Exploring Private Edens

Horticulturalist and garden writer Jack Staub gives readers a glimpse into a world of rarely seen, idyllic gardens
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A vignette from Hortulus Farm, Jack Staub’s Pennsylvania garden that is seasonally open to the public two days a week.
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Horticulturalist Jack Staub and Chester at home at Hortulus Farm in Wrightstown, Pennsylvania

Who better than horticulturalist Jack Staub to write a book on secret gardens? As owner of the hundred-acre farmstead Hortulus Farm Nursery & Gardens with Renny Reynolds, Staub certainly knows about private Edens firsthand.

Private Edens: Beautiful Country Gardens is a lavishly photographed book that highlights personal country gardens primarily in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic states. Beautifully depicted here are five New York gardens; two from Maryland; one from New Jersey; and four each from Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Virginia.

Each garden is unique and reflects the owner’s vision and plant material complementary to its particular zone. Staub often relies on the owner’s own words to transport readers to the individual special site. We learn what each property was originally like, how it has been enhanced and amended, and the owner’s dream of what is to come. These gardens are all very well suited to their vernacular, architecture, and individual topography. In every garden is a wonderful balance between nature and design. Trees are vital to all of these gardens, several of which have their own small orchards of assorted fruit trees.

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Oak Hill, the splendid home designed by Thomas Jefferson in 1820 for James Monroe, is encircled by 1,200 acres in Aldie, Virginia.

One of my favorite private gardens featured in the book is Oak Hill in Aldie, Virginia. Oak Hill is a private residence not open to the public. James Monroe inherited the land from his uncle, and Thomas Jefferson designed the home for Monroe in 1820. When Monroe retired from his second term in office as President of the United States, he lived at Oak Hill until moving to New York to reside with his daughter at the end of his life.

This imposing brick home has an extraordinary Doric colonnade set on a high foundation that overlooks the garden and more than a thousand acres of rolling Virginia countryside. Huge boxwoods and an allée of mature trees generously frame the handsome redbrick façade. Just looking at the photographs of this home and garden makes my heart pine for Virginia.

Private Edens is a gorgeous resource. It offers terrific ideas for combining plant material, working in conjunction with steep slopes, or blocking undesirable views. The varieties of handsome wooden fencing, stone terraces, and walls for dining and solace are also inspiring. Treat yourself to this extraordinary book and enhance your own Eden.

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A beautiful, formal rose and boxwood garden in Orange, Virginia, designed by landscape designer Charles Stick.

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Purchase Private Edens: Beautiful Country Gardens by Jack Staub (Gibbs Smith, 2013).

Follow Hortulus Farm and Garden Nursery on Facebook, Instagram, and at HortulusFarm.com.

By Susan S. Elliott

Photography by Rob Cardillo from Private Edens by Jack Staub, Reprined with Permission by Gibbs Smith.

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