Top Garden Advice from the Pros

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Claudia Kousoulas loves living on Capitol Hill with her husband.  She is the author of the fascinating “Private Gardens of the Potomac & Chesapeake book”. Photo: Rindy O’Brien

September is a transition month. Kids head back to school. Gardeners harvest the end of our summer vegetables and witness our flowers fading as we adjust to the arrival of autumn.  Gardeners are always in transition from season to season.  As we squeeze the last picnics and garden parties into our busy schedules, we also begin to dream about what’s next for our gardens.

“Private Gardens” includes gardens from DC, Old Town Alexandria, and the eastern shore.

One Capitol Hill writer, Claudia Kousoulas, has written and published a very special book, “Private Gardens of the Potomac & Chesapeake.”  The book includes a foreword from Adrian Higgins, who served for many years as the Washington Post Garden writer. The book was published by Schiffer Publishing, a company which focuses on publishing niche areas of interest with high-quality information and excellent images.

The book contains 120 color and black and white photographs and is 9” by 10” coffee table size. It features 15 different private gardens from urban spaces in Alexandria to gardens on the west side of the Chesapeake Bay.  All the gardens are larger than the smaller spaces of Capitol Hill.  Each garden profile shares fun and often unexpected information including architectural drawings and hardscapes and a plant list that includes trees, shrubs, perennials, and grasses. It also provides a list of the architect, the builder, and the installation and suppliers involved with the creation of the garden.

The chapter on Chapman Stables contains many elements that Hill gardeners will recognize.  The condos are located at 57 N Street, NW, near Dunbar High School.

There are many garden photography books, but few blend the technical side with the inspirational side as well as this book does.  In her efficient and accessible writing style, she focuses on key concepts and the environment of each garden. As Higgins writes in the forward, “But here is a radical thought: gardens are for people.  That is the essence of this book.”

Claudia’s Eye on Urban Spaces
Claudia and her husband moved to Capitol Hill a few years ago. After living 30 years in Montgomery County, they chose the Hill for many of the reasons that we all love the neighborhood.  They were looking for a walkable community, so they didn’t have to get in their car every time they went somewhere.  Metro accessibility was also a must.  “My husband and I are so happy with our move,” says Claudia.

Claudia has more than 25 years of experience in urban planning working for the Montgomery County planning department.  “My experience ranges from urban planning to culinary history, but always comes back to communicating ideas, stories, and concepts, “ says Claudia.  She has published several books on culinary history and architecture.  She was contacted by Schiffer Publishing about extending their series of garden books to mid-Atlantic private gardens.  The company has previously published similar books on California gardens and now Claudia  is working on a new book about southern Florida gardens.

Private Gardens of the Potomac & Chesapeake”  took about two years to write and edit,” says Claudia.  The experience of writing this book taught Claudia to look at things more closely and to think about how public spaces can benefit so much from their private counterparts.  “It has made me think more about my own Hill garden,” says Claudia.  “The other lesson I learned was to not be shy about asking nursery staff about plants you are thinking about trying. They really have so much knowledge and can help you choose wisely.”

Using the Pros to Get Started
If you are thinking about redesigning your front or back yard spaces, Claudia says she would start by doing a lot of research. That includes talking to your neighbors and looking online and in books.  “I would also let it go for a year,” explains Claudia.  “ You need to live with the outdoor space, and see what plants thrive.”  It is also important to see how the space interacts with the seasons.  Many of the garden designers featured in the book are “conscious of incorporating existing planting…and they also mix in native cultivars that support wildlife and are hardy enough to withstand unpredictable weather changes, from the shock of cold winter to the ravages of a summer drought.”

Each chapter contains architectural drawings and lists of the developers, architect, builder, landscape contractors, and other supplies.

There will be structural decisions and city regulations like storm water runoff issues that will need to be addressed.  DC has been updating their stormwater laws and regulations and issued the DOEE Stormwater Management Guidebook in January 2020. Many of the gardens, especially those that feed into the Chesapeake Bay, have found innovative ways to address stormwater concerns. The book also describes how buildings in the gardens provide space for people and it addresses many different approaches to fences.

Gardeners and designers are always striving for low maintenance gardens. Claudia offers specific plant lists for each garden, and many of the plants are native cultivars.

The cultivars offer the benefit of being a plant known to be successful in the area.  The list provides both the scientific name as well as the more common name like coneflower, Echinacea “Hot Papaya.”  The list of trees found in the 15 gardens is alone worth acquiring the book.

Claudia points out that taking time to design your garden is a good idea. Staging the redesign is perfectly fine, and living with the changes can be a great help.  “It doesn’t all have to be done at one time and you can spread out the cost.”

This book is available at Capitol Hill’s East City Books and Politics and Prose and Amazon.  $35.00.  “Private Gardens of the Potomac & Chesapeake” will help you create your best garden yet.

Rindy O’Brien dreams of future gardens and loved this book.  To contact Rindy, rindyobrien@gmail.com