The Garden on Eden
With a caring hand and a sensitive feel for seasonal bounty, a determined gardener transforms an unruly wooded lot into a private paradise of ever-changing light, color and texture
Photograph by Robert Preston
Victoria Preston believes gardens are gifts to the spirit. When tended with constant care, a gentle hand and plenty of heart, they provide sanctuary and offer inspiration to other gardeners.
A soft-spoken and assured garden designer, Victoria has quietly spent the better part of the past ten years creating a year-round utopia of light and shade filled with lush trees, shrubs, perennials, ferns and bulbs. All together, these create a lively natural landscape that frames her home on Eden Road with color, texture and form.
No matter the season, Victoria encourages visitors to stroll through her various gardens by way of a stepping stone pathway that winds through the abundance displayed around the house. Many are the opportunities to pause and reflect by the vistas she has created.
An all-season bed in the front lawn features a Japanese fern, Japanese forest grasses, hosta, a Golden Full Moon maple, rocks and a miniature evergreen, evoking a strong Asian influence with emphasis on texture and form designed to remain colorful all year long.
Flowering pink echinaceas, blood grasses and sedums that reflect an array of fiery reds and tangerine oranges brighten a nearby autumn and winter bed. “Autumn is all about color, less so about texture,” says Victoria. “Every autumn I gladly transform my garden into a bonfire.”
Shadbushes and Stewartia trees in the same bed add penetrating structure for winter. “Winter is also an opportunity to consider incorporating nonorganic accessories, such as birdbaths, benches, statuary or sculpture that add dimension to the stark landscape. For me, color afforded by the sun catchers brightens an otherwise neutral palette.”
Surrounding these island beds are three satellite gardens. One Victoria calls peony heaven features twenty-five varieties of herbaceous peonies. A woodland shade garden—consisting of hemlocks, oakleaf hydrangea, meadow rue, grasses and holly—offers a wonderful assortment of textures and serves as a privacy screen that blocks views of the road. A summer garden of sun-loving perennials, including traditional iris, salvia, hollyhocks, roses and poppies, completes Victoria’s vision for the front yard.
Past a birdbath, through a woodland area, beyond a small footbridge and across a dry riverbed lies a large shrub and perennial border—still a work in progress—that stretches along the backyard and is edged by a stone wall. It is made up of deciduous shrubs that do not lose their form in winter. Also here are viburnum, fothergilla, spirea and hibiscus, with hemlocks added for evergreen structure. Victoria plans to weave a dramatic ribbon of intense pink echinacea through the border once all the shrubs are installed this season.
Having done most of the heavy lifting herself, Victoria cleared land, carved beds and chopped wood. She unearthed rock—moving it with an old luggage trolley—and recycled it to build the stone walls around her property. Trees were removed—the only job Victoria hired out—to allow others to flourish and mature.
“I love what I do in the garden,” she says. “Why pay someone else to do what I love doing? Besides, I’m such a perfectionist. No one else would do it as carefully or as thoroughly as I do. If I’m raking leaves from a bed, I’m well aware of the fragile buds of the snowdrops that are emerging from the soil. What person would care as much?”
On close examination such care is visible in the beauty and abundance of some of Victoria’s signature plantings, including the hydrangea Anomala petiolaris, a sprawling, deciduous vine with white blooms. It climbs in a lace-cap pattern up three towering trees shading the front gardens and rambles along a stone perimeter wall that lines the southwest side of the property.
“The garden has given me so much pleasure, and I’m respectful of that,” says Victoria. “So I have to give something back,
a special level of caring. I owe it that.”
Other signature plantings include several varieties of clematis, timed to bloom in succession throughout the growing season. First to bloom is the sweet-smelling and delicate Clematis montana Mayleen, which appears in early May and, from its soft, three-inch pink flowers, releases clouds of fragrance resembling vanilla. It clambers through fifteen-foot evergreens that screen the southeast property line.
Most notable of the clematis is Duchess of Albany, a native type that bears deep-pink miniature tuliplike flowers that bloom from midsummer through midautumn. Victoria uses these as a ground cover that happily blends with low-growing juniper shrubs. But her favorite is Princess Diana, a close cousin with luminous dark pink flowers. Because it is less vigorous, Victoria grows it up an obelisk.
Viburnums, which bloom in different seasons, serve as a staple in Victoria’s gardens. Among them is the fragrantly sweet Viburnum bodnantense Dawn. Its densely packed pink flowers may appear as early as late February.
Like many gardeners, Victoria has dealt with all the conventional challenges—abundant shade, parched soil, land slugs, pesky diseases, invasive insects and deer. The unconventional methods she uses to deal with these are nothing short of remarkable.
To begin, Victoria does not spend lavishly on plants. Most are given to her by friends and clients of her design practice, Victoria’s Gardens.
She does not mulch—the practice inhibits self-seeding—and avoids using soil supplements, pesticides and toxic substances. She has refused to install deer fencing, preferring to deter the animals from wandering into her property with the careful installation of pebblestone trails and alleys. All she uses is compost and manure.
When pressed, she reveals her source for the best compost: the town dump. “Compost represents the beautiful and magical circle of life given to us by the plant world. From seed to plant to flower to seed again. Adding it sweetens and enriches the experience for both the plants and the gardener.”
Victoria’s other secret is to plant in gravel whenever she can. Not only does she love the look, especially in winter, but gravel also enables her to walk among favorite plants that thrive among the stones. “Whenever we work in the garden and create something of beauty, it becomes our personal song to the earth and a call for home,” says Victoria.
“Even in the rough, I knew this land was special,” she continues, while admiring her work. “From the first day I arrived here, it has always been my intention to create a garden as a place apart, a spiritual refuge where life’s obligations remain temporarily suspended.”