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.

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.

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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.”

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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.

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“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.


Looking for inspiration?

Choose from this bouquet of public gardens.

[CHANTICLEER] The glamorous estate of Christine and Adolph Rosengarten is a pleasure garden, designed to showcase towering trees and verdant lawns. The trees and lawns are still there but the focus now is on combinations of plants, fruits and veggies in containers, contrasting textures, and colors, often relying on foliage more than flowers. Chanticleer is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and on Friday evenings until 8 p.m. from May through Labor Day, with reduced hours through Oct. 30. Admission for adults is $10, free for children under 12. 786 Church Road, Wayne, Pa. Call (610) 687-4163, or visit

[LADEW TOPIARY GARDENS] A self-taught gardener, Harvey S. Ladew created 15 thematic “garden rooms” on 22 acres of his 250-acre Maryland property, described by the Garden Club of America as “the most outstanding topiary garden in America.” The equestrian-inspired Ladew Manor House is also open for guided tours. Call (410) 557-9570 at least three days before you visit to make special accommodations. Open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Oct. 31. Admission is $13 for adults, $11 for seniors and students and $5 for children under 12. 3535 Jarrettsville Pike, Monkton, Md. Call (410) 557-9466, or visit

[LONGWOOD GARDENS] Open every day, Longwood Gardens was created by Pierre S. du Pont and offers horticulture displays on 1,050 acres and such thrills as Friday night fireworks in summer. Don’t miss the magnificent conservatory and fountains. Choose from fine dining in the 1906 room or a casual, green-certified eatery. Longwood also offers classes for aspiring and experienced gardeners. 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, Pa. Sunday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Adults $18; seniors and students $15; children $8; under 4 free. Call (610) 388-1000, or go to

[MT. CUBA] Until the 1930s, this high point in the Delaware landscape was a cornfield. Thanks to the efforts of Pamela Copeland, wife of owner Lammot du Pont Copeland, Mt. Cuba grew into a heavenly haven for native plants of the piedmont, including woodland wildflowers, as well as an important research center. Barley Mill Road, Hockessin. For more information, call 239-4244, or visit

[NEMOURS MANSION AND GARDEN] Enter through gates that once belonged to Catherine the Great. Exit through gates brought over from the Wimbledon estate in Britain. In addition to touring the 77-room gilded mansion, guests can roam 300 acres of formal gardens and admire the statue leafed in 23-karat gold that is the centerpiece of an 800,000-gallon fountain. Enter at Del. 141 and Alapocas Drive in North Wilmington. Open May through Dec. 31. Tour times are Tuesday–Saturday, 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m., and Sunday, noon and 3 p.m. Cost is $15 and visitors must be 12 or older. Reservations advised during the summer. Call (800) 651-6912, or visit

[READ HOUSE] Built in 1801 by the son of one of Delaware’s signers of the Declaration of Independence, the Read House bursts with Federal grandeur and fertile gardens that were featured in the November 1901 issue of House and Garden magazine. The one-and-half acre garden is divided into a formal parterre flower bed, a specimen garden filled with exotics and native favorites, and a large fruit orchard and kitchen garden with alees of pear trees and trellised grapes set by formal boxwood hedges. 42 The Strand, New Castle. Open Wednesday-Friday, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Adults $7, seniors and students $6. For more, call 322-8411, or visit

[WINTERTHUR] Henry Francis du Pont’s collection of early American antiques is displayed in 175 rooms of his country home. A tram ride through the gardens is a must around Mother’s Day when native azaleas set the woods ablaze with color. Each Wednesday through October (except August) there will be demonstrations, talks, and guided walks covering a wide range of gardening topics. Programs start at 11:30 a.m. at the Winterthur Greenhouses. The event is included in the $18 admission price, free for members. 5105 Kennett Pike, Winterthur. To learn more, visit

Page 3: Events



[Garden Glimpses walk]
Thru October • Enjoy a 30-minute guided walk through the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library Reflecting Pool garden area. Explore how this space was once used for entertaining, and how materials and design elements link the house and garden. Members can enjoy the walks for free, but non-members can stroll for the cost of museum admission. For more, visit, or call 888-4600.

[Wilmington CommunityGardens Plant Sale]
May 6-7 • Held at Hattie Phelan Community Garden May 6 and at Valley Community Garden May 7, the sales will offer locally grown vegetable startups and flowering plants specifically selected to flourish in an urban environment. Learn proper planting techniques and ask the experts. For more, visit, or call 658-6262.

[Discover The DCH Week]
May 6-15 • This jam-packed week of events celebrates plants, gardening and the Delaware Center for Horticulture. That means workshops, deals on plants, and a tour of the facility. For more, visit, or call 658-6262.

[Wilmington Garden Day]
May 7 • This self-guided tour features the city’s most distinctive homes and gardens. There will be 16 gardens to view. Proceeds benefit the underserved children of Delaware. For more, visit

[Wildflower, Native Plantand Seed Sale]
May 7-8 • Brandywine Conservancy volunteers present a selection of cultivated plants that are hard to find in retail garden centers. All proceeds benefit the conservancy’s diverse wildflower and native plant gardens. The free event is held at the Brandywine River Museum. For more, call (610) 388-2700, or visit

[Gardening for the Bays Native Plant Sale]
May 14 • Delaware Center for the Inland Bays offers the chance to purchase plants from nurseries, enjoy interesting displays, and learn why native plants are good for the inland bays. The sale takes place at the James Farm Ecological Preserve in Ocean View. For more, call 226-8105, or visit

[Lewes Garden Tour]
June 18 • The tour starts at Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church on Market Street and includes a garden market, lectures, demonstrations and food in Zwaanendael Park. For more, visit, or call 645-8073.

[Water Garden &Pond Tour]
July 23 • This self-guided tour of the area’s premier water gardens at private homes is organized by the Delaware Center for Horticulture. For more, visit, or call 658-6262.

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