A whimsical dairy farm inspires imagination
Written by Rebecca Christian
Produced by James Cramer
When Dotti Shetterly moved back to the 18th-century home where she'd grown up in Purcellville, Virginia, in 1981, it was still part of a working dairy farm with only her grandmother's antique rosebush to brighten the rolling countryside. Today, Silverbrook Farm--nestled in a valley between the Blue Ridge Mountains and Short Hill Mountain midway between Leesburg, Virginia, and Harpers Ferry, West Virginia--is known for exquisite gardens and gorgeous views. Dotted around 50 acres are perennial, woodland, butterfly, children's, and chess gardens, the last a functioning game, with giant chess pieces adding a hint of Alice in Wonderland surrealism to the bucolic ambience.
Filled with color, fragrance, and interesting oddments, the gardens are often the site of weddings, at which Dotti sometimes officiates as civil celebrant. Many wedding parties come from Washington, D.C., only an hour's drive away. Like her gardens, Dotti has evolved without a formal plan, working in the airline and real estate industries and on Wall Street before returning home. In 1992, she gave herself over to gardening, body and soul.
It's been said that a garden is a thing of beauty and a job forever, but to her it's recreational. "I love to play in the dirt. I even love weeding," Dotti says. "It's my meditation." The widowed mother/stepmother of five children, 20 grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren is a practitioner of tough love, however. "After the first year, my plants are on their own. I only use those that are either native or do well in the area. I don't baby them," she says with a shrug in her voice.
A quarter-mile gravel drive leads up to the handsome home, built in four stages in 1765, 1790, 1870, and 1998, in stone and clapboard and trimmed in crisp green. As visitors approach, they pass a red barn beyond a wooden fence, and, if the gods of lepidoptera permit, glimpse butterflies flitting in a garden planted with Korean spice viburnum and other plants that attract them. A curved stone walk lined with boxwoods and planted with Russian sage and roses leads to the house.
In front is a long porch overlooking the azure mountains and lined with seven rockers--one each for Dotti and a sextet of forever friends who visit once a year. "Family first, friends second, garden third," are her priorities. In the near distance, her small herd of red Angus cattle grazes in a meadow ribboned with a stream. "A goat adopted me," says Dotti, who raises calves, "and he hangs out with the bull. Go figure."
Among Dotti's favorite spots is her perennial garden, planted with white petunias, wild blue indigo, catmint, asters, and sweetpea vines climbing up a birdhouse post. When the grandkids visit, they dash to the whimsical children's garden with its tic-tac-toe game and twiggy ladder leading to a vine-covered "nest." But the "folly" she's fondest of is the romantic wooden outdoor bathhouse. She originally had it built so her adult grandsons, who still come to work at the gardens for a week or two in the summer, could wash up outside before coming in the house, but now she often uses it herself. "When the moonflowers open at night in the bathhouse," Dotti says, "they are so luminous. They're my favorite flowers in the whole world."
Like a plant turning to the sun, she's in a place that would warm any gardener's heart: as close to her roots as she can get.