The gardens at Wingfield Farm have personality and character -- and a sense of humor.
Far back in one section, a foot-high, black wrought-iron fence surrounds what appears to be a grave. "Here lies G.A.S," it reads. The resting place for a favorite pet?
It marks the spot for a propane tank, so the utility man can find it when he comes to replace it.
This is not your perfectly manicured bed after bed of abundant perennials. Instead, its more than 20 rooms -- garden-speak for sections -- offer an encyclopedic and sometimes whimsical peek at everything from conifers to hostas to magnolias.
All of this is owing to the horticultural knowledge and British wit of the aptly named owner, Meg Gardner. Her work, at her home just north of Middleburg, will be on display Saturday and Sunday as part of the Middleburg Garden Tour.
Wingfield's unusual nature is evident at first sight: a herd of faux sheep made of chicken wire set on a hill. The surprises begin with dozens of trees at the top of the hill -- the tops of them are Alberta spruce trimmed in circles, and the bottoms are Colorado blue spruce forming a skirt-like pattern. The two varieties, though not grafted, are grown on one root ball.
What really sets Gardner apart from many others who share this booming passion is that she didn't just order these trees from a catalog. Instead, she traveled to Oregon to a specialty nursery and split the cost of an 18-wheel tractor-trailer to transport the trees back to Virginia.
"I started a long time ago," she said. "I have no idea how many of anything I've planted." Immediately, she wants to call attention to the grass. During an entire interview, she spotted just one weed. "Most people don't pay attention to grass," she said. "If you spend money, time and effort on everything else, why have crappy grass?"
She follows an exact and rigorous schedule of fertilizing and reseeding. It shows.
She descends the hill, walking down steps made of railroad ties, with a herd of (real) dogs -- she has 16 in all, mostly teacup poodles -- tagging behind. At the bottom is a new magnolia grove, with 17 varieties. She passes through a small allele of DeGroot's spire (Thaja occidentalis for purists) to a 100-year-old apple tree -- "the oldest thing on the place," she said.
A gazebo is flanked by two cast cement horse heads, a setting Gardner refers to as "The Four Horses of the Apocalypse" encircled by Black Night buddleia. Up the hill to the main house, which is a renovated barn, are four terraces, in the Italian style. Norway spruce and Thunderhead conifer spill over what she calls "The Wailing Wall," surrounded by hydrangea and spiraea. A brick walk is bordered by hard-to-find white weigela.
"I just can't put things on paper," Gardner said, referring to the way other devotees design first, plant later. "Things just evolve here, that's all I can tell you."
The evolution includes a collection of conifers, with rare and unusual dwarf varieties such as the Picea glauca Pixie variety. She has planted two of them to illustrate how slowly they grow.
"So slowly it's like watching paint dry," she said. One, which she planted 10 or 15 years ago, is 50 years old and only four feet high. Another, at 18, is one foot high. "So many people come up this walkway and look around and say, 'Oh it's just evergreens,' " she said. "It hurts my feelings."
Gardner has lived in the Middleburg area for 37 years, 18 of them in this spot. A lifelong horsewoman and a former joint-master of the Middleburg Hunt, she has the same passion for horticulture that she once devoted to horses, and she finds more similarity than difference in her two loves.
Gardening "is like horses," she said. "Raising and breeding them, it goes on and on."
She also is raising inanimate objects in her garden. There is a waterfall, fountains and a rectangular pool with spouting fish and Moorish-type mosaics. Paths of brick, stone, slate, wood and pebbles wind up and down and all around.
There are several sculptures, including a custom-made black terra cotta sphinx of Marie Antoinette with lion paws made by local artist Joan Gardiner. Four early 19th-century marble statues depict summer, fall, winter and spring.
Then there are the raised vegetable beds, a greenhouse, tree house and chicken house. It's a lot to keep track of, and Gardner has made a list of things to do before the tour: clean out watering cans, put away hoses, fill urns with annuals, sweep brick walkways, replace small board on fence, trim topiary and on and on.
"Everything will be tickety-boo by Saturday," she said. Then she began gazing off into the distance. "I have a big expanse behind the machine shed. I don't know what to do with it just yet. But it will come to me one day."
The 10th annual Middleburg Garden Tour will be from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. It will feature five gardens, with a range of designs and plants. Tickets are available at the Loudoun Convention & Visitors Association, 108-D South St. SE, Leesburg, or at the Pink Box Visitor Center, 12 N. Madison St., Middleburg. In advance, tickets $20 a day; on tour days, they are $25 a day; groups of 20 or more, $15 a day; children, free. 800-752-6118.