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A couple builds a practical garden for outdoor living
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Sue Wert is a woman with a vision, which is handy when you’ve got 14 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, to shape into a home and garden. Mike and Sue Wert’s goal when they acquired Tarp Farm in 1996 was to create a practical environment for outdoor living that family and friends could enjoy. However, Sue, who had retired from running a successful jewelry business, also wanted a place that would be spacious enough to host major social events for the local charitable organizations that the couple supports.
Photography: Rich Pomerantz
Produced by Cyntha Bogart
Architect and landscape design: Carter van Dyke
Garden design: Gordon Hayward
Sue is shown here with her King Charles spaniels, Zoom and Gideon.
The grand gardens of the early 1900s inspired Tarp Farm’s landscape design. Landscape designer Carter van Dyke leveled and trimmed the farm’s sloping site to provide a platform for the house and landscape, shaping a formal plan with garden rooms and terraced overlooks. The whole garden is planted for year-round interest, but within that scheme individual areas have their moment of stardom: The rill garden, a stone-banked water channel shown here, is flanked by perennial borders that are at their best in late summer, while June sees the rose garden in full-blown beauty. Early spring is graced by the flowering crab apple allée, followed by the azalea walk. Boxwood and formal structure keep the interest going through the snowy winter months, "and even in the kitchen garden we plant Brussels sprouts and other winter hardies to keep it attractive," explains Sue.
The long, highly ornamental water rill and the greenhouse are on the upper terrace.
Water features unify the garden levels. The swimming pool and loggia are on the lower terrace.
Staircases at either end of the loggia connect the upper and lower garden terraces.
The swimming pool loggia is an undercroft of the rill terrace above it.
Although Carter van Dyke’s garden plan is undeniably formal, the plantings have an informal exuberance. This approach is the result of a Garden Conservancy tour taken several years ago by the Werts, which is how they discovered Gordon and Mary Hayward’s garden near Walpole, Vermont. "When we saw their place, with the intimate rooms and lush planting, we realized it was just the look we wanted for Tarp Farm," says Sue with characteristic decisiveness. "Gordon is a garden designer, with several books to his name," she adds. "But it was actually seeing his own garden that inspired me to ask him to consult and help us de-formalize Carter van Dyke’s original layout."
It was Hayward’s idea to put a cozy, cottage-style cutting garden next to the guesthouse and to espalier fruit trees against the house wall (shown here). "Gordon didn’t change the plan, he just softened it," says Mike, whose after-school job for 13 years was working in a florist shop; he uses the cutting garden to produce all the floral decorations for their fund-raising events.
Of all the garden areas at Tarp Farm, Sue and Mike have a special soft spot for the kitchen garden: "We both love to cook, and we’ve gone to boot camps sponsored by the Culinary Institute of America. It’s a mutual hobby. Today we were sitting in the kitchen, trying to figure out what to do with all the tomatoes and squash that are beginning to ripen—a perennial question!" laughs Sue.
"All the herbs and everyday veggies are in the garden near the kitchen door," adds Mike. "If we want to make a quick run, there they are! So the gardens aren’t just ornamental."
Mike and Sue Wert, with Zoom and Gideon, take a break on a bench in the middle of the rill garden borders.
While working on the landscape design for Tarp Farm, Sue Wert and Carter van Dyke discovered their parents were very good friends; later, their mothers received care at St. Mary. That fact, as Sue explains, "inspired Carter and me to give the hospital a small garden dedicated to their memory."
An empty atrium courtyard at the center of the hospital suggested a cloister and the healing gardens of medieval monasteries. "It was a large area off the cafeteria with nothing but grass and a few straggly mums," recalls Sue. "No one ever went out there, but that was our new garden site."
Launched in 2001, the Healing Gardens at St. Mary Medical Center were opened in 2003, but efforts didn’t stop there. As Sue describes it, "Now there is a garden next to the emergency room, and we’ve just begun work on a garden for the cancer center, and then we’ll do a rooftop viewing garden for the intensive care unit."
"It can be difficult for family and friends to find solace in a hospital’s sometimes hectic environment," says Sue. "So gardens like this benefit everyone, giving them access to the well-recognized healing effects of nature and being soothed by the gardens’ inherent spirituality."
This year the Healing Gardens won one of only two Honor Awards given by the Pennsylvania/Delaware Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, one of the highest awards bestowed by ASLA.