“After all, what is a garden for?
It is for delight, for sweet solace, for the purest of all human pleasures, the greatest refreshment of the spirits of men, it is to promote juncundite of minde; it is to call home over-wearied spirits. So say the old writers, and we cannot amend their words, which will stand as long as there are gardens on earth and people to love them.”
—Gertrude Jekyll, July 1896
Home and garden reflect each other in this Ferndale, California, farmstead.
Paying tribute to their home’s Victorian pedigree, Gail and Glenn Giaimo built a grand garden.
It requires tenacity to take on a large Victorian in the country. Nearly always, it’s a work in progress and similar to the ongoing painting of the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s never done. Two hardy, artistic souls, Gail and Glenn Giaimo, have figured out a way to make it work, make a living and stay happy.
The couple, parents to 10-year-old Alicia, have created a beautiful country setting around their 1901 home in rural Ferndale, California, taking care to anchor the flowerbeds and walkways with the lines of the Queen Anne. In true Victorian fashion, extensive gardens, flowerbeds, pathways and a spectacular potting shed, which they added on, are just as much rooms of the home as is the parlor.
“Because our home was built in 1901, I developed a garden that had both the formal bones (many, many hedges, borders and beautiful Victorian structures creating garden rooms, such as our rose garden with the lathe gazebo) and more of an informal grandmother’s garden as far as the plantings,” Gail says.
Seeing the garden now, it’s hard to believe that it was shabby and overgrown when the family arrived 15 years ago.
“When we moved into our Queen Anne home, the garden hadn’t been tended in years. I started with the area we would walk by most often; at that time it was the front door. There were two flowerbeds that I renovated and made beautiful, which inspired and encouraged me as I made more plans. My garden “grew” over the next five years from the vantage point of where we walked, where we would want to spend time (sheltered warm areas) and the views from our lovely bay windows,” Gail says.
Follow Gail’s lead: Determine good starting points for your garden. Start small, in an area you will see often, to encourage your spirit to continue the tasks necessary to transform your outdoor space.
Gardeners are a friendly lot, sharing seeds, plant clippings and tips. Remembering her grandfather, an avid gardener in Portland, Oregon, Gail now understands the amount of work involved. “As a child, I gathered dahlias for the dinner table. When I got older, I’d go out and help him deadhead. My gardening inspiration comes from my grandfather.”
Another mentor came along during those first years in Ferndale: Janet Czarnecki, a local gardener who became Gail’s lifeline. “She taught me so much,” Gail says. Out came the graph paper and pencil, and the women devised a grand plan, taking into account the position of the house, warm versus cool spots and where the “bones” of the garden were already established.
Gail spent months studying pictures of plants and flowers, learning their habits and blooming cycles, and looking at gorgeous garden design books to decide what she wanted her garden to be. Each garden “room” would be unique, and yet the look of English cottage style would be consistent throughout.
How to cultivate a large (or modest) plot: Have a plan; it saves time, money and lowers your failure/frustration rate. Check out gardening resources in your area to ensure your success: University extension courses, garden clubs, the local library and your neighborhood nursery are great starting points. Follow Gail’s checklist (page 64) for designing a garden tailored for your needs. Once you take this survey, you’ll have in hand a map for creating the garden of your dreams.
• a combination
What BUDGET/TIME/RESOURCES can you commit?
• Do you like to garden yourself?
• High maintenance vs. low maintenance
• Does this match your garden style?
DETERMINE the site of home and environment.
• Where do you spend most of your outdoor time?
• What is the orientation of your home to N, S, E and W?
• Determine favorite views from windows.
• Identify sheltered, warm and more quiet places in
• What really bugs you about the property/lot?
Start with a simple SITE PLAN and build as you go.
• Plot your home and lot on graph paper.
• Plot compass direction.
• Does this match your garden style?
• Plot current flowerbeds, lawn area and existing
structures (fences, barbecue area, etc.).
IDENTIFY the bones of your garden.
• What existing structures/trees can you work with?
• Look for new places for arbors, seating areas and fences.
• Find locations for new trees and natural fencing (hedges)
• Think in terms of shelter, seclusion and warmth.
• Are there opportunities for vertical gardening?
DIVIDE your space into garden rooms.
• Use structures/hedges (see above).
• Create interesting paths and walkways with destinations.
• Make different garden styles for different rooms (a very Victorian concept!).
What kinds of PLANTS do you most enjoy?
• Evergreen shrubs, bulbs, perennials and annuals all have their advantages.
• Read garden catalogs, but rely on your local garden store for plants that grow best in certain conditions and soils.
• Are you planting on the north, south, east or west side, and what is exposure to shade, wind and sun?
• Nothing will do well without proper soil prep.
Set a reasonable timeline and milestones.
• 1-year plan, 5-year plan
• Identify a project that gives you the most pleasure, and do it first.
• Don’t try too much at once.
Good soil preparation is essential to good gardening. Add organic compost to break up silty soil. Gail and her friend Janet double dug all of the flowerbeds, mixing in organic compost as they went along.
Bio: Along with enjoyment and exercise, the Giaimos have found inspiration from the colors and seasons outdoors. Working with antique materials and rare ephemera, the couple creates one-of-a-kind holiday ornaments with Victorian flair through their company, Dresden Star Ornaments. For more information, visit victorianornaments.com.
Bio: Erika Kotite, formerly editor of Victorian Homes, is the owner of Toque, an online culinary magazine. Visit toquemag.com.
By Erika Kotite
Photographs courtesy of Glenn and Gail Giaimo