Monday, December 1, 2014

Becoming a Public Garden

High Glen is a newly-developed 64-acre estate in Frederick, MD,  about 45 miles northwest of Washington, DC.  The family who owns and lives on the property intends to open it to the public in 10 to 15 years.   Meanwhile, even though it's technically not open yet, garden clubs and groups can visit by appointment, which I did in late September.

I took these photographs in the middle of the day under bright sunshine, so they are not the best, and I'm not a stellar photographer to begin with, but you'll get the idea of what's there.  More and better photos are available on the High Glen Facebook Page

It's an ambitious project and one I've never seen at this stage -- i.e.,a public estate garden in its infancy.  A good deal has been achieved in a relatively short period of time. (According to the Facebook Page, the garden was "founded" in 2005.)  And, it's a generous act by the family, who wish to remain as anonymous as possible,  to create a display garden for public enjoyment.  Needless to say, having the resources is one hurdle, but having the motivation and interest is another, and they seem to have plenty of both.

There are 3 permanent horticulturists working at High Glen -- the head gardener was previously at the New York Botanical Garden -- and 2 seasonal gardeners.  That's pretty ample staffing for 10 acres of cultivated area, and it shows -- the gardens were immaculate.

Lots of seasonal color on display in the Cottage Garden

According to our guide, the owners hired a landscape architecture firm used by many of the big, established public gardens, such as Longwood Gardens, which helped them develop a master plan that will guide gradual expansion beyond the current iteration.  Establishing a tree canopy is one component.

High Glen has broad vistas all around as it appears to be sitting in the middle of former and existing farmland, so there are no large established trees, such as oaks, tulip poplar, or hickory.  It does feel a bit exposed, though the views help remind you of where you are.  That's a good thing because some aspects of the garden are reminiscent enough of other public estate gardens that you could be, well, not anywhere, but a lot of places.  Or, have I just seen too many gardens..... ?  (Here's an aerial view from the HG Facebook page.)

A view of the Catoctin Mountains 

Little Bluestem 'Standing Ovation' (?), the bluish-red grass, and
Popcorn Senna (Tall, yellow legume-like flower in the back corner) are interesting choices,
not often seen in a formal border  

The Summer House

Looking toward the rose garden and small greenhouse
As you can see, High Glen aspires to be a grand garden with many of the requisite components of the best, most admired east coast public estate gardens.   There's the grand house (photographing it is discouraged, though you can catch it on HG's FB page), formal axial centerpiece, a native garden, a horn beam ellipse (perhaps inspired by Dumbarton Oaks), a rose, herb, vegetable, Japanese, and Mediterranean garden with a rustic summer house, a long perennial border, and hawthorn orchard.  I'm sure I've probably left out something.  
A section of Hornbeam Ellipse  

The native plant garden 
One of the "Four Seasons" statues in the rose garden 


I'm not sure what else is coming at High Glen, although our guide mentioned renovating some existing areas.  (I was so preoccupied with taking photographs, I think I missed some of the 'future plans' portion of the talk and probably more), but I imagine the gardens will spread out towards the outer reaches of the property, perhaps developing more naturalistic areas.   I hope so.  Some wildness could help the garden feel more anchored, less stark.  Of course, it's just a youngster.    

Shady seating around the pool. 
Hawthorn Orchard

You can barely glimpse the turquoise pool through the palm frond 
Admiring the Purple Hyacinth Beans at the back of the vegetable garden? 

"Bedding out " in front of the house

I was encouraged to learn from their Facebook page that HG has a restored wetland and upland meadow  on the edge of the property, a seeming sign of land stewardship, whether required as part of the property development or voluntary, I don't know.  As a new garden, High Glen has an opportunity to experiment and try something different, influence attitudes about what garden-making could be -- beautiful, well-tended, but, among other things, less reliant on supplemental water, chemicals, and high levels of maintenance.   There are many ways to cultivate a garden.    Examples are out there, and perhaps High Glen's master plan will incorporate areas that are more environmentally sensitive as it comes to fruition.   It will be interesting to see how things develop.     

One of the neighboring farms seen in the distance

The barn where our tour began and ended. 


  1. The planting beds look rather generic. However, you're right that it is early days, and they may be concentrating on trees, hedges, and hardscaping at this point. In addition to the big-name landscape architect, maybe they will want to hire a garden designer specializing in planting design at some point?

    1. I suspect HG has a lot of talent in their current gardening staff who could (and maybe will) push the limits of traditional planting design if and when they are allowed to do so. We shall see. Hope you can visit when your stateside!

  2. Oh, I'm sure you're right, and it is great to see someone putting really serious private money into garden design for the public. It will be interesting to watch.