Both Michele and David Newby agreed that the worst feature of their new Medford home was the long, snaking backyard. Only 12 feet wide, it stretched for 90 feet along the property's west side. But sometimes finding creative solutions for a problem can produce unexpected rewards.
The backyard had a small, rectangular deck and a lot of shade from six Norway maples lined up against a tall, wooden fence. There also were a lot of roses scattered around, which Michele Newby considered a plus. But some were scraggly and not doing well.
The Newbys decided they needed professional help, so they consulted Karen Marshall of Naturescape Designs in Medford.
"The challenge was getting enough varieties of plants to create visual interest, given the shape and size of the space we had to work with and matching the cultural requirements of the plants," says Marshall.
Lifelong gardener Michele Newby had brought a lot of potted roses with her from their old place, which was 10 acres. While downsizing was a necessity, fitting everything she wanted into a city lot was going to be a challenge.
Marshall first changed the size and shape of the deck, enlarging it and adding new angles to break up the linearity of the lot. She moved the roses that were doing poorly in shade to sunnier spots and found places for Newby's potted roses. The grass became a meandering, curved pathway, leading to a potting shed at the far end of the property. The shed was set at a 45-degree angle to the house. A dry, pebbled, stream bed also was added.
"The theme was 'to grandmother's house we go,' " says Newby. The potting shed was given Victorian trim and painted in shades of lavender and pink that created a fantasy effect. Peonies, poppies, lilacs and hydrangeas were added. Newby found a large trellis arch to use as an entry off the deck. Purple clematis, an "autumn sunset" rose and silver lace vine were trained up the arch.
A small shade garden was added, with trilliums, lily of the valley, hellebores, anemones, coral bells, astilbe, witch hazel and fothergilla. And somehow, they managed to squeeze a small, angular sun room onto the back of the house, giving the Newbys a place to enjoy their yard in winter.
"I love sitting in here when there is snow outside," says Michele Newby.
The garden was planned for year-round enjoyment, with successive bloomings and brilliant fall foliage. Marshall added a dove tree (Davidia involucrata), which has large, white flowers that look like doves among the leaves. A real pair of doves moved into the yard and raised three clutches of chicks there, much to the Newbys' delight.
Once the planting was done, Michele Newby started adding decorations. The couple's house is done in fine antiques, and they added a collection of antique watering cans and fantasy birdhouses to the yard. An antique goat cart from Europe has pride of place in one part of the yard, a wooden Radio Flyer scooter in another. Metal sculptures of butterflies, rabbits and a squirrel-shaped weather vane are scattered about.
The goal was an English-garden look, not something easy to achieve in limited space, yet it works. The yard seems larger than it is, with multiple focal points pulling the eye.
"I love it," says Newby. "It turned out beyond my expectations. I love to sit out here in the evening with a glass of wine."
Another example of a problem that became a distinctive design.