Notes: the above was taken by Bill Gardner, photographer aided by Tom
Since 2003, Ashdowne (which is the garden name, English Garden Farm is the location) has been a work in progress and like any good garden, always will be. Prior to 2002, the property was approximately 2.5-3 acres of grass with a few ‘weed’ trees scattered about and a line of mature (50-70′) ashes along the roadside. There is also a 6 acre hayfield which we use as ‘borrowed landscape’. Otherwise, we are surrounded with industrial corn, soybean and some wheat farming.
(Comment on Ashdowne – the garden was originally named Ashgrove as a nod to the 18 very large, as noted above, ash trees which formed the northern border of the property, parallel to the highway. There were also several others, much smaller, scattered around in the grass surrounding the house; they were removed early on.
In winter of 2017, all of the large ash trees had to be removed as the emerald ash borer had been doing its thing and these trees were either going to end up across the road or in the garden – neither a welcome development, so they were turned into firewood before they fell on their own. It completely changed the look and feel of the front of the garden as well as appearance from the road. If you had been here when the ash trees reigned and came now, you could easily drive right past it. It will be interesting to see how the plants which were formerly in the ‘rain and food’ as well as light shadow thrive now that such a huge source of competition has been removed. The absence of shade created some minor issues in another section of the garden, but the plants there seem to be adapting and the new, smaller shade trees that have been added for sun-protection seem to be doing just fine as well. The spelling of the garden’s name is just an affectation – what the heck.)
So-called ‘anchor’ trees were planted first, walk-ways outlined, and general overall shape determined. Over the course of the next 6-8 years, smaller trees and shrubs were added, areas between plants were made larger and, ultimately, large beds (we call them borders now) were established and the grass restricted to pathways. That process continues, with addition of many perennials with many, many more to come and several ‘hardscape’ projects in the works. Nearly all of the planting is in a mixed style for year-round interest and the pathways meander and wander in ways to pique the eye’s interest while presenting different views of each section.
Our approach to the garden has been governed by a number of principles to which we have tried to remain true:
1) if you can see dirt, there’s room for another plant;
2) if it doesn’t want to live here, we won’t try to force it;
3) every plant needs to earn its own keep, and each plant should play well with others;
4) we plant things because we like them;
5) every view of the garden should be visually pleasing, there should be a surprise around every corner; and you should never be able to see everything from any single vantage point;
6) we work in the dirt because it feels good and keeps us grounded (no pun) in reality;
7) the whole effort should be as sustainable as possible and function, except in emergencies, with the moisture provided by nature;
8) pesticides will not be used unless absolutely necessary to save a valuable plant (and then only in a very limited amount and space);
9) we need to share the results because that’s how we learned and it’s fun!
And lastly (not a guiding principle but a truism):
10) the size of a garden is inversely proportional to one’s distance from the ground (Craig’s maxim).
Please see our new open hours and days beginning April 28, 2020.
HOURS: The garden is open to the public on Sundays, from 1:00 – 5:00 PM. (Please see Garden Clubs and Workshop sections for other arrangements) We have never charged a fee for visiting the gardens on Sunday afternoons when it is always open to the public; HOWEVER, beginning with 2017 we are asking for a contribution of $5 per person to visit the garden and $10 per person if you join one of the scheduled and guided tours (at 2:00 PM and 4:00 PM).
We welcome you to come and visit.
You are welcome to wander at your leisure.
We are also happy to walk along, answer questions, and hold forth on gardening during guided tours that are available at 2 and 4 PM.
Please plan to visit when you can take the time to look at details as many of our plants are rare and unusual and deserve more than a cursory glance.
We ask that you keep animals in the car park area or on a lease and small children with you.
We ask that you not smoke on the property (except downwind, on the periphery).
The grounds are not level and all the pathways are grass or gravel and therefore uneven.
Most of the garden is not wheelchair accessible although we will make every effort to assist anyone who wants to see it to do so.
We ask that you keep to the pathways; you never know what may be waiting under the soil in the blank spot you were ready to step on.
Most of the plants are not labeled; this is neither a botanic garden nor do we want to resemble a pet cemetery, but we do provide plant lists and are happy to identify plants for you.
The garden is, we hope, as any decent garden – a work in progress and planting, replanting, moving, trimming, etc. are happening throughout the season.
Wear comfortable walking shoes, bring a bottle of water for yourself, and some mosquito repellant is not a bad idea (they are usually not bad, if at all, but you never know).
We ask that you respect the privacy of the home.
Thank you in advance for visiting and your cooperation.