June 17, 2013

Secret Garden features American twist on English-formal gardens


---- — PLATTSBURGH — Slow-growing plants are the key secret to the lush garden of “Mr. and Mrs. Heyford” in Plattsburgh.

It is featured in Saturday’s Secret Garden Tour hosted by the Kent-Delord House Museum Garden Club.


Mr. Heyford received his garden primer in England, where he and his wife lived in a rented rectory.

“And that garden and that rectory, which is about a 1 acre lot, was very traditional, from the British standpoint, in that it had an orchard, about 12 apple trees, ... about six or nine plum trees, a lot of flowering trees, a lot of flowers,” he said. “But the particular grounds had been rented for a number of years and had been let run over. So my two or three years living in this house were spent mostly trying to bring it back up to what it was. And that’s where I probably got very interested in gardening.”

While working in the garden, he left work, the world and thinking behind.

“It’s just kind of a place, no one bothers me. Things are simple. If something is ailing, you try to fix it or you move it. If you don’t like the way it is, you can do it another way. So, it’s very peaceful. It’s calming.”

The Heyfords’ 1940s residence is situated on an island that gives them the advantage of garden views from the front and rear.

“What you see before you, none of this was here,” Mr. Heyford said.


The Ice Storm of 1998 severely damaged mature locust, maple and birch trees. The big trees were taken down, and new ones, like the honey locust, planted.

“When you buy a house in a neighborhood like this, you buy it because it’s been here for awhile and it has nice big, old trees that shade the house and everything,” he said. “And now what I am doing, I’m setting the next owner up for a nice, shady yard to protect him from the sun at the end of the day and those kinds of things.”

He has created serene and riveting vistas, all done without a vision.

“The front was the only place where I really sat down and kind of mapped out what I liked to do and made the walk. But everything back here was just designed upon what was already here, the brick patio. Also, if you go on the other side there, you will see that there’s a stone wall there that kind of helps us with this elevation with the step there,” Mr. Heyford said.

The Heyford aesthetic is an American twist on English-garden formality.

“If you look back there, you can see there is a rhythm, kind of a system, back there. There are plants at certain intervals,” he said.

His informality is a feathery, soft look; nothing hard.

“I don’t like to do a lot of carving out of trees to make balls and squares and stuff like that,” Mr. Heyford said. “I like to let nature do its thing.”


He uses a lot of perennials. Mrs. Heyford accents with annuals and hanging baskets.

“It keeps color in the garden,” he said. “Using the perennials, if you match the shapes, greens and the different blue-greens with the crimsons and stuff like that, you can create something if you design it so that you put enough things in that flower at different times in the spring and during the summer.”

There’s always movement — bloom, color or texture — in the garden, even in winter with Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick.

“It looks kind of funky in the summer. The leaves are like a dried tobacco leaf. It looks like its sort of dying. The limbs are kind of corkscrew. In the wintertime, when those leaves dry, there are a bunch of curlicues. You don’t see anything like it,” he said.

Once the leaves fall from the red-stick dogwood, its red branches brighten any winterscape, as does the winter berry in the backyard near the white fence.

“That winter berry leaves a lot of bright red berries on the trees. I try to put color and interest through my windows in the wintertime. I design the front with evergreens, so we don’t have anything losing its leaves. Then there’s always the formality of the cedars for visual and privacy,” Mr. Heyford said.


His favorite tree, a golden-black spruce, rivals Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. It’s asymmetrical, curved and gnarly.

“I didn’t know exactly how to plant it. They grow slow. I pick things that grow slow. Maturity is about 10 to 12 feet on that. If they grow slow, they don’t take up too much area,” he said.

Near the screened porch, there is clematis with deep-purple velvet blooms.

“One of the keys to those is to shade the roots ... It gets sun during the day, but it’s being shaded right now because once the sun goes overhead, it doesn’t get hit with the real-bad sunshine,” he said. “You can put a little bit of plants at the base and shade the roots, and that makes the clematis much more vigorous.”

In the Heyford’s garden, it is survival of the fittest. There’s no coddling with snow or wind screens.

“They get nothing,” Mr. Heyford said. “If they don’t make it through the winter, they get replaced. Eventually, through evolution, if something stays there, then it’s meant to be there. Basically, that’s what the rule is here. Every year, there will be a few perennials that won’t make it. I’ll go through, and they won’t be coming up. So those will get taken out and, generally, I will put something different in there and see how that does.”

He did grant a reprieve to a Carol Mackie Daphne when it failed to thrive after two seasons.

“I think it was the winter wind that was beating it up. I really like the plant. Let’s try it in a different location. Everything over here gets sheltered from the wind by the house from the predominant winter winds. But there’s a micro climate created by the lake right there, so it kind of keeps this, probably, a couple of degrees warmer. I stuck it over there; with all the rain we had this year, look at that thing,” he said.

He also didn’t have the heart to totally eradicate a juniper, which he pruned out.

Soon, the smoke bushes will reveal just why they have their name. A Cat-in-the-Hat-esque yew was once part of a hedge, 12 feet by 8 feet.

“I like when you clean the tree out and you can give it whatever shape you want,” Mr. Heyford said.

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WHAT: Secret Garden Tour hosted by the Kent-Delord House Museum Garden Club.

WHEN: Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, rain or shine.

WHERE: Various area locations. ADMISSION: Tickets are $10 in advance, or $12 the day of the event and can be purchased at Cook & Gardener, 139 Tom Miller Road, Plattsburgh; The Party Factory in Plattsburgh Plaza; and Ultra Wave Salon in West Bay Plaza. The Kent-Delord House Museum will be open from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Saturday for participants to get tour maps.

CONTACT: For questions, call Linda at 572-8703 or Sharon at 563-1304.