Photographed by Celia Pearson
In the 28 years since Paul and Beth Babikow purchased two acres of cornfields in Baldwin, they have transformed them into deeply quiet, meditative, gardens. The silence here is stunning— not eerie, but peaceful, almost sacred-feeling. “It’s the trees,” explains professional nurseryman Paul, who grew up in the business and is now president of Babikow Greenhouses, a large, wholesale nursery that supplies retailers such as Valley View Farms and Green Fields.
The hallmark of the Babikows’ gardens is bamboo, a plant most gardeners eschew because of its invasiveness. Although bamboo is challenging in that respect, it is controllable, Paul says, particularly in early spring when new shoots are tender and can be eliminated simply by stepping on them. (After that, a knife is necessary to cut out the hardening fiber.) Throughout the gardens are 17 varieties of bamboo. “It’s fascinating. Agriculturally speaking, it’s a sustainable crop,” says Paul. “It’s evergreen, and you can use it in so many ways.” The Babikows use bamboo as backdrop, >> texture, sculpture and screen, and softening device. It even serves as a canvas for fellow gardener and Baltimore artist Nancy Valk, who has painted some of the canes.
“We didn’t do this consciously, and I didn’t realize it until I was preparing a talk for the American Bamboo Society, but the entire space is filled with primitive plants: bald cypress, dawn redwood and ginkgo trees, ferns like the Australian tree ferns, horsetails and moss,” says Paul. “We all search for where we come from and these give reference to where we come from.”
The ancient plants help create the timeless and reverential feeling one has when walking the garden paths, which are filled with stands of fine plants propagated at the family nursery, including agapanthus, aruncus, solomon’s seal, ligularia, plume poppies, hellebores, hostas and native grasses like panicum and Pennsylvania carex.
Water is another prehistoric touchstone in this garden. After the original pond sprang a leak, the couple, with the help of Michael Mehrning, a German landscape design student interning at the nursery, turned it into a bog garden filled with white turtleheads, horsetail, thalia and red lobelia. “Recycle your pond!” jokes Beth, as she walks toward the back of the property, past a butterfly garden filled with black-eyed Susans, nasturiums, asters and spiderwort, to her latest project: a woodland garden, a fish pond, a waterfall and a patio, all designed by former former Baltimore artist Wayne David Hand (who now lives in California).
The Babikows’ “boulder field” further creates a sense of the ancient. Inspired by the glacier mountains of Patagonia, the boulders served as a quick screening remedy for a garden tour after Paul had a generator and gas tank installed. Now those “naturalized” boulders look as if they have been in place for centuries, particularly the moss-covered ones, which resonate with nine similarly shaped, 3-foot-high mounds of soil that Baltimore landscaper Dejan Ernestl of Urban Designs built and covered with different types of mosses in the nearby moss garden.
While an intern at the nursery, Ernestl, a native of Slovenia, designed the front gardens and 22 modular troughs arranged on the front and back patios and filled them with succulents, dwarf conifers and alpines. These containers add artistry and horticultural interest, and contribute an other-worldly quality with their Lilliputian plant forms.
Although not officially artists themselves, Paul and Beth Babikow have filled their artistically sited, designed and planted garden with works of artist friends like Valk and David Hess, who created the dramatic “Grove” sculpture, which almost looks like an altar or a pipe organ in an outdoor chapel, with walls of limbed-up white pines and stands of tall bamboo. One almost expects a dinosaur to wander out from behind the bald cypress trees and Australian tree ferns and behold this soulful prehistoric place.
Design Urban Designs, 410-243-3726, http://www.dejanernestl.net
Boulder installation Harvest Moon Landscaping, 410-399-2000
Masonry Andreas Grothe, New World Gardens, 410-357-4900
Tree pruning Carroll Tree Service, 410-998-1100, http://www.carrolltreeservice.com
Large tree planting Manor View Farm, 410-771-4700, http://www.manorview.com
Annuals, perennials and ferns Babikow Green-houses (wholesale only), 410-391-4200, http://www.babikow.com
Native plants Kollar Nursery, 410-836-0500, http://www.kollarnursery.com and Doyle Farm Nursery, 717-862-3134, http://www.doylefarm.com