Color-blended garden retreat of designer Barbara Katz: Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling


Opening the summer issue of Country Gardens magazine a few days ago, I felt an immediate jolt of recognition at seeing, on pages 10-13, one of the gardens we toured during last month’s Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling. It’s the garden of Bethesda, Maryland, designer Barbara Katz, one of the first private gardens we toured and one of my favorites.


Barbara’s front flower garden, a deep curving border around a small oval lawn, is a traffic-stopper — or at least a stopper of 50 eager garden bloggers. But just wait until you see the back garden!


But before we head to the back, let’s explore the front. My eye went straight to variegated yuccas (‘Bright Edge’?), their lemon-yellow stripes echoed by yellow yarrow, yellow-and-white lantana, and tawny Mexican feathergrass (I think) — a combo that would be at home in Austin.


A curving stone walk leads past shrub plantings to a front porch with red Adirondack rockers…


…and two plant stands with eye-catching succulent combos.


A variegated spineless prickly pear and Agave desmettiana fill one planter.


In the other, a spiny euphorbia stands tall with a paddle plant and Portulacaria afra (thanks for the ID, Diana!).


There was much to see out here, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss out on the back garden, so I headed along the side-yard path. No throw-away space here but rather a golden shade garden with hostas, sedge, and a redbud tree (maybe ‘Hearts of Gold’). Dark-green shrubs in the background make the golds pop.


Foliage detail


A few blogger friends stopped here to admire the plant combos too, including Gail, Tracy, and Jennifer.


Entering the back garden, where a generous stone patio bridges house and garden…


…you’re led to a small pond and waterfall…


…that stair-steps down from the top of a 12-foot slope, where a gazebo roof entices you to climb up and explore.


What an oasis…


…and not just for goldfish.


Barbara told us that she’d created this garden for clients who later decided to move. Spontaneously, she and her husband purchased the home in order to acquire the garden. She laughingly told us that in this way she was able to get a professionally designed garden — her own — without having to pay for it.


I doubt she ever sits down in her garden, but this comfortable seating area in the shade of a tall tree is inviting.


Barbara pays careful attention to color combinations, both flowers and foliage. One side of the back garden is planted with an orange, white, and purple color scheme.


Caramel-tinged heuchera, New Zealand sedge, and an orangey peach echinacea. Update: Barbara kindly identified the sparkly white flower as a catmint (Calamintha ‘White Cloud’).


Rusty orange coleus matches a rusty orange planter.


Even the garden art plays into the color scheme.


The other side of the garden features yellow, pink, blue, and maroon plants.


Which is your favorite?


Purple-leaved loropetalum and a purple-pink daylily


Now let’s climb the steps up the slope…


…stopping to admire the falling stream, which looks completely natural…


…and beautiful planters on the steps.


I enjoyed Barbara’s playful garden art, like this lizard seemingly sunning himself on a boulder…


…and this “bottle fly.”


You enter the upper garden via a perfect circle of emerald lawn, a calm counterpoint to the lush garden beds. Behind the pink hydrangeas on the far side of the circle (near owner/designer Barbara in the orange tank top)…


…a path leads to a nearly hidden stone patio and bench. Here are Garden Design publisher Jim Peterson and his wife, Val, chatting with Barbara’s husband.


Tucked amid the hydrangea blossoms, a woman’s face peeks out.


A more-traveled path beckons across the top of the slope…


…leading to a woodsy gazebo.


From here you enjoy a view of the house and lower patio and an upper pond with a bubbling fountain.


This plume poppy (Macleaya cordata) stands tall in a pot near the gazebo (see the gazebo picture, above), so pretty against a burgundy Japanese maple.


Stokes’ aster ‘Klaus Jelitto’ in full bloom alongside a shady birdbath. On her Facebook page, Barbara recently wrote that the aster is “still going strong after 22 years in the exact same spot, with zero maintenance.”


A closeup


A lilac-and-blue lacecap hydrangea harmonizes…


…as do these cute little plants growing in the cracks of a mossy stone path — rose campion?


Looking back to the circular lawn — what a stunning space!


There’s not an inch of this garden that didn’t wow me. I’m thrilled to have been able to visit.

Up next: Scenes from Brookside Gardens and a Patrick Dougherty twig sculpture. For a look back at the whimsical woodland garden of Ellen Ash, click here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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30 Responses

  1. Laura says:

    Fuzzy grayish plants in the flagstones look like rose campion to me.

