Garden Photo of the Day

Barbara’s downsizing story

A view towards the pavilion overlooking the pond at Stemmer House

Today's photos are from Barbara Holdridge in Maryland, who says, "My reaction to Pat DeSocio’s account of her loss of her former beloved garden was bittersweet. I, too, have downsized, but lost not one but two gardens precious to me. And there’s a moral in my story.
     Like Pat, I had to downsize, not only because of mounting maintenance costs, but because of wear and tear on me, after forty years of creating and tending a garden area of about six acres of my property, with a three-quarter acre pond, a Japanese-style garden, fountains, swans, and peacocks. There were garden tours and a garden award. When I downsized to a very pleasant condominium in a green setting, I still felt that need to dig my hands in the soil–-we all know the feeling–-and create something. Since there was a patch of ground outside my windows with only dead pines and unsightly bushes, I received written permission from the president of the condominium board to start a very small garden there.
     My efforts were rewarded with an abundance of perennials, roses, dwarf conifers, and lots of birds,  butterflies, and bees. Neighbors loved it, and I felt good cultivating my little garden as it grew, and watching the weather daily like the old gardener I was. The soil was terrible, so I amended it. The deer were all ears, noses, eyes, and teeth, but I fended them off with various sprays, which I alternated to keep them worried.
     The end of the story? The condominium board suddenly sent laborers over early one morning, at the height of summer, to demolish the garden, toss my poor uprooted plants aside, and replace my garden with leggy echinaceas and unattractive itea shrubs. I sued for breach of contract and they settled in due course, but I am now gardenless. I have done the only thing I can-–put grow lights up in my sunroom, bought flowering tropical plants and a large potted lemon tree, and put all of my efforts into trying to make everything thrive.
     And the moral? If you need to downsize, and you still have that gardening itch, land where there is positive assurance that you can garden–-and not only get everything in writing, but also executed by an attorney!" Oh Barbara, this is heartbreaking. But I'm so glad you're still growing and thriving. Wow. 

***Want a guided tour through Barbara's former garden at Stemmer House? Check out THIS VIDEO.***

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Cleopatra with her cygnets at Stemmer House

The Blue Bridge in the Japanese Garden at Stemmer House

The Moon Gate at Stemmer House

Trellis arch with lilies at Stemmer House

New Little Garden thriving in June 2014

Little Garden through my window screen in August 2014 (past the development's hydrangeas and iteas), just after I had planted more bright coreopsis, one day before the Heartbreaking Demolition: Yellow and red roses, hostas, coreopsis, penstemons, belamcandas, veronicas, stonecrop, ajugas, 'Blue Chip' miniature butterfly bush, pink muhly grass, dwarf spruces, rose tree, thalictrum, daylilies, liatris, etc.

Workmen demolishing the Little Garden, August 2014

My current indoor sunroom garden substitute

View Comments


  1. user-4691082 03/18/2015

    Barbara, I wanted to cry as I read this. You are such a gifted gardener, I hope you will be a teacher for young gardeners and pass your passion along. God bless you.

    1. BoxwoodBarbara 03/19/2015

      I am grateful to you all for your sympathy and encouragement. If ever there was a group of totally dedicated and, yes, loving, gardeners, it is yourselves. Still feeling bereaved, especially at the beginning of this spring, I always read the GPOD each day, and admire not only the gardens, but the pursuit of beauty that inspires them. I feel I know you all.
      Here are two updates: The current owners of Stemmer House have now filed a plan for development, a proposal that has impelled the protective Valley Planning Council to call a community meeting on March 31st. And–don't breathe a word–but my Little Garden daffodils and tulips, and perhaps later my alliums, all of them speed in August because they were underground, are coming up now. I thank the earth goddess for small favors, and thank all of you for caring!

      1. eddireid 03/19/2015

        It is hard not to weep as I read through this again and watch your video - what an accomplishment of love and dedication. Stemmer House and Gardens are.a Treasure. One thing is certain YOU are never going to give up gardening! It is your soul which impels you forward.
        This post is a gift to all of us. Thank you.

        1. BoxwoodBarbara 03/20/2015

          Eddi, I've never before felt the need to share my tribulations, but I knew that you, as well as everyone else at GPOD, would understand the depth of the hurt and would help me with your sympathy and encouragement. It's I who thank you.

