p172.2_Old-fashionedGardenSundial_Tracy Di Sabato-Aust, DiSabato-Aust Design
From “American Home Landscapes”. Photo by Tracy DiSabato-Aust.

This is a big week at Cylburn Arboretum. Located off of Northern Parkway, this green oasis is increasingly enjoyed by both city and county residents. In recent years, the Cylburn Arboretum Association  has connected nature with art through exhibitions in the Vollmer Center, programs for adults and children and an artist-in-residence program.

Cylburn’s first artist-in-residence, Patricia Bennett opens her exhibit of paintings done during her past year there. Well-known as an event painter, Bennett has also produced an impressive series of Impressionistic paintings of the gardens.  An opening reception takes place Friday, November 1 at 5:30 p.m. The show continues through the weekend, then November 5-7.

A new effort begins Sunday, November 3 at 2 p.m. with the Arboretum’s first book talk and signing. In cooperation with the Ivy Bookshop  and Timber Press, author Laura Burchfield will speak and show excerpts from her newly released book American Home Landscapes, A Design Guide to Creating Period Garden Styles


I’ve been working to replant the gardens around the 1922 Roland Park house where I grew up and live. Not until I saw the Timber Press book did I realize what a period garden we still have.  Essential elements of American, Colonial Revival gardens from 1900-1930 include:  symmetry, balance and a central axis, geometric beds, a picket fence, old-fashioned flowers.

In Roland Park, fences were originally permitted only in limited form, never in the front yard, because of the Olmsted design principal of low hedges instead of fences. At our house, however, the second owner was granted an exception to the architectural restrictions, because he thought Cold Spring Lane was too busy. If only he could see it now. Boxwoods were used for the front border, but along the sides and back, he installed brick pillars with sections of square, white spindles in between.

American Landscape pic 2

No flower garden was in front or along the sides, just more boxwoods and a long lilac border on the east side and privet hedge on the west.

American Landscape pic

In back, in the style of the times, was a formal garden comprised of geometric beds, set apart from the surrounding landscape by shrubbery, in our case boxwoods. Those enormous English boxwoods recently became so diseased that we removed them. The garden felt naked without them, so I reinstalled a few American varieties. I have not replaced the boxwood hedge on the west side of the formal garden, nor have I replaced the long trellis, another common feature of 1920’s gardens, that once supported grape vines.\

American landscape pic 3

When my family first moved here, the only plants in the formal garden were daffodils, candytufts, irises, peonies and roses. We still have those, as well as original boxwoods, mock orange bushes, privet, peonies, lilacs, crepe myrtle and a Japanese cedar tree on the property. Original, thick flagstone paths remain too.

As I work to simplify and restore our garden, I’m trying for more native plants. I will now select them from the extensive planting lists and pictures in American Home Landscapes, a book that illuminates garden design and plantings found throughout America.