Welcome to English Garden Farm!


Ten days ago, I wrote, bewailing our bad luck, of being the recipients of 1/2” of ice, lasting something like 36 hours. A lot of damage? Well, yes but, with one apparent exception, none of it was fatal. The 25’ sawtooth oak (Quercus accutissima) that was located near one corner of the rose garden, lost several large branches (5-6” in diameter) and this has exposed the fact that the center of the tree was hollow and obviously diseased. So better it come down now rather than in the middle of the active growing season. In fact, it will probably improve that corner of the garden, removing some competition and shade where it wasn’t really wanted.

Quercus acutissima (sawtooth oak) – note the trellis on the right, partly covered by downed branches: it is over 6′ tall!


Otherwise, it does not appear that damage to others (Cladrastis lutea ‘Perkins Pink’, Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Variegata’, Quercus robur ‘Pendula’, Sophora (Styphnolobium) japonica, Salix matsudana torulosa, Liriodendron tulipifera ‘Fastigata’) is not enough to require complete removal although a number of the downed branches were the size of small trees!

I suppose it is normal development/change rather than coincidence that I have been planning some major pruning and shrub renovation for later this winter and early spring. This project is part of an answer to the question: “How do we increase the overall open-ness of the garden, getting more sun to the main borders, without a drastic reduction in the number of larger plants?” Although I’ve been known to be merciless when I have decided that a plant no longer serves the purpose for which it was placed, it is not an activity that I relish and, in fact, I am normally quite hesitant to do anything that might injure a plant (due to my own ignorance) and especially to remove one that I put there in the first place. I’m quite sure I’m not singular in this feeling. Feeling guilty helps some and maybe it will deserve some credit for making better decisions in the future. (Guilt being what we feel when our decisions/actions cause unintended harm to someone else – as such, it can be a valuable emotion and does not always or even necessarily deserve all the bad press it gets)

Note:wrong plant in the wrong place decisions are a part of that malady that effects most serious gardeners: plantaholism, the uncontrolled (as opposed to uncontrollable) desire to have more plants. A friend of mine notes that you might as well feed it, since it will never go away! So true and therefore the real issue is not one of finding the right “give it up’ methodology, but of exercising (as opposed to exorcizing) a degree of intelligent direction and artistic control in the selection process. For example: being hit with the raging desire to have a really blue concolor fir (assuming you’ve figured out how not to kill them in two years or less) and determined to do so no matter what (which includes the fact that you have absolutely no room for another tree that wants to be 25-30’ at minimum), just look for a dwarf or, even better, a miniature cultivar. Yes, you can have your cake and eat it too, just be careful about what size cake you get!

PS – here’s a helpful hint about pruning (I teach this in our maintenance classes): if pruning for size, prune from the inside out (the oldest, largest growth first), and if for shaping, prune from the outside in. If for both, do both in the order given.


The View from above (2015)


1) a private garden which is now open to the public on Sunday afternoons from noon to five during growing season, roughly mid-April through mid-October (and at other times for small groups of five or more by appointment);
2) a place in which one looks at plants;
3) home to over 500 different kinds of trees and shrubs, including about 120 different kinds of conifers and over 80 different roses and nearly 500 different kinds of perennials including over 150 kinds of hosta and 50+ different daylilies.
4) a place for wandering, chatting, looking and generally immersing in a garden which, we hope, is full of interest, beauty and inspiration.

