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Judith Irven: Inspired by local gardens

The roving gardener heads north
Before summer slips away, there is still an opportunity to spend a few pleasant hours meandering through some beautiful public gardens. 
People visit gardens for many different reasons. Many people go for the sheer enjoyment of spending time in a lovely place. Of course, as a gardener I am always on the lookout for new ways of seeing space, or perhaps for some lovely plants and novel ways of pairing them together. On the other hand my husband Dick, the quintessential photographer, is ever alert for the unexpected picture, whether an exquisite flower or a grand long vista.
And, hidden along the backroads of Vermont, there are many beautiful gardens that are open to the public.  Some are small and intimate, whereas others are sweeping and expansive. But each is unique and each is special. Let me introduce you to four such gardens within an hour’s drive of Middlebury that you may not know.
Talented nursery owners invite you into their personal gardens
You can be sure that anyone who devotes a lifetime to raising and selling plants will have amassed a storehouse of horticultural knowledge. Less obvious perhaps is that a dedicated nursery owner can also find the time to create and maintain a large personal garden where we, the public, can wander at will. 
Two such jewels are hidden away among the scenic backroads off Vermont’s Route 100. Head over the Brandon Gap on Route 73, and after passing through the picturesque village of Rochester (and stopping for a quick lunch at Sandy’s Books and Bakery) head north through the beautiful Gulf of Granville and on to Waitsfield. Go through the covered bridge and follow Bridge Street to Common Road and the von Trapp Nurseries.  
This is the home of Tobi and Sally Von Trapp who, for over 35 years, have made it their life’s work to raise an amazing array of beautiful plants for our gardens ? annuals, perennials plus a few shrubs ? all of which they sell right at their nursery. 
And, while visiting the nursery, you are invited to wander through their own expansive display garden. Stroll along gravel paths between elegant flower beds that positively brim with beautiful plants.  Shrubs and perennials, tall and short, all mingle easily together to create a delightful tapestry of color and texture all season long. 
The 200-foot long garden culminates at a rocky fountain gushing into a large pool. Stop and admire the splendid view across the nearby fields to the Green Mountains some six miles to the west. Return by a different path and relax on the benches beneath a rustic pergola, with the mountains still visible across the garden.
After leaving the von Trapp Nurseries, retrace your steps to Waitsfield and continue north on Route 100 and through the scenic village of Stowe. 
Hidden away on Duhamel Road in Morrisville (some 10 miles north of Stowe) you will discover Cady’s Falls Nursery. This renowned nursery is the creation of Don and Lela Avery who, like the von Trapps, started their venture back in 1980. Lela oversees the production of unusual perennials, while Don’s specialty is propagating exceptional dwarf conifers.   
Also, like Sally and Tobi,  Don and Lela have also created the most amazing gardens where you can see many of their special plants grown to perfection. They designed the total space to encompass three distinct “gardens within a garden” in order to showcase a variety of habitats: 
Sunny garden beds, surrounded by a curvaceous lawn, are home to unusual shrubs and perennials, chosen to create a spectacular display in every season.    
By contrast, in the shady garden the spring flowers ? such as hellebores, primula and trillium ? are the center of attention. To see these in bloom you need to visit in May or early June. 
And finally many kinds of bog-loving plants thrive in a natural stream-bed, while on either side low-growing alpine plants cling to steep rocky walls.
Now, after 35 years of hard work, Don and Lela have  cut back on the demands of their nursery, only selling plants on weekends in May and June.  But this year until the end of  September on Saturdays and Sundays (from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) they are still welcoming visitors to enjoy their beautiful gardens. 
See ‘All America Selections’ (AAS) winners at the Burlington Waterfront Gardens
Even for the experienced gardener, flipping through the seed catalogs every winter, or visiting the local garden center in springtime, can be a decidedly overwhelming experience. With every variety described with glowing superlatives, how does one choose among the plethora of plants available?  
So it is helpful to know that each year the National Gardening Bureau, an independent organization, puts lots of new plant varieties, both vegetables and annual flowers, through extensive independent field trials at locations all across Canada and the United States. Then a panel of horticultural experts judges their real-life performance and award  a few coveted ‘All America Selections Winners’ for that year.
But we all know that the landmass of Canada and the United States covers a huge range of climatic conditions. Thus the final step is to test the AAS winners in some 200 designated display gardens around the country, one of which is at the Waterfront Park in Burlington, just next to the ECHO center.  Here, in a garden setting, UVM Professor Leonard Perry grows AAS annual flower winners from the previous five years, alongside some noteworthy perennials, to determine which grow best in our Vermont climate and would make the grade for our own home gardens. He then shares the results for everyone to see on his website:  http://pss.uvm.edu/ppp/aaswp.html
   Tobi and Sally Von Trapp’s 200-foot long garden culminates in a rocky fountain and a beautiful view of the Green Mountains. Photo by Dick Conrad
So, if you are an avid gardener, a visit to the Burlington Waterfront Garden would be a wonderful addition to your own summer plans. With a high percentage of annuals in the mix it is always extremely colorful, especially towards the end of the season as the plants mature. It is also your chance to be your own horticultural judge: decide which varieties are thriving; ask yourself which colors you like best; and look for plants that look good when paired together.
And of course, since we gardeners are always thinking ahead and making plans for the future, take note of your favorites and plan to try them in your own garden in 2017.
And finally, Addison County’s garden gem
On your way home from Burlington be sure to stop in to see Ed Burke and his magnificent gardens at Rocky Dale Nursery on Route 116 in Bristol. 
Interestingly enough, it  was in 1981 that previous owners Holly Weir and Bill Pollard began creating the garden at Rocky Dale ? almost exactly the same time that the Averys and the Von Trapps began their own Vermont garden adventures. Was there something special in the Vermont air in the early 80’s?
During their Rocky Dale tenure, Holly and Bill planted a grand mix of eclectic plants, including many slower-growing conifers, which are now mature specimens. It is always most instructive for gardeners to witness just how large a ‘semi-dwarf’ conifer can actually grow in 30 years!
Since buying the property in 2004 Ed, a professional landscape designer,  has been putting his own stamp on the gardens (a continuing project he is quick to point out) as well as renovating the old farmhouse (his home) and the beautiful barn. The result today is an outdoor paradise where the non-gardener can spend a delightful hour or two, while we garden connoisseurs can indulge our passion for all manner of new unusual and  plants ? most of which are for sale at the well-stocked nursery.
Judith Irven and Dick Conrad live in Goshen where together they nurture a large garden. Judith is a Vermont Certified Horticulturist and teaches Sustainable Home Landscaping for the Vermont Master Gardener program. You can subscribe to her blog about her Vermont gardening life at www.northcountryreflections.com. Dick is a landscape and garden photographer; you can see more of his photographs at www.northcountryimpressions.

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