The vision of an English style garden drew Monte and
Diane Powell to a derelict piece of land along South Dash Point Road in Federal
It's not the first thing that
most of us would think of when we saw land that had been used as a dumping
ground by the highway department, but the Powells were inspired by the private
gardens they'd visited in England, where owners opened their gates to visitors.
result of their idea is PowellsWood, a three-acre landscaped garden in the English
style including big, deep perennial borders and a woodland walk, all surrounded
by natural areas and a busy road--the latter is unnoticed as you wander around
property was surplussed by the water district--where Powell was the naturalist--in the early 1990s, and bought by a developer. When a deal with the parks department fell through, the
Powells stepped in and bought the 20-acre property, and a further 20 acres,
from the developer. And then the
landscape architect Ned Gulbran drew up plans for the garden, and the former
head gardener Richard Hildner did much of the initial planting. But Monte Powell is
a Master Gardener,
and interned at the Royal Horticultural Society Garden Harlow Carr, and so had
a strong hand in the day-to-day gardening. Today, head gardener Avril Steele carries out day-to-day
responsibilities, but, although Powell hasn't had the chance to get his hands
dirty everyday in the last couple of years, he is still a gardener.
Monte Powell took time to talk about the garden and its development.
What did you find when you
started working on the land?
soil was in terrible condition.
Parts of it were so bad that weeds wouldn't even grow. The highway department
had used it to
dump, and we found the usual glacial till soil plus road rubble. There were pieces
of old curbing that
might weigh 300 pounds. There was
asphalt, and, of course, an old car or two.
After clearing the land, what did you do?
were able to test mulches from different sources, including Cedar Grove. That lasted
two years, and I ended up
with hundreds of yards of great mulch.
It made all the difference in the plants.
taken garden classes in England, and one of the teachers said to me at the end
of a class, "If you get nothing else right, get the soil right." That was the turning
point for me--I
got the soil right.
How did you create the stream that runs through the
perennial border from the bridge to the pond?
manmade. I had drainage coming
from next door and runoff from the road.
I dug a channel and put in a liner, and covered it with river
rocks. I made pockets along the
way for iris and other water-loving plants. The stream flows into the pond where I have water lilies and
other plants, and then it's pumped back up to the bridge.
the pond overflows, it's engineered to flow down into the natural area and on
out into the Sound. The pond never
quite runs dry in the summer. It's
amazing to take the dirty water off the road and run it through here--it
becomes crystal clear. It's a
Did you have any other drainage issues?
realized I had poor drainage in the lower part of the garden when I saw the
rhododendrons looking bad--they were a little droopy, and I realized they were
waterlogged. I dug them out and
installed French drains that sent the water to the lowest spot, then I raised
the bed 6 inches, and replanted the rhododendrons. They're doing really well now.
What's the difference between private English gardens
most of their gardens are a lot older than ours. They have a lot of structure in the gardens, but at the same
time, really great plant combinations.
And the color combinations are great. They're just really crazy plant collectors--the gardens are
How has PowellsWood developed?
garden really gets going when the weather warms up. And besides a great summer, we have a really strong
fall. There are lots of asters,
and other interest.