Sandy Spring Museum Garden Club Tour
Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Sandy Spring Museum Garden Club Tour is a semi-anual event hosted by the Sandy Spring Museum that showcases private gardens around Sandy Spring, Maryland.

Sandy Spring Museum Garden Club website

On an overcast Saturday morning, I picked up my mother and set out to add some color to the drab, gray day by touring five exceptional gardens as part of the Sandy Spring Museum Garden Club’s annual event. The five private residences were sprinkled throughout the outer-DC suburbs of Maryland, some in secluded, woody areas, while others harbored elaborate landscapes amongst otherwise-nondescript neighborhoods.

This is my second time attending a private garden tour, but what fun it is to be given the license (or ticket, in this case) to tromp through the yards of the well-to-do, past normally-locked gates into backyards that boast countless horticultural delights. The only problem is that such all-access enjoyment makes you want to keep wandering into other yards once the tour is over. Here I’ll recap each garden we visited with a individual rating for each one.

Our first garden to explore encircled a bungalow-style home whose brown-red bricks, stone accents, and deep-green shingles reflected the woodsy setting in which it nestled. There was a Japanese influence throughout the property in the use of low, blunt stone benches, stone lanterns, and dramatic brown fencing with ornate gates. The best part about this garden was the detailed labels reliably found at the base of most of the plants on display, I was told many were gifts to the owner who had wanted to be sure to remember what each new acquisition was called. This sort of touch showed just how much a garden is the outgrowth of the enthusiasm of its owner. Based on what I overheard from the other members of the tour, it was the yellow peonies of this garden that were all the rage. I certainly found them a happy attraction. THREE BLOOM RATING

The next garden on the tour was noticeably different from the usual, which was clear from the moment we walked between two gated stone towers with a huge painted sign announcing the residence as Oakridge Manor. For all the loudness of the front entrance, the house itself was reasonably-sized, allowing for the sprawling, forested property to take the focus. I personally will take more yard over more house any day. Shady hillsides were broken up with pathways, wandering creeks, gazebos, and lush green bursts of hosta. Water was a major component of this garden, splashing out of small pools, filling ponds, and raining down rocky waterfall features. I was slightly creeped out by the odd collection of smiling ceramic figurines that found their way into just about every nook of the garden, but the gorgeous natural setting outweighed their off-putting effect. FOUR BLOOM RATING

The next property was easily my favorite of the tour, especially because of the casual way its classy gardens were integrated into the gently sloping landscape. The whole place was surrounded by woods on most sides and gave way to a grassy meadow beyond. Past a shady grove populated with native ferns. the property opens up into an lawn stretching to the main residence, which was broken up with groves of weeping hemlock, dogwood, and even a large cherry tree. This once being farm country, the crumbling stone foundation of an original barn served as a pleasant ruin garden filled with boxwood bushes, irises, and sweet-smelling pink roses that demanded attention. A pristine white house stands proudly at the top of a hill and is hung all around with a thick, well-trained vine of what looked like wisteria (if so, it must really be a sight in its blooming season). On one side of the house, an ornate iron fountain overlooks the lawn, adding some old-world charm. Other highlights included some gnarly, towering old boxwood bushes within the circular driveway and a small pond on the forest’s edge surrounded with bright yellow irises. The whole place was impressive, and if they aren’t careful I might show up again and demand another look! FIVE BLOOM RATING

Rose Hill, the fourth stop on our garden adventure, didn’t seem so lofty on initial approach, but after rounding the corner past a wrap-around porch I was suddenly looking out over a long sloping hillside carved with garden pockets, each with its own theme or purpose. The home is the original farmstead of a larger property that has since been divided up into a housing development, but still retains some of that historic feeling–it is easy to imagine the gardens existing in another time period. At the bottom of the hill, the namesake roses grow in tangles of red and pink flowers alongside a vegetable garden and a collection of various fig trees. While the different sections each had their own charm, I wasn’t especially excited by the overall layout of the garden. THREE BLOOM RATING

Our tour came to an end in a captivating garden hidden in another unassuming neighborhood in Silver Spring. A few notable trees out front, including a tri-colored beech and a stately cyprus, did not prepare me for the floral wonderland to be found around the back. Every available spot is crammed with some kind of rare specimen that had been carefully cultivated to impressive results. This is the kind of unexpected private garden that a tour like this gives due attention to. So many standout plants compete for your attention as you weave your way through the trees and flowerbeds, but I was particularly captivated by a bunch of rainbow ascot euphorbia with their profusion of tiny flowers and long leaves. I loved, as well, the clusters of pink and white mountain laurel blooms amongst the shrubbery. One look at the neighbor’s boring yards on either side showed the artistry with which the homeowner has sculpted something special out of her allotted land. FIVE BLOOM RATING

>> Find out more about the Sandy Spring Museum Garden Club here.

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