An Entertainer's Garden
A Refuge Awaits
You could see it when Henry Johnson assembled his first garden on family ground in South Carolina more than 65 years ago—a need for structure and a love for working the soil. "My father was a great gardener, so gardening came very naturally to me," he recalls. "He gave me a little plot next to an old toolshed and said, "Son, you can garden here." I was 5 or 6. I intuitively made a layout of rocks with a circle and a square and a fence around it, and just started playing in the dirt. From then on, if anybody wanted to know where Little Henry was, the first place they'd look was that garden." Today, his refuge covers a little more than an acre and consists of an eclectic cohort of structures surrounded by a suite of garden rooms connected by paths. Reminiscent of his first childhood garden, some rooms are round, some are square, and some have fences.
Made for Entertaining
One prime gathering spot is a large, central rose arbor where all meals are enjoyed during the summer. Under the arbor, a meal is an event. "About every weekend there's a dinner party at Uncle Henry's," Johnson says.
Use plants and structures to give garden rooms floors, walls, and ceilings. Paths, patios, and lawn can be floors; fences, shrubs, and climbing roses can be walls; and arbors, trees, and canopies can be ceilings.
Bright peacock blue obelisks and a gate mark the entrance to the small sundial garden adjacent to the rose arbor. Such details help define the garden rooms. Give each room a clearly defined entrance. Columns, gates, and obelisks mounted at the garden's various transition points show that you're leaving one space and entering another.
Johnson says to add color when there are no flowers by painting garden furniture and accent pieces. Before Johnson's daughter, Amanda, got married in the garden, she picked out this shocking pink color for the table and chairs.
Divide large garden spaces into cozy getaways. "If you have six or seven little rooms, set them up for groups who like to sit together and gossip," he says. You could have one room for shade, one for sun, and one with a water feature.
The patio under the arbor—draped with climbing roses— is a sanctuary for reading, dining, and entertaining. Painted furniture adds a burst of color. "Cobalt blue is a terrific hue in a garden, particularly with green and chartreuse leaves," he asserts.
"My father was a great gardener, so gardening came very naturally to me." Family heirlooms are never discarded. If a pot breaks, it's glued back together, brought out, and displayed on one of many tables that are placed in the different rooms for special occasions.
Conquer your fear of trying something new. "If you have to move a plant or one doesn't survive the first time around, try again," he urges. "There's great joy to be found in discovering, "Wow, I grew that." People tend to like themselves and others more when they go outside and get their hands dirty."
Piece by Piece
Build your garden one piece at a time. "It's similar to looking at a restaurant's menu," Johnson says. "Don't order everything at once."
After becoming a designer, Johnson went to work for James W. Rouse & Company Inc., a pioneer in the development of Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Johnson spent those years living in a Baltimore high rise, but the dirt, rocks, and plants still called to him. Finally in 2000, he managed to acquire a virgin pocket of largely wooded land smack in the heart of the city. Longtime friends Gordon Hayward and Roland Harvey helped with the design and planting.