          1. eddireid 03/20/2015

            This group of people really do care. We all learn from one another and gain strength from the sharing.
            It surprised me to learn that my biggest dread if we sell our property, is not the loss of the house which I love, but that someone woul buy it and rip out my gardens!! Just the thought makes my stomach clench. "You can make a new one somewhere else" someone said, trying to comfort me. That didn't help either. So I'm trying something else - I am imagining a dream garden containing absolutely everything I love - it is my own creation which nobody can take from me. In the middle of the night it takes shape. Meanwhile, I read books on gardening, look at gorgeous photographs and read the GPOD for more information than I will probably ever need. Silly, but it keeps me dreaming.
            Thank you for your reply and your obvious kindness.

  2. sheila_schultz 03/18/2015

    Oh Barbara, you are a most remarkable woman. Tears were flowing down my cheeks as I watched the video of Stemmer House. The love you felt for your home and your magnificent gardens touched my heart.
    When you moved, you did what you had to do and you made a new home for yourself, complete with a new, beautiful 'little' garden. It was created with the same thoughtfulness and love as your gardens at Stemmer House because that is what you do... you create beauty and then you share it.
    My heart breaks that your condo board reacted in such a cowardly manner, but that is in the past. You now have your forever garden, and I have no doubt it will thrive with your caring and loving touch. Like I said earlier, you are a most remarkable woman.

  3. user-1020932 03/18/2015

    Barbara, Stemmer House and garden was absolutely beautiful and to hear your narration made it even more so. I can't imagine the emotions you had when leaving it but it was the right thing for you to do BUT to get permission, develop a new garden then have it demolished,well, i'm not sure i could have controlled myself as well as you did. I get somewhat crazy when a plant is broken or damaged through carelessness but to have to watch it being destroyed,,,,,,,,you have more strength and composure than i do. Glad to know you can and do garden indoors and I agree with Rhonda,,, I hope you can be a mentor/helper/teacher to young gardeners just starting out. Oh, and where do i send my check for the singing on tape? I enjoyed that as well. Thanks for sharing your story and the video, it was a treat to see Stemmer House at the end of a very trying day.

  4. annek 03/19/2015

    Oh're story is so intensely moving. I ache in agreement for your lovely desire to just continue gardening. I wish we could sign a petition or do some similar act to help you get it back again. I know it's wishful thinking but it would make the world right. Your video was charming...songster and all!

  5. perenniallycrazy 03/19/2015

    Barbara, no doubt that Stemmer House and Garden has touched the heart and soul of every GPODer here. What happened to your Little Garden creation is such a tragedy, and yet. I am even more inspired to see how you have moved on.

  6. Nurserynotnordstroms 03/19/2015

    Barbara your life's story from 2014 is truly heart breaking and I felt so sad that you had to watch as the gardeners tore up your beautiful creation. I can't even imagine why the board would decide to do such a thing and then hire people to instrument that destruction. Thank you for giving me faith that kind people exist and can move forward even after others have been cruel and thoughtless. You must have an enormously kind heart to have moved on and become an indoor gardener. You are a wonderful woman,one who I would be very honored to know. I wish you happiness and a rich fulfilled future.

  7. user-7007439 03/19/2015

    I spent my life where I am at and can't keep up as good as i used to, but if that happened to me I would get into new place. you had that condo fixed up beautiful.

  8. jerrysiss 03/19/2015

    I feel so terrible for you. There's nothing like the sun beating down on you while working in the dirt and seeing your hard efforts pay off in beauty for all to admire. While you have the indoor Garden, it's just not the same. What made them change their mind? Did some crabby butt complain to the board or something?

  9. rachel_pascale 03/19/2015

    Sorry Barbara, to read this. I know what it is like to loose a garden , it happened to me. I would just move, couldn't stay in that place even if I wanted to.

  10. user-3565112 03/19/2015

    Your story reminds me of my mother in law. Her condo. assoc. in Ga. gave her a hard clay weedy hillside & she turned into a beautiful garden with roses, coreopsis, bee balm etc. Her problem was with other residents stealing her flowers, tools & bags of topsoil. She kept this garden going until she turned 90 & had to move due to health concerns. She could root a stick in clay.

