February 09, 2022
A friend asked me how I find gardens to see when traveling. Aside from online research a lot comes down to asking gardeners who live in the area. And it pays to build in time for last-minute additions to your itinerary. Such was the case with Paxson Hill Farm, a New Hope, Pennsylvania, nursery with a marvelous, expansive garden that’s open to the public for a small fee.
I only learned about Paxson Hill while visiting James Golden’s garden during my October road trip from Maine to Virginia. James suggested I visit, and I was able to double back one day while staying in the Brandywine Valley and spent a couple of hours exploring this wonderful place. This is Part 1 of my 3-post coverage of it. Yes, it’s that good!
Garden designer Bruce Gangawer owns 30-acre Paxson Hill Farm, where he’s let his gardening imagination run wild — and somehow found the time to build and maintain extensive gardens. Out front, nursery tables overflow with a lush display of plants.
I laughed over this Halloween-ready display of carnivorous plants: Meat eaters! Little Pot of Horrors!
Goth, dark-leaved plants and fall-flowering perennials stood ready for fall containers. I was captivated by a black urn holding stacked pumpkins (the bottom one may be upside-down) with a spooky tree silhouette painted on them.
How very Haunted Mansion.
I glanced at the nursery yard but didn’t stop. Plants from other parts of the country seldom thrive in my Texas garden, and besides, I had a garden to tour. I paid my admission in the gift shop and headed down the drive…
…which circles around an island bed chock-full of glowing yellow discs on bobbing wire stakes…
…and past a towering tree trunk that had been carved into a story-telling totem pole.
I entered the lush and leafy Shade Garden first.
I had company, a white peacock who scrounged about for bugs as I explored.
I hoped to get a photo of him in a white garden surrounding a circular lawn, but he wasn’t having any of it.
A standing stone marks the path, and ahead a lantern leads you on.
That path leads to a broad circular lawn, a crossroads where multiple paths branch off like spokes from a central hub. The shade garden path is just one of them.
The crossroads! Enticing paths branch off in all directions. Which way to go first? Well, first let’s check out the kinetic Jeff Kahn sculpture that anchors the space.
It’s called Naked Alien, although it reminds me of paper airplanes. The most enticing path lay straight ahead, but I saved it for later.
Two other paths that beg to be explored. Let’s take the short one on the right and see it quickly before plunging into the main gardens.
A double border of perennials and small trees flanks a wide lawn path, which clearly sees vehicle traffic. A gate marked the far side as private, so I turned back to the crossroads.
Next I explored the Katsura Garden, led on by the white peacock, who deftly managed to avoid my lens in picturesque spots. Easier to capture a garden-art heron.
Clematis gone to seed on an iron tuteur, looking like troll hairdos.
And here’s the katsura tree, turning orange. It must be glorious at peak fall color.
A parting look at the heron, pond, and Shade Garden in the distance.
Returning to the crossroads and Naked Alien sculpture, I debated which path to take next. Really, all the options looked pretty good.
I headed toward an open, sunny space — a formal garden with an event-space lawn bordered by boxwood and ornamental trees.
Off to one side, a tall fence and gate close off a small private garden that looks to belong to a guesthouse. Lucky visitors!
On the left, a long berm — all the elevation changes at Paxson Hill are manmade, I read — hides the garden on the other side with a burgundy-and-lavender border.
On the right, a large-scale wooden sculpture attracts the eye. This thing is massive. Unfortunately I didn’t get the name of the artist.
Check out the detail involved in all those cuts and angles and different-sized boards.
It’s clear that not only a talented designer but serious art collector lives here. And all the works seem to be by Philadelphia artists. Here at the end of the lawn, a series of framing devices draws your eye through a long axis. Symmetrical planters on pedestals, a figurative sculpture that’s also an arbor, tall hedges, and a moon gate frame a view of a bubbling fountain.
Adam & Eve by Miguel Antonio Horn consists of two nude figures whose broken bodies are held together with wire, which also forms their lower legs and feet. They solemnly face each other, bound within the arbor that connects them.
Must stop to admire the planter with flowering echeveria too.
In this same space, another large dual sculpture adds to the framing of the long view: Michael Grothusen‘s Life’s Joys – Life’s Disappointments.
The two basket-like structures are identical. One is called Life’s Joys.
The other, Life’s Disappointments. Equal measures of each in most lives?
Stepping through the Adam & Eve arbor, you’re in a bosque of trees set in frothy green squares. This hedged garden room funnels you toward an impressive stone moon gate. But carved plaques and other objects invite you to poke around a bit before passing through. So let’s poke.
Are those steeples?
Here’s Keats in bas-relief.
And another devoted to William Blake
The limestone moon gate is another Philadelphia work of art. According to the plaque, it was the outer ring of a rose window from a Philly church. And check out those spiky yucca planters.
Toto, we’re not in Philadelphia anymore!
Having stepped through, I can’t resist a look back the way I came — framed all the way to Naked Alien.
And here’s the fountain destination. From this point, paths exit at every side.
Staying on the straight path, a pair of pedestals marks the exit from the Temple Garden, along with a wonky bit of stone paving.
Maybe the stone blocks are a work in progress? I get the feeling Paxson Hill Farm is being added to often. It has a fresh, imaginative feel.
Up next: Part 2 of my tour of Paxson Hill Farm, including a bog garden, amphitheater, Never-Never Land island, and Hobbit house! For a look back at pumpkin florals at Terrain garden shop, click here.
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Need design help with your yard? Hire me as your personal garden coach! Maybe you need replacement plant ideas after the big freeze. Or maybe your landscaping has grown tired, and you want fresh curb appeal. Or perhaps you’re ready to get rid of some lawn and create a pollinator garden, bird habitat, or hangout space for you and your friends. I’m here to help! Contact me to let me know what’s going on, and let’s figure it out together. My range is Austin and suburbs within a 25-min. drive of NW Austin, but I’m flexible and can travel farther with a surcharge, so let me know where you are. Weekday morning appts. only.
Attend the John Fairey Garden’s annual Budding Out Plant Sale & Festival on Saturday, March 19 in Hempstead. Rare and distinctive plants from the garden’s nursery and other vendors will be available, plus art, ceramics, jewelry, food, music, and entertainment for the whole family. Open 10 am to 4 pm. Members get first dibs at the plant sale with 9 am entry (memberships available at the gate). Check the webpage for a continually updated vendor list.
Join the mailing list for Garden Spark! Hungry to learn about garden design from the experts? I’m hosting a series of talks by inspiring garden designers, landscape architects, and authors a few times a year in Austin. Check out the 2021-22 schedule. These are limited-attendance events that sell out quickly, so join the Garden Spark email list to be notified in advance. Simply click this link and ask to be added.
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