by Mary Jasch
“The weapons with which we have gained our most important victories, which should be handed down as heirlooms from father to son, are not the sword and the lance, but the bushwhack, the turf-cutter, the spade, and the bog-hoe, rusted with the blood of many a meadow, and begrimed with the dust of many a hard-fought field.”
- Henry David Thoreau (from Walking)
Sue and Mark Hildebrant of Fredon, New Jersey did just that – worked their land and treasure the tools from yesteryear on the farm.
Their property, on a shale ridge surrounded by woodland in the Great Limestone Valley of the Appalachian Mountains, was scraped and shaped, and tended tenderly and tidily until their home became cradled by the plants and accoutrements they both came to love.
The Hildebrants are not ones to sit back and have someone else do the job. Their land, known as “Little Rock Ledge,” was once part of Sue’s parents’ farm, as was her daughter’s land.
In do-it-yourself fashion, they just jumped in. “I’m not a gardener. We started with perennials because we didn’t want to keep buying stuff every year,” Mark says. Eight years ago the house was completed and they began the slow process of creating their garden. First they scraped rock ledges and built a wall to keep the forest out. They made a walkway. “If you need a hole dug, you’ve got to take a pick to it because it’s all shale.” For eight years, they’ve been building soil. Every year they add something new.
The short driveway through woodland gives no indication of the floral explosion about to come, but the gate to the garden alongside the house begins to tell the tale.
On the white picket fence, “cow cups” overflow with annuals. Raised on farms, the pair carries on family and cultural traditions in their own landscape. They gather and use as much farm-related equipment as possible. Cow cups (once used in barns for cows to drink from) serve as planter sconces on fence posts. Vintage human-pushed plows provide support for mandevilla. An old barn door is now a great planter for herbs. “We try to use stuff from around here and on the farm.”
Then there’s flowers – as far as you can see – right up to the trunks of wild trees. One gets the feeling that entering the garden is like wading into the ocean.
The entire backyard and left side yard is garden. A walk through this floriferous part reveals mostly Echinacea and Rudbeckia, Shasta daisies and hosta in July. Earlier, in May and June, tidy shrubs, allium and roses and promises of blooms to come take the stage.
A replica of a vintage greenhouse divides the flower tide from a neatly paved herb garden and shrub border. Outside the fence, another picket fence surrounds a cutting garden. “I love to come out and just pick bouquets,” Sue says of the rewards of their labor.
Last year, they created a path above the stone wall and planted more perennials. It’s no wonder their garden flourishes. Sue and Mark Hildebrant flash sunny smiles even on cloudy days and their garden responds.
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published July 24, 2012