Kent: The sight of a single bamboo shoot elicited a cry of joy from Gingr Vaughan.
“Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” she exclaimed, bending for a closer look at the spear of green poking from the soil of her backyard.
Until this year, Vaughan’s stand of bamboo had reached 12 to 15 feet tall, the stalks arching gracefully over her driveway and pond and blowing languidly in each breeze. But last winter’s icy blasts killed all the growth above the ground, leaving Vaughan with the fear that the plants were goners.
Then about two weeks ago, hope arrived in the form of that tender shoot.
“This will probably only get to 6 feet [tall],” she said, “but I’ll be happy with that.”
Vaughan has struggled to bring her garden back from the devastation of the bitter winter, a challenge made all the harder by the slow spring and one big, looming deadline: next weekend’s Kent Historical Society Town and Garden Tour, which will feature her yard as one of its stops.
She’d had to accept that her wisteria vine won’t be producing their pendulous white blooms this year, and that the silver lace vine that normally envelops her gazebo won’t be as lush as usual by the time of the tour. She’s making some allowances where she can — leaving in place the aggressive five-leaved akebia that has made its way from the fence and intertwined with the lace vine, for example, and adding thalia and horsetails to fill in a corner of the pond that used to be shaded by the bamboo.
It’s not quite the garden she wants it to be, but she’s probably the only person who would know that.
A photographer and printmaker who is semiretired from the art faculty at Kent State University, Vaughan has approached the creation of her garden as a work of art.
She carefully selects her plants for their forms, textures and colors, marrying all into a captivating composition.
She smiled when she admitted she rarely shops for specific plants. “I’ll walk into a garden center and say, ‘I’m looking for tall and blue, with silver leaves,’ ” she said.
In fact, she said visitors are sometimes disappointed by her garden, because it lacks a lot of flowers. Instead, the interest comes more from the color and texture of the foliage and the interesting plant shapes.
“I garden like an artist,” she said, “not like a horticulturist.”
Stone is a unifying element in Vaughan’s backyard, its mass and hardness tempered by the fluidity of the pond and waterfall.
Stone steps climb a slope from a patio, leading through a woodland garden shaded by four red cedars she figures were planted around the time the house was built in 1900. Pink bleeding hearts and red trilliums dot an expanse of ferns and may apples, many of them rescued from nearby land that was being developed for housing.
Part of the bank is devoted to a rock garden, which Vaughan was planning to expand with more rocks that were stacked on her patio. The garden is partly in sun and partly in shade, allowing hostas and bleeding hearts to grow near heaths and heathers.
At the center of the gardens is a redwood gazebo, a place Vaughan likes to sit when she grades papers. A Yellow Butterflies magnolia grows beside it, its branches reaching out as if to embrace the structure.
The gazebo leads to an herb garden, its stone-edged beds surrounding a sundial in a traditional parterre design, and beyond it a collection of hellebores that were blooming in colors ranging from dark purple to cream. Nearby, a garden arch marks the pet cemetery where the ashes of two of the greyhounds Vaughan has rescued and a number of her cats are buried among the lilies.
Statuary is tucked here and there around the garden — St. Francis of Assisi in a nook along the fence, Buddha protected by the branches of a Japanese maple, a greyhound and a small cat in the pet cemetery. Sometimes, plants become the artwork, such as the espaliered crab apple, Gala apple and Anjou pear trees along the driveway.
At the base of the slope is the pond, a rectangular concrete structure edged in barnstone and brick. Water spills over boulders at one end and splashes from a fountain within the pond, fashioned from a millstone and an old stone birdbath. The pond is edged in water irises, which Vaughan hoped would be in bloom by the time of the tour.
A mister mounted on one of the cedars emits tiny droplets of water into the air above the waterfall, creating ethereal clouds that glide above the ground and catch the light to create rainbows. The effect is a bit of natural theater, carefully staged to be best viewed with the morning sun as back lighting.
It’s the kind of effect only an artist could envision.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/mbbreck, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckABJ and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.