When Peggy Peters moved into her home thirty years ago, her backyard was a large, empty canvas.
By Caitlin Brown
When Peggy Peters moved into her home thirty years ago, her backyard was a large, empty canvas. It was wide open, with a big expanse of adjacent property and no fence to delineate one yard from the other. This meant having an even larger yard for her active family. When new owners acquired the next-door property, things changed. A fence was installed and trees were planted, forcing her to re-evaluate her property.
“Once we got over the initial shock, it gave us an opportunity to make it our place,” she said. And, so, a landscaping journey began. Today, it tells a story of a close-knit family that continues to grow together.
Peters is a woman who loves her garden, not only because it is the culmination of an ever-evolving passion for gardening/landscape design, but also because her three children grew up with this garden and helped it grow.
Growing up, her own mother’s gardening bug wasn’t necessarily something she thought she or her siblings would inherit. “Our mother would get us up to weed the vegetable garden!”
Her interest in gardening grew dramatically after meeting Gordon Forsythe, the gardener of one of her mentor’s, the late Betsy Jennings. Forsythe taught Peters a great deal and inspired her to study at the New York Botanical Garden.
The Peters’ house was once the guesthouse of Jean Flagler Matthews, who had one of the greatest private gardens in the country in the mid-20th century. Peggy admiringly points to trees inherited from the Flagler days. It is clear that she feels a real responsibility to carry on the garden. And carry on she does.
On first glimpse, it is hard to imagine that she has created this spectacular garden — with some mechanical help from enthusiastic family members — all on her own.
She calls her garden “blousy.” It seems a perfect way to describe her design style — big, lush, but maintainable blocks of color. Peters does not use chemicals. In fact, her husband Jono makes the compost.
Their handsome pool, added five years ago, is bordered by what she calls her “hot” garden — yellows, oranges, a bit of blue. Smiling she says, “This garden needs sunblock, the other doesn’t.” The upper garden, her “cool” garden, is a mix of vegetables and flowers.
Her preference for a mix of horticulture and flowerbeds is everywhere. Bordering the pool are boxwood, hydrangeas, white Rose of Sharon, and lilacs. Behind that is a “hut” built by one of her sons-in-law, for blueberries, currants, and strawberries. Next to it, are beds for potatoes, peonies, tomatoes, and peppers. And, nearby, are planters with grasses from her daughter Molly’s wedding. “When Molly has a place to plant them, I want her to have them,” says her mother.
A flowerbed with an elephant topiary at its center, which she made for Molly’s wedding, welcomes guests into the backyard. Topiaries of woodland animals, which she made for her daughter Jill’s wedding, have been incorporated in the upper garden landscape design.
The upper garden includes vegetables, flowers, and plants. Inspired by medieval wattle fences (typically woven with willow or hazel branches), which she learned about at the Botanical Garden, Peters created her own from old apple tree cuttings to border the vegetable beds. It is my “ferme orne,” she says, her “ornamental farm.” This is where she grows the “Indian three sisters” — squash, beans, and corn — as well as lettuce, beets, and spinach. Surrounding the vegetable beds are bleeding hearts and a groundcover of ferns, one of her particular favorites.
Around the house are full-grown trees that were once cuttings. Her children — Jill (30), Molly (29), and Jonathan (25) have jumped the nest, but all come back often to visit, and tend to the vegetables when they are home. The big yard is still wide open, welcoming the now-adult children, their growing family, and friends for sports, games, and fun. Peggy’s friends come in the mornings for water aerobics, and in the afternoons for dips and sips.
This is a garden designed by a family for a family, and the two continue to grow together. “I feel lucky to have this and I don’t take a minute for granted,” says Peters.