‘Garden Spots’ ~ Becky Brownlie’s Shaded Retreat

By Erin Meier

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It was clear from my first glimpse of Becky Brownlie’s garden, that here was a woman who loved plants. The range of foliage and texture in her garden is truly stunning. When I arrived, she invited me inside and we chatted about her garden over tea and a freshly-baked lemon verbena cake.

Becky and her family have lived in their current home for just over nineteen years. Previously, they lived in South Africa, where Becky actually studied botany at the University of Cape Town. It was, Becky told me, an exhilarating place to study plants because of their Mediterranean climate.This translated to an astounding diversity of plant species within a small area.

When they moved to their current home, she began work on the garden right away. Originally, there were just a few Portuguese laurels, some pine and an ornamental cherry. What she’s done since then, has been almost entirely on her own.

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Every hole that was dug, every weed routed and “every edge on every stone” as she said. And while some might find such a project overwhelming, Becky says that she found the process exhilarating.

“The thing I’ve learned the most is how to get continuous seasonal interest”. In the spring, Becky’s garden is awash with the blooms of spring bulbs, rhododendrons, azaleas and clematis. As the season progresses, alliums, roses, and irises all make an appearance. “Irises and lilies are fantastic workhorses,” Becky pointed out. “Bulbs are often underestimated, they can fill gaps in the garden and there are some good ones that bloom at weird times.”

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Becky is particularly fond of asters, or ‘my aster symphony’ as she calls it and said that she would “never plant a garden without asters…or sedums…or grasses…” And she would “never live without hostas and maples.” Like many true plantswomen, Becky has a hard time picking her favorite plant.

But it’s not just plants that make Brownlie’s garden a thing of beauty. There is a purpose, and a mindfulness to the placement of every plant, piece of art or hardscaping throughout the yard. I asked her who her design influences were and she cited perennial favorite Rosemary Verey as well as the innovative Dutch designer Piet Oudolf. I myself, particularly felt his influence at the entrance to the garden, where bold drifts of perennials and grasses create a riot of texture.

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I also had to ask Becky about the pretty chickens perched here and there in her garden. It turns out, that they are actually from South Africa where trash such as plastic hangers and bags are often re-purposed into art. They also make beautiful toys out of electric wires and plastic tops. Really, you can re-purpose anything, Becky says.

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As an apartment gardener, who regularly tweaks and ‘makes-do’ to create my own garden, I found Becky’s perspective re-freshing and inspiring. Her garden is truly a ‘retreat’ for plant lovers and art lovers alike.

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