English Landscape in Kenwood

Although Jenny Sue and Donald Dunner inherited a large, wooded and well-maintained backyard when they bought their house in 1971, they didn’t use it much. They added a little bench under a tree on their double lot, and that was about it. But with help from Bethesda garden designer, Elin Haaga, the Dunners have newfound joy in a yard that once garnered little attention. “The clients looked out at their garden but were never in it,” Haaga says. “Now they have to be in their garden.”

What exactly was keeping them out? “Sometimes I call it ‘garden psychology,” Haaga says. She explains that what the Dunners were missing was a focal point—something that captures the eye and calls you to the garden. Now, a white, arching arbor forms the centerpiece of the sweeping, shady backyard Haaga transformed into an English landscape garden with separate “rooms” to be discovered during strolls. There is a bridge affectionately named “London Bridge” by Jenny Sue in honor of Haaga, who hails from Britain, and several angels and statuary beckon along the way. “I love angels,” Jenny Sue says. Photo credit: Melissa Clark

“What I like best about it is the view from here,” says Donald as he looks out from the kitchen. “When you see the front of the house, you don’t know that there’s a paradise in back.”

Haaga left many of the original plants and the garden’s natural asymmetric configuration intact. She plotted discrete walkways out of patterned natural stone, built the bridge to cover a drainage area and created several little outdoor “rooms”—set off by stone patios and outfitted with benches. “I love to create outdoor spaces that invite people into them,” says Haaga. Though temples are traditional focal points in an English landscape garden, explains Haaga, the Dunners instead chose the arbor.

“When you see things from a distance, you want to go right to it,” says Haaga, a professor of landscape history at George Washington University. Except in this case, you don’t necessarily go directly to the arbor. The patterned-stone paths from the multi-level stone patio take you the long way around the garden. The garden is in partial shade and is a good example of how to garden successfully without much sun. Hydrangeas, camellias and hellebores offer plenty of bright spots, color and texture. The colors are personal: Purple and white azaleas are Northwestern University’s colors, Jenny Sue’s alma mater. Usually a formal, England-inspired traditionalist, she says, “I’m quirky too.” Evidence of this is found in the colorful fish sculptures near the bridge. Bursts of color arrive in summer when hundreds of bright impatiens bloom.

Though Donald doesn’t believe in cutting down trees unless they’re dead or diseased, Haaga needed to remove a tree to allow light and space into the garden. The views that Donald loves are no longer obscured. In that way, the garden has become part of the interior of the home as well: The garden beckons from the sunroom, family room and kitchen. Jenny Sue is looking forward to revamping a shady side bed and would love one day to have roses. But for now, she and Donald enjoy the “spring show” of cherry blossoms, azaleas and dogwoods.


Bethesda Working Artist’s Garden

Bethesda resident Amy Lamb’s lush garden is more than just pretty flowers; it provides the natural material for her work as a fine art photographer. “I have a hundred different plants in the garden,” Lamb says.

The National Institutes of Health microbiologist-turned-artist creates portraits of individual plants. Ninety-five percent of her subjects come from her own garden. “As a photographer, I grow my flowers,” she explains. “As a gardener, I watch the flowers as they come up in the early spring—the buds, the blooms, the seedpods.” As a former scientist, the patterns and structure of each plant are what Lamb finds fascinating, especially “the patterns, spirals, branching, patterns repeating themselves over and over again,” she says.

Photo credit: Garden Gate LandscapingShe became interested in gardening while out in the yard with her children during her years as a stay-at-home mom.


The variety of flowers and trees in Lamb’s garden provides ample specimens for her work (www.amylamb.com), and make for a stunning and colorful backyard. Her garden is what her landscaper, Dan Law of Garden Gate Landscaping, calls “a gardener’s garden,” a vast profusion of flowers set along narrow grassy paths. Although little lawn space exists, a bench beckons from one end of the yard, enticing visitors past clumps of echinacea, bee balm, phlox, angelica, cimicifuga, calla lilies, astilbe, peonies, jack-in-the-pulpit and oakleaf hydrangea, one of Lamb’s favorites. There is the occasional randomthistle: Once, when the unsightly weed sprang up higher than seven feet, Lamb kept it to see what would happen. She couldn’t believe how beautiful the bright pink flower was.