  11. Quiltingmamma 03/19/2015

    Barbara, what a vast disappointment this must have been to experience.
    Your Little Garden blended in well, and was an asset for all to see. To
    not give you any forewarning or ability to discuss is just cruel.
    do wonder, however, to feed that gardening hunger, are you in an area
    with garden clubs that do community plantings? When I think of moving to
    an apartment, I think about the places I can volunteer and continue to
    nurture a garden - but with more people to share it with. I am blessed
    with several areas in my city that offer more than enough opportunity to
    get my hands dirty and commune with Mother Earth. It would never make
    up with watching your own garden grow over a cup of coffee in the
    morning, but it might give you some pleasure and an entire new group of
    friends to share your love and respect your abilities. I hope this
    Spring offers you new opportunities.

  12. terieLR 03/19/2015

    Hi Barbara, With tears in my eyes, as a fellow garden solder I stand in Sálutte. Your video touched my heart as I recall dear friends before me who have shared similar stories. I will forever remember your words of wisdom ~ the passion of a gardener is matched only by the passion of the earth to cover its ground. One way or the other it will be covered. I smile. We will carry on dear solder.

  13. wittyone 03/19/2015

    Well shame on the condominium board for their actions! What on earth were they thinking?

    You said that they settled with you over breach of contract. I hope you got a lot as compensation for the loss of property to you. It's true that a great deal of the pleasure of gardening is the doing of it but at least as much is seeing your green babies growing and maturing. The realization of your creation was destroyed and there really can't be compensation for that.

    So sorry!

  14. User avater
    meander_michaele 03/19/2015

    Barbara, I think you can tell from all the previous comments, that your story has touched hearts and lit a flame of indignation (and, yes, anger) on your behalf for how callous and dishonorable the condo board was.
    Your garden at Stemmer House was beyond breathtaking...the absolutely exquisite structures, water features, bridges, gloriously mature plants...I so hope its new owners are continuing to do it justice.
    Your Little Garden was a gift to yourself and your fellow residents and it is such a loss to everyone that it was not allowed to grow and evolve.
    Your current sunroom "inhabitants" look lush and well cared for and I hope they give you the delight you deserve. Thank you so much for sharing with us.

  15. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 03/19/2015

    Well, I saw this post late yesterday and really have not felt like I could even comment. Such a loss! You definitely have found a lot of kindred spirits here who will empathize with your situation. I really can't imagine how you felt, but wish you the best in your new endeavor. I've thought about how I would spin the situation if I were in your shoes, and I think the indoor tropicals are great. It would be like a person moving from one climate to another. It would be heartbreaking to leave old, familiar plants behind, but so many new and interesting plants to get to know and to care for. Wishing you all the best in your indoor, tropical paradise!

  16. NCYarden 03/19/2015

    Barbara, this was a distressful story to read, as I am sure it was to tell. To leave such a grand garden as Stemmer House must have been quite a ache to the soul, much like tearing a plant out by its roots, and as such your heart. It is very admirable though what you had accomplished there. I am in absolute awe. I hope it is still being maintained. The Japanese aspects I just adore. I would have loved to have had a chance to wander that garden.
    As for the downsize, again I admire your desire and perseverance to garden. It was a lovely creation. And as I read the story, I too felt the tears welling up, but I feel it may be more from a sense of anger. I can feel the conflict of my frontal cortex to toss good judgment aside, and lash out on your behalf...buried members of management eventually make good fertilizer. Amazing your self control, and subsequent redirect to garden indoors. Have tons of fun with the new palate.

  17. greengenes 03/19/2015

    Iam at a loss for words, Barbara. My heart aches for you. It really has opened up a door that I haven't wanted to look thru in my own life of gardens. You have survived wonderfully and are an inspiration to us all. Gardening takes on so many different forms and discoveries. We with the " garden soul" will always find the place to sow. We learn so much by change and trials to someday help others and to discover parts within ourselves. The beauty of life is the creativity within us. And that is something no one or situation can ever completely shut off. May you have many more days ahead of exploration! Such an inspiration,Barbara!

