Creating the Form that Fits the Function
A career in marketing wine and spirits and a long commute prevented Alan Rogers, EMG Class of 2020, from fully enjoying his two favorite pastimes – golf and gardening. “Wherever we lived, there were always gardens to tend,” he said, “but maintaining them felt more like a chore than a challenge.” Moving to Winchester in 2019, and buying a house with 3,000-square-feet of once-loved, but since neglected gardens, answered a burning question: What am I going to do when I retire? Golf could wait.
“We spent the first year, cleaning out knee-deep leaves and debris, and ripping out overgrown azaleas, holly and yews planted too close to the house,” Alan said. “When it was clean enough to see what was left, I started documenting everything in Power Point. Now we’re in the process of thinning out to make room for flowering perennials that catch our eye at garden centers, transplanting, and donating overage to our kids and to NSVMGA programs.”
Alan no longer thinks of weeding and mulching as a chore; it’s more like therapy. “It gives me something to do and a strong sense of accomplishment at the end of the day,” he said. “I can’t just sit around and relax.” The mechanical aspects of gardening are his favorite. “My wife, Gail, (EMG Class of 2020) comes up with new ideas for gardens, and I go to work.”
He has constructed a Zen meditation/yoga garden, a tea garden, a sunflower path, meandering brick pathways and an additional raised-bed vegetable garden. For the tea garden, where Gail grows a variety of herbs and plants for tisanes, he made seats using giant logs from an oak destroyed by lightning. He is most proud of the Zen garden because he was able to reclaim and improve a 500-square-foot patch of dry ground with western exposure, hidden behind the brick wall of a free-standing garage.
“Since the garden is out of sight, I wanted to make it as low-maintenance as possible,” he said. “I also wanted to incorporate as many traditional aspects of a Zen Garden as possible.” Instead of sand, the base is pea gravel. He built a huge trellis to cover the brick wall and planted fragrant vines to mimic a waterfall. “We bought one feature rock, and our son trucked in a few more from his property in Maryland to create ‘islands,’ surrounded by low-growing evergreens like creeping juniper,” he said. He built a “bridge” – a raised platform – to access the garden from one end, and a yoga platform, both trimmed in bright red. Along the other side of the garage, he built a stone path and a narrow garden bed to accommodate Gail’s passion for sunflowers. And, of course, there’s the obligatory Buddha statue.
Becoming a Master Gardener has been both an inspiration and a learning experience. “The course made me aware of how much I don’t know about gardening,” he said. He particularly enjoyed working at the Frederick County Greenline to earn volunteer hours. “It was a win-win for the client and for me,” he said. “Researching every response pushed me to learn more.”
Although he often threatens to stop creating new gardens, he still talks about expanding the existing ones, or creating a water feature – something he did when the couple owned a bed and breakfast in North Carolina. He can’t seem to stop himself. In the off-season, he built a new garden and pathway at the family’s beach rental. “There’s no such thing as an idle gardener,” he said.
Learn more about design elements and plants recommended for a Zen Garden.
Back to Home Turf.