I knew before I visited Laura that not only is she a busy real estate agent, but she's also the executive director of the American Rhododendron Society, so I was hoping to see some outstanding specimens. And I wasn't disappointed. Laura's rhododendrons are indeed magnificent, so I naturally asked her about soil pH: Does she use any acidifiers? Laura just smiled. “I think that too much is made of soil acidity as it relates to rhododendrons. Many of the plants that we think of as acid-loving may in fact just be acid-tolerant,” she suggests. “I don't worry too much about pH; more often than not, yellowing leaves are a symptom of a constricted root system rather than of an iron deficiency caused by alkaline soil.” However, Laura adds that soil should emulate woodland soil: light and full of humus.
As for general garden maintenance, it's kept to a minimum. “I dislike weeding, so all the beds are deeply mulched with four inches of pine needles,” says Laura. “This in turn means I hardly ever need to irrigate. And the pond attracts so many birds, frogs and beneficial insects, I really don't need to use insecticides.”
She occasionally sprays the plants with horticultural or neem oil if there's a problem, but only those inside her greenhouse, and that's rare. “Half the battle is to purchase really healthy, vigorous plants,” says Laura, “and then to install them in the most favourable conditions you can provide.”
So what makes this gardening dynamo-who has a demanding full-time job and a family, and is an active member of a half-dozen international horticultural societies-tick? I pop the question, and after a pause Laura replies, “I can't really explain it, but the garden is my media. I love to sculpt it, to paint it with plants-to create a symphony of colours and shapes-and to generate excitement and drama through contrast. It's an expression of myself.”
Size: 12 x 51 metres
Conditions: sandy soil
Growing season: March to end of October
Garden focus: pond, rhododendrons, rare conifers