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Planting the Seed

How does Ruth Jackson’s garden grow? She’ll be glad to tell you. Plus, a guide to local public gardens and a calendar of garden-related events.

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Ruth Jackson’s half-acre lot in Hockessin is a sanctuary for the gardener and her husband. Photograph by Jared CastaldiStart with one little girl and a packet of flower seeds. Add soil, water, and the freedom to pursue her passion for planting.

That’s how to grow a lifelong gardener, says Ruth Jackson, who loved raising petunias and sweet Williams so much that her tiny plot expanded until it took over her indulgent parents’ entire garden.

“I am never so happy as when I have my hands in the dirt,” she says.

A University of Delaware grad, Jackson has a degree in landscape design. For years, she owned and operated Bayside Landscaping in Annapolis, before selling her business and devoting herself to her own home. She soon discovered planning a landscape is less complicated when there is not an emotional attachment to the land.

“It’s hard when it’s your own,” she says.

Jackson’s half-acre lot in Hockessin serves multiple purposes. It is a sanctuary for the gardener and her husband. It is a haven for birds and wildlife, too.

She is especially fond of native plants, such as the trilliums, redbuds and laurel, whose roots run deep in the piedmont, the fertile crescent of land that swooshes through northern New Castle County, blessing the land with lush stands of holly and azaleas.

“I am a bird lover so I try to plant native plants that attract the birds,” Jackson says. “I am fortunate to have many dogwoods in the woods behind me but I also have planted hemlocks, hollies, elderberries, and viburnums that offer food and shelter for the birds.”

Sharing the land with nature means finding ways to coexist in harmony. Jackson’s peaceable kingdom includes deer, creatures who are lovely, graceful and ravenous.

“I have decided that I like the plants that the deer don’t like,” she says. “It works out better that way.”

Photogrpah by Jared CastaldiA few plants that deer avoid: bleeding heart, boxwood, daffodils, lavender, ornamental grasses, and yarrow.

The couple enjoys entertaining and sharing the garden with guests of the human variety. Flowers provide a decorative touch, with or without a vase. Jackson buys heirloom tomato, eggplant and pepper plants each year at the Wilmington Flower Market and also tends an expansive herb garden so there is always something fresh and healthy to serve when they dine alfresco.

Jackson is intuitively in tune with the property. Its natural downward slope suggested the flow of a waterfall. So two years ago, she designed the feature, which bubbles past a stone patio to a small pond planted with lilies and reeds.

“We try to eat meals outside and definitely do more outdoor entertaining since we put in the pond,” she says. “Sitting with coffee and reading the morning paper is a great way to start my day. The sound of water is so soothing. It makes me stop, listen, and slow down.”

Fire is at the other end of the spectrum. A chimenea, a clay, freestanding fireplace, extends the time the family can enjoy the garden, well into the fall.

“Nothing draws people together outdoors like a fire,” she says. “Not only is it mesmerizing but it provides warmth. My kids have had many memorable s’mores nights out back, too.”

Photograph by Jared CastaldiBecause much of the lot is wooded, Jackson has perfected the art of gardening in shade by highlighting variegated plants with textured foliage, adding bulbs for color in spring and impatiens for pop in summer.

“I love my shade garden,” she says. “I mix the bold textures of oak leaf hydrangeas, rhododendrons, hostas, and hellebores with the fine textures of ferns, corydalis, and columbines.”

A recent addition to her garden is the Franklinia tree, descended from seed collected by botanist William Bartram in 1773 and propagated at Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia. The ornamental species has a reputation of being difficult to grow and Jackson is eager to see it mature and develop its large, creamy blossoms.

“I have discovered so many new plants in my travels that I must have, so I need to add some new planting beds,” she says. “My husband says we won’t have any lawn left when I am through—and that’s just fine with me!”

Page 2: Looking for inspiration? Choose from this bouquet of public gardens.

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