Each flower has special meaning for Lamb. “Every one is an individual,” she says, and for her, it’s about more than just the big picture; it’s the details of each plant that make the garden a place of wonder and discovery. “I imagine what it looks like from the point of view of an ant,” she says. Her garden allows her to be a kid again, lying on the ground. “It’s fun to kind of turn your world upside down. What I love is change, uniqueness,” she says. “It’s not a static garden.”

Lamb’s unique perspective on plant structure, in which she compares the forms in nature to those of man-made structures, has earned her invitations to photography shows at the U.S. Botanic Garden, the American Institute of Architects and the National Women’s Museum of Art. “The built environment draws upon the structures of nature: branching in the veins of a leaf, our veins and in lightning. My message is the cycle of life and the structures of life and the beauty that’s all around us,” she says.


A hands-on gardener, Lamb needed a landscaper with whom she could collaborate. She says Law shares her vision of looking for the unusual, and, together, they have worked on the garden throughout the years. Now, as grandchildren are entering the scene, Lamb wants to move some plants to open the space for planting grass for the kids to play on. She also wants to add a swing set—one with an artistic flair, of course.

Potomac Mediterranean Retreat

It took her son’s wedding to get busy anesthesiologist Charise Petrovitch to redo her Potomac yard. Although she’d lived in the house for 15 years, raising two sons (and paying their tuitions) took precedence over a major yard renovation. Then, faced with the prospects of out-of-town guests and a pre-wedding brunch at her home, Charise decided to bite the bullet. “My yard was ugly. It was very cold. The back of the house looked like a railroad station,” she says.

The landscaping is a beautiful example of outdoor garden rooms, which play off the house itself to create stunning views from inside. Each of the five guest rooms in her home has a different view of the garden, a serendipitous surprise that delights Charise. In this way, the yard becomes even more a part of the landscape of the house. Where there were once aluminum- framed sliding doors leading to outside, there are now heavy, oversized wooden doors, which coordinate with the dark wood of the arbor off the family room. The garden has been created to make the outdoors functional as well as beautiful. There is a spa garden, a loggia that serves as a gathering place with a built-in grill, a kitchen garden, a pool, and a large, formal circular lawn that Charise calls “drop-dead simple, but stunning.” Photo credit: Botanical Decorators


For work, Charise has traveled around the world attending seminars and speaking at conferences. During those trips, she often stayed in resorts and wanted to replicate that peaceful, visually pleasing “spa feel” in her own backyard. Inspired by the gardens of the Mediterranean, she decided to replace her pool with one that looked more natural and more a part of the landscape. Now the pool is seen through a scrim of grasses—making it appear to be a natural body of water.

Morgan Washburn of Botanical Decorators helped Charise create her garden and its Mediterranean touches, using a variety of indigenous plantings, including deodar cedars, bottlebrush buckeye, winterberry, oakleaf hydrangea, coneflowers and coreopsis. Because the garden faces south, Mediterranean accents work perfectly. Desert Gold flagstone gives the loggia an exotic look. Containers on the patio hold blue and white plants—such as graceful tree hydrangeas— to lend an air of coolness and shade from the south-facing garden. In the kitchen garden, however, which the family sees every day, the colors are bright and festive. Charise’s husband, Paolo Petrovitch, is the family cook and enjoys the assortment of herbs—oregano, parsley, basil, sage, thyme—from the kitchen garden.

Most striking is the circular lawn off the loggia, introduced by a checkerboard paving pattern. Washburn says the circular patch of grass is “an archetypal shape that resonates.” The powerful design element can also function as a stage for a party tent. A series of urns planted with bright red flowers are set in a row around the periphery of the lawn. Nearby, a gothic fountain gurgling in the center of the patio evokes ancient, sultry days and provides a soothing respite for party guests, friends and family.