The Queen of Landscapes
Elizabeth Gardens stands as a monument to indigenous plants and regal design.
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Bill Duncan is at home in the garden, where the only ceilings are clouds and twinkling stars and there are no walls to confine his imagination.
“Ninety-nine percent of the landscaping I see is way too vanilla for me,” he says. “I like to do different and unique things.”
His eight-acre property in Centreville is known as Elizabeth Gardens, named for his mother. The rolling plot, sparkling with streams and ponds, is laid out in a series of 20 open-air rooms connected by meandering paths, with spaces for dining, conversation and contemplation.
“Sometimes, in the evening, we will walk from garden to garden and stop at each one to enjoy each individual space,” he says. “By the time we’re done, we realize that we’ve been out there for an hour and a half.”
Duncan exults in the topography of the piedmont, an extraordinarily fertile and lovely swath of land between the coastal plain and the Appalachian Mountains that extends from northern New Jersey to central Alabama. In Chester County and northern New Castle County, the piedmont manifests itself in the exquisite curve of hillsides, lush stands of woods and ebullient waterfalls cascading down rocks.
“The plant life that we have here is vast,” he says. “I love the rolling hills and the creeks of the piedmont.”
Constantly changing, the garden wakes up in March with the earliest snowdrops. They are the first of tens of thousands of bulbs that will burst through the earth, a profusion of crocuses, daffodils and other heralds of spring that add flashes of yellow, scarlet and purple to the landscape.
Later, helebores open pastel petals as hostas and ferns send out fronds. Roses add romance to sunny spots.
Duncan is fond of Knockouts, a recently developed rose that resists drought and disease while providing a constant display of flowers. “Many people try clipping them hard to control their shape,” he says. “But I like them best when they are unshaped. And they will live longer if they’re allowed the space to do their own thing.”
Even in deepest winter, there is something to enjoy in the garden, as witch hazel trees unfurl shoots of crimson, in stark contrast with snow-covered hills.
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