As we drove up to our new home on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, we were filled with excitement and anticipation. Our 1906 Colonial-Revival home greeted us with stately bones, hiding proudly behind the lush greenery encompassing the structure. The song “Welcome to the Jungle” rang in our heads as we caught our first glimpse of just how well things grow in the rich soil on the shore.
We escaped the rat race of Northern Virginia to open a bed and breakfast in the tranquil atmosphere of Cape Charles. We purchased a historical home, which had been impeccably renovated in 1995, to realize our dream. Our “old gal” just needed a little “work” – at 106 years old, you’d need a bit of a lift too! We decided to start with the landscape.
The transformation of the outside of a home is rewarding, and sometimes as challenging as the interior. Both reflect the personality of the property and its owners, while setting a stage for the mood of the home. As we looked at the task before us, we knew that we first needed to clear things out and create a blank palette. But first things first, as in any DIY project, we needed to do our research before we began the demo. We considered what shrubs we could save or relocate. We then took on the task of clearing things out and called in the reinforcements: reciprocating saw, loppers, chain saw, shovels, pick axes and, of course, my 75 year-old mother Sarah Green from Yorktown, VA. Sarah is a passionate life-long gardener from whom I get my inspiration for gardening. We put on hats, sunscreen, bug spray, work gloves and then jumped in…one section at a time, dragging and hauling tree branches, vines, and shrubs to the perimeter of the property into large mounds of debris.
Demolition went on for weeks. One of the most daunting tasks was the removal of a Pampas Grass plant, affectionately named “The BEAST,” that was 15 ft in diameter and 7 ft tall. Several reciprocating saw blades, a brush with poison ivy, and multiple bee stings later, this particular three-weekend removal project was one of biggest challenges of the renovation and certainly one of the most rewarding.
After the demolition was done, the fun began…designing the new landscape.
As a master gardener, I learned the importance of the motto: “right plant, right place.” Because we were in a new planting zone, we needed to learn about the soil, humidity, wind, etc. of this coastal region of Virginia. Selecting plants that are native to the Eastern Shore and that would thrive in this environment was the key to the success of our project.
We wanted the front of the house to have clean lines with an inviting entrance. Laurie Klingel, of Appleseed Porch and Nurseries — a dear friend who just also happens to be the gardener for Eyre Hall historic gardens — suggested rosemary to line the entrance path, thus providing guests with a fragrant remembrance coming and going from the home. Evergreens were planted around the perimeter of the house and annuals were planted in front of the evergreens to provide a pop of color – and can be changed yearly. We chose mostly drought-tolerant plants and Jim installed a drip-line irrigation system that is strategically placed to provide small amounts of water for each plant.
We sculpted meandering pathways on both sides of the property, creating a soft and welcoming walk along the gardens. A stepping stone pathway of concrete sand dollars leads guests through the “cut flower” garden, which we planted so that we and our guests can enjoy fresh-cut flowers throughout the season. We intentionally chose plants that attracted butterflies, hummingbirds, bumblebees and feathered friends. In 2012 there were three stars of the garden:
- The Mexican Petunia (Ruellia brittoniana) lines the perimeter of the property with glorious purple blooms. It is a magical plant which drops its blooms daily and starts the next day with a full bounty of purple flowers.
- The vibrant red Amaranthus, which were planted as an after-thought around the crepe myrtle, are the most asked about flower of the entire landscape.
- The red and orange milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) was the surprise flower of the summer. We learned this plant attracts an incredible amount of Monarch Butterflies for its nectar and that the Monarch Butterfly caterpillars eat the leaves of this plant exclusively. The beauty of this plant is captivating and knowing the science behind it is a real bonus!
Also putting thought into adding to being as “green” as possible by adding rain barrels around the property and selecting drought tolerant plants as much as possible. Tammy’s Master Gardener resources came in handy, doing much research and observations of other gardens before settling on the best plants for the grounds.
On the west side of the house is the more expressive portion of the landscape, where we set up Adirondack chairs under our lone palm on a bed of crushed oyster/clam shells. Innkeeper Tammy is a lifelong Jimmy Buffett fan — officially known as a “Parrot Head” — so you know it is always “Five o’ Clock” at Bay Haven Inn of Cape Charles…well at least in this little nook of the property! We believe this area brings a bit of Key West to Cape Charles; after all, they both have remarkable sunsets. This make-over began in July 2011 and was completed by the end of summer 2012, but all gardeners know it is always a work in progress. We can now sit as the sun is setting and enjoy our landscaped “haven” — which is just what we needed after hundreds of hours of sweating, hauling, digging and planting to complete this landscape transformation.
Once the gardens surrounding the house were transformed, we set out to create our vegetable and herb gardens. We grow many of our starter plants from seed, often the most unique heirloom seeds that we can find. Our guests benefit from these gardens as we share the bounty in our “Farm to Fork” breakfasts. As we are blessed with such a plentiful bounty, you will often find us “putting up” all types of garden harvest. And during the summer months, guests are able to enjoy the gardens in a “pick your own” harvest, leaving them with fresh vegetables and herbs to take home.
We enjoy strolling through the gardens with guests and sharing our story, hearing their stories, or helping with challenges in their gardens. Our gardens are a laborious gift of love that we are honored to share.