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A Gardener's Grand Finale

  • By Melissa Ozawa
  • Photos by Juliana Sohn

While most gardens put on a full show in summer, garden designer Dean Riddle created a rich tapestry of plants that explodes with late-season beauty and a luscious palette of fall colors. See how this Catskills-area garden transforms.

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Barbara Rohdie, right, is “not a beige person. I don’t like restraint. I like passion,” she says. And in garden designer Dean Riddle, left, Rohdie found just the person to realize her vision. She hired him to create an exuberant garden for her and her husband, Bob, in the Catskills area of New York.

The two-acre garden is packed with color and texture, and by the beginning of July, when most gardens are reaching their peak, the Rohdies’ is just getting started. “I try to mimic natural habitats as much as possible,” says Riddle (deanriddlegardens.com), who selected a mix of natives and what he refers to as “native-associated” plants (i.e., those with similar growing requirements) for the couple. “I look for plants that not only look good, but will also make good bedfellows from summer through autumn.”

While the garden is intensely planted -- it contains more than 100 different varieties -- it’s not one that demands intense work around the clock or throughout the year. The key is being proactive: “If you’re vigilant about fighting weeds in the spring, they never get much of a foothold,” Riddle says. Indeed, by early summer, the beds are so packed that they shade out any new weeds, eliminating the need for mulch. In fall, he doesn’t even cut back the spent perennials or clean up the fallen leaves. Since designing the garden almost a decade ago, Riddle has practiced with a very light hand. “You make the picture,” he says. “But you also need to let nature do its thing.” For Barbara Rohdie, the expanse of color is nothing short of a dream come true. “I’m a city girl from the Bronx,” she says. “To have a garden like this is a heart-fulfilling kind of thing.”

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The View in Summer

“First and foremost, this garden is a path,” Dean Riddle says of the densely packed beds that frame a stone walkway extending from Barbara and Bob Rohdie’s house to their pool. To add structure, he dotted each side with boxwood balls. Barbara Rohdie enjoys meandering down the path with her five grandchildren, watching them marvel as nature unfurls around them.

And the View in Fall

Set against the native Catskills forest, the palette evolves over the growing season, reaching a crescendo in the fall with a patchwork of deep golds and reds that echo the colors in the hillside.

Summer

The established beds, full of native and nativelike plants, require little more than rainwater. Riddle is not fussy. “The first year, I’ll water by hand when needed,” he says. “The second year, the plants are on their own.” Here, native Joe-Pye weed mixes with Japanese dappled willow.

Fall

No raking or sweeping necessary. Riddle lets fallen leaves and other natural debris degrade into and enrich the soil -- just as they do in the adjacent woods.

Summer

The densely planted path that leads to the pool contrasts with the quieter selection Riddle chose for the pool area itself: "Limelight" hydrangea shrubs frame one side, while small clipped boxwood balls and a potted weeping white pine flank the opposite side.

Fall

The "Limelight" hydrangeas mellow to a soft mauve, while the once-green miscanthus grass develops feathery wheat-colored plumage.

Dean Riddle's Favorite Plants for All Seasons

  • Hosta "Sum and Substance"
    Hosta "Sum and Substance"

    Brawny and shade-loving, with huge (as big as four feet) pleated bright-golden-green leaves.

  • Pinus Strobus "Pendula"
    Pinus Strobus "Pendula"

    Cold-hardy, with smoky-blue needles. (This pot has been outside without any protection for several years.)

  • Betula Nigra "Dura-Heat"
    Betula Nigra "Dura-Heat"

    Fast-growing, with strong branches. The exfoliating bark adds interest in winter.

  • Pycnanthemum Muticum
    Pycnanthemum Muticum

    Has tiny flowers and showy silvery bracts from summer through fall. A favorite of pollinators.

  • Rudbeckia Triloba "Prairie Glow"
    Rudbeckia Triloba "Prairie Glow"

    Easy-to-grow Catskills native; bursts with color in high summer.

  • Sedum "Autumn Joy"
    Sedum "Autumn Joy"

    A stalwart perennial. Drought-tolerant, it changes from pale pink to maroon over the growing season.

  • Aronia Arbutifolia "Brilliantissima"
    Aronia Arbutifolia "Brilliantissima"

    Has an open, airy growing habit. Produces white flowers and red berries in summer and fall.

  • Miscanthus Sinensis "Adagio"
    Miscanthus Sinensis "Adagio"

    Easy-to-grow grass that can reach four feet in height. Tolerates heat and humidity.

  • Hydrangea Paniculata "Limelight"
    Hydrangea Paniculata "Limelight"

    Robust habit and fine foliage. Hard-prune in spring to control size for the year.

  • Hosta "Sum and Substance"
    Hosta "Sum and Substance"

    Brawny and shade-loving, with huge (as big as four feet) pleated bright-golden-green leaves.

  • Sedum "Autumn Joy"
    Sedum "Autumn Joy"

    A stalwart perennial. Drought-tolerant, it changes from pale pink to maroon over the growing season.

  • Pinus Strobus "Pendula"
    Pinus Strobus "Pendula"

    Cold-hardy, with smoky-blue needles. (This pot has been outside without any protection for several years.)

  • Aronia Arbutifolia "Brilliantissima"
    Aronia Arbutifolia "Brilliantissima"

    Has an open, airy growing habit. Produces white flowers and red berries in summer and fall.

  • Betula Nigra "Dura-Heat"
    Betula Nigra "Dura-Heat"

    Fast-growing, with strong branches. The exfoliating bark adds interest in winter.

  • Miscanthus Sinensis "Adagio"
    Miscanthus Sinensis "Adagio"

    Easy-to-grow grass that can reach four feet in height. Tolerates heat and humidity.

  • Pycnanthemum Muticum
    Pycnanthemum Muticum

    Has tiny flowers and showy silvery bracts from summer through fall. A favorite of pollinators.

  • Hydrangea Paniculata "Limelight"
    Hydrangea Paniculata "Limelight"

    Robust habit and fine foliage. Hard-prune in spring to control size for the year.

  • Rudbeckia Triloba "Prairie Glow"
    Rudbeckia Triloba "Prairie Glow"

    Easy-to-grow Catskills native; bursts with color in high summer.

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