Confessions of an Easy-Does-It Gardener

Jan Hall learns to let her garden go with nature's flow.

| February/March 2009

  • Jan Hall makes the most of shade and stone throughout her garden. Shade-tolerant ligularia, hostas, violets and feverfew (shown) are favorites.
    Pat Crocker
  • Seashells and stone are not only lovely accents, but also useful vessels that hold water for birds, butterflies and other wildlife.
    Pat Crocker
  • The stone trough, shown, is the focal point of a sunny bed of lamb's ears, astilbe and pinks.
    Pat Crocker
  • Volunteer feverfew and violas hug the rock table between the Halls' garden chairs. Easy techniques give the couple time to relax and enjoy the view.
    Pat Crocker
  • Herbs and stone intermingle throughout the garden. Creeping thyme softens a flagstone pathway.
    Jan Hall
  • Herbs and stone intermingle throughout the garden. Feverfew, thyme and potted culinary herbs flank the kitchen door.
    Jan Hall
  • Herbs and stone intermingle throughout the garden. Compost is ready to do its job behind the scenes, enclosed by a stacked stone wall.
    Pat Crocker

• Tips from an Easy-Does-It Gardener 

Jan Hall had a clear vision of her East Coast garden long before she ever set eyes on the house and land at Blackberry Farm in Bristol County, Massachusetts. She and her husband, Toby, knew they wanted a place with land after he left the Navy. “We lived in Washington, D.C., and I subscribed to an organic gardening magazine,” Jan says. During lunch breaks at her job in the admissions office of George Washington University, Jan would read and take notes, using a card file system, to prepare for their anticipated move.

In 1972, motivated to grow as much of their own food as possible, the Halls bought three acres tucked along a tree-lined street in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts, a short mile or two from Buzzards Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. But apart from the tangle of blackberries, no other plantings foreshadowed the 24 beds of vegetables, herbs and flowers that now flow effortlessly around their restored 1847 Greek Revival farmhouse.

Built to Last

Tackling the area behind the house first, the Halls cleared the land of a garbage pit and old barn foundations. They rebuilt many of the dry-stone walls along the perimeter of their land, separating it from the open, still-worked farm field behind it. That first summer, Jan recalls, “we created a vegetable garden and small herb garden. Many of the plants were given to me by my mother and great aunt, who was an early member of the Herb Society of America.”

Later, they added a second vegetable garden, grape arbor and blueberries to the side of the house. The Hall gardens are a pleasing mix of conscious design and free-form, natural growth. “I like to design the shapes of the garden areas first, then gradually find the plants to fill them,” Jan says. Over time, however, nature takes its own course, and Jan goes with the flow. Several areas that now contain herbs and flowers once were strawberry beds. When the Halls moved the strawberry plants to a new location to boost their production, “other plants took over the old bed and reshaped it with their own growth patterns.” Some once-separate garden beds have grown together as the plantings expanded.

The evergreen and deciduous trees that enclose the garden oasis look as though they’ve always been here, although the Halls planted many of them. “The trees we planted came either from the woods around us—mostly cedar and white pine—or from friends and family, who contributed hemlock, holly, tulip tree, dogwood, rhododendrons and several kinds of boxwood, including an English variety from my great aunt,” Jan says.

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