  18. dizzykayak 03/19/2015

    My parents moved into a condo, and my mother has taken over some of the gardens there. She has a small budget to buy plants, so it isn't her own money (well of course she buys more). I have enough gardening to do, but I recently took over my daughter's school garden. I couldn't stand looking at the triple row of Stella D'Oro daylilies and nothing else. So there are gardening opportunities out there. Local churches often are looking for someone to lend a hand in their gardens. I can't even express how horrible that condo board is, I would have to move, I wouldn't be able to look at the people everyday, or the awful replacement out my window.

  19. User avater
    HelloFromMD 03/19/2015

    Barbara, the action of the Board was despicable. I must say I haven't heard many happy stories relative to condominium associations. So now in my sixties, I'm thinking ahead about being in my eighties and could I still care for my current home and gardens. I don't think I will put condominium life down as one of my options. I love the suggestions from the other readers about community projects. I am in a garden club and we recently redid the huge planters in front of our local hospital to add color. The whole club turned out and we put in over 200 perennials as well as removing what was previously installed. A very rewarding project. The member that designed the project was also the supervisor since her heath does not allow her to plant. So I hope that you find ways to keep your hand in gardening in one form or another. I goggled the Stemmer House and it appeared that the new owners are caring for the gardens. Is that true? Do you like to write? You could tell the story of the Stemmer House and Gardens. I for one would like to hear the story of the Moon Gate. All the best, Nancy

    1. NCYarden 03/19/2015

      Yes, I too would love to hear the story of that garden. Plenty of details, please.

  20. GrannyMay 03/19/2015

    Barbara, I join everyone else here in feeling your pain and heartbreak when you left Stemmer house and then had your next garden destroyed in front of your eyes. I, too, congratulate you on how you have coped and risen above such setbacks. There is nothing to be gained by holding on to anger and bitterness. Many of us are approaching a time when we will no longer be able to manage the garden we love, but hope to continue our passion for gardening in other places or other ways. Thank you for your advice! May you always find a way to get your hands dirty!

  21. Cenepk10 03/19/2015

    those bitches

  22. Catasetumkid 03/19/2015

    I have no words for my outrage. Speechless! THE HORROR! I am so so sorry.

  23. schatzi 03/19/2015

    Everyone else has expressed the outrage we all feel about your destroyed garden better than I could. My husband and I have home care insurance, should we ever need it, and I always say I am going out of here in a pine box! I am NOT moving. I hope I keel over digging in the garden, but not for a long time yet. Your Stemmer House garden is just amazing! So beautiful. I admire your resilience and fortitude. I'm afraid I would have shot the bastards. The board, not the workers.

  24. GrannyCC 03/19/2015

    Barbara so sorry for your terrible loss. I admire the will to go on with your indoor plants, I think we all fear as we age that we will have to loose what we have loved and created over the years, There are certainly a lot of insensitive people out there.

  25. MichelleGervais 03/19/2015

    Hey all! Barbara asked me to post this as a response to you all:

    BARBARA: I am grateful to all of you for your sympathy and encouragement. If ever there was a group of totally dedicated and, yes, loving, gardeners, it is composed of yourselves. Still feeling bereaved, especially at the beginning of this spring, I always read the GPOD each day, and admire not only the gardens, but the pursuit of beauty that inspires them. I feel I know and feel kinship with you all. Here are two updates:

    1. The current owners of Stemmer House have now filed a plan for development, a proposal that has impelled the protective Valley Planning Council to call a community meeting on March 31st.

    2. Don't breathe a word–but my Little Garden daffodils and tulips, and perhaps later my alliums, all of them spared last August because they were underground, are coming up now. I thank the earth goddess for these small favors, and thank all of you for caring!

  26. Meelianthus 03/19/2015

    Oh Barbara! My heart goes out to you. I think the tremendous anger radiating from all of the GPODs is the fact that we cannot comprehend such a dastardly deed. 'We' who love to create green life do not understand those who would want to destroy it - and for what purpose?! Hopefully your heart has recovered from both moving from your life work at Stemmer House and your lose in your condo garden. I so agree with 'Greengenes' - "the beauty of life is the creativity within us". Happy life to you Barbara.

  27. user-7007327 03/19/2015

    Send the garden gnomes after the flower defilers.

  28. user-7007442 03/19/2015

    Bloom where you are planted is a most favorite saying of mine. I related and cried when I read your story. Gardening is such a simple pleasure and to be denied of
    it is unthinkable. Sad just sad.