DSC_0400 (Small)HISTORY

Since 2003, Ashdowne  (which is the garden name,  English Garden Farm is the location) has been a work in progress and like any good garden, always will be. Prior to 2002, the property was approximately 2.5-3 acres of grass with a few ‘weed’ trees scattered about and a line of mature (50-70′) ashes along the roadside. There is also a 6 acre hayfield which we use as ‘borrowed landscape’. Otherwise, we are surrounded with industrial corn, soybean and some wheat farming.
(Comment on Ashdowne – the garden was originally named Ashgrove as a nod to the 18 very large, as noted above, ash trees which formed the northern border of the property, parallel to the highway. There were also several others, much smaller, scattered around in the grass surrounding the house; they were removed early on. In winter of 2017, all of the large ash trees had to be removed as the emerald ash borer had been doing its thing and these trees were either going to end up across the road or in the garden – neither a welcome development, so they were turned into firewood before they fell on their own. It completely changed the look and feel of the front of the garden as well as appearance from the road. If you had been here when the ash trees reigned and came now, you could easily drive right past it. It will be interesting to see how the plants which were formerly in the ‘rain and food’ as well as light shadow thrive now that such a huge source of competition has been removed. The absence of shade created some minor issues in another section of the garden, but the plants there seem to be adapting and the new, smaller shade trees that have been added for sun-protection seem to be doing just fine as well. The spelling of the garden’s name is just an affectation – what the heck.)

So-called ‘anchor’ trees were planted first, walk-ways outlined, and general overall shape determined. Over the course of the next 6-8 years, smaller trees and shrubs were added, areas between plants were made larger and, ultimately, large beds (we call them borders now) were established and the grass restricted to pathways. That process continues, with addition of many perennials with many, many more to come and several ‘hardscape’ projects in the works. Nearly all of the planting is in a mixed style for year-round interest and the pathways meander and wander in ways to pique the eye’s interest while presenting different views of each section.


Our approach to the garden has been governed by a number of principles to which we have tried to remain true:

1) if you can see dirt, there’s room for another plant;

2) if it doesn’t want to live here, we won’t try to force it;

3) every plant needs to earn its own keep, and each plant should play well with others;

4) we plant things because we like them;

5) every view of the garden should be visually pleasing, there should be a surprise around every corner; and you should never be able to see everything from any single vantage point;

6) we work in the dirt because it feels good and keeps us grounded (no pun) in reality;

7) the whole effort should be as sustainable as possible and function, except in emergencies, with the moisture provided by nature;

8) pesticides will not be used unless absolutely necessary to save a valuable plant (and then only in a very limited amount and space);

9) we need to share the results because that’s how we learned and it’s fun!

And lastly (not a guiding principle but a truism):

10) the size of a garden is inversely proportional to one’s distance from the ground (Craig’s maxim).


HOURS: The garden is open to the public on Sundays,

from 12:00 – 5:00 PM.

(Please see Garden Clubs and Workshop sections for other arrangements)

We have never charged a fee for visiting the gardens on Sunday afternoons when it is always open to the public; HOWEVER, beginning with 2017 we are asking for a contribution of $5 per person to visit the garden and $10 per person if you join one of the scheduled and guided tours (at 2:00 PM and 4:00 PM). 

We welcome you to come and visit.

You are welcome to wander at your leisure.

We are also happy to walk along, answer questions, and hold forth on gardening during guided tours that are available at 2 and 4 PM.

Please plan to visit when you can take the time to look at details as many of our plants are rare and unusual and deserve more than a cursory glance.

We ask that you keep animals in the car park area and small children under control.

We ask that you not smoke on the property (except downwind, on the periphery).

The grounds are not level and all the pathways are grass or gravel and therefore uneven.

Most of the garden is not wheelchair accessible although we will make every effort to assist anyone who wants to see it to do so.

We ask that you keep to the pathways; you never know what may be waiting under the soil in the blank spot you were ready to step on.

Most of the plants are not labeled; this is neither a botanic garden nor do we want to resemble a pet cemetery, but we do provide plant lists and are happy to identify plants for you.

The garden is, we hope, as any decent garden – a work in progress and planting, replanting, moving, trimming, etc. are happening throughout the season.

Wear comfortable walking shoes, bring a bottle of water for yourself, and some mosquito repellant is not a bad idea (they are usually not bad, if at all, but you never know).

We ask that you respect the privacy of the home.

Thank you in advance for visiting and your cooperation.