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Feature Garden: Where East Meets West

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This garden draws inspiration from two locales.

By Lisa Truesdale

photos by kate zari roberts

Through gardening, Tina Davis has figured out a way to be in her two favorite places at once.

Although she moved to Colorado from her native Massachusetts in the early 1980s, Davis has carefully designed her sprawling Longmont garden to remind her of the lush estate gardens on Cape Cod that she has always loved.

In fact, until a few years ago, she spent nearly every summer traveling back to Cape Cod for a “gardening vacation” to help her good friend and college roommate, Rebecca Perry, who runs an estate-garden design company called Gardens by Rebecca.

“Becca has taught me so much,” Davis says, “and my time spent working with her has influenced most of my choices in the garden.” These include the variety of plants, the concept of composition, the graceful curved lines, and even certain colors she favors, like bright reds and vibrant purples.

At the end of each summer working on Cape Cod, Davis would return home with “plants of the year”—several of her favorites from the summer—to try in her own garden. Although she left her yard in her husband’s capable hands each summer and was grateful for his watering and weeding, her garden never looked quite the way she thought it would when she returned. The new plants were a way to help perk it up—even though there was a lot of trial and error, and not all of the plants survived here.

“Gardening is always a work in progress, and it’s forever changing,” Davis says. “The fun of gardening is trying new things.”

If Perry had her way, Davis would be trying something else new—working on Cape Cod full time. “But no amount of gardening adventures on Cape Cod could ever convince Tina to move back here with her family,” Perry says, “even though I dangled a supervisor position in front of her.”

About five years ago, Davis decided to end her yearly pilgrimages to Cape Cod, choosing instead to stay put in Longmont each summer and focus on her own garden, and also on her successful career as a glass and ceramic artist and teacher.

“Tina’s retirement from my company has allowed her to develop her gardens into a beautiful outdoor room with elements like water features, raised vegetable beds, architectural features and her lovely art pieces,” Perry says. “I’m jealous, though. Although I’m a professional gardener, I have no time to cultivate the gardens I dream of having at my own home; it’s the classic ‘shoemaker’s children’ syndrome.”

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Full-Circle Celebration

In 2014, after just a few summers of getting to spend time in her own garden, Davis was chosen to be one of the feature gardens on the annual Festival of Flowers garden tour sponsored by the Longmont Symphony Guild.

“Welcome to my humble garden,” Davis wrote in her garden description that appeared in the tour booklet. But “humble” is definitely not a word anyone else would use to describe it.

As you step inside the gate from the front, you spy one of Davis’ most prized plants, a ‘Kintzley’s Ghost’ honeysuckle. “The idea is for it to one day grow up and over the pergola that we have planned for this space,” she explains. Nearby is one of her favorite Cape Cod transplants, Concador lilies, plus veronica, amsonia and deep-purple irises.

All plant groupings throughout the yard—like the peonies, lilacs and caryopteris—are creatively interspersed with Davis’ own art pieces, including mosaics and pottery. There are also decorative pieces by other artists and unique “found” objects, like the vintage porcelain grinding wheel from Coors Brewery that’s propped up under the crab-apple tree. “A neighbor wheeled it all the way down the alley and said, ‘Do you want this for your garden?’ Of course I said yes.”

The herb garden—next to the deck for easy access from the kitchen—contains mint, tarragon, thyme, lemon balm and lavender. On the other side of the deck, the cutting garden has perennials like clematis, geum, dahlias, daisies and more lavender. “I’ve always wanted a place where I can cut flowers for my many vases,” Davis says.

Then there’s what she calls the “sharecropping” vegetable garden, a plot on the yard’s north side that actually “borrows” land from their next-door neighbor. Davis’ husband, Jeff, built the raised vegetable beds, and they installed a “secret gate” in the fence so their land-donating neighbor can come over anytime and help herself to the eggplant, garlic, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, peas, jalapeños and other delicious goodies that thrive there.

Although Davis feels her garden will forever be a work in progress, it’s already come full circle in some ways. In July, it served as the beautiful backdrop for her daughter Caleigh’s bridal shower. Caleigh, 29, who lives in Massachusetts, traveled here for the occasion with her godmother, who also happens to be her boss: Rebecca Perry.

“Caleigh is now a landscape designer for Gardens by Rebecca,” Davis says, “and we couldn’t be happier for her.

“Isn’t it amazing how that all worked out?”