  29. eddireid 03/19/2015

    Oh! Barbara! This is so tragic. Your experience is one we all dread. We have a home in a "managed " community where a panel of elected residents get to decide whether anything we do outside or on our home is appropriate and follows the rules of the neighborhood. To me this is a complete invasion of both privacy and an infringement of rights of freedom of expression and I hate it.
    A recent local garden club meeting addressed this issue as we swing towards more environmental approaches to the care of our land - as I recall we were warned that managed neighborhoods would generally prove to be trouble. However, we were also advised that, should we decide to fight, then such neighborhoods would not win a battle as anything which improves the environment will have the backing of government! Look around and count how many solar panels are showing up!
    Unfortunately, there are also many residents who only appreciate strictly controlled environments, which doesn't help at all.

    One day we must choose our own path and as we get older the thought of having to fight for what should be a right, is not a happy one.

    Good luck with your own home - there are a lot of us cheering you on.

  30. sheila_schultz 03/19/2015

    Barbara, with your story you have brought out the passion in your fellow GPOD'rs. We are all gardeners and the simple act of planting even a simple annual can bring out the best in us. The idea of seeing our visions not appreciated is beyond our imagination, but then life happens.
    The reality for me is that I have been given the gift of doing what I love, of having the amazing opportunity to follow my dreams. When I have to move from my gardens, I will try to remember not to be angry or sad when it may be turned back into a patch of grass. I have always been selfish when it comes to my gardens... they have always been just for me.
    Your gardens, on the other hand, have been a gift to all around you. I am so proud of you for fighting the injustice. I choose to believe you have made many that have never gardened think differently about the plantings they pass by every day in their lives. You have put a thought out there that will be heard.

  31. MichelleGervais 03/20/2015

    A comment from Sally Barker, who is having trouble logging in to comment:


    I was amazed to read Barbara's story in GPOD today. In May, 2008, I had the honor and pleasure of taking my garden club to Stemmer House. I can tell you that Barbara is the loveliest and most generous person you could ever know. Not only did she lead us through her beautiful and extensive gardens, but she insisted on preparing our lunch, which was perfectly lovely and delicious ! I am sick to hear her story. It touches a nerve for me as it has for other GPOD followers. For 18 years I have gardened our community entrances as a volunteer and have raised money for beautification. However, getting down and dirty and sweaty was a pleasure compared to the frustration of working with the community "board". Non-gardeners have no idea how much mental and physical energy are involved in creating a garden. In Barbara's case she had given a gift which was admired I am sure by many --- except by the few who made decisions. What a pity. I send her my very best wishes for a happy Spring and I am so grateful to have personally experienced her exquisite Stemmer House.

    Sally Barker (SumHillGardener)

    1. BoxwoodBarbara 03/22/2015

      Thank you so much for remembering the good time we had in 2008 when you and your garden club came to visit Stemmer House. Those were happy days! I wish you in turn good gardening, a happy spring and bountiful bouquets of flowers!
      As ever,

  32. ptkmwilk 03/21/2015

    How heartbreaking for Barbara. What a trauma it must be to have your beautiful garden destroyed. Something for her to consider, if she is able, is to volunteer at local public gardens. I have done this several times when I have been garden-less and found it very rewarding and helped me stem my gardening cravings.

  33. thevioletfern 03/26/2015

    I still remember in my much earlier years, the landlord's hire weed whacking my little garden in front of my apartment. I still remember the landlord telling me over the phone - because of course, I called right away to complain, "It'll grow back." Well, it wasn't going to grow back because it was mostly annuals! How heartbreaking for you! I will remember this story and always land a spot where I can garden. But look at you - finding a spot anyway! A lemon tree to boot!

  34. user-7007083 03/30/2015

    Barbara, my heart ached for you when I read your story of the demolition of your townhome garden. A friend of mine has been battling the same thing, and it's hard to understand how or why these decisions are made, to tear out beauty and replace it with uniformity. But hooray for tricky Mother Nature, who keeps her springtime secrets--I hope your daffodils and alliums cheer your heart.

  35. JD39 04/06/2015

    ...I'm sorry...this makes me absolutely SICK... :'(

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