the growing season to help design, plant and maintain six public gardens. "It is rewarding working with other gardeners and giving back to my community," she says. 

Categories: Gardening & Landscape