Virginia Rechtschaffen has always loved trees. She and her husband Rob even once owned a house in Belchertown that came complete with an orchard. Lots of trees. For the past 20 years she and Rob have lived in Northampton and accomplished something I would have thought impossible. Their in-town garden is embraced by a ring of large trees with a heart of sunshine at its center. How did they do it?
Virginia said when they moved into the house she felt she needed some help with a Plan. They hired a designer, but in the end they only used the design for the front of the house which is lovely in its simplicity. A boxwood hedge borders the sidewalk marking off the private space around the house. A trident maple which will grow to about 35 feet is surrounded by groundcovers like epimediums and pulmonaria, and geranium macrorrhizum. All of these bloom in early spring. Virginia said she loved the delicate flowers of each, and the spotted foliage of the pulmoniaria.
A lamp post is surrounded by white Siberian irises, just beginning to bloom when I visited. The lush foliage of the groundcovers and the elegance of the irises point out that even familiar plants can make a beautiful statement when planted en masse.
There was also a large old sugar maple in front of the house which had to be removed, but it was replaced last week with a young Katsura tree, just in time for the Forbes Library Garden Tour on Saturday, June 13.
Another striking element of the front garden is the placement of several large stones, nestled among the plantings. There is a subtle art in knowing how to arrange stones in a garden so that they look like they belong, and give a sense of timelessness to the garden.
Blooming shrubs including rhododendrons and azaleas hug the house. A grassy walk between the house and a shrub border lead to the back garden. When I visited the garden was filled with birds that came to the birdbath and to peck away at bugs in areas of soil, left uncovered and unplanted just for them.
The garden is all curves, beds holding trees like the Acer triflorium which produces small spring flowers in clusters of three, accounting for its name as three flowered maple. It also has handsome exfoliating bark and good autumn color. The golden rain tree showers its flower petals to the ground accounting for its common name. Both these trees grow to between 20 and 30 feet tall, which some count as small trees, but which are large in a small garden.
Still, around the very edges of the property are shrubs and really large trees like a Katsura they planted in 1996 and a tall weeping conifer.
The Rechtschaffens have several different Japanese maples. Full Moon, which indeed has the shape of a full moon, stands opposite the golden rain tree at the entry of the social area, a firepit and chairs where the Rechtschaffens frequently enjoy solitude or friends around the fire.
They chose the plants and designed arrangement of these garden beds themselves because the plans created by the designers were too formal and symmetrical. That formality did not reflect the way they live or the way they look at the natural world.
As we looked at the clusters of winged maple seeds, properly called samaras, but often called helicopters or whirlybirds, Virginia said, “Even the smallest things in the garden are beautiful.
Those of us who attend garden tours are always looking to spend a day in beautiful spaces and to learn about techniques and plants we might use in our own gardens. Host gardeners also have their own desires. “What I would like is that when people leave our garden they will want to go a plant a tree in their garden,” Virginia said. I think she will very well get her desire.
The Rechtschaffen’s garden is just one of six beautiful and unique gardens on the Friends of the Forbes Library Annual Garden Tour on Saturday, June 13 from 10 am – 3 pm, rain or shine. Advance tickets are available for $15 at Forbes Library, Bay State Perennial Farm, Cooper’s Corner, HadleyGardenCenter, North Country Landscapes and State Street Fruit Store. Tickets on Saturday will be $20. Tickets come with a map for this self guided tour. There will be descriptions and guides at each garden to answer questions