  2. Kris P says:

    I published my own post of Barbara Katz’s wonderful garden today as well. I was amused to see that we both focused close-ups on that splendid combination of Heuchera, Echinacea, and Carex (or what I think was Carex) in the patio/pond area. Do you know what the plant with tiny white flowers behind the Carex was? It reminded me of an orange-scented thyme I grew years ago. Whatever it was, it added that extra bit of sparkle that put the combination over the top for me.

  3. Lara Leaf says:

    Thank you for the wonderful photos. What a standout of a garden!

  4. ks says:

    What a splendid garden this was. I think all the Flingers ranked it high.I think many people with hilly lots like this get discouraged, but Barbara has shown the advantage of viewing plants from multiple levels with some really great layering.

  5. You are right: it is stunning. I love discovering that circle of grass where I would least expect it.

  6. hb says:

    Gorgeous, and very refined. Not used to looking at lawns anymore! Everything so green and the trees so lush. My eyes have gotten so accustomed to xeric.

    The stream/waterfall is so well done, so natural looking, that has to be my favorite bit, even though the plants are also first-rate. It’s tough to get a stream/waterfall to look that natural.

  7. Linda says:

    Wow~ Love this beautiful garden. I wish I had the time & money to replicate some of her work. Just lovely…

  8. Michelle Kempske says:

    The pictures you took are fabulous. I am a landscape designer always looking for ideas. Thank you for this article!!

  9. Barbara says:

    Pam – thank you very much for this lovely post. I just appreciate it so much. It is awesome to see your pictures. What is the greatest fun though, is that you picked up on a lot of the details that we try to work on – boy, is that validating ! My husband Howard gets all the credit for the succulent containers – fortunately, he fell in love with succulents, so when we visit nurseries, we are both fully occupied. The sparkley white flower is Calamentha ‘White Cloud’ – I often use it to dress the bare legs of various taller plants. Such a winner, and huge pollinator magnet. So pleased you enjoyed the garden !

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Barbara, I’m grateful to you for sharing your garden with us. It’s absolutely gorgeous. There’s no case of the cobbler’s children not having any shoes here! Thanks too for the ID of the white flower, and kudos to Howard for his succulent planter artistry. —Pam

  10. This is a WOW. A plant lovers dream. 2 ponds and a waterfall. Sigh~~~ too beautiful.

  11. P.S. In answer to your question… I like the rusty heuchera and that dark grass with cone flowers to match. Plus that sculpture looks like Santa they day after Christmas. ha… Actually there is nothing here not to like.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      One vote for the peach/orange color scheme! I was curious what people who pick as their favorite, but then I don’t know if I’m able to choose between them myself. —Pam

  12. Heidi says:

    There is so much to take in here, it is all swoon worthy! Sure makes my efforts in the yard seem so puny.
    I sure wish my husband would take an interest in succulents, or anything to do with gardening for that matter!
    I adore reddish and purplish foliage so all the pics with Japanese maple and loropetalum were faves of mine. The lush coleus and coneflower pic is pretty great too!
    My yard is very flat, having different heights makes it so intriguing. Do you have any recommendations for literature on adding interest to your yard by adding different levels?

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Heidi. I can’t really think of a book that would specifically help you transform a flat yard into a multi-level space, although many garden design books show examples of small elevation changes, which definitely help to add interest to a flat garden. I think you’d need to hire a design/build pro to help you with earth-moving projects. I encourage you to check out my book review page for recommendations on garden books. —Pam

      • Heidi says:

        Thanks Pam, simple elevation changes is what I am looking for, just to add interest. Also, ways to break a yard into sections, so you don’t see it all at one time.
        I would love to add more formal areas with evergreen shrubs as you wrote about recently. My dream garden would be a mix of formal, cottage and rustic areas.
        A gardeners work is never done!

        • Pam/Digging says:

          It’s not, but happily the work is pleasure! Have fun making your dream garden, Heidi, and enjoy the process. :) —Pam

          • Diana Studer says:

            We have used a double layer of retaining blocks out front, and three raised bed at the bottom of our garden. It is surprising what a difference even that small change in level makes.

            This False Bay garden is our third, slopes very gently. Porterville was flat so my Ungardener built a waterfall and a pond.

            All inspired by the 45 degree slope we started with in Camps Bay.

  13. Diana Studer says:

    the other succulent
    with the potted spiny euphorbia
    is Portulacaria afra, spekboom, elephant food ;~)

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