Digging it

Garden Conservancy tour of three Lincoln sites promises eclectic experience
By: Liz Kellar The News Messenger
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Lincoln’s unusually cool spring is over and the county is starting to heat up – and that means gardens are finally starting to come into their own. And not a minute too soon, because this Saturday marks the annual Garden Conservancy Open Days. The conservancy’s Open Days features more than 300 gardens nationwide that throw open their garden gates to the public for a nominal $5 fee. Sunday is the Sacramento event, which this year features two gardens in Lincoln and one that sits on the border between Lincoln and Newcastle. One of the gardens featured, Maple Rock Gardens, is a veteran of the event; one, Springhill, is back for the second time; and one, the Golden/Darville residence, debuts this year. Springhill Springhill features “gardening on a grand scale,” according to the Garden Conservancy Web site – and a grand scale it is, sprawling across 50 acres at the far end of Garden Bar Road. The brainchild – or is it fever dream? – of lawyer and author John Poswall, the garden features everything from a version of Stonehenge to a 19-foot-high fountain. There’s truly something for everyone here, from a whimsical garden featuring pink flamingos and gnomes to a serene pond bounded by a wooded walkway. On a recent visit, Poswall showed off the various gardens on his property, including a shade garden featuring rock roses and salvias; the “Limoni Iardini,” or Italian garden, a trellised terrace overlooking a lawn that drops down to the giant fountain; and a rose garden built with 100 tons of boulders that rises steeply to just below the house. “Really, I don’t know much about plants,” confessed Poswall. “I go for the color or the shape.” He began the gardens after he built the house on the property in 1996, building the rose garden first. He married his wife, Peg Tomlinson, there. “I walked around in a big circle and had a guy follow me with a bulldozer,” he said. “That was the start of the Italian garden.” Much of the property remains fairly wild, including the creek that feeds the pond. Still, the sheer scope of the garden means that the work required to maintain it is constant, Poswall said. “In the summer, we’re just trying to keep everything alive,” he said. “In the spring, we’re planting and major construction takes place in the winter. My wife keeps asking, ‘Are we finished?’ I am until I see the next garden I like.” Poswall is a garden buff and has acquired most of his inspiration from his travels, he said. “Each garden is like, hey, there’s an idea – let’s do that,” he said. For example, he said, he likes the “formality” of Italian gardens, but designed to fit the landscape here. “When we travel, we do two things,” Poswall said. “Peg selects places – restaurants or markets – to visit, and I make a list of gardens. We’ll go way out of our way to see a special garden. The problem is the different climates. You can get ideas, but you can’t necessarily plant those plants.” Pressed to name his favorite garden, he doesn’t hesitate long before naming Boboli in Florence, pulling out a book titled “1001 Gardens to See Before You Die.” “The reason is, there’s so much there,” he said. “You’ll come around a corner or up a hill and there’ll be fountains.” Poswall admitted that sometimes his ambition outstrips his ability. “I get in trouble trying to replicate things,” he said. “I get all these great ideas, but Butchart Gardens (in Victoria, British Columbia) has 30 people taking care of it. It’s wonderful to build the gardens, but the maintenance – it’s the weeding that kills you. Nature takes over.” Inspired by Monet It’s easy to drive right by the Golden/Darville residence on Virginiatown Road. Sue Golden’s house faces the road just outside Lincoln – but pull into the driveway and you realize that a treasure box of a garden lies tucked behind the unassuming structure. What had been patchy lawn when Golden bought the property has been ripped out and replaced with winding paths of gravel and a judicious selection of shade trees. Once past the house, the garden opens up in a series of casual courtyards, through a large vegetable garden and a bamboo grove. The crown jewel, however, is a large pond brimming with water lilies. Golden, who owns Golden Pond Water Plants in Loomis, originally supplied water plants to the previous owner of the property. Much of the current garden was already in place when Golden bought the land, she said. “I’ve been refining it,” she said. As part of her improvements, she has registered the property with the National Wildlife Federation, making it friendly to all manner of birds, including wood ducks, which she encourages to