It is wonderfully refreshing to see that Reed and Stacey Dillon's garden is imperfect.
The iron work is rusty. Random corn poppies grow wild, peeking up in the paths around the French rose garden. Some of the trees in the orchard are scraped and battered at the hands of deer rubbing their antlers, and the entire back acreage is wild and natural.
But to Reed, who owns Reed Dillon and Associates Landscaping, this is his favorite garden. It provides a testing ground for plants to mature and a space to hatch ideas and see what the outcome may be.
When the Dillons purchased their 5 acres in Fall Creek Farms almost a decade ago, they knew that while building the four walls to house their family, it was equally important to create an environment surrounding the house. A French farmhouse was the inspiration; the home was designed around the site and the garden around both.
So crucial, in fact, was working with nature that only three trees were destroyed to erect the home.
Reed explains the garden's humble beginnings: "The subdivision was brand new, big trees, rolling topography, a good neighborhood to be in if you're starting from scratch."
But now, not even 10 years later, the home and garden look as if they have been happily nestled among the giant ivy-covered honey locusts for centuries.
Every season is a feast for the eyes at Dillons' garden, but in the spring the meandering hill on the west side is peppered in yellow.
"I always wanted the back half to be wild with daffodils everywhere," Reed says. "The great thing about daffodils is they naturalize and the clumps just get bigger, plus the deer don't bother them."
Mixed among the tufts of yellow are tall wildflowers in the summer, white pines, sugar maples, Norway spruce, serviceberry and various vibernums. A substantial stream separates the "back" area from the rest of the garden. It was such a natural area for water to flow when heavy rains occurred that Dillon jimmied with a pump to keep a constant surge of water from the pond trickling down the crevasse lined with yellow flag iris, Japanese iris and Louisiana iris. The sounds of water rushing and combined with the onslaught of spring's bird population is a little slice of heaven.
As we leap across the stream, we wander to Dillon's orchard, consisting of nine various fruit trees - cherry, peach, apple and pear. Each tree is in a square bed, and in full bloom are alternating white and periwinkle colored hyacinth. The air is sweet from the hyacinth, the fruit trees are plump with buds, and while the beds are symmetrical and have a strong design element, the trees are arching and contorting this way and that lending a playful whimsy to the magical space. A classic orchard design was the inspiration, as well as some fond childhood memories of time Reed spent in his grandfather's orchard in Hutchinson.
The hardscapes in Dillon's garden are as fundamental as the flora. He and Stacey have honed some keen eyes as to finding phenomenal "found" objects.
"With architectural elements you have to find it, buy it and just know that someday you'll find the perfect place for it," Reed says.
From the massive pots that generally have a permanent ornamental tree of some kind rooted in them to the fantastic iron treasures and ornate fountains that pleasantly surprise visitors, these fixtures are as fascinating as the boxwood-lined beds that encircle them. There is a fountain made from a bowl that looks like the clam shell in Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus," iron spirals atop of stone pillars that will be blooming with clematis, ornate rusted iron gates are interspersed throughout the landscape, and ancient-looking limestone steps that are blanketed with kitchen thyme descending toward the pool.
To the south of the pool, in another descending terrace area, sits a small pool with a fountain trickling out of the mammoth clam and the hillside of daffodils in full bloom a blur as a backdrop. In this garden space not only do the plants rule, but a wide array of animal life keeps the family enraptured.
Reed tells of a funny incident: "We had baby ducks; there were three of them and their mother. They were paddling along in this fountain when a giant bullfrog jumped up and pulled down one of those babies and ate it. I wouldn't believe it had I not seen it with my own eyes."
The Dillons don't miss much that happens in the garden, which is entirely by design, with 14-foot-tall arching windows in the home, and the house elevated slightly higher for a fabulous vantage point from any room.
"The garden completely surrounds the house; I want to feel outside even when I'm in," Reed explains.
As we continue to the east side of the home and discover the hidden traditional rose garden, I ask what advice he would have for gardeners.
"Create a 12-month palette so things are always looking good," he replies. "I'm doing more hedges for geometric structure, then softening it with perennials and big billowing flowers next to the precisely structured hedges is one of my favorite looks. A mistake people make is they tend to focus too much on flowers and not enough on structure and foliage. You need the bones. You need a year-round garden."