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Replacing the front yard with a garden: The beauty of harmony

Thursday, July 22, 2010; PG10

Textures of tall grasses and perennials animate the garden beds between the sidewalk and the elevated porch of Suzanne Hubbard's cedar shingle house in Takoma Park, which is not just a coincidence for its owner, a weaver. She worked with landscape architect Holt Jordan to create a garden that was natural without becoming wild. Jordan, mindful that a personal front garden still needed to connect to the neighborhood, designed a stone path that produced a strong diagonal link between the street and the house, a Sears kit bungalow from the 1930s.

A perimeter hedge of privet, a demanding evergreen that is rarely handsome in Washington, was replaced with cherry laurel and three pink flowering crape myrtles, now tall screens clouded with flowers. The central bed has been a stage for corn, wheat, sunflowers and switchgrass over the years. Now it is defined by feather reed grass, which has a rare quality of being upright but not stiff, dancing in the slightest breeze.

Hubbard points out a pleasing color combination, the blue of the fading lavender next to the red blades of Japanese blood grass and the mustard-yellow umbels of the self-seeded fennel. These assembled colors are low-key, more evident to the weaver than the gardener, possibly.

She says she is mindful that each little detail of the garden -- a yarrow flowering, a bulb emerging -- is part of a whole. For her, these are the threads running through a garden. Hubbard is also amazed at the sequential and concurrent cycles of growth, flowering and decline. "It's all synchronistic; everything grows on time," she says. We are sitting on the porch looking out, and the view is framed by the thick stems of an old wisteria. Beyond, the flowerheads of the feather reed grass quiver below the crape myrtle blossoms. A bronze fennel is coming into flower, attracting tiny pollinators.

"There is definitely a form of weaving I like," she said, "the idea that I'm not just the one in control."

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