nest with nesting boxes nailed to trees. “They hatch tons of little ones every year,” she said. “Last year, I was able to witness the little ducks jumping out of the next box. They all group together, they stay in a tight bundle (on the water) so the fish won’t eat them.” The half-acre pond also plays host to other varieties of ducks, including a pair of mallards and a family of Gallinule ducks, which are related to coots. Golden is currently finishing a “summer house” with a loft and French doors at the far end of the pond that offers the perfect spot to observe the wildlife. “It’s really active,” Golden said. “There are turtles, bass and bluegill. You notice a lot of interesting things, just having to maintain it. We have to do a lot of weeding – it’s definitely not low-maintenance.” Golden keeps a paddleboat anchored at the dock to weed the pond – which she said is “not very fun but it’s therapeutic.” When Golden first purchased the property, she said, the pond was choked with cattails and hyacinths. The cattails now are kept to the edges of the pond, helping to screen the neighbors from view. The hyacinths, too, are corralled at one end of the pond, helping to filter the water. Golden, who has a degree in ornamental horticulture, has been in the nursery business for 14 years — but owning a large pond of her own has been an invaluable experience. “It was the best thing to do, to learn about big ponds,” she said. “You can read about it, but you have to learn by doing it.” Maple Rock Gardens Frank and Ruby Andrews are garden tour veterans, having participated in Open Days for the last six or seven years. They started the gardens approximately 17 years ago, Ruby Andrews said – once the kids were grown. The three acres of gardens include a walled vegetable garden, a Japanese meditation garden, a redwood garden pavilion with extensive shade plants, a memory garden and a secret garden in the forest above the fruit orchard. But pride of place is definitely reserved for the more than 80 Japanese maples that grace the property. Two manmade waterfalls – one of which is at least 20 feet high – provide a focal point in front of the house and lead to the Japanese garden. Andrews gives a great deal of credit to Hiro Matsuda of Matsuda Nursery, who is well-known locally for his bonsai. Quite a few of his trees punctuate the property, including several olive trees. “This was all orchard, in full sun,” Andrews said. “It has taken a long time to develop the shade to allow these plants.” Andrews said she never has a master plan in mind when it came to the extensive plantings. “It just evolved, over the years,” she said. “By doing it that way and taking our time, I think it flows fairly well – at least I hope so. If I create something I don’t like, I’ll edit it or just take it out.” The most recent project, she said, has been a mad scramble to complete in time for the tour on Sunday – a pair of his and hers miniature railways. A group of miniature train enthusiasts are brining in two more railway sets for the tour, she said. “It has taken us four months to do a year’s work,” she said. “It’s made us a little crazy.” Like most gardeners, Andrews is never done. “I always feel it’s good until the next project,” she said. Sidebar What is the Open Days Program? The Open Days Program is essentially a series of private garden tours around the country that begins in early spring and continues through the fall of each year. Each summer, gardeners are invited by local Regional Representatives to become Garden Hosts and agree to open their garden during a scheduled Open Day (or several days) in their area. The Open Days are self-guided tours. Visitors decide which garden they want to visit and in what order. Do I Need Reservations? No. Open Days are self-guided tours. Simply show up at the garden during the times indicated and pay at the gate. There are no rain dates for these tours. Is there an admission fee? Yes. There is a $5 admission fee per person per garden that you may pay in cash or check at the entrance of each Open Day garden. Children 12 and under are admitted free. Etiquette in the Garden Our Open Days Hosts spend countless hours preparing their gardens for your visit. Please reward their hard work by following these guidelines: Do not pick any plant or remove any part of a plant. Do not leave litter in the garden. Stay on the paths. Follow any posted signs or directions. Respect the privacy of the owners by not contacting them directly. Please leave all pets at home. Children must be supervised at all times. Park your car so others can enter and leave the parking area. Ask the owner’s permission to take photographs; tripods are not permitted. Respect the listed dates and times of openings. For